In 1961, the U.S. Marshals needed new leadership. They had floundered since the early 20th century- a decentralized, political institution with no representation in the Justice Department. When the Kennedys came to power, John and Robert Kennedy knew exactly who that leader was. He had worked as the replacement chauffeur for Robert Kennedy’s in-laws.
James Joseph Patrick McShane started his law enforcement career as a homicide detective in New York City. In 1957, Robert Kennedy convinced him to quit the police force and join the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field. In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president, McShane became the campaign’s chief of security and John’s personal bodyguard. And in 1961, after John’s inauguration and Robert’s appointment as Attorney General, McShane was rewarded with the position of U.S. Marshal for the District of Columbia. A year later, on May 8, 1962, he was appointed as head of the Executive Office for U.S. Marshals, and took the new title of Chief U.S. Marshal.
The Kennedys saw in McShane the perfect person to confront resistance to the court ordered desegregation of the south. He and the Marshals Service were highly involved in many volatile situations, including integrating the New Orleans Public Schools in 1960 and the University of Mississippi in 1962.
McShane brought the enthusiasm and excitement to the Marshals Service that it lacked. He allowed his marshals to use their talents and abilities in ways that boosted confidence levels. He earned and kept the respect of those under him. Because of his close relationship with the Kennedy family, McShane provided direct access to that source of power, which improved morale and feelings of importance among his marshals. He provided a voice that was taken seriously by the administration. McShane was a man under whom they were proud to serve, and he led them through some of the most dramatic changes of the 20th century.
But in one crucial area McShane was not so effective. By the early 1960s the marshals had moved closer to centralization, but McShane had no vision to lead the agency toward that goal. He used his access to the Executive Branch only when the situation called for it, not to enhance the agency’s status. Essentially stuck in the early 20th century, the marshals still used discarded, antiquated equipment. Their helmets were World War II issue, painted white with “US Marshal” stenciled on the front. They used homemade riot batons for crowd control, and excess antique tear gas guns that were disposed of by the military. They rarely had radios for communication, and deputies still drove their own cars for government business. Though McShane could have used his influence to push for better, he focused only on the moment. When John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and Robert resigned as Attorney General a few months later, the opportunity was gone, and McShane was left without much support. The move toward centralization was effectively stopped until 1969.
James McShane held the position of Chief U.S. Marshal until his death in December 1968. After 1965 and the wrap-up of most school integrations, he and his marshals were involved in few large scale missions. Although the marshals supported the military during the large Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon in October 1967, the army handled most of the anti-Vietnam war riots and protests of the late 1960s.
In 1969, under new leadership, the U.S. Marshals Service was officially formed, and the marshals formally moved into an era of centralization and bureaucratization.