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John Marshall

John Marshall 1755-1835

Our school is named for a Colonial revolutionary who became one of the most powerful judges in American history, John Marshall.

Marshall, the oldest of 15 children, was born in a log cabin in the Virginia frontier. He spent his childhood in primitive surroundings and had little opportunity for school. His father, Thomas Marshall, became prominent in local and state politics.

Marshall left home to join the fight for independence in the American Revolution, including fighting at Valley Forge with George Washington. He returned home after the war after first attending the College of William and Mary, his only formal education.

He officially became a lawyer in 1780, and two years later became a state politician in Virginia, where he married and settled down in Richmond. His brilliant skill in argument made him one of the most esteemed of the many great lawyers of Virginia. Marshall firmly believed in a strong federal government and was greatly involved in helping the newborn nation take shape after his ideals.

He was elected to Congress in 1799, and remained loyal to President John Adams despite the one-term president's losing support. Adams appointed him Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, his old friend Adams would join him on the bench.

Marshall raised the Supreme Court in power and sought to reshape the court as the official interpreter of the Constitution. A loyal Federalist, Marshall saw in the Constitution the instrument of national unity and federal power and the guarantee of the security of private property.

Marshall in 1956

Does 1956 look like fun at Marshall School? See more photographs of kids and teachers from the early days of the school.

Marshal from 1957

His most famous case set a precedent that lasts today, more than 200 years later, Marbury vs. Madison. It established the Supreme Court's ultimate right to review federal and state laws and to pronounce final judgment on their constitutionality - even laws made the the President of the United States.

Marshall served as the presiding judge over former patriot Aaron Burr's trial for treason. The trial of Aaron Burr for treason in 1807 has few rivals in American history for dramatic appeal and for its colorful cast of characters. The accused traitor had been Vice President during the first administration of Thomas Jefferson. In the summer of 1804, Burr killed his rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel. Three years later, he was on trial, charged with the capital crime of treason by the government headed by Jefferson, his former partner in political office. It was Marshall's interpretation of the Constitution that helped Burr escape conviction because Marshall ruled that Burr had engaged only in a conspiracy, not treason.

Another case with long-reaching historic importance was the Marshall court's ruling that American Indian nations were "distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights," and entitled to federal protection from the actions of state governments that infringed on their sovereignty. The state of Georgia was trying to evict the flourishing Cherokee tribe and take their land, which eventually happened despite Marshall's ruling.

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