The oldest law enforcement agency in the United States enjoys both a colorful history and a place in the timeline of law enforcement. The United States Marshals Service is a proud and interesting department, with their motto of “Justice. Integrity. Service.”
On September 24, 1789, President George Washington appointed thirteen men to be the first U.S. Marshals. They conducted death sentences, pursued counterfeiters, served civil process, and took the national census.
In the 1800s the Marshals were assigned the task to hunt runaway slaves. When the Civil War broke out, the Marshals were put into service confiscating property and investigating confederate spies.
As America progressed westward, so did the Marshals. In the 1800s, the single Marshal’s rate of pay averaged $2.00 per arrest (about $55.00 in today’s dollars), six cents a mile for travel expenses, a passenger rate of two cents a mile for travel, pay for room and a meal (usually fifty cents, about $13.00 in today’s dollars), and they could accept rewards from express companies, states, counties, and the American Bankers Association. They had to send their bills to Washington, have the bill approved, and only then would they receive their pay. After cashing the check, the Marshal Agency received a commission of 25% from the individual. (source)
The capture of William Bonney, AKA “Billy the Kid,” cost $1,072.00 (in 1800’s dollars). This included expenses for deputies, posse, horses, and horse feed. This expense also included the arrest of Bonney’s accomplice Rudebaugh. Washington approved the fee with the exception of of $375.00, “the nature of an extraordinary expense.” (source)
In the early 1900s the Marshals assisted in securing borders. In 1919 the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment’s prohibition on liquor, made U.S. Marshals the primary enforcement agents. They arrested bootleggers, busted up stills and speakeasies, seized property of the defendants, and enforced the law.
The unrest between equal rights for African Americans and whites spilled into the streets in the 1950s and 1960s when equal rights laws were to be enforced. The Marshals assisted with riot control and escorting African American students to class. In the 1970’s, violence erupted at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Marshals again found themselves involved in a historical event. In the 1800s they served as liaisons between American Natives and whites; this time, in 1973, they found themselves exchanging gunfire and negotiations.
Today the Marshals perform a range of duties to include security (courthouse and judicial), fugitive apprehension, prisoner security and transportation, witness protection, and seizing assets. They assist other law enforcement agencies. According to their website, Marshals earn a starting annual rate of $38,511.00 to 48,708.00 with many benefits.
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