John Marshall Explores The Life And Work Of Chief Justice Marshall

Dean Darby Dickerson

On September 24, Chief Justice John Marshall would have turned 262 years old. On Wednesday, September 27, The John Marshall Law School in Chicago hosted a day of events to explore his life and work. The law school invited one of the leading John Marshall biographers, Dr. Charles F. Hobson, from The College of William & Mary, to lead the discussions.

The day consisted of two main events, “The Life and the Career of the Nation’s First Great Chief Justice: General Themes and Observations from Charles Hobson and Samuel Olken” and “John Marshall, Slavery, and the Cherokee Cases with Charles Hobson and Art Acevedo.” The first of the two discussions consisted of a general overview of the Chief Justice’s career and how he shaped the Court into a strong branch of government. Hobson shared personal details of Marshall’s life that many may not be aware of such as how he was the oldest of fifteen children, that he started his own law firm and how he served as Secretary of State before becoming Chief Justice. The later discussion focused on how Marshall, himself a slave owner, approached cases concerning slavery and Native Americans.

Hobson is editor of The Papers of John Marshall at the Institute of Early American History and Culture at the College of William & Mary.  Before joining William & Mary, Hobson taught at the University of Virginia, where he edited several volumes of The Papers of James Madison. He is also the author of The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law and editor of John Marshall: Writings. Hobson holds a PhD from Emory University and specializes in constitutional and legal history of the early republic. Both Sandy Olken and Art Acevedo are Professors of Law at The John Marshall Law School who teach constitutional law.

John Marshall was a federalist from Virginia and the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. From 1801–1835, he led the Court and helped transform it into a powerful bastion of judicial review, putting the judicial branch on par with the legislative and executive. In a series of seminal decisions, Marshall’s Court set forth fundamental doctrines of constitutional law intended to preserve the separation of powers and core principles essential in a democratic republic. Marshall’s genius was in his implicit recognition of the promise of the Constitution and the role of law in a constitutional democracy.