Sixty years ago, John Marshall was as well-known as Lucille Ball. Schools took his name, and absorbed his judicial accomplishments into their curricula.
Then, something happened. In the swirl of history, Marshall’s presence was diluted. Now, most people either have never heard of him, or, they mistake him for General George Marshall.
John Marshall was the equivalent of a Founding Father with a variegated career of public service. George Washington influenced him to become a Virginia congressman; after that, he was a diplomat, secretary of state, and John Adams’s choice for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court: a tenure that would last 34 years, the longest in history.
Written for children, American Hero: John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States was a collaboration with my mother. It was commissioned by The John Marshall Foundation in Richmond to raise Marshall’s public profile.
When he became Chief Justice in 1801, the Court met only a few days per year. That was how Marshall’s cousin Thomas Jefferson, who loathed him, wanted it.
But Marshall had other ideas for the trajectory of the Court… and democracy.
And so, by the time of his death in 1835, the Court had a pro rata share of power and influence, equivalent to the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Marshall had also honed the judiciary into a prototype of justice that was revered and replicated all over the world.