In the War for American Independence, John served in the 11th Virginia Infantry as a lieutenant, fighting in the Battle of Brandywine, and surviving the winter at Valley Forge. He was furloughed in 1780 to attend The College of William and Mary where he read law with George Wythe, the foremost legal mind in the colonies. He rejoined his military command in 1781 and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses the following year. John’s legal career prospered after he purchased his cousin Edmund Randolph’s firm in Richmond, upon the latter’s election to the Governorship.
Marshall’s Richmond, Virginia home
Marshall came to the conviction that the Articles of Confederation were too weak to sustain the Union of the States, and thus supported the Constitutional Convention and its creation of the Constitution of the United States in 1789, Marshall fought for its ratification in Virginia, working hand-in-glove with James Madison and George Washington against Patrick Henry and the Anti-federalists. As the country divided into political factions during the 1790s, Marshall teamed up with Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist party against his distant cousin Thomas Jefferson, arguing for neutrality in foreign affairs, high tariffs, and a more powerful chief executive. He got to argue an important case before the Supreme Court, making a powerful impression, though he lost the case.
Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838)
Federalist President John Adams sent Marshall with two other prominent politicians to France as envoys to protest the revolutionary French depredations against American shipping. French Foreign Minister Talleyrand demanded bribes to meet with the American diplomats, triggering the XYZ Affair and the “Quasi-war” with France. With his high reputation as a lawyer and experience in diplomacy, Marshall’s political career bloomed with election to Congress as a representative, and his selection as Secretary of State with the express purpose of ending the Quasi-war with France, bolstering relations with Britain, and ending the war against the Barbary pirates.
President John Adams’ nomination of John Marshall to the position of Supreme Court Justice, dated and signed January 20, 1801