History - Civilian Enforcers
This is an excerpt from The Lawmen: United States
Marshals and Their Deputies: 1789-1989, by Frederick S. Calhoun |
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Loyal to Their
Yet, in performing their duties in the face of opposition from the
local populace and governments, the Marshals served an extremely
important function. They were the barrier between civilian government
and military rule. They were the civilian enforcers of the law.
When the Marshals were overcome by opposition, the presidents under
whom they served had little choice but to call out the military. Marshal
David Lenox's brief captivity by the Whiskey Rebels convinced President
Washington to muster 13,000 state militiamen to put down the Whiskey
At the University of Mississippi in 1962, Deputy Marshals
enforce the court-ordered registration of James Meredith a black
American who wanted an education at a college of his choice. Lt.
Governor Paul Johnson confronts Chief Marshal James McShane as he
escorts Meredith to the registrar's office where he was admitted to the
school. For the next year, until Meredith graduated in August
1963, Marshals protected him on the campus.
The Department of Justice recently had a
commemoration of this historic event.
The Marshals in the southern states after
the Civil War enforced the new Civil Rights acts, but they frequently
called on the army for assistance. On the night of September 30, 1962,
President John F. Kennedy reluctantly sent military forces to Oxford,
Mississippi. after a major riot erupted over the attempt by Marshals to
enforce the court-ordered enrollment of James Meredith.
Deputy Marshals arrest protesters at
the Pentagon in October 1967. During the Vietnam War, the Marshals
helped protect government buildings from anti-war demonstrators
Pentagon in October
1967, anti-Vietnam War demonstrators confronted a thin, single-file line
of Marshals blocking their path to the Defense Department. Behind the
Marshals, and clearly supplying the government's muscle, stood large
numbers of regular Army troops. Standing between the rioters and the
Army, the Marshals symbolized the civilian power of the government
which, when overcome, allowed the Amy to step into the fray. At the same
time, the Marshals were on hand to take arrests, a civilian power not
usually bestowed on the military.
In a government based on the concept of civilian
supremacy, the U.S. Marshals and their Deputies provided the civilian
enforcement power. The military was restricted to emergency support.
Early on, the federal government adopted measures to make its authority
more palatable to the American people. Those who enforced federal laws
at the local level generally came from that locality. They understood
the people, for they were dealing with their friends and neighbors.
This was particularly important in the 19th century when lack of
communications made the national government distant and seemingly
foreign, but everyone knew or had heard of the Marshal because he had
been active in community affairs and politics for years.
For most of their history, U.S. Marshals enjoyed a surprising degree
of independence in performing their duties. Quite simply, no
headquarters or central administration existed to supervise the work of
the Marshals until the late 1950s. Even then, the Executive Office for
U.S. Marshals had no real power over the districts until it was
transformed into the U.S. Marshals Service in 1969 and given control of
the district budgets and the hiring of Deputies. Prior to that, each
Marshal was practically autonomous, receiving only general guidance from
the executive branch of the government.
As a result. the Marshals; working with the federal judges and U.S.
Attorneys in their districts, enjoyed a wide latitude in determining how
they would enforce the law. For most of them, the solution was to go as
easily as possible. Few of them wanted to give offense to their friends
and neighbors, particularly since they knew all to well that the job of
Marshal was temporary. Unless they were prepared to leave their homes
after their commissions expired, the Marshals struggled to balance the
enforcement of Federal laws against the feelings of the local populace.
continue.... Loyal to their