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George Washington Appoints First Marshals - 1789

The offices of U.S. Marshal and Deputy Marshals were created more than 200 years ago by the first Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789, the same legislation that established the federal judicial system. The Marshals were given extensive authority to support the federal courts within their judicial districts and to carry out all lawful orders issued by judges, Congress, or the President.

The Marshals and their Deputies served the subpoenas, summonses, writs, warrants, and other process issued by the courts, made all the arrests, and handled all the prisoners. They also disbursed the money.

The Marshals paid the fees and expenses of the court clerks, U.S. Attorneys, jurors, and witnesses. They rented the courtrooms and jail space and hired the bailiffs, criers, and janitors. They made sure the prisoners were present, the jurors were available, and the witnesses were on time.

But this was only a part of what the Marshals did. When George Washington set up his first administration and the first Congress began passing laws, both quickly discovered an inconvenient gap in the constitutional design of the government. It had no provision for a regional administrative structure stretching throughout the country. Both the Congress and the executive branch were housed at the national capitol. No agency was established or designated to represent the federal government's interests at the local level. The need for a regional organization quickly became apparent. Congress and the President solved part of the problem by creating specialized agencies, such as customs and revenue collectors, to levy the tariffs and taxes. Yet, there were numerous other jobs that needed to be done. The only officers available to do them were the Marshals and their Deputies.

Thus, the Marshals also provided local representation for the federal government within their districts. They took the national census every 10 years through 1870. They distributed Presidential proclamations, collected a variety of statistical information on commerce and manufacturing, supplied the names of government employees for the national register, and performed other routine tasks needed for the central government to function effectively. Over the past 200 years, Congress and the President also have called on the Marshals to carry out unusual or extraordinary missions, such as registering enemy aliens in time of war, capturing fugitive slaves, sealing the American border against armed expeditions from foreign countries, and swapping spies with the former Soviet Union.

The Modern Marshals Service - Changing with the Times

Just as America has changed over the past two centuries, so has its federal justice system-from the original 13 judicial districts to 94 districts spanning the continent and beyond, and with tens of thousands of federal judges, prosecutors, jurors, witnesses, and defendants involved in the judicial process. So, too, the Marshals Service has changed dramatically! Not in its underlying responsibility to enforce the law and execute the orders issued by the court, but in the breadth of its functions, the professionalism of its personnel, and the sophistication of the technologies employed. These changes are made apparent by an examination of the contemporary duties of the modern Marshals Service.

Books about the United States Marshals Service:

  • The Lawmen : United States Marshals and Their Deputies 1789-1989
    Author: Fredrick S. Calhoun
    Publisher: Smithsonian Press -1989
  • The Lawmen : United States Marshals and Their Deputies 1789-1989 (paperback)
    Author: Fredrick S. Calhoun
    Publisher: Penquin Press-1992
  • Too Tough To Die
    Author: Robbert Sabbag
    Publisher: Simon & Schuster - 1992

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