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U.S. Marshals Service

History -  Loyal to their Communities

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

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 create them.

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 own hiring.

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 Deputies.

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, or warrants.

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 submit 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.

Finally, in 1972, the Marshals Service, itself a recently created headquarters agency superimposed on the individual districts, took control of all hiring and training of Deputies nationwide. The selection of U.S. Marshals remained in the hands of the president.

Yet, the point should not be overemphasized. 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 and Deputies had difficulty in quickly learning their duties and carrying out those duties with proficiency. Indeed. those with managerial and accounting experience may 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 welcome relief.

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 upon 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. is an official site of the U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justicee