John Marshall was born in a log cabin on the Virginia frontier, the first of fifteen children. He was a participant in the Revolutionary War as a member of the 3d Virginia Regiment. He studied law briefly in 1780, and was admitted to practice the same year. He quickly established a successful career defending individuals against their pre-War British creditors.
Marshall served in Virginia's House of Delegates. He also participated in the state ratifying convention and spoke forcefully on behalf of the new constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation.
Marshall contemplated several offers to serve in the Washington and Adams administrations. He declined service as attorney general for Washington; he declined positions on the Supreme Court and as secretary of war under Adams. At Washington's direction, Marshall ran successfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives but his tenure there was brief. Adams offered Marshall the position of secretary of state, which Marshall accepted. When Ellsworth resigned as chief justice in 1800, Adams turned to the first chief justice, John Jay, who declined. Federalists urged Adams to promote associate justice William Paterson to the spot; Adams opted for Marshall.
Marshall's impact on American constitutional law is peerless. He served for more than 34 years (a record that few others have broken), he participated in more than 1000 decisions and authored over 500 opinions. As the single most important figure on constitutional law, Marshall's imprint can still be fathomed in the great issues of contemporary America. Other justices will surpass his single accomplishments, but no one will replace him as the Babe Ruth of the Supreme Court!