McCulloch v. Maryland

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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McCulloch v. Maryland is a keynote case, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316, 4 L.Ed. 579 (1819), decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that established the principles that the federal government possesses broad powers to pass a number of types of laws, and that the states cannot interfere with any federal agency by imposing a direct tax upon it.

This case represents another illustrative example of the ongoing debate among the founders of the U.S. constitutional government regarding the balance of powers between the states and the federal government. The Federalists were in favor of a strong central government, whereas the Republicans wanted the states to retain most powers. Those who wrote and ratified the U.S. Constitution ultimately agreed to grant the federal government certain specific powers known as the enumerated powers?listed in the Constitution?and concluded with

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a general provision that permitted Congress to make all laws that are necessary and proper for the carrying out of the foregoing powers, as well as all other powers vested in the U.S. government by the Constitution. Some people were fearful that such a provision, which is called the NECESSARY AND PROPER CLAUSE of the Constitution, was a blanket authorization for the federal government to regulate the states.

Subsequently, a series of articles?which came to be called the Federalist Papers?were published in New York newspapers. These articles defended the clause on the basis that any power only constitutes that ability to do something, and that the power to do something is the power to utilize a means of doing it. It is necessary for a legislature to have the power to make laws; therefore, the proper means of exercising that power is by making "necessary and proper" laws. The Constitution was, therefore, ratified in 1789 with the Necessary and Proper Clause.

In exercise of the power conferred by that clause, the first Congress enacted a law in 1791 that incorporated a national bank called the BANK OF THE UNITED STATES, which operated as a private bank, took deposits of private funds, made private loans, and issued bank notes that could be used like money. In addition, wherever branches were established, it operated as a place for the federal government to deposit its funds. The legislation that incorporated the bank stated in its preamble that it would be extremely conducive to the successful operation of the national finances...

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