McCulloch v Maryland (1819)

Directions: Use the information on this page (along with the links) to fill out the one page document about the facts of this important supreme court case.  You can use other websites to get the facts, opinions, reasons; however, the websites on this page will be what we use throughout the year.

Compelling Question

Does the federal government have too much power?

Facts of the Case

After the War of 1812, (when was that?) the U.S. government needed additional funds to pay off the debts of the war. At the time, there was no central US national bank, so instead of being able to borrow money from one institution, the government had to work with multiple state banks. How inefficient! As a result, in 1816, Congress set up the Second Bank of the United States with branch offices in multiple locations and convenient horse and buggy drive through service. Many states opposed the National Bank because the state banks then had to compete for business. In response, Maryland passed a law requiring the national bank to pay a heavy tax to the state of Maryland. James McCulloch, the bank’s bad-to-the-bone cashier, refused to pay the tax!

McCulloch was convicted of failing to pay the tax and was fined $2,500. He appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision of the lower court and affirmed McCulloch’s conviction. The dispute reached the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Court Considered These Constitutional Questions:

  • Did Congress have the power to establish a national bank?
  • Did the Maryland law to tax the nationally chartered bank unconstitutionally interfere with federal powers?

“Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional.”
– John Marshall

Fun Facts

  • When the Maryland courts upheld this law, the Bank, in the name of its Baltimore branch cashier James W. McCulloch, appealed to the Supreme Court.
  • Daniel Webster, with William Pinkney, argued the case on behalf of the Bank. Luther Martin argued the case on behalf of Maryland.
  • The First Bank of the United States was chartered by Congress for 20 years on February 25, 1791.  The concept of the bank was the brainchild of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury and a visionary for the great future of America.
  • John Marshall was the chief justice presiding over this landmark case.
  • There were seven Supreme Court Justices when the case was decided. The ruling was unanimous, but Justice Thomas Todd did not take part in the ruling. On March 29, 1812, Todd had married Lucy Payne Washington, the youngest sister of Dolley Madison and the widow of Major George Steptoe Washington, who was a nephew of President George Washington. It is believed to be the first wedding held in the White House.

Sources (Visit these websites for information on the case)

Oyez – McCulloch v Maryland

Crash Course Video – Federalism

National Archives Primary Source – McCulloch v Maryland ruling

Relevant Excerpts of the Constitution:

  • The Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18)”The Congress shall have the Power … To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested in this Constitution.”The Necessary and Proper Clause is also known as the “Elastic Clause” because its meaning may be stretched to allow Congress to pass a variety of laws.

The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2)

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.”
This part of the Constitution specifically states that federal laws take priority over state laws.

The Tenth Amendment

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.”

Complete your case brief sheet based upon what you are able to find.  Once you are complete, think about/consider/record informal responses on a separate sheet of paper:

For your Consideration

Imagine life without The Necessary and Proper Clause, where the federal government is limited to only enumerated powers listed in Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution. Think about how different the government and American life would be.

Imagine life without The Supremacy Clause, where much like America under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government is no longer superior to the states. Think about how different the government and American life would be.

  1. When there is a conflict between state and federal government, who wins and why?
  2. Is the growth of the federal government which McCulloch v Maryland made possible a good thing?
  3. If you were John Marshall how would you have ruled in McCulloch v Maryland?
  4. How would the U.S. political system be different without McCulloch v Maryland?

Once you have completed all of the above, on the back of your McCulloch v. Maryland sheet, research the following (Gibbons v. Ogden), and write about the facts of the case and a connection to McCulloch v. Maryland.  How does the precedent of SCOTUS’ ruling in 1819 affect the ruling of Gibbons v. Ogden?
If you have any time remaining, try to find another case that uses McCulloch v. Maryland as precedent by searching the internet for connections to SCOTUS cases arguing the power of the Federal government.
Please keep your responses to the case.