CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN MARSHALL: This statue (property of the Architect of the U.S. Capitol) is located in John Marshall Park, adjacent to the United States Courthouse.
The United States Bar Association commissioned the noted Boston sculptor, William Wetmore Story, to execute this 5-foot bronze statue of the seated chief justice. The sculptor was the son of Marshall's longtime colleague on the court, Associate Justice Joseph Story of Boston. One of many early expatriate American sculptors working in Rome, Story cast the bronze statue in 1883 and carved the low-relief marble allegorical panels which appear on each side of the pedestal. On the north side, the goddess Minerva dictates the Constitution to America, who writes diligently on a scroll. On the south, Victory, a Neoclassical female, lays down her sword and spear to lead young America to the altar to swear eternal loyalty to the Union of the States. An identical bronze statue, cast from the same mold, is located at the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
John Marshall (1755-1835), one of the most significant chief justices of the Supreme Court and a principal founder of judicial review, was born in Fauquier County, Virginia, the son of a prosperous farmer and a member of the colonial House of Burgesses. Marshall, who followed the liberal leadership of Patrick Henry, entered the Revolutionary War as a soldier in late 1775 and served as a captain in many battles, including Brandywine, Monmouth, and Valley Forge. Upon honorable discharge from the Continental Army, Marshall studied law under the famous Chancellor George Wythe at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. He was elected to the Virginia legislature in 1782 and became a noteworthy and able lawyer in Richmond at the same time.
Marshall, who was a first-hand witness to the weak government of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, became the leading supporter of the new federal Constitution in Virginia in 1787. During the 1790s Marshall strongly supported the new national government including both George Washington's and John Adams's administrations and Hamilton's financial programs. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia in 1798, accepted the position of secretary of state under John Adams in 1800, and was appointed chief justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1801. Marshall served in the latter position for thirty-four years and strengthened the entire course of American Constitutional law through his many far-reaching decisions. He was a supreme debater, although his emaciated appearance and clumsiness in dress and gestures often misled people. One of the first of many cases in which the new chief justice's decision resulted in the establishment of the Supreme Court as the final authoritative interpreter of the Constitution was that of Marbury vs. Madison in 1803. Marshall's conduct of the Aaron Burr trial for treason in 1807, in which Burr was acquitted, further aroused Thomas Jefferson's animosity toward the conservative Federalist chief justice.
Marshall's publication of his five-volume biography of George Washington appeared at this time. Although the work has a number of defects it is important for an insight into the framing of the Constitution in 1787. Because the Supreme Court only met for two months annually during most of the time Marshall was chief justice, he was able to devote much of his free time to legal research, writing, and an active social life. Many of the justices resided elsewhere and usually took lodgings together in the same boardinghouse when the court was in session in Washington. During those weeks of close contact, Marshall was able gradually to bring the associate justices to his point of view on the Constitution.
Marshall, through such famous decisions as Fletcher vs. Peck, McCulloch vs. Maryland, Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, and Gibbons vs. Ogden, made the Constitution the supreme law of the land. He fought endlessly, against the "state sovereignty" doctrine so popular during the first half of the nineteenth century. During his years as chief justice, 1801-1835, he sat on some 1,215 cases. Much of his free time was spent with his invalid wafe discussing literature, a main source of pleasure to him. He was also fond of his clubs, such as the Barbeque Club of Richmond, famous for its drinking, feasting, and debating. The famous Federalist died in his eightieth year, on July 6, 1835, following an injury he received when the stagecoach in which he was traveling overturned.