U. S. Supreme Court: the Marshall Years, 1801-1835

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John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (1801–1835). His court opinions helped lay the basis for United States constitutional law and many say made the Supreme Court of the United States a coequal branch of government along with the legislative and executive branches. Previously, Marshall had been a leader of the Federalist Party in Virginia and served in the United States House of Representatives from 1799 to 1800. He was Secretary of State under President John Adams from 1800 to 1801.

The longest-serving Chief Justice and the fourth longest-serving justice in U.S. Supreme Court history, Marshall dominated the Court for over three decades and played a significant role in the development of the American legal system. Most notably, he reinforced the principle that federal courts are obligated to exercise judicial review, by disregarding purported laws if they violate the constitution. Thus, Marshall cemented the position of the American judiciary as an independent and influential branch of government. Furthermore, Marshall's court made several important decisions relating to federalism, affecting the balance of power between the federal government and the states during the early years of the republic. In particular, he repeatedly confirmed the supremacy of federal law over state law, and supported an expansive reading of the enumerated powers.

Some of his decisions were unpopular. Nevertheless, Marshall built up the third branch of the federal government, and augmented federal power in the name of the Constitution, and the rule of law. Marshall, along with Daniel Webster (who argued some of the cases), was the leading Federalist of the day, pursuing Federalist Party approaches to build a stronger federal government over the opposition of the Jeffersonian Republicans, who wanted stronger state governments. Source: Wikipedia, 2016/06/28

Perhaps the most perceptive, if perhaps a bit too laudatory, of the commentaries concerning John Marshall and the justices who served with him is to be found in remarks given by Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1901 which were quoted in a review of the Haskins/Johnson volume of the Oliver Wendell Holmes devise by District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak in 1982 (University of Pennsylvania Law Review, vol. 131:486-487):

If I were to think of John Marshall simply by number and measure in the abstract, I might hesitate in my superlatives, just as I should hesitate over the battle of the Brandywine if I thought of it apart from its place in the line of historic cause. But such thinking is empty in the same proportion that it is abstract. It is most idle to take a man apart from the circumstances which, in fact, were his. To be sure, it is easier in fancy to separate a person from his riches than from his character. But it is just as futile. Remove a square inch of mucous membrane, and the tenor will sing no more. Remove a little cube from the brain, and the orator will be speechless; or another, and the brave, generous and profound spirit becomes a timid and querulous trifler. A great man represents a great ganglion in the nerves of society, or, to vary the figure, a strategic point in the campaign of history, and part of his greatness consists in his being there. I no more can separate John Marshall from the fortunate circumstance that the appointment of Chief Justice fell to John Adams, instead of to Jefferson a month later, and so gave it to a Federalist and loose constructionist to start the working of the constitution, than I can separate the black line through which he sent his electric fire at Fort Wagner from Colonel Shaw. When we celebrate Marshall we celebrate at the same time and indivisibly the inevitable fact that the oneness of the nation and the supremacy of the national Constitution were declared to govern the dealings of man with man by the judgments and decrees of the most august of courts.

One source indicates that "over the course of his 34-year term as chief justice, John Marshall delivered more than 1,000 decisions and penned more than 500 opinions. He played a pivotal role in determining the Supreme Court's role in federal government, establishing it as the ultimate authority in interpreting the Constitution." For the cases docketed for a hearing by the Supreme Court and the minutes of the Court encompassing those cases the Court heard see:

The dockets of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [1]

The minutes of the U. S. Supreme Court for the Marshall years are available from this site beginning at: [2]

The Minutes of the Federal Circuit Court for Maryland are available as pdfs: Minutes, vol. 1, and Minutes, vol. 2

For the names and dates of attorneys admitted to practice before the Supreme Court see: [3]

[Note: The following hyperlinks may be password protected because of copyright restrictions. Permission may be granted for access to password protected files as a loan from this research website's library upon written request to 1814baltimore@gmail.com.]

To better understand the internal workings of the Marshall Court, see:

Herbert A. Johnson, "Introduction: The Business of the Court," in Foundations of Power: John Marshall, 1801-15, New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 373-664.

G. Edward White, "The Working Life of the Marshall Court, 1815-1835," Virginia Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 1 (Feb. 1984), pp. 1-52.

For thoughtful evaluations of the decisions of the Marshall Court, see:

Charles Warren, "Earliest Cases of Judicial Review of State Legislation by Federal Courts", The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Nov., 1922), pp. 15-28

Keith E. Whittington, "Judicial Review of Congress Before the Civil War," The Georgetown Law Journal, Vol 97, (2009), pp. 1257-1331.(Note: copy derived from his website without copyright restrictions).

Michael J. Klarman, "How Great Were the "Great" Marshall Court Decisions?," Virginia Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 6 (Oct., 2001), pp. 1111-1184.

For an evaluation of the performance of the justices of the Marshall Court see:

Montgomery Kosma, "Measuring the Influence of Supreme Court Justices," The Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2 (June 1998), pp. 333-372.

For the case assignments for the 2016 Marshall Court seminar see: http://virtualarchive.us/2016_marshall_court/cases.html that contains download links to the following worksheets:


01 Huidekoper's Lessee v. Douglass, (3 Cranch) 1 (1805).docx

02 United States v. Hodges (1815, Maryland Circuit Court).docx

03 United States v. Peters, 9 U.S. 115 (5 Cranch) 115 (1809).docx

04 United States v. The William, 28 F. Cas. 614, Case No. 16,700 (D. Mass. 1808).docx

05 The Julia (8 Cranch) 181 (1814) and 14 F. Cas. 27, Case No. 7575.docx

06 Smith v. Maryland 10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 286 (1810).docx

07 Sturgis v. Crowninshield, 17 U.S. (Wheaton) 122 (1819).docx

08 The Plattsburgh, 23 U.S. 133 (10 Wheaton) 133 (1825)_.docx See: [4] http://virtualarchive.us/nara_rg_267_3_2/html/1214.html for the record as received by the Supreme Court.

09 United States v. Gooding, 25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 460 (1827).docx

10 United States v. Klintock, 18 U.S. (5 Wheat.) 144 (1820).docx

11 Elkison v. Deliesseline, 8 F. Cas. 493 (C.C.D. S.C. 1823) (No. 4366).docx

12 Willson v. Black Bird Creek Marsh Co. (2 Peters) 245 (1829)_.docx

13 Martin v. Mott (12 Wheaton) 19 (1827).docx

14 Ogden v Saunders (12 Wheaton) 213 (1827).docx

15 Brown v. Maryland (12 Wheaton) 419 (1827).docx


[Note that the emphasis of this research web site with regard to the Marshall Court is with cases that originated in Maryland and the District of Columbia, or in some manner had their origins in Baltimore's commercial connections. From time to time this entry will be updated with links to those cases and the individuals they affected.]

The surviving minutes of the Maryland Federal Circuit Court for the Marshall years are to be found at Minutes

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