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CHIEF JUSTICE CHARLES N. POTTER
PRIVATE LIFE AND CHARACTER OF JOHN MARSHALL.
The celebration of “John Marshall Day,” as originally conceived, had for its elemental purpose, as I understand it, the commemoration of the fortunate and epochal event which furnished to this country the distinguished expounder of the Constitution; to the end that the pre-eminent influence of John Marshall, upon our institutions, should be emphasized, and the people of our land brought into a clearer recognition of his character and the fruitful significance of his public service; and as expressed in the original proposition, which was submitted to the Illinois State Bar Association, that “the name of John Marshall” shall be made “a household word in the land.”
The multitude readily grasp the meaning of great victories on field of battle and the successful commander is raised to the dignity of a popular hero in a day. Eminence of ability and strength of character exhibited by a chief executive meets a responsive acclaim in the hearts and expressions of the people. Strangely but quite naturally the influence of a great jurist in the interpretation of constitutional prerogatives and limitations is less easily comprehended.
With the bench and bar this day has connected with it also a personal feature. The occasion presents an opportunity for a new generation of lawyers to pay a just and deserved tribute to the consummate abilities, superb character and illustrious services of a great judge, whose name is the pride of the American bar and whose profound judgments have shed an inextinguishable lustre upon American courts. The time seems ripe also, at the beginning of a new century, as days and years are measured by the calendar, and when fresh and perplexing questions as to the scope of the fundamental instrument of our government, and the very nature of our national character and institutions are obtruding themselves upon public attention, that the bench and bar of our country should be brought not only into a maturer acquaintance with the opinions entertained and pronounced by our greatest chief justice, but as well into a closer intimacy with the man himself.
I take the liberty of assuming that with some such view as this your committee have selected as the subject for my address “The Private Life and Character of John Marshall.”
We shall not recall the events, more or less familiar, of the life of Marshall in a spirit of mere idle curiosity, but reverently rather in recognition of the truth of the expression that the characters of great men are the dowry of a nation.
Emerson has said that "the truest test of civilization” is not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops, but the kind of men the country turns out. And another writer, in defining character, says "There is something in a man's life greater than his occupation or achievements; grander than acquisition or wealth; higher than genius; more enduring than fame.”
Marshall was great, not only in intellectual attainments and public achievement, but he was great also as a man. IIis was the highest type of American manhood. In many respects which distinguish one man from another, as they are observed in their daily walk, John Marshall towered far above the ordinary run of men.
History draws its life from the men who made it; not only as they appear in public, but quite as much as they are in private life and as they are known by those with whom they are brought into daily contact. It is a source of profound gratification that in reviewing the private life and character of John Marshall nothing is to be found which we shall have occasion to regret, and nothing to apologize for or excuse. As a ball or other object when thrown by an athlete will acquire greater force and momentum and pierce the atmosphere to a greater distance before surrendering to the power of gravitation than when cast forth by a weaker arm; so the conclusion and judicial opinions of Judge Marshall were intensified by the purity and strength of character of the man himself. A distinguished admiral of our navy after the conclusion of the late Spanish-American conflict ascribed in large part the success of our navy to the character of the men behind American guns. It seems to me almost a truism that the determination of the majestic forensic battles, which occurred at the bar of the highest court of the land in the early days of our national life, depended largely upon the character of Marshall and his distinguished associates who were by force of circumstance the final arbiters of the momentous questions involved. Assuming at any rate that this view possesses a reasonable degree of accuracy the student of the history of our government should be deeply interested in all that concerns John Marshall whether in public or private life.
Although the imperishable renown of Marshall rests largely upon the distinction attained by him in public office, it is nevertheless an interesting fact that he came from a distinguished ancestry. IIe belonged to that race of cavaliers whose influence upon the American character and our national history has been distinctively marked.
John Marshall was born September 24, 1755, at Germantown, a small village in what was then the frontier county of Fauquier, in the Colony of Virginia. He was descended from Captain John Marshall, who came to Virginia about 1650. His great grandfather was Thomas Marshall of Westmoreland County, Virginia, and his grandfather was John Marshall of the “Forest" in the same county. His father was Colonel Thomas Marshall, a friend of Washington, and who took an active part in the Revolutionary War. The grandfather of the Captain Marshall, who first settled in Virginia was also a military man and fought as a captain at the siege of Calais, where he was desperately wounded, and
claimed descent from the father of William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, the first of the barons to sign Magna Charta.
The mother of John Marshall was Mary Isham Keith; and it is said that her lineage reaches back to the remotest period of Anglo-Saxon history, and to Ecgbert, the first king of the Saxon Heptarchy. She was the daughter of Rev. James Keith, an Episcopal minister.
In consequence of the removal of Marshall's father, shortly after the birth of his oldest son John, the boyhood home of the subject of this address was situated about thirty miles west of his birthplace in the mountainous region east of the Blue Ridge, at a place called the "Hollow," well calculated, so far as nature and surroundings can, to develop the purer and nobler qualities of a boy. The neighborhood was destitute of schools; but during the period preceding his fourteenth year Marshall received from his father a not inconsiderable training in literature, and thus he early acquired an intense love of that branch of learning. As a boy he was peculiarly attracted by the beauty of the scenery in the vicinity of his home; and we are informed that he dwelt with nature and delighted in the youthful sports of the field. At that period of his life he was thoughtful and quiet in manner, rather sedate for a lad of his age, but full of a dreamy and poetic enthusiasm. It is said also that he enjoyed the solitude of the forest, and “was a dreamer of dreams.” As we glance at his characteristics in later life, we are hardly disposed to class him even in boyhood as a mere dreamer of dreams. One is more inclined, I think, to view the dreams of his youth as those longings natural to a vigorous and ambitious spirit looking out into the future and building castles of achievement and success. Nevertheless, it is doubtless true that Marshall's character, at that early period, was imbued with more or less poetic fervor. It would be strange, indeed, had it been otherwise, reared in the love of the English classics, and with so much in nature around him to charm the eye and incite the imagination. We know, in fact, that in his maturer years, and even late in life, he was occasionally given to express some deep emotion of the soul in metrical composition. In 1831, in a letter
to Judge Story relating the circumstances of the death of a son and daughter, which had occurred some years before, he informs his friend that he wrote his wife a letter in verse, at the time, in which their mutual loss was deplored, their departed children spoken of with that parental feeling which belonged to the occasion, her affection for those which survived was appealed to and her religious confidence in the wisdom and goodness of Providence excited. In the same letter he gratefully acknowledges the receipt from Judge Story of some verses which the melancholy occasion of the death of the latter's youngest child produced from his pen. It was not unusual for the great minds of those days, although perplexed with great and burning questions, and filled with high thoughts, to express in verse sentiments caused by some occasion of joy or sorrow. I remember of reading some very touching lines written by Daniel Webster, shortly after the loss by death of a son in early childhood. But the poetic in Marshall's character was, after all, far from making of him a dreamer in the modern acceptation of that term.
He was an affectionate son and ever retained an admiration for his father's virtues and talents. After he had achieved prominence in his chosen profession he remarked to a friend, "My father was a far abler man than any of his sons. To him I owe the foundation of all my own success in life.” We are warranted, therefore, I think, in the assumption that the education derived from such a father was not confined to the instilling of poetic fancies; but that it embraced much of a practical nature. Indeed, as we shall observe him before reaching the age of twenty, entering actively into armed support of his native country, we may conclude legitimately that the seeds of patriotism were likewise planted in the youthful breast by that same father, and nurtured at the fireside of an American home where the Christian virtues were daily exemplified and a calm fortitude and a conscientious regard for the demands of duty constantly displayed.
Marshall was a dutiful son. His father was wont to say that John had never seriously displeased him. As a boy, he was gentle in his demeanor toward his mother and sisters. His love for his