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Deputy U.S. Marshals


The U.S. Marshals Service has its roots in the Judiciary Act, passed by Congress in 1789, which established not only the post of U.S. marshal but also the country's original federal court system. The act delegated two duties to the marshals: to enforce all precepts issued by the federal government and to protect and attend to the federal courts. Marshals were also authorized to hire one or more deputies.

The first 13 U.S. marshals, appointed by President George Washington, were confirmed by the U.S. Senate on September 26, 1789. Over the next year two more marshals were chosen. The 13 original states, as well as the districts of Kentucky and Maine, were each assigned a marshal to represent the federal government's interests at a local level. The number of marshals and deputies increased as the United States expanded westward, and with a rise in the country's population, some states were assigned more than one marshal. In 2019, there were approximately 3,547 deputy U.S. marshals assigned to the 94 federal judicial districts across the United States and Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas.

The duties of the Marshals Service expanded soon after the appointment of the first marshals. Marshals and deputies were required, for example, to play a major role in taking the national census (a responsibility that lasted until 1870), to supervise federal penitentiaries in the western territories, to enforce precepts from the French consuls, to take custody of goods seized by customs officers, and to sell seized lands. Along with the increase in responsibilities came a corresponding growth in the number of superiors to whom the Marshals Service was accountable. By the mid-19th century, the federal courts, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Solicitor of the Treasury, and the Secretary of the Interior all had supervisory powers over some aspects of the work of the marshals and deputies. In 1861, however, the Marshals Service came under the exclusive power of the attorney general, and in 1870 the service became a part of the newly created Department of Justice.

U.S. marshals and their deputies have frequently faced potentially dangerous situations. The level of danger was especially great in the 19th century for those who were charged with keeping order in newly established western territories. During the Oklahoma land rush, for example, more than 60 marshals were killed in a span of just five years. It is the Marshals Service of the late 19th century—the time of legendary marshals Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp—that has been dramatized in numerous books and films about the role of marshals and deputies in the Old West. Some might also remember that marshals and deputies were charged with quelling civil disturbances such as the Whisky Rebellion of 1791, the Pullman Strike of 1894, and the antiwar protests of the late 1960s; enforcing school integration beginning in the 1960s; and confronting militant Native Americans at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. Today the men and women of the Marshals Service, trained in the latest techniques and equipment, continue to perform a wide variety of law enforcement and homeland security duties under the attorney general and the U.S. Department of Justice.

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