Tuesday, April 3, 2012
John Marshall took the oath of office as chief justice of the United States on February 4, 1801. Then forty-five years of age, he had had a varied career as a soldier, state legislator and executive councillor, lawyer, commissioner to France, member of Congress, and secretary of state. An autobiographical sketch drawn late in life portrays Marshall somewhat misleadingly as an accidental statesman who never aspired to a place in the highest councils of the American republic. In truth, his public career did owe much to fortuitous circumstances as to conscious design. Although the American Revolution was a powerful attractive force that drew talented and ambitious men into public life, Marshall until the late 1790's largely resisted the call of politics in the face of a more compelling need to make his fortune. Unlike Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, whose inherited wealth allowed them to make statecraft their profession from an early age, the future chief justice first had to concentrate on the mundane business of providing financial security for himself and a growing family. Intermittent though it was prior to 1801, Marshall's participation in public life occurred at times and places that in retrospect appear to have been nicely calculated to prepare him for his high judicial station.
-Charles R. Hobson, The Great Chief Justice:
John Marshall and the Rule of Law