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Message from the Executive Director

January 7, 2016 by David King

THE WALKER: If you’ve read a biography of Marshall, you may have noticed, as did I, that Marshall liked to walk. A lot. When he was young, it was probably out of necessity. Jean Edward Smith writes that Marshall, while living at Oak Hill, walked 18 miles to Warrenton each day to study in a law office and that, later, in Washington’s Army, the young officer walked 30-35 miles a day for two weeks back to Philadelphia after his home leave.

For the some 40 years that he was a lawyer, judge, and Chief Justice, Marshall took long morning walks for exercise. Smith writes, “As had long been his custom, John Marshall rose well before dawn to go for a brisk walk of four to five miles through the meandering Shockoe Valley.” In 1826, at the age of 70, Marshall wrote to Polly that he “takes a three-mile walk by 7:00.” After Polly died in 1831, several times a week he walked the two miles to Shockoe Hill cemetery to visit her grave.

Walking and thinking naturally go together. Philosophers and poets are walkers. Clearly, Marshall’s gifts to the world are the products of his thinking but the walks also show his humanness, a need to be alone with his thoughts. Perhaps his walks took his mind to thoughts of his kids and his beloved Polly. Or to jokes remembered from Madeira drinking and quoits tossing. No doubt his personal accounts, gambling winnings or debts also figured in the walks. And surely Marshall recited verses from the poet he loved, Alexander Pope.

To me, the walks make Marshall human. Being wonderfully human, his legacy is all the more, well, super-human.

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