Loyal to their Communities
This is an excerpt from The Lawmen: United States
Marshals and Their Deputies: 1789-1989, by Frederick S. Calhoun |
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Throughout, the Marshals remained essentially a local organization
within the federal framework. They have always been required to live
within their districts; most have been natives of the locality they
served. They are hometown - men and women familiar with local feelings
about national issues. They are people comfortable within their own
neighborhoods. Of the first 16 marshals appointed by George Washington,
for example, eight were life-long residents of their districts, seven
had lived there more than five years. Washington' s successors continued
the trend in their appointments.
Until 1861, each Marshal reported directly to the Secretary of State. In
1861, Congress assigned supervision of the Marshals and U.S. Attorneys
to the Attorney General. For the next century, the Marshals answered to
that office. Their reports were distributed to the appropriate
divisions within the ever growing Department of Justice. For the
Marshals, their mission was national; their methods were local. Until
the appointment of James J.P. McShane as Chief Marshal in 1961,
the Marshals had no national organization, no Headquarters to speak of.
Before the Civil War, Douglass
became one of the best known opponents of slavery and a leader in the
abolitionist cause. In 1877, he was appointed U.S. Marshal for the
District of Columbia by President Rutherford B. Hayes - thus becoming
the first black to hold this position.
The Marshals' dedication to duty was not boundless; they did not
carry out orders blindly, simply because they were orders. In the
month immediately before the opening of the Civil War, Marshals
throughout the South resigned. These Marshals chose loyalty to
their communities over obedience to the federal government.
Although a unique situation, their resignations illustrated the extreme
effect of selecting Marshals from within the districts they served.
Most of the time, a comfortable balance between law enforcement and
community sensitivities was simple to achieve. Few people disputed
the Marshals' right to arrest mail robbers, counterfeiters, or others
who broke the federal laws. Nor were there many objections to the
Marshals serving process. People generally accepted the principle
that the purpose of the courts and trials was to settle disputes, not
Ada Carnutt was one of the first
women to wear a Deputy U.S. Marshal's badge. In 1893, she
single-handedly arrested two forgers and personally escorted them to
jail. Like all deputies of her era, she had to be extremely tough
and ready to face a wide range of situations.
|In 1896, Congress established a salary for both Marshals and their
Deputies and the Attorney General imposed limits on the number of
Deputies each Marshal could hire, but the Marshal continued to do his
Yet, in attempting to obviate the American people's
distaste for strong government, succeeding presidents and Senates
ultimately committed a disservice to the development of the office of
the U.S. Marshal as a professional organization. The system of
appointments, for which the only criteria were presidential nomination
and Senate confirmation, limited the professional growth of the
Marshals. Most Marshals did not last long enough to develop the
skills and experience that marks a professional. Nor were they
necessarily selected on the basis of similar skills or experience; nor
were they provided any training until fairly recent times. These
factors also slowed the development of a cadre of professionals among
Quite simply, it was a patronage job, subject to all of the
abuses of that system. From 1789 to 1896, each Marshal
hired practically as many Deputies as he or she wanted.
They were paid on a fee system, collecting set amounts for
performing particular tasks, such as serving summonses, writs,
Pablo De Le Guerra Y Noriega was the
first U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of California from 1850 to
1854 and the first Hispanic ever appointed to the position
Known as the "Three
Guardsmen of Oklahoma", William 'Bill" Tilghman, Henry "Heck"
Thomas, and Chris Madsen (left to right) were instrumental in
bringing law and order to the Indian and Oklahoma territories in the
late 1800's. Madsen, a gifted administrator, best understood
the rules and regulations governing the Deputy U.S. Marshals.
|More than 40 years later, in 1937, the
Department of Justice invoked a new regulation requiring the Marshals to
resumes and security checks on their
Deputies, but this was essentially a veto
power over the Marshals' hiring practices,
not an active measure to select Deputies for each district.
in 1972, the Marshals Service,
itself a recently created headquarters
agency superimposed on the individual districts, took control of all
training of Deputies nationwide. The
selection of U.S. Marshals remained in
the hands of the president.
Yet, the point should not be
Professionalism is a 20th century phenomenon in the United States.
It simply was not as important in the 18th
and 19th centuries as it has become
today, particularly in law enforcement.
Prior to World War I, federal law, the
only law the Marshals enforced, was limited
and comparatively simple. The
complex of' rules and regulations that
characterizes the contemporary world did not exist then. Few Marshals
had difficulty in quickly learning
their duties and carrying out those duties
with proficiency. Indeed. those with managerial and accounting experience
have been better suited to the position.
The biggest problem besetting the Marshals
of the 1800s was not catching
lawbreakers, but accounting for the
monies used to run the courts. A small
army of accountants at the Treasury and
Justice Departments audited them at every
turn, disallowing their expenditures on
the slightest excuse. Keeping track of the
courts' funds was a headache of a job
compared to which pursuing mail robbers
and other outlaws must have seemed a
In doing their duty, the Marshals accompanied the
United States on its route toward democratic self government.
Few Marshals rose above the times in which they served, few were better
than the laws and the government they obeyed. But that is America. The
history of the United States Marshals and their Deputies is, in
startling simplicity, the history of the United States.
It is the two-hundred-year story of how
men and women enforced the law and
served the courts, of how they fought and
died in support of the ideal of self-government.
But more than that, it is the
story of how we Americans
choose to govern ourselves. The thousands
of men and women who served as
Marshals or Deputies were, first and foremost, Americans. They took
themselves for brief and fleeting moments the difficult and dangerous task of enforcing
the laws. When they failed, it was an
American failure more than a personal
one, and when they succeeded, it was an
American success. In a government of
laws, not men, they were the lawmen.