Mcculloch V. Maryland Essay, Research Paper
McCulloch v. Maryland
The case of McCulloch v. Maryland was brought to the United States Supreme Court in 1819. The decisions of Chief Justice John Marshall in this case would set precedence for all future cases involving the expansion of federal power and any impediment on federal powers by state governments.
The first Bank of the United States (BUS) was created in 1791 as part of Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan. It was opposed by Jefferson, who claimed that Congress was not specifically given the right to charter a bank. Hamilton argued (along the lines of the elastic clause) that Congress had the power to do anything not specifically forbidden in the Constitution. President Washington agreed with Hamilton and the bank was given twenty-year charter (expiring in 1811). After the war of 1812, the Madison administration sought new national development. This proved difficult with the nations finances loosely organized by state chartered banks. Inflation, and a lack of regulated currency from the state banks, prompted Madison to sign a bill creating a second BUS in 1816. The new BUS imposed strict regulation of currency on the state banks and would not accept notes from banks that had overextended themselves. In retaliation, the Maryland legislature attempted to tax the Baltimore branch of the BUS. James McCulloch, the treasurer for this branch, refused to pay the tax and was brought to trial in the Supreme Court by the state of Maryland.
Chief Justice Marshall asked two questions in this case. The first question is, “has Congress power to incorporate a bank?” Marshall states, “This government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers.” Hamilton s argument Washington to charter the first BUS maintains true for this second BUS. Under the powers of the elastic clause, and simply because the Constitution does not forbid Congress from chartering a bank, it would seem acceptable for the second BUS to exist. Marshall explains that although the Constitution does not expressly mention the power to create a bank, it does give Congress the power to exercise controls over the economy as necessary. The counsel for the state of Maryland tried to argue that the elastic clause has restrictions and that it does not apply to Congress chartering a corporation, and thus Congress has no right to do so. Marshall responded to this by explaining that if the restrictions claimed by Maryland’s counsel were in fact true, Congress would be restricted in its basic rights to legislate.
Another controversy that erupts from the prosecution involves the definition of the word “necessary” in the “necessary and proper” clause. They began to interpolate exactly what the Constitution means by “necessary” and attempt to explain that creating a corporation such as a national bank is not necessary at all. Marshall examines the use of necessary in government and concludes that in this context it does not signify and “absolute-physical necessity, so strong that one thing, to which another may be termed necessary, cannot exist without the other.” Instead, it is found that necessary is more synonymous with convenient in this context. He further explains that there are varying degrees of necessity, and the degree the counsel of Maryland is citing is not merely “necessary” but “absolutely or indispensably necessary.” The decision made allows the new BUS to exist as it was initially planned to do so.
The second question asked is, “whether the state of Maryland may, without violating the constitution, tax that branch?” It was clearly expressed that all states reserve the rights to tax as necessary (except on imports and exports), unless the tax conflicts with another law or Constitutional right. “The argument on the part of the state of Maryland, is, not that the states may directly resist a law of Congress, but that they may exercise their acknowledged powers upon it, and that the constitution leaves them this right, in the confidence that they will not abuse it…. This, however, is not valid. The state government does not posses the power to interfere with the federal bank. “The sovereignty of a state extends to everything which exists by its own authority…” but the BUS does not fall under state sovereignty. This prevents state governments from conflicting with the national government. Marshall finds the tax to be impeding on the BUS enough to make it unconstitutional.
In answering the fist question, Marshall brought further understanding to what is meant by the implied powers of our government. The second question was more controversial. Marshall sought to prevent governments in separate states from conflicting. He also establishes the broad powers of the federal government as powers not to be disrupted by state governments. John Marshall’s decisions were met with praise throughout the judicial system, and set example to the scope of our federal government’s power.