TwHP Lessons

"The Great Chief Justice"
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Image of John Marshall House.

(Courtesy of Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities)


ohn Marshall led the Supreme Court of the United States from obscurity and weakness to prominence and power during his 34 years in office, from 1801 to 1835. More than half his time as chief justice was spent at home in Richmond, Virginia. Marshall’s public duties in Washington, D.C., and on circuit in Virginia and North Carolina, consumed an average of less than six months a year. So he was often with family and friends at his two-and-a-half-story brick house, built between 1788 and 1790. Located at the corner of Ninth and Marshall Streets in downtown Richmond, this house stands as a permanent memorial to the Marshall family. No other site, not even the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., is so closely connected to "The Great Chief Justice."

John Marshall’s public and private roles were intertwined at home. He developed legal opinions, wrote public papers, and greeted famous guests at this place, where he also was a father, husband, and household manager. Today visitors to the John Marshall House can see evidence of both the public and private parts of his life at home. A striking symbol of his public life--a large judicial robe once worn by Marshall as chief justice--is displayed in the visitors’ Orientation Room, as is a small locket that was worn by Marshall’s wife, Mary Willis Ambler, whom he called "my dearest Polly." These two objects represent the public and private domains of a great man’s life, his career and family.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
spacer1. Virginia and the Chesapeake Bay region
spacer2. John Marshall House and surrounding area,
spacerRichmond, Virginia

Determining the Facts: Readings
spacer1. John Marshall at Home
spacer2. A Black Robe--Symbol of Civil Virtue and
spacerConstitutional Principles

spacer3. A Locket and a Strand of Hair--Symbols of
spacerLove and Family

spacer4. John Marshall on "My Dearest Polly"

Visual Evidence: Images
spacer1. Exterior front view, John Marshall House
spacer2. Exterior side view, John Marshall House
spacer3. Withdrawing room, John Marshall House
spacer4. Dining room, John Marshall House
spacer5. Master bedroom, John Marshall House

Putting It All Together: Activities
spacer1. Assessing Public and Private
spacerQualities Associated with Greatness

spacer2. Inquiry on the Landmark Supreme Court
spacerOpinions of John Marshall

spacer3. Historic Sites in the Local Community

Supplementary Resources

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This lesson is based on the John Marshall House, one of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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