John Marshall, “The Dandy and His Turkey,” and true greatness

One of the folk stories passed around about Chief Justice Marshall later in his life eventually made its way into nineteenth-century readers under the titles “Chief Justice Marshall and the Dandy” and “The Dandy and His Turkey.” This is a story about Marshall, who liked to do his own shopping at market in Richmond, carrying home a turkey for a young man. It wasn’t until the old man had departed that the “young dandy” realized that the old man who helped him out was the Chief Justice of the United States.

Two readers that printed a version of this story were Sanders’ The School Reader: Third Book and Burleigh’s The Thinker, A Moral Reader. There are minor variations between the two, but the moral of the story is to impress upon readers the importance of taking care of their own business.

From Sanders:

Lesson LXXX.
“Chief Justice Marshall and the Dandy.”

  1. Chief Justice Marshall was in the habit of going to market himself, and carrying home his purchases. As early as sunrise, he was frequently seen, with poultry in one hand and vegetables in the other.
  2. On one of these occasions, a fashionable young man, who had removed to Richmond, was looking for some one to carry home his turkey.
  3. Mr. Marshall stepped up to him, and asked where he lived. On being told, he said: “That is on my way, and I will take it for you.”
  4. When he came to the house, the young man inquired: “What shall I pay you?” “Nothing,” said the Chief Justice; “you are welcome; it was on my way and no trouble.”
  5. “What was that polite old gentleman that brought home my turkey for me?” inquired the young man of a by-stander. “That,” replied he, “is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States.”
  6. “Why did he bring home my turkey?” he asked. “To give you a severe reprimand, and teach you to attend to your own business,” was the reply.
  7. True greatness never feels above doing any thing that is useful; but especially the truly great man will never feel above helping himself. His own independence of character depends on his being able to administer to his own necessities.
  8. Dr. Franklin, when he first established himself in business, in Philadelphia, took home upon a wheel-barrow, with his own hands, the paper which he purchased for the printing office.

QUESTIONS.–1. What was Chief Justice Marshall in the habit of doing? 2. What did he do for the young dandy? 3. How did a by-stander answer the young man? 4. What is said of true greatness? 5. What of Dr. Franklin? 6. Where did Chief Justice Marshall reside?

From Burleigh:

Lesson XXVIII.

The Dandy and His Turkey.

§ 1. Chief Justice Marshall was in the habit of going to market himself, and carrying home his purchases.

§ 2. Frequently he would be seen at sunrise, with poultry in one hand and vegetables in the other.

§ 3. On one of those occasions, a fashionable young man was swearing violently, because he could find no one to carry home his turkey.

§ 4. The Chief Justice stepped up and said to him: “This is on my way, and I will take it for you.” When he came to the house, the young man inquired. “What shall I pay you?”

§ 5. “O nothing,” said the Chief Justice, “it was on my way home, and no trouble.”

§ 6. “Who was that polite old man through home my turkey?” inquired he of a bystander.

§ 7. “That,” replied he, “is John Marshall, Chief Justice of the U.S.” “Why did he bring home my turkey?” asked the young man

§ 8. To give you a severe reprimand, and teach you to attend to your own business, was the reply.

§ 9. True, genuine greatness never feels above doing anything that is useful. The truly great man will never feel above helping himself.

§ 10. My dear young friends, may the noble examples of the illustrious dead be constantly followed by you. May you never shrink from the performance of your duty.

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