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John Marshall: A Memorable Man and Chief Justice

John Marshall quite possibly represented the most important accomplishment of the John Adams administration, becoming the patron saint of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was chief justice of the Supreme Court for 34 years.

A distant cousin of Thomas Jefferson, Marshall was born in 1835 in a log cabin in Virginia, where his father was active in politics. After serving in the Continental army — including the winter at Valley Forge — Marshall earned his law degree and entered politics. In 1799, he went to Congress; in 1800, he became Adams’s secretary of state; and in January 1801, Adams appointed him chief justice of the Supreme Court.

It was a job Marshall held until his death, 34 years later. During his tenure as chief justice, he led a series of landmark decisions that established the court’s role as a key player in American government and strengthened the power of the federal government. But he also had a good time.

According to one story, Marshall suggested to his fellow justices that on days they were considering a case, they should only drink hard spirits if it was raining. When the sun continued to shine in Washington, however, Marshall decided that because the court had jurisdiction over the entire nation, justices should drink only when it rained somewhere in America.

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