Marshal vs. Martial: Do You Know The Difference?

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It’s not enough that martial and marshal are pronounced the same, is it? No, the English language has to further complicate things, because while these homophonesmartial and marshal, have different meanings, they both involve some overlapping concepts of law and war. And adding to the understandable confusion of these words is marshall, with two Ls.

Let’s marshal, shall we say, the facts, and bring some order to the differences among martial and marshal and marshall.

What does martial mean?

Martial is an adjective that variously means “warlike,” “associated with war or the military,” or “characteristic of a warrior.” Sometimes, martial can be used with figurative force, as in His parents took a very martial attitude towards discipline. First recorded in English around 1325–75, martial ultimately comes from Mars, the Roman god of war.

Martial is the adjective used in the expressions martial law and martial arts, two phrases where many of us most often encounter the word martial.

What is martial law?

The primary meaning of martial law is “the law temporarily imposed upon an area by state or national military forces when civil authority has broken down or during wartime military operations.” In other words, ordinary, civil law and authority is suspended in an area, and the military takes control.

The term martial law was first recorded in the 1500s, though the imposition of it—or fear thereof—has influenced ancient and modern history alike. The power to declare martial law varies by country.

The US Constitution does not include direct references to martial law, but the Supreme Court has interpreted a clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 15, to be exact) on calling forth the militia as allowing Congress and the president to impose martial law. Governors also have powers—explicitly stated in many state constitutions—to impose martial law.

The imposition of martial law in the US are rare, but notable. And whether or not the phrase martial law was invoked or declared as such, major instances of martial law, according to experts, include Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War and in Hawaii after the Pearl Harbor attack during World War II. Natural disasters, labor strikes, and unrest around school desegregation have also resulted in martial law.

Not all uses of federal or national armed forces for domestic disorder constitute martial law, though, in popular discussions, their use may be called or likened to martial law, so extreme is it in American society for the military to take over civil authority. Interest in and concerns around martial law spiked in 2020 after President Trump threatened to use the federal military to control protests across the country against violence inflicted on Black people involving the police.

Learn more about martial law in our Homework Help on the term.

What are martial arts?

Martial arts refers to any of the traditional forms of Asian self-defense or combat that utilize physical skill and coordination without weapons, often practiced as sport. Forms include karatetae kwon dojudojujitsuaikido, and kung fu.

A recent, popular combat sport is mixed martial arts, or MMA, which draws on various traditional martial arts as well as boxing and wrestling.

What does marshal mean?

While martial is only used as an adjective, marshal is a noun or a verb. It’s first recorded around 1225–75, from a French word meaning “commander,” in turn from Germanic roots meaning “groom,” as in a person who takes care of horses—which were historically very important in war.

As a noun, marshal can denote a variety of people in a position of authority:

  • a military officer of the highest rank in some armies (field marshal)
  • an officer of a US judicial district, charged with duties similar to those of a sheriff
  • a court officer, attending to judges and serving various process
  • a chief of a police or fire department in some cities
  • a police officer in some communities
  • sky marshal, who rides on planes to protect from hijacking
  • a higher officer of royal household or court
  • a grand marshal, especially a ceremonial leader of events like parades

Note: a marshal who performs duties in a court is not to be confused with a court-martial, which is a type of judicial court for people in the military charged with military offenses.

As a verb, marshal today chiefly means “to arrange in proper order; set out in an orderly manner; arrange clearly,” as in After the hurricane, the community marshalled resources to help with relief and recovery. 

How to use martial and marshal

If you’re not sure whether you should use martial or marshal, determine what part of speech you need. If it’s an adjective, use martial. If it’s a noun or verb, use marshal.

Context helps, too, when deciding between martial and marshal. If you need something to describe war or the military (or things connected to them in some way), use martial. If you need a term for the name of an office, use marshal. Unless it’s a misspelling, martial is not used as a verb.

What about marshall?

If your first or last name is Marshall, we haven’t forgotten about you.

Marshall is almost always a proper noun, appearing in names. Chief Justice John Marshallthe Marshall Plan, the Marshall Islands. As a name, Marshall is, indeed, based on marshal—one of many occupations that became adopted as surnames, and later taken up as given names.

But there is one notable exception: Martial, a first-century ad Roman poet known for his epigrams. Hey, you don’t need us to tell you at this point that English isn’t always the most … orderly of languages.

1985 – Christa McAuliffe of New Hampshire was chosen to be the first schoolteacher to ride aboard the space shuttle. She died with six others when the Challenger exploded the following year.

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Christa McAuliffe was an American teacher, selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. Tragically, she died just 73 seconds after liftoff of the space shuttle Challenger, along with six other astronauts.

She is remembered as a heroine by her profession by attempting to touch the future. Beginnings Sharon Christa Corrigan was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 2, 1948. Her parents were Edward and Grace Corrigan; she was the eldest of five children. Her family moved to the Boston suburb of Framingham when she was still young. She graduated from Marian High School in 1966. Christa attended Framingham State College, and majored in history. She received her bachelor of arts degree in 1970. Christa married her longtime boyfriend, Steve McAuliffe, a few weeks following her graduation. Shortly after they married, the couple moved to Washington D.C., so Steve could attend law school.

Christa taught until their first child, Scott, was born. She went back to college to earn her master’s degree in school administration from Bowie State College in 1978. Shortly after that, the couple moved to Concord, New Hampshire, where their second child, Caroline, was born. Steve began his law practice, and Christa stayed home with the children.

A celestial opportunity Christa McAuliffe accepted a social studies teaching position at Concord High School in 1982. Two years later, she learned of NASA’s search for a teacher to fly on the space shuttle. NASA was looking specifically for someone who could teach classes while in orbit. McAuliffe could not pass up the opportunity. She filled out the 11-page application, mailed it at the last minute and waited. When she became a finalist, she still did not believe she would be the one picked; some of the other hopefuls also were doctors, authors, and even scholars. On July 19, 1985, however, Christa McAuliffe was selected by NASA to be the first teacher in space. Considered by her students to be an “inspirational human being, a marvelous teacher who made their lessons come alive,” McAuliffe lived up to her nickname, “Field Trip Teacher.” She insisted it was direct experience that made the most effective teaching tool — her upcoming voyage on the Challenger being the “Ultimate Field Trip.” In addition to seeking an innovative teacher, NASA was looking for a regular person to whom regular people could relate; McAuliffe was that person. She would be an ordinary person — to do the extraordinary.

A training regimen In the fall of that year, MacAuliffe took a year’s leave of absence (NASA paid her salary) to train for the 1986 space shuttle mission. She would be a payload specialist on the STS-51-L crew, teach lessons from space, and keep a journal of her experiences. McAuliffe wanted to show the crew that she was not just along for the ride and could work as hard as they did. The other crew members treated her as a part of the team. She trained with them for 114 hours, and when it was time to launch, she was ready.

The worst outcome However, on January 28, 1986, only 73 seconds after lift-off, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts aboard. The entire world watched in horror and disbelief. McAuliffe’s mission to space ended in abrupt tragedy. Her motto was, “I touch the future, I teach”. She continues to teach by example to this day.

Posthumous honors The young teacher/astronaut has been honored at many events. She was awarded the Congressional Space Medal. The Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, New Hampshire, and the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah, were named in her memory, along with the asteroid 3352 McAuliffe and the McAuliffe moon crater. Numerous schools have been named after her as well.


Seneca Falls … july 19 to 20, 1848

Originally known as the Woman’s Rights Convention, the Seneca Falls Convention fought for the social, civil and religious rights of women. The meeting was held from July 19 to 20, 1848 at the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, New York.

Despite scarce publicity, 300 people—mostly area residents—showed up. On the first day, only women were allowed to attend (the second day was open to men).

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the meeting’s organizers, began with a speech on the convention’s goals and purpose:

“We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed—to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and, in case of separation, the children of her love.”

The convention proceeded to discuss the 11 resolutions on women’s rights. All passed unanimously except for the ninth resolution, which demanded the right to vote for women. Stanton and African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave impassioned speeches in its defense before it eventually (and barely) passed.

The five women who organized the Seneca Falls Convention were also active in the abolitionist movement, which called for the emancipation of slaves and the end of racial discrimination. They included:

  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a leading women’s rights advocate who was a driving organizer of the Seneca Falls Convention. Stanton first became invested in women’s rights after talking to her father, a law professor, and his students. She studied at Troy Female Seminary and worked on women’s property rights reform in the early 1840s.
  • Lucretia Mott, a Quaker preacher from Philadelphia, who was known for her anti-slavery, women’s rights and religious reform activism.
  • Mary McClintock, the daughter of Quaker anti-slavery, temperance and women’s rights activists. In 1833, McClintock and Mott organized the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. At the Seneca Falls Convention, McClintock was appointed secretary.
  • Martha Coffin Wright, Lucretia Mott’s sister. In addition being a lifelong proponent of women’s rights, she was an abolitionist who ran a station on the Underground Railroad from her Auburn, New York, home.
  • Jane Hunt, another Quaker activist, was a member of McClintock’s extended family through marriage.

Stanton and Mott first met in London in 1840, where they were attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention with their husbands. When the convention excluded women delegates solely based on their sex, the pair resolved to hold a women’s rights convention.

Back in the United States, women’s rights reformers had already begun contending for women’s rights to speak out on moral and political issues beginning in the 1830s. Around the same time in New York, where Stanton lived, legal reformers had been discussing equality and challenging state laws prohibiting married women from owning property. By 1848, equal rights for women was a divisive issue.

In July of 1848, Stanton, frustrated with her role staying at home raising kids, convinced Mott, Wright and McClintock to help organize the Seneca Falls Convention and write its main manifesto, the Declaration of Sentiments.

Together, the five women drafted a notice to announce “a Convention to discuss the social, civic and religious condition and rights of Woman” around Hunt’s tea table.

The Declaration of Sentiments was the Seneca Falls Convention’s manifesto that described women’s grievances and demands. Written primarily by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, it called on women to fight for their Constitutionally guaranteed right to equality as U.S. citizens.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men and women are created equal,” the document stated. Inspired by the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of Sentiments asserted women’s equality in politics, family, education, jobs, religion and morals.

The declaration began with 19 “abuses and usurpations” that were destined to destroy a woman’s “confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.”

Because women didn’t have the right to vote—a right given to “the most ignorant and degraded men”—they were forced to submit to laws to which they did not consent. Women were denied an education and issued an inferior role in the church.

Moreover, women were required to be obedient to their husbands and prevented from owning property, including the wages they earned (which technically belonged to their husbands). And they received unequal rights upon divorce.

In light of these abuses, the declaration called on women to “throw off such government.”

Next came a list of 11 resolutions, which  demanded women be regarded as men’s equal. The resolutions called on Americans to regard any laws that placed women in an inferior position to men as having “no force or authority.” They resolved for women to have equal rights within the church and equal access to jobs.

The ninth resolution was the most controversial, as it called women “to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise,” or the right to vote.

Although its passage led many women’s rights proponents to withdraw their support, the ninth resolution went on to become the cornerstone of the women’s suffrage movement.

In New York and across the U.S., newspapers covered the convention, both in support and against its objectives.

Horace Greely, the influential editor of The New York Tribune, echoed the opinion of many people at the time. While skeptical of giving women the right to vote, he argued that if Americans really believed in the Constitution, women must attain equal rights:

“When a sincere republican is asked to say in sober earnest what adequate reason he can give, for refusing the demand of women to an equal participation with men in political rights, he must answer, None at all. However unwise and mistaken the demand, it is but the assertion of a natural right, and such must be conceded.”

Two weeks later, on August 2, 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention reconvened at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, New York, to reaffirm the movement’s goals with a larger audience.

In the following years, the convention’s leaders continued to campaign for women’s rights at state and nationwide events. Reformers frequently referred to the Declaration of Sentiments as they campaigned for women’s rights.

Between 1848 and 1862, the participants of the Seneca Falls Convention used the Declaration of Sentiments to “employ agents, circulate tracts, petition the State and national Legislatures, and endeavor to enlist the pulpit and the press in our behalf.”

After 72 years of organized struggle, all American women finally achieved the same rights as men at the polling box when, in 1920, women won the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. Rutgers University.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton. National Park Service.
Jane Hunt. National Park Service.
Lucretia Mott. National Park Service.
Mary McClintock. National Park Service.
Martha C. Wright. National Park Service.
Report of the Women’s Rights Convention. National Park Service.
Second Day of Seneca Falls Convention, July 20, 1848. Library of Congress.
Seneca Falls Convention. The Encyclopedia of New York State.
The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848. Fordham University.
The Seneca Falls Convention. Library of Congress.
The Seneca Falls Convention: Setting the National Stage for Women’s Suffrage. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.