Most students of judicial review agree that American constitutional history in 1789-1801 was marking time, as though the audience at a play was awaiting the appearance of the star. John Marshall, chief justice of the United States until his death in 1835, was that star. His jurisprudence shaped national policy and national sentiment, and his philosophy affected every facet of American life and continues to do so today. He was fundamental in forging the new nation and in determining the status blacks would have in it.

John Marshall was born in 1755 in Fauquier County, Va., and fought in the American Revolution. For six weeks he attended George Wythe's law lectures at William and Mary College. Marshall was a lawyer who learned the law while he practiced it. He became a member of the bar in 1780, had a lucrative practice and was appointed to the Supreme Court by John Adams in 1801.

Marshall was a contemporary of the Founding Fathers and was personally acquainted with them and their works. A prominent member of the Virginia ratifying convention and a staunch Federalist, Marshall interpreted the Constitution so as to provide maximum protection to property rights, including slavery, and maximum support for a strong central government. Usually these two objectives were joined. A raging debate of the period centered on what was to be the locus of sovereignty. Southern states feared that to rest such power in the national government would jeopardize their control over their peculiar institution of slavery. In defense they developed the doctrine of state's rights and state sovereignty.

Marshall was a slave holder. He inherited slave property, and he also bought slaves. When the American Colonization Society was organized in 1816 to rid the nation of its "wretched" Free Negro population -- Justice Bushrod Washington of the Supreme Court was its president -- an auxiliary society was soon organized in Richmond and Chief Justice John Marshall was its president to his death.

To Marshall, America had a destiny. It was to be a beacon, a haven for white people to fulfill their desire for freedom and self-determination. Blacks had no place in it -- except of course, as slaves. And if by chance blacks should fall through the cracks of slave law and become free, they would be sent back to Africa, through the Colonization Society.

With most Federalists, Marshall believed in the ''deferential society'' in which all mankind was divided into two groups: natural leaders from the wealthy and elite class were taught to possess a sense of responsibility, to have a genuine regard for the wellbeing of their (white) inferiors and to lead society to the best of their abilities -- noblesse oblige. Plain folk (white) were taught to be obedient and to confer the powers of government upon an ''aristocracy of merit'' including their betters. Neither blacks nor women were a part of the Lockean ethos and therefore they were not even factored into this equation.

Along with Marshall's strong bias in favor of the doctrine of vested rights, his notion of the deferential society explains why, without hesitation or hatred, he could not free blacks: it would have upset the existing social order and caused upheaval. It also explains his growing despondency over the democratization process evident in the administrations of both Jefferson and Jackson.

With the stinging defeat of the Federalist Party in 1800, Chief Justice John Marshall became, through the Supreme Court, the bastion and last redoubt of Federalist power in the central government. In case after case, he rendered decisions in favor of the primacy of property rights in slaves, and the primacy of the central government over that of the states.

And so the roll call of slavery cases began: Scott v. Negro London, 1806; Scott v. Negro Ben, 1810; Wood v. Davis, 1812; Mima Queen v. Hepburn, 1813; Negress Sally v. Ball, 1816.

In not one of the cases in which blacks petitioned for their freedom did Chief Justice Marshall free them. He remanded them back to the oblivion of slavery. Incontrovertibly, the legitimation of slavery takes place here under Marshall: by his protection of the doctrine of vested rights and the sanctity and sacredness of property and by his protection of the primacy and supremacy of the central government over state government.

It appears clear that Chief Justice Marshall abhorred slavery. But slaves were property and property was sacred. Federalist doctrine held, furthermore, that the role of the judiciary was to serve notice on the legislative branch that it would tolerate no attacks on property.

It is also clear that Chief Justice Marshall abhorred the slave trade. Yet in the Antelope case of 1825, which dealt with the disposition of slaves on a ship that came into American waters, even as Marshall condemned the slave trade as immoral and against the law of nature he insisted that such concerns were for "moralists": "a jurist must search for its legal solution." He found that the international slave trade was legal, and he devised a mathematical formula by which the claimants received the "property" on board.

The ultimate application of the property rights doctrine, and the fatal blow for blacks both slave and free, was the Dred Scott decision of 1857 delivered by Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney. The question was whether the Negro was a "citizen" -- a portion of "we the people" and a constituent member of the "sovereignty." Taney stated that blacks "are not" citizens and "are not included, and were not intended to be included in the word 'citizen' in the Constitution." Blacks were a "subordinate and inferior class of beings . . . and had no rights or privileges but such as those" that white people might choose to grant them.

Taney then specifically discussed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in order to show that Negroes, emancipated or not, were never included in those documents. They had, the chief justice opined, "no rights which the white man was bound to respect" "The negro {sic} might lawfully and justly be reduced to slavery for the" benefit of the white man. He further maintained that blacks were not considered human beings but were "bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic."

Not citizens, not even human beings: this was the legal definition of the Negro prior to the Civil War. It took a bloody and brutal conflict to bring this definition down. This is the second of three articles. The writer is a professor of history at Howard University.