McCulloch v. Maryland | 1819
University of Virginia Associate Law Professor
University of Arkansas Law Professor
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  • McCulloch v. Maryland Full Program
  • Congress and Banks
  • John Marshall's U.S. Supreme Court Landmark Cases
  • Supreme Court and Federalism
  • Constitutional Sovereignty
  • The Power of Congress
  • John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme Court
  • The Original Meaning of Various Clauses
  • Daniel Webster's Life
  • The Old Supreme Court Chamber
  • A Look into James McCulloch's Life
  • James McCulloch's Name
  • Case Preview
Subject: The Power of Congress
Case Decided:
March 6, 1819

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) is one of the most important Supreme Court cases regarding federal power. In a unanimous decision, the Court established that Congress had implied constitutional power to create a national bank and that individual states could not tax a federally chartered bank. The Court stated Congress was authorized to pass laws "necessary and proper" in order to carry out its duties.

Controversy still lingered about how strong the national government should be, even after the Constitution was ratified. Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first treasury secretary, argued a national bank was necessary to fund national infrastructure projects. In 1791, President George Washington obliged and created the first Bank of the United States, headquartered in Philadelphia.

In 1816, the second Bank of the United States was created and had branches in a number of cities, including Baltimore. In 1818, Maryland's legislature passed a bill taxing out-of-state banks operating in the state. The law specifically targeted the Bank of the United States, since it was the only such bank operating in Maryland. James W. McCulloch, the head cashier at branch in Baltimore, refused to pay $15,000 in owed taxes, claiming Maryland's government didn't have the right to tax a federally chartered bank. Maryland's leaders sued and the state's courts sided with the legislators. Unhappy, McCulloch's lawyers appealed the case to the Supreme Court, where the Justices ruled in favor of Congress. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that Congress had the right to establish a bank under the Constitution's necessary and proper clause, and that states lacked the authority to tax a federally chartered institution.

Key Players
Chief Justice John Marshall
John Marshall (September 24, 1755 – July 6, 1835) was a Virginia politician, Secretary of State, and the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1801 – 1835). His influential opinions early in the Court’s history helped establish the judiciary as equal in power to the other branches of government.
Image courtesy of Library of Virginia
James McCulloch
James McCulloch (February 5, 1789 – June 17, 1861) was a politician and officer for the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States. McCulloch refused to pay taxes imposed by Maryland stating it was unconstitutional. The state of Maryland sued McCulloch and the Court of Appeals ruled in favor for Maryland. James McCulloch appealed to the Supreme Court making this one of the most important cases establishing the federal government's implied powers over the states.
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster (January 18, 1782 - October 24, 1852) was a prestigious lawyer and politician. It was after he became a U.S. Senator that he was labeled as one of the nation's best orators. Webster has been credited for helping shape constitutional law. In McCulloch v. Maryland, Webster argued on behalf of the bank.
Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Luther Martin
Luther Martin (February 20 1748- July 10, 1826) was a lawyer, politician, and anti-Federalist. Martin, who was very vocal about his opposition to a strong central government, was also not a fan of the Constitution. He was also known for being a heavy drinker. Martin argued Maryland’s position in McCulloch v. Maryland.
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