Biography of John Marshall

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Biography of John Marshall

John Marshall was born on September 24, 1755 in prince William County, Virginia. His father moved the family from there before john was ten to a valley in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 30 miles away. Unlike most frontier dwellings, the home Thomas Marshall built was of frame construction rather than log and was one and a half story. Both parents, while not formally educated, were considered adequately educated for the ties and could read and write. They held a significant social, religious, and political status in the newly formed Fauquir County area. Books were difficult to obtain on the frontier and quite expensive. But it is known that the Marshall home had a bible, almost for certain Shakespeare and Dryden, and definitely Pope who John Marshall said he had copied every word of the "Essay on Man" and other Moral essays and had memorized many of the more interesting passages by the time he was twelve. It is likely that Thomas Marshall was allowed access to Lord Fairfax's library just as his good friend, George Washington, was. And, of course, Washington had a library. Books, while relatively scarce, were available to John. His very evident love of poetry and literature was seen in his later life.

In 1767, a young Scotch minister came to live with the Marshall's for a year while he was being "tried out" by the congregation. This provided John with his first bit of formal education. In 1772 he received his second time of formal education at the academy of Reverend Archibald Campbell but perhaps more importantly, Blackstone's "Commentaries" was published in America and Thomas Marshall bought a copy, not only for his own use, but also specifically for John to read and study. The Marshall's had long decided that John was to be a lawyer. The last time of formal education came in 1780 during a six-week stay at William and Mary College where he attended the law lectures of George Wythe. James Madison was president of the college at the time and it has been reported that Marshall took a course in philosophy from him. However, while there are carefully made notes of Wythe's lectures there are not any for other courses. Considering Marshall's course and not recorded it. The college was all but deserted at that time with thirty students and three professors in the army and, in fact, closed for a time the next year.


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...clearly expressed in this speech.

After becoming Chief Justice Marshall was asked by the nephew of George Washington, Bush rod Washington, to write the official biography. This was a task that Marshall was unprepared to do, having no knowledge of the difficulties in researching and writing a biography, but he needed the financial return that was expected. The five volume biography took over four years to write and met with a very mixed and critical reception. It is hard to imagine what course the nation would have followed without the mind of Marshall at the helm. For it was his mind, his power of reason and understanding of the new form of government which his peers had created, that still stands the test of time by the adherence to precedents he set. His biographer, Jean Edward Smith, fully aware of the founding fathers he alluded to, states that Marshall "possessed the best-organized mind of his generation." Thomas Jefferson too, though often at odds with Marshall, conceded that "you must never give him an affirmative answer or you will be forced to grant his conclusion. Why, if he were to ask me if it were daylight or not, I'd reply, 'sir, I don't know, I can't tell."

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