Appointed by President John Adams
John Marshall will always be remembered as one of the great figures in American history. His tenure as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court helped shape American law. By acclimation, he is regarded as the greatest embodiment of the U.S. Constitution. However, his influence on American history encompasses much more than his tenure as chief justice.
Marshall was born in 1755 in Fauquier County, Virginia. John was the first of 15 children. His father, Thomas, was a self-made man. He began as a planter before accumulating great personal wealth as a land speculator. Thomas Marshall also held a variety of elective offices during John's childhood. When the revolution began, Thomas Marshall, along with his sons, served under long-time friend George Washington. John Marshall served as a lieutenant in the Culpepper Minutemen at the age of 19, eventually rising to the rank of captain. He saw action at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and was with Washington at Valley Forge.
After the revolution, Marshall studied law at the College of William and Mary for less than a year before going into private practice in 1780. He specialized in civil law, primarily land and estate issues. Like many lawyers of his day, Marshall became active in politics. His early government positions all dealt with state and local political issues. He served in the Virginia legislature and was a delegate to the state convention that approved the new Constitution.
Marshall first became enmeshed in international affairs as part of a diplomatic mission to France. Marshall accompanied Elbridge Gerry and Charles Pinckney to Paris in 1797 in an attempt to head off impending hostilities between the two nations. However, things did not go as planned. Upon their arrival, French foreign minister Talleyrand refused to meet with them, eventually sending three anonymous men to their hotel requesting numerous concessions and large bribes. Ulti-mately, the American diplomats refused to meet the French demands. Marshall, reporting the French demands, referred to the mysterious men as Mr. X., Y., and Z.