John Marshall

One of the most influential chief justices in US history.


Marbury v. Madison. Mculloch v. Maryland. Gibbons v. Odgen. All these landmark cases in US history have had one thing in common: John Marshall. We all know how he single-handedly established judiciary review, and created the rules of interstate commerce. His influences on the courts are unmatched. But what influenced his decisions in the courtroom? I'm convinced his home life, his mentors, and his enemies heavily influenced his landmark decisions.

Early Life

Born on September 24, 1755 to a rich family, John Marshall loved the law from a young age. As his father was a lawman, they carried many law books around the house, which John read vigorously. He read moral essays when he was younger, which probably influenced his point of view later in life. When he was a teenager, he attended law lectures for fun. Once in college, he took a course in philosophy with James Monroe (the philosophy class probably changed both their outlooks and the course of our country today).


His father, Thomas, was a lawmaker, so John often heard about his father's work life. His father would also often hold dinners for his fellow co-workers, and John looked up to them and learned lingo from them. He would also inherit law books and moral essays from his father's friends.

George Washington was a good friend of Thomas Marshall and a role model for John. he inspired John about nationalism and patriotism. In fact, when Washington died some years later, John wrote a biography about him and his life.

These role models shaped John's beliefs for many years to come.

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John Marshall's Relationship With Thomas Jefferson

John and Thomas clashed in every way possible. John, a seasoned war veteran, didn't like the fact that while he had fought for his country, Jefferson enjoyed the comforts of his home. Jefferson didn't appreciate how Marshall acted on the XYZ affair (short version was France demanded a bribe and loans in order to begin negotiations, and the negotiators, mainly John, turned them down). Jefferson once said, "Marshall is poisoning the public mind..."

The two also had different POV on how the Constitution should be interpreted. Jefferson didn't believe in a strong central government because he thought the people wouldn't have enough rights and it would be too much like a monarchy. On the other hand, Marshall thought that a strong central government would protect the people and create a great country. This led to many disagreements.

John's Beliefs

His early life and role models shaped these beliefs.

He favored strong government action and supported supremacy of the federal government over state authorities. In other words, he was a big federalist (not an anti-federalist). He believed that slaves were human, not property (he flashed this belief in many of his slavery cases). He was also a nationalist who believed in big government. He was also a strong advocate of a strong constitution,"...The constitution is either a superior paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it. It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. This is the very essence of judicial duty." He also believed in a powerful army and government taxes.


Marbury v. Madison - He established judicial review.

McCulloch v. Maryland - He established the doctrine of implied powers.

Gibbons v. Odgen - He created interstate commerce.

In his cases, especially these three, he expressed his federalist views that to this day are revered as smart and bold. In conclusion, those things that influenced John Marshall like his home life, his mentors, and his enemies, affected his court decisions, those of which have affected each and every one of us.


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