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An examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case

The Government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action, and its laws, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land. There is nothing in the Constitution of the United States similar to the Articles of Confederation, which exclude incidental or implied powers. If the end be legitimate, and within the scope of the Constitution, all the means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, and which are not prohibited, may constitutionally be employed to carry it into effect.

The power of establishing a corporation is not a distinct sovereign power or end of Government, but only the means of carrying into effect other powers an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case are sovereign.

Whenever it becomes an appropriate means of exercising any of the powers given by the Constitution to the Government of the Union, it may be exercised by that Government. If a certain means to carry into effect of any of the powers expressly given by the Constitution to the Government of the Union be an appropriate measure, not prohibited by the Constitution, the degree of its necessity is a question of legislative discretion, not of judicial cognizance.

The Bank of the United States has, constitutionally, a right to establish its branches or offices of discount and deposit within any state. The State within which such branch may be established cannot, without violating the Constitution, tax that branch. The State governments have no right to tax any of the constitutional means employed by the Government of the Union to execute its constitutional powers.

The States have no power, by taxation or otherwise, to retard, impede, burthen, or in any manner control the operations of the constitutional laws enacted by Congress to carry into effect the powers vested in the national Government.

This principle does not extend to a tax paid by the real property of the Bank of the United States in common with the other real property in a particular state, nor to a tax imposed on the proprietary interest which the citizens of that State may hold in this institution, in common with other property of the same description throughout the State. This was an action of debt, brought by the defendant in error, John James, who sued as well for himself as for the State of Maryland, in the County Court of Baltimore County, in the said State, against the plaintiff in error, McCulloch, to recover certain penalties, under the act of the Legislature of Maryland hereafter mentioned.

Judgment being rendered against the plaintiff in error, upon the following statement of facts agreed and submitted to the court by the parties, was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of the State of Maryland, the highest court of law of said State, and the cause was brought by writ of error to this Court.

Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

It is admitted by the parties in this cause, by their counsel, that there was passed, on the 10th day of April, 1816, by the Congress of the United States, an act entitled, "an act to incorporate the subscribers to the Bank of the United States;" and that there was passed on the 11th day of February, 1818, by the General Assembly of Maryland, an act, entitled, "an act to impose a tax on all banks, or branches thereof, in the State of Maryland, not chartered by the legislature," Page 17 U.

It is further admitted that the said President, directors and company of the said bank had no authority to establish the said branch, or office of discount and deposit, at the City of Baltimore, from the State of Maryland, otherwise than the said State having adopted the Constitution of the United States and composing one of the States of the Union. It is further admitted that James William McCulloch, the defendant below, being the cashier of the said branch, or office of discount and Page 17 U.

And it is further admitted that the Treasurer of the Western Shore of Maryland, under the direction of an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case Governor and Council of the said State, was ready, and offered to deliver to the said President, directors and company of the said bank, and to the said branch, or office of discount and deposit, stamped paper of the kind and denomination required and described in the said act of assembly.

The question submitted to the Court for their decision in this case is as to the validity of the said act of the General Assembly of Maryland on the ground of its being repugnant to the Constitution of the United States and the act of Congress aforesaid, or to one of them.

Upon the foregoing statement of facts and the pleadings in this cause all errors in Page 17 U. It is agreed that either party may appeal from the decision of the County Court to the Court of Appeals, and from the decision of the Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of the United States, according to the modes and usages of law, and have the same benefit of this statement of facts in the same manner as could be had if a jury had been sworn and impanneled in this cause and a special verdict had been found, or these facts had appeared and been stated in an exception taken to the opinion of the Court, and the Court's direction to the jury thereon.

Copy of the act of the Legislature of the State of Maryland, referred to in the preceding Statement. In the case now to be determined, the defendant, a sovereign State, denies the obligation of a law enacted by the legislature of the Union, and the plaintiff, on his part, contests the validity of an act which has been passed by the legislature of that State.

The Constitution of our country, in its most interesting and vital parts, is to be considered, the conflicting powers of the Government of the Union and of its members, as marked in that Constitution, are to be discussed, and an opinion given which may essentially influence the great operations of the Government.

No tribunal can approach such a question without a deep sense of its importance, an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case of the awful responsibility involved in its decision. But it must be decided peacefully, or remain a source of Page 17 U. On the Supreme Court of the United States has the Constitution of our country devolved this important duty.

The first question made in the cause is -- has Congress power to incorporate a bank? It has been truly said that this can scarcely be considered as an open question entirely unprejudiced by the former proceedings of the Nation respecting it.

The principle now contested was introduced at a very early period of our history, has been recognised by many successive legislatures, and has been acted upon by the Judicial Department, in cases of peculiar delicacy, as a law of undoubted obligation.

  • The States are expressly forbidden to lay any duties on imports or exports except what may be absolutely necessary for executing their inspection laws;
  • The State within which such branch may be established cannot, without violating the Constitution, tax that branch;
  • Their sovereignty is not confined to taxation; that is not the only mode in which it might be displayed.

It will not be denied that a bold and daring usurpation might be resisted after an acquiescence still longer and more complete than this. But it is conceived that a doubtful question, one on which human reason may pause and the human judgment be suspended, in the decision of which the great principles of liberty are not concerned, but the respective powers of those who are equally the representatives of the people, are to be adjusted, if not put at rest by the practice of the Government, ought to receive a considerable impression from that practice.

An exposition of the Constitution, deliberately established by legislative acts, on the faith of which an immense property has been advanced, ought not to be lightly disregarded.

The power now contested was exercised by the first Congress elected under the present Constitution. Its principle was completely understood, and was opposed with equal zeal and ability.

After being resisted first in the fair and open field of debate, and afterwards in the executive cabinet, with as much persevering talent as any measure has ever experienced, and being supported by arguments which convinced minds as pure and as intelligent as this country can boast, it became a law.

  • But when a State taxes the operations of the Government of the United States, it acts upon institutions created not by their own constituents, but by people over whom they claim no control;
  • 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 Page 17 U;
  • If a corporation may be employed, indiscriminately with other means, to carry into execution the powers of the Government, no particular reason can be assigned for excluding the use of a bank, if required for its fiscal operations;
  • A law absolutely repugnant to another as entirely Page 17 U.

The original act was permitted to expire, but a short experience of the embarrassments to which the refusal to revive it exposed the Government convinced those who were most prejudiced against the measure of its necessity, and induced the passage of the present law.

It would require no ordinary share of intrepidity to assert that a measure adopted under these circumstances was a bold and plain usurpation to which the Constitution gave no countenance. These observations belong to the cause; but they are not made under the impression that, were the question entirely new, the law would be found irreconcilable with the Constitution.

In discussing this question, the counsel for the State of Maryland have deemed it of some importance, in the construction of the Constitution, to consider that instrument not as emanating from the people, but as the act of sovereign and independent States.

The powers of the General Government, it has an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case said, are delegated by the States, who alone are truly sovereign, and must be exercised in subordination to the States, who alone possess supreme dominion. The convention which framed the Constitution was indeed elected by the State legislatures.

But the instrument, when it came from their hands, was a mere proposal, without obligation or pretensions to it. It was reported to the then existing Congress of the United States with a request that it might "be submitted to a convention of delegates, chosen in each State by the people thereof, under the recommendation of its legislature, for their assent and ratification.

They acted upon it in the only manner in which they can act safely, effectively and wisely, on such a subject -- by assembling in convention. It is true, they assembled in their several States -- and where else should they have assembled?

No political dreamer was ever wild enough to think of breaking down the lines which separate the States, and of compounding the American people into one common mass.

Of consequence, when they act, they act in their States.

  1. Yet he would be charged with insanity who should contend that the legislature might not superadd to the oath directed by the Constitution such other oath of office as its wisdom might suggest. They are given by the people of the United States, to a Government whose laws, made in pursuance of the Constitution, are declared to be supreme.
  2. This would seem to result necessarily from its nature. It is also in some degree warranted by their having omitted to use any restrictive term which might prevent its receiving a fair and just interpretation.
  3. These propositions, as abstract truths, would perhaps never be controverted. To waste time and argument in proving that, without it, Congress might carry its powers into execution would be not much less idle than to hold a lighted taper to the sun.
  4. The Court has bestowed on this subject its most deliberate consideration.
  5. Under the Confederation, Congress, justifying the measure by its necessity, transcended, perhaps, its powers to obtain the advantage of a bank; and our own legislation attests the universal conviction of the utility of this measure.

But the measures they adopt do not, on that account, cease to be the measures of the people themselves, or become the measures of the State governments. From these conventions the Constitution derives its whole authority.

The government proceeds directly from the people; is "ordained and established" in the name of the people, and is declared to be ordained, "in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure Page 17 U.

But the people were at perfect liberty to accept or reject it, and their act was final. It required not the affirmance, and could not be negatived, by the State Governments.

The Constitution, when thus adopted, was of complete obligation, and bound the State sovereignties.

McCulloch v. Maryland

It has been said that the people had already surrendered all their powers to the State sovereignties, and had nothing more to give. But surely the question whether they may resume and modify the powers granted to Government does not remain to be settled in this country. Much more might the legitimacy of the General Government be doubted had it been created by the States. The powers delegated to the State sovereignties were to be exercised by themselves, not by a distinct and independent sovereignty created by themselves.

To the formation of a league such as was the Confederation, the State sovereignties were certainly competent. But when, "in order to form a more perfect union," it was deemed necessary to change this alliance into an effective Government, possessing great and sovereign powers and acting directly on the people, the necessity of referring it to the people, and of deriving its powers directly from them, was felt and acknowledged by all.

The Government of the Union then whatever may be the influence of this fact on the case is, Page 17 U. In form and in substance, it emanates from them.

  • If, indeed, such be the mandate of the Constitution, we have only to obey; but that instrument does not profess to enumerate the means by which the powers it confers may be executed; nor does it prohibit the creation of a corporation, Page 17 U;
  • No city was ever built with the sole object of being incorporated, but is incorporated as affording the best means of being well governed.

Its powers are granted by them, and are to be exercised directly on them, and for their benefit. This Government is acknowledged by all to be one of enumerated powers.

The principle that it can exercise only the powers granted to it would seem too apparent to have required to be enforced by all those arguments which its enlightened friends, while it was depending before the people, found it necessary to urge; that principle is now universally admitted.

But the question respecting the extent of the powers actually granted is perpetually arising, and will probably continue to arise so long as our system shall exist.

In discussing these questions, the conflicting powers of the General and State Governments must be brought into view, and the supremacy of their respective laws, when they are in opposition, must be settled. If any one proposition could command the universal assent of mankind, we might expect it would be this -- that the Government of the Union, though limited in its powers, is supreme within its sphere of action.

This would seem to result necessarily from its nature. It is the Government of all; its powers are delegated by all; it represents all, and acts for all. Though any one State may be willing to control its operations, no State is willing to allow others to control them. The nation, on those subjects on which it can act, must necessarily bind its component parts.

McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819)

But this question is not left to mere reason; the people have, in express terms, decided it by saying, Page 17 U. The Government of the United States, then, though limited in its powers, is supreme, and its laws, when made in pursuance of the Constitution, form the supreme law of the land, "anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

But there is no phrase in the instrument which, like the Articles of Confederation, excludes incidental or implied powers and which requires that everything granted shall be expressly and minutely described. Even the 10th Amendment, which was framed for the purpose of quieting the excessive jealousies which had been excited, omits the word "expressly," and declares only that the powers "not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited to the States, are reserved to the States or to the people," thus leaving the question whether the particular power which may become the subject of contest has been delegated to the one Government, or prohibited to the other, to depend on a fair construction of the whole instrument.

The men who drew and adopted this amendment had experienced the embarrassments resulting from the insertion of this word in the Articles Page 17 U. A Constitution, to contain an accurate detail of all the subdivisions of which its great powers will admit, and of all the means by which they may be carried into execution, would partake of the prolixity of a legal code, and could scarcely be embraced by the human mind.

It would probably never be understood by the public. Its nature, therefore, requires that only its great outlines should be marked, its important objects designated, and the minor ingredients which compose those objects be deduced from the nature of the objects themselves. Why else were some of the limitations found in the 9th section of the 1st article introduced? It is also in some degree warranted by their having omitted to use any restrictive term which might prevent its receiving a fair and just interpretation.

In considering this question, then, we must never forget that it is a Constitution we are expounding. 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.

The sword and the purse, all the external relations, and no inconsiderable portion of the industry of the nation are intrusted to its Government. It can never be pretended Page 17 U. Such an idea can never be advanced.

But it may with great reason be contended that a Government intrusted with such ample powers, on the due execution of which the happiness and prosperity of the Nation so vitally depends, must also an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case intrusted with ample means for their execution. The power being given, it is the interest of the Nation to facilitate its execution. It can never be their interest, and cannot be presumed to have been their intention, to clog and embarrass its execution by withholding the most appropriate means.

Throughout this vast republic, from the St. Croix to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, revenue is to be collected and expended, armies are to be marched and supported. The exigencies of the Nation may require that the treasure raised in the north should be transported to the south that raised in the east, conveyed to the west, or that this order should be reversed.

Is that construction of the Constitution to be preferred which would render these operations difficult, hazardous and expensive? Can we adopt that construction unless the words imperiously require it which would impute to the framers of that instrument, when granting these powers for the public good, the intention of impeding their exercise, by withholding a choice of means?

If, indeed, such be the mandate of the Constitution, we have only to obey; but that instrument does not profess to enumerate the means by which the powers it confers may be executed; nor does it prohibit the creation of a corporation, Page 17 U. It is, then, the subject of fair inquiry an examination of the mcculloch vs maryland case far such means may be employed. It is not denied that the powers given to the Government imply the ordinary means of execution.

That, for example, of raising revenue and applying it to national purposes is admitted to imply the power of conveying money from place to place as the exigencies of the Nation may require, and of employing the usual means of conveyance.

But it is denied that the Government has its choice of means, or that it may employ the most convenient means if, to employ them, it be necessary to erect a corporation.