How Chief Justice John Marshall Described Leadership

John Marshall, who served in the Continental Army and went on to become Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, once described leadership in action.

Marshall (1755-1835) completed the first serious biography of George Washington eight years after Washington died.  His five-volume work has been described as "the only comprehensive account by a great statesman of the full founding of the United States-of the founding of an independent people as well as of its government."  The executor of Washington's estate chose Marshall to write the biography.

In the context of describing Washington's retreat from New York into New Jersey, when Washington's army appeared to be evaporating in the face of a superior force, Marshall wrote this:

"The contrast between the splendid appearance of the pursuing army, and that of the ragged Americans who were flying before them, could not fail to nourish the general opinion that the contest was approaching its termination.

Among the many valuable traits in the character of Washington, was that unyielding firmness of mind which resisted these accumulated circumstances of depression, and supported him under them.  Undismayed by the dangers which surrounded him, he did not for an instant relax his exertions, nor omit any thing which could obstruct the progress of the enemy, or improve his own condition.  He did not appear to despair of the public safety, but struggled against adverse fortune with the hope of yet vanquishing the difficulties which surrounded him; and constantly showed himself to his harassed and enfeebled army, with a serene, unembarrassed countenance, betraying no fears in himself, and invigorating and inspiring with confidence the bosoms of others.  To this unconquerable firmness, to this perfect self-possession under the most desperate circumstances, is America, in a great degree, indebted for her independence."

(The Life of George Washington, Vol. II, pp. 234-235, John Marshall, The Citizens' Guild of Washington's Boyhood Home, Fredericksburg, VA., 1926)


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