John Marshall as a United States' Leader


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Raised from humble beginnings, John Marshall proved to be a powerful leader in U.S. history through his pivotal rulings in the Supreme Court. A staunch Federalist, Marshall pushed for a strong federal government, a scary and ill fated thought to many Americans. The early 1800’s was a period of vulnerability for the United States, a fledgling country full of free spirits and high hopes. It was crucial that the decisions of the founding fathers would lay essential groundwork to establish a strong federal government. Marshall served as the Chief of Justice for over three decades, and was a major player in laying down and developing the basis for the American legal system. Marshall’s rulings in Supreme Court have shaped America’s government for over two centuries.

Marbury v. Madison (1803) was John Marshall’s first important case. The case itself is trivial, however what resulted from the case has influenced the U.S. government ever since. For the first time in U.S. history, the Supreme Court struck down a law as unconstitutional. As a result, Marshall introduced judicial review, a doctrine that allows the Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of a law and decide whether to keep or discard it. Firstly, this was a major step in establishing what the role of the Supreme Court was in the U.S. government. Secondly, by implementing judicial review into the American legal system, Marshall increased the power of the judicial branch, and restricted the executive and legislative branches’ powers. This is one of the greatest rulings in political history because without judicial review, the executive branch would be omnipotent and the fears of the first American people would have been realized. Judicial review is still widely used by the Supreme Court; it was a huge factor in resolving the Watergate Scandal.

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The second major case, McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), declared the Bank of the United States constitutional. It was argued that the Alexander Hamilton’s national bank was illegal because the constitution did not specifically allow for one. Marshall proclaimed that something did not have to be directly stated in the Constitution to be legal, and therefore introduced the elastic clause. The elastic clause stated that because the constitution could be interpreted in many different ways, the constitution could not be followed verbatim. It was important because the founding fathers realized they could not foresee the future, and therefore could not make set rules. The elastic clause allowed for the federal government to be built on flexibility so that future leaders could make their own rules according to the immediate situation. The establishment of the national bank was a tremendous step in U.S. commerce because it the centralized the national economy and therefore helped to pay off the debt left over from the Revolutionary War. The elastic clause is still one of the most powerful clauses in the American legal system, especially for Congress.

Marshall’s last major case, Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), regarded the power of the federal government to regulate interstate shipping. New York had originally given a monopoly to certain ships to sail between New York and New Jersey, however Marshall proved that federal law could overturn this monopoly. This ruling was the first practice of the Interstate Commerce Clause. It was another win for the federal government, and made the federal government more powerful while taking away power from the state governments. This was a consequential decision; it ended state monopolies that inhibited economic growth. Gibbons v. Ogden showed the federal government’s support of capitalism and a free market economy. If the decision to end state monopolies had not been made, the national economy would not have been able to relieve its debt, and it would be filled with corrupt state monopolies.

Throughout his career as Chief of Justice, John Marshall repeatedly pushed for the national government over the state government. Marshall, a strong proponent for balance within the federal government, was able to establish the role of the judiciary branch with the rest of the federal government. The introduction of judicial review, the elastic clause, and the Interstate Commerce Clause to the judiciary branch greatly improved the stability of the government, and has continued to impact the American legal system. Because of Marshall’s decisions in Supreme Court and his vision of a federal government that supported and protected its people, the beginning of the U.S. national government was peaceful and effective. Marshall’s rulings were a huge benefactor in establishing a secure government that was not temporary, but long lasting.

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