People have a way of sanitizing popular figures, as observed by Dan and other history lovers. What I find fascinating is that politicians, no matter the era, are politicians. When I looked up the Marbury v Madison case on Wikipedia, I found this:
In the presidential election of 1800, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson defeated Federalist John Adams, becoming the third President of the United States. Although the election was decided on February 17, 1801, Jefferson did not take office until March 4, 1801. Until that time, outgoing president Adams and the Federalist-controlled 6th Congress were still in power. During this lame-duck session, Congress passed the Judiciary Act of 1801. This Act modified the Judiciary Act of 1789 in establishing ten new district courts, expanding the number of circuit courts from three to six, and adding additional judges to each circuit, giving the President the authority to appoint Federal judges and justices of the peace. The act also reduced the number of Supreme Court justices from six to five, effective upon the next vacancy in the Court.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marbury_v._Madison
On March 3, just before his term was to end, Adams, in an attempt to stymie the incoming Democratic-Republican Congress and administration, appointed 16 Federalist circuit judges and 42 Federalist justices of the peace to offices created by the Judiciary Act of 1801. These appointees, the infamous "Midnight Judges", were all located in the Washington and Alexandria area. One of them was William Marbury, a native of Maryland and a prosperous financier. An ardent Federalist, Marbury was active in Maryland politics and a vigorous supporter of the Adams presidency. He had been appointed to the position of justice of the peace in the District of Columbia. The term for a justice of the peace was five years, and they were "authorized to hold courts and cognizance of personal demands of the value of 20 dollars."
On the following day, the appointments were approved en masse by the Senate; however, to go into effect, the commissions had to be delivered to those appointed. This task fell to John Marshall, who, even though recently appointed Chief Justice of the United States, continued as the acting Secretary of State at President Adams's personal request.
While a majority of the commissions were delivered, it proved impossible for all of them to be delivered before Adams's term as president expired. As these appointments were routine in nature, Marshall assumed the new Secretary of State James Madison would see they were delivered, since "they had been properly submitted and approved, and were, therefore, legally valid appointments." On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as President. As soon as he was able, President Jefferson ordered Levi Lincoln, who was the new administration's Attorney General and acting Secretary of State until the arrival of James Madison, not to deliver the remaining appointments. Without the commissions, the appointees were unable to assume the offices and duties to which they had been appointed. In Jefferson's opinion, the undelivered commissions, not having been delivered on time, were void.
The newly sworn-in Democratic-Republican 7th Congress immediately set about voiding the Judiciary Act of 1801 with their own Judiciary Act of 1802 which reversed the act of 1801 so that the Judicial branch once again operated under the dictates of the original Judiciary Act of 1789. In addition, it replaced the Court's two annual sessions with one session to begin on the first Monday in February, and "canceled the Supreme Court term scheduled for June of that year  ... seeking to delay a ruling on the constitutionality of the repeal act until months after the new judicial system was in operation."