The Richmond History Podcast

Friday, January 20, 2012

Occupier Have a Long Time Before They Can beat John Marshall

John Marshall, 1808 by  Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Mémin, Library of Congress
As part of the "Occupy Movement" there will be an occupation of federal court houses to mark the second anniversary of the Citizen United case which gave way to the Super Pacs getting so much attention this election cycle.  According to the Today in History app form Down-Shift, it is also the 201st anniversary of the beginning of the longest occupation of the Supreme Cort Chief Justice's Chair in American history.  On January 20, 1801, John Adams appointed John Marshall (1782-1835) to be the Third confirmed Chief Justice in American history,1 a post that he held for 35 years and is know as "The Great Chief Justice.  He didn't accept the appointment until Feb, 2. 3

The John Marshall House,  photo by Jeff Majer
Before his time on the court Marshall was an officer in Continental Army, and served as at Valley Forge on Washington's staff as as chief legal officer, and in 6 months heard more then 300 courts martial.1He studied at William and Mary under George Wythe and after the war he was unanimously voted to the Virginia General Assembly and moved to Richmond, Virginia's Capital.  From 1782 until his death he was continually in public office either elected or appointed, serving in all 3 levels, (local state and federal,) and in all 3 federal branches (legislative, executive and judicial)1 putting him on a very short list. 
Among the other offices he held were Congressman form Henrico, envoy to France during the XYZ affair, and served as John Adams' Secretary of State.1

The Library of Virginia says of Marshall's time as Chief Justice, "the court ruled that the Supreme Court had the power to declare invalid any act of Congress that was in conflict with the U.S. Constitution,"
and the court "ruled that state judiciaries could set aside state legislative acts if they conflicted with the federal Constitution and that the U.S. Supreme Court could reverse a decision of a state court. By his opinions, Marshall increased the power of the Supreme Court as a branch of the federal government, emphasized the role of the judiciary in the states, and reinforced the national supremacy of the federal government."

Monumental Church, built on the site of the Richmond Theater that burned killing 72. Photo by Jeff MAJER
 Never a US president he did hold the title of president a few times.  In 1831, he was the first president of the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society, (which in 1870, changed his name to simply The Virginia Historical Society,) and president of the the Virginia chapter of  The American Colonization Society which attempted to recolonize freed blacks to Liberia.4  From 1800 and 1807 he wrote the first biography of George Washington1 which was five volumes 1 that totaled more than 3,200 pages and sold more than 7,000 copies for one dollar each volume.3
He also had influence on the architectural history of Richmond that still lasts.  He sat on the board that build Robert Mill's Monumental church, as Grand Master of the Masons he made the motion in the Town Council meeting to erect Mason's Hall in Shockoe Bottom 1, which is noted as the oldest continuously operating Masonic building that was built for Masonic purposes in the Western Hemisphere2, and the house that he built for himself in Richmond's Court End Neighborhood in 1790. It is the oldest standing brick house in Richmond and an amazing museum.
His prestige was so great that he was the official host to the Marque de Lafayette when he made his triumphant victory lap around the US making his last stop in VA in 1824.1
Prestige aside he wasn't a flashy man.  As proof of his "usual lack of ostentation" Marshall used "heavy, rough iron rings which he hurled with great dexterity" instead of the polished brass rings that most others used as part of Buchanan Spring Quoit Club (quoits is a predecessor of house shoes).4

Just to end on an odd note, he also walked from Fauquire County, Va to Philadelphia, PA and back averaging 35 miles a day to get a smallpox inoculation.4


4. Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney


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