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McCulloch v. Maryland 

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In 1818, the state of Maryland charged the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States a large tax. The Second Bank of the United States had been created by the federal government. Many states questioned the constitutionality of the national bank, and Maryland challenged the federal government’s authority by requiring taxes on all banks not chartered by the state. When James W. McCulloch, the head cashier of the branch, refused to pay the taxes, he was charged hefty fines. Maryland filed suit against McCulloch to collect the fines and taxes. Both the County Court of Baltimore County and the Maryland Court of Appeals convicted McCulloch for failing to pay the taxes due. The case climbed to the Supreme Court where three main questions were addressed: the first asked whether a national bank was constitutional; the next addressed whether the federal government holds sovereign power over states; the last considered whether individual states could tax federal entities within its borders.


Daniel Webster


  • Chief Justice John Marshall

  • James W. McCulloch, cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Bank of the United States

  • Luther Martin, one of the state of Maryland’s attorneys

  • Daniel Webster, one of McCulloch’s attorneys


  • Implied powers

  • Division of powers between federal and state government

  • Constitutionality of a national bank


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of McCulloch, holding that the establishment of a national bank was a "necessary and proper" function of the national government under Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the U.S. Constitution. It ruled that many powers of the government are implied rather than specifically stated in the Constitution. It also ruled that the state of Maryland did not have the authority to tax the Bank of the United States because "The power to tax involves the power to destroy.” Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the verdict: "…Although, among the enumerated powers of government, we do not find the word “bank” or “incorporation,” we find the great powers to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; to declare and conduct a war; and to raise and support armies and navies…But it may with great reason be contended, that a government, entrusted with such ample powers…must also be entrusted with ample means for their execution. The power being given, it is the interest of the nation to facilitate its execution… "


The arguments against the court held that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to establish a Bank of the United States. Representatives from the state argued that because Maryland is a sovereign state, it has the authority to tax businesses within its border, and that because the Second Bank of the United States was one such business, it should pay the tax.


This case founded the concept of implied powers: powers that are reasonably inferred from the enumerated powers in the Constitution. Article I, Section 8, Clause 18 of the U.S. Constitution became known as the elastic clause, which granted Congress the authority to “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” the work of the federal government. It also set the precedent for a more flexible interpretation of the Constitution and the trend of national supremacy over states.

What if the Supreme Court would have ruled that the federal government does not have the authority to make laws that the Constitution does not explicitly express? How do you think our current government would be different? What examples can you describe of laws the Federal government enacts today that come from the implied powers of the Constitution?

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