In 1801, a genial and brilliant Revolutionary War veteran and politician became the fourth Chief Justice of the United States. John Marshall would hold the post for 34 years (still a record), expounding the Constitution he loved. Before he joined the Court, it was the weakling of the federal government, lacking in dignity and clout. After Marshall died, it could never be ignored again.
Through three decades of dramatic cases involving businessmen, scoundrels, Native Americans, and slaves, Marshall defended the federal government against unruly states, established the Supreme Court’s right to rebuke Congress or the president, and unleashed the power of American commerce. For better and for worse, he made the Supreme Court a pillar of American life.