John Marshall
fourth chief justice of the United States

1755 - 1835

John Marshall, the fourth chief justice of the United States, established the Supreme Court as an important branch of the federal government. He served from 1801 until his death 34 years later, longer than any other chief justice. Marshall is known as the "Great Chief Justice" because of his tremendous impact on the U.S. judicial system.

When Marshall became chief justice, the Supreme Court commanded little respect. Marshall raised the court to a level equal to the executive and legislative branches of the government. He used the court's authority to restructure and clearly define the boundaries of power between the states and the federal government. Marshall established broad judicial principles. Some of these principles laid the foundation for modern decisions that made possible the court's ruling in such areas as civil rights and criminal justice.

During Marshall's years as chief justice, the United States was governed by Democratic-Republicans and Democrats. Most of these leaders -- President Thomas Jefferson, in particular -- believed in states' rights. Marshall, however, was a Federalist. He believed that the United States, still a young nation in the early 1800's, greatly needed a strong central government. Marshall felt that such a government -- rather than strong state governments -- could best help the United States grow strong and safe. Through the force of his arguments, Marshall gave the court the power to overrule the states when national and state interests collided.

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