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U.S. Marshals Service

History - General Practitioners

This is an excerpt from The Lawmen: United States Marshals and Their Deputies: 1789-1989, by Frederick S. Calhoun   There are five web pages associated with this theme:    Broad Range of Authority > General Practitioners > Peril of Your Life > Civilian Enforcers > Loyal to Their Communities

These diversified duties precluded the Marshals from developing any particular specialty. They were law enforcers, but also administrators. They needed to be adept in accounting procedures and pursuing outlaws. in quelling riots and arranging court sessions. The legacy of their history was the avoidance of specialization. Even today. in this age of experts,  U.S. Marshals and their Deputies are the general practitioners within the law enforcement community. As the government's generalists, they have proven invaluable in responding to rapidly changing conditions. Although other Federal agencies are restricted by legislation to specific well-defined duties and jurisdictions, the Marshals are not. Consequently, they are called upon to uphold the government's interests and policies in a wide variety of circumstances.

For the American people, the Marshals personified the authority of the federal government within their communities.  The frequent outbursts of opposition to Federal power that characterize much of American history were often first directed at individual Marshals or Deputies. The Marshal, in effect, was the point of contact in the friction between the national government and local communities.

 The Whiskey Rebels of 1794, for example, violently opposed a national tax on whiskey.  They expressed that opposition by taking Marshal David Lenox prisoner.  Similar reactions obtained toward such noxious federal measures as the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, the post-Civil War Reconstruction Acts, and the desegregation of the South in the 1960s."Enter the Law", by Edward Ward, 1925.

Detail from the painting, "Enter the Law", by Edward Ward, 1925.

As the nation expanded westward, The U.S. Marshals were the only Federal law enforcement organization in the unorganized territories.

continued...Peril of Your Life is an official site of the U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice