Family and background
Thomas Marshall's paternal grandfather, Riley Marshall, immigrated to Indiana in 1817 and settled on a farm in present-day Whitley County.[c] He became wealthy when a moderate deposit of oil and natural gas was discovered on his farm; when he sold the property in 1827 it earned $25,000, $523,750 in 2015 chained dollars. The money allowed him to purchase a modest estate and spend the rest of his life as an active member of the Indiana Democratic Party, serving as an Indiana State Senator, party chairman, and financial contributor. He was also able to send his only child, Daniel, to medical school.
Marshall's mother, Martha Patterson, was orphaned at age thirteen while living in Ohio and moved to Indiana to live with her sister on a farm near the Marshalls' home. Martha was known for her wit and humor, as her son later would be.[d] Martha and Daniel met and married in 1848.
Thomas Riley Marshall was born in North Manchester, Indiana, on March 14, 1854. Two years later, a sister was born, but she died in infancy. Martha had contracted tuberculosis, which Daniel believed to be the cause of their infant daughter's poor health. While Marshall was still a young boy, his family moved several times in search of a good climate for Daniel to attempt different "outdoor cures" on Martha. They moved first to Quincy, Illinois in 1857. While the family was living in Illinois, Daniel Marshall, a supporter of the American Union and a staunch Democrat, took his four-year-old son, Thomas, to the Lincoln and Douglas debate in Freeport in 1858. Marshall later recalled that during the rally he sat on the laps of Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln, alternating between the two candidates when they were not speaking, and remembered it as one of his earliest and most cherished memories.
The family moved to Osawatomie, Kansas, in 1859, but the frontier violence caused them to move to Missouri in 1860. Eventually, Daniel succeeded in curing Martha's disease. As the American Civil War neared, violence spread into Missouri during the Bleeding Kansas incidents. In October 1860 several men led by Duff Green demanded that Daniel Marshall provide medical assistance to the pro-slavery faction, but he refused, and the men left. When the Marshalls' neighbors warned that Green was planning to return and murder them, the family quickly packed their belongings and escaped by steamboat to Illinois. The Marshalls remained in Illinois only briefly, before relocating to Indiana, which was even farther from the volatile border region.
On settling in Pierceton, Indiana, Marshall began to attend public school. His father and grandfather became embroiled in a dispute with their Methodist minister when they refused to vote Republican in the 1862 election. The minister threatened to expel them from the church, to which Marshall's grandfather replied that he would "take his risk on hell, but not the Republican Party". The dispute prompted the family to move again, to Fort Wayne, and convert to the Presbyterian church. In Fort Wayne, Marshall attended high school, graduating in 1869. At age fifteen his parents sent him to Wabash College, in Crawfordsville, where he received a classical education. His father advised him to study medicine or become a minister, but neither interested him; he entered the school without knowing which profession he would take upon graduation.
During college Marshall joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, participated in literary and debating societies, and founded a Democratic Club. He secured a position on the staff of the college newspaper, the Geyser, and began writing political columns defending Democratic policies. In 1872 he wrote an unfavorable column about a female lecturer at the school, accusing her of "seeking liberties" with the young boys in their boarding house. She hired lawyer Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur, and filed a suit demanding that Marshall pay her $20,000 for libel. Marshall traveled to Indianapolis in search of a defense lawyer and employed future United States President Benjamin Harrison, then a prominent lawyer in the area. Harrison had the suit dropped by showing that the charges made by Marshall were probably true. In Marshall's memoir, he wrote that when he approached Harrison to pay his bill, his lawyer informed him that he would not charge him for the service, but instead gave him a lecture on ethics.
Marshall was elected to Phi Beta Kappa during his final year at college. He graduated in June 1873, receiving the top grade in fourteen of his thirty-six courses in a class of twenty-one students. As a result of his libel case, he had become increasingly interested in law and began seeking someone to teach him. At that time, the only way to become a lawyer in Indiana was to apprentice under a member of the Indiana bar association. His great-uncle Woodson Marshall began to help him, but the younger Marshall soon moved to Columbia City, Indiana, to live with his parents. Marshall read law in the Columbia City law office of
Walter Olds, a future member of the Indiana Supreme Court, for more than a year and was admitted to the Indiana bar on April 26, 1875.
Marshall opened a law practice in Columbia City in 1876, taking on many minor cases. After gaining prominence, he accepted William F. McNagny as a partner in 1879 and began taking many criminal defense cases. The two men functioned well as partners. McNagny was better educated in law and worked out their legal arguments. Marshall, the superior orator, argued the cases before the judge and jury. Their firm became well known in the region after they handled a number of high-profile cases. In 1880 Marshall ran for public office for the first time as the Democratic candidate for his district's prosecuting attorney. The district was a Republican stronghold, and he was defeated. About the same time, he met and began to court Kate Hooper, and the two became engaged to marry. Kate died of an illness in 1882, one day before they were to be wed. Her death was a major emotional blow to Marshall, leading him to become an alcoholic.
Marshall lived with his parents into his thirties. His father died in the late 1880s and his mother died in 1894, leaving him with the family estate and business. In 1895, while working on a case, Marshall met Lois Kimsey who was working as a clerk in her father's law firm. Despite their nineteen-year age difference, the couple fell in love and married on October 2. The Marshalls had a close marriage and were nearly inseparable, and spent only two nights apart during their nearly thirty-year marriage.
Marshall's alcoholism had begun to interfere with his busy life prior to his marriage. He arrived at court hung-over on several occasions and was unable to keep his addiction secret in his small hometown. His wife helped him to overcome his drinking problem and give up liquor after she locked him in their home for two weeks to undergo a treatment regimen. Thereafter, he became active in temperance organizations and delivered several speeches about the dangers of liquor. Although he had stopped drinking, his past alcoholism was later raised by opponents during his gubernatorial election campaign.
Marshall remained active in the Democratic party after his 1880 defeat and began stumping on behalf of other candidates and helping to organize party rallies across the state. His speeches were noted for their partisanship, but his rhetoric gradually shifted away from a conservative viewpoint in the 1890s as he began to identify himself with the growing progressive movement. He became a member of the state Democratic Central Committee in 1904, a position that raised his popularity and influence in the party.
Marshall and his wife were involved in several private organizations. He was active in the Presbyterian Church, taught Sunday school, and served on the county fair board. As he grew wealthy from his law firm he became involved in local charities. An enthusiastic Mason in Columbia City Lodge No. 189 in the Grand Lodge of Indiana, he was a governing member of the state's York Rite bodies, awarded the thirty-third degree of the Scottish Rite in 1898, and became an Active member of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's Supreme Council in 1911. He remained a passionate Freemason until his death and served on several Masonic charitable boards. After his death, the $25,000 cost of erecting his mausoleum in Indianapolis' Crown Hill Cemetery was gratefully paid for by the Scottish Rite NMJ Supreme Council.