William Rehnquist went to Warrenton last weekend as part of Fauquier County's celebration of the bicentennial of the Constitution.

About 200 people jammed into the old county courthouse to see the chief justice of the United States and a special ceremony commemorating the Constitution.

Most were judges, politicians and officials from other jurisdictions around the state invited to attend the event.

After tickets to the ceremony had been given to the dignitaries, only 42 remained for the public. But even that small number proved adequate for county residents. Only 22 of the tickets were claimed.

"I have no idea why there was such a small demand for tickets," said Mike Welton, publicist for the Fauquier County Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.

"This is a small community. For any public event, there are not usually a lot of people."

Those who attended the special session of court, honoring Fauquier's most famous native son, John Marshall, and his role in interpreting the Constitution, did not seem too worried about any possible public apathy, however.

"I thought it was an excellent ceremony," said William Carson, a retired general district court judge from Warrenton. "I'm a member of the commission on the bicentennial, and I think all of us were pleased with the way things went."

Seated in front of a life-sized portrait of Marshall at the back of the 1899 courthouse, Rehnquist addressed the crowd in a relaxed manner, almost as if giving a college lecture.

Describing Marshall and his early career as a militia officer in George Washington's revolutionary army, Rehnquist painted a picture of a man who was inspirational without being aloof or condescending.

"He seemed to have fraternized with his men more than officers do nowadays," the chief justice commented.

From his experiences in the War of Independence, Marshall came to think of America, rather than England, as his country, and Congress, rather than Parliament, as his government, Rehnquist said.

This impression, Rehnquist said, is one of the reasons that Marshall, the fourth man appointed chief justice, was able to develop the judiciary into a respected and equal part of the U.S. government.

In an apparent reference to the hearings on Judge Robert H. Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, Rehnquist said that two of the first chief justices, John Jay and Oliver Elsworth, "would truly be found to be highly qualified, even under today's demanding standards."

However, neither of these men seemed particularly interested in the position of chief justice, he said. Each saw the Supreme Court as an ineffectual body and chose to pursue more rewarding political goals.

"I see the secret of John Marshall's success as chief justice of the Supreme Court in his character and temperament," Rehnquist said.

"He had the vision of a nation and a form of government that animated the opinions he wrote."

After Rehnquist's speech, court was adjourned. Pausing briefly outside the courthouse for a photograph, the chief justice rushed back to Washington to be with his wife, who is ill.

The remaining participants and spectators from the ceremony gathered outside in the courthouse square for a reception.