John Marshall was fourth chief justice of the United States and a Congressman from his native state of Virginia. In the Revolutionary War, Marshall rose to the rank of captain. When the conflict ended, he practiced law in Richmond and became a delegate to the Virginia general assembly. In 1797, he was appointed a commissioner to France, where he became involved in the "XYZ Affair." Two years later, he was elected to Congress, and was later named secretary of state by John Adams. Marshall was nominated to be chief justice of the United States in 1801. In the course of his thirty-four year tenure, Marshall established the Supreme Court as the ultimate body for interpreting the Constitution. The principle was first demonstrated in the case of Marbury v. Madison (1803), as the Court established the prerogative of judicial review. Other notable cases included McCulloch v. Maryland, Gibbons v. Ogden, Brown v. Maryland, and Ogden v. Saunders. Marshall believed that the Constitution was designed to be "adapted to the various crises of human affairs." Above all, he emphasized national supremacy over the interests of the individual states and the protection of property rights.
An 1836 resolution directed the Joint Committee on the Library to "cause a marble bust of the late Chief Justice Marshall to be prepared by an artist of merit and reputation, and to be placed in the chambers of the Supreme Court of the Untied States, in a position corresponding with that of the bust of the late Chief Justice Jay." Hiram Powers, a pioneer of the neoclassical style in American sculpture, secured the commission for the sum of $500. Powers failed to execute the bust immediately, however, due to the press of other business. He finally completed the Marshall bust in early 1840, after travelling to Italy, where he would spend the rest of his life. Powers also executed a statue of Benjamin Franklin, which is in the Senate collection, and a statue of Thomas Jefferson which is located in the House wing of the Capitol.