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McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland, case decided in 1819 by the U.S. Supreme Court, dealing specifically with the constitutionality of a Congress-chartered corporation, and more generally with the dispersion of power between state and federal governments. After the First Bank of the United States (1791) had folded in 1811 due to a lack of congressional support, inflation in the years following the War of 1812 compelled Congress to establish (1816) a new national bank. The Second Bank of the United States was authorized by Congress to help control the unregulated issuance of currency by state banks. Many continued to oppose the bank's constitutionality, and Maryland set an example by imposing a tax on all banks not chartered by the state. When the U.S. branch bank in Baltimore refused to pay taxes, Maryland brought suit for collection from the bank. Chief Justice John Marshall, who wrote the uncontested opinion, gave trenchant expression to the doctrine of implied powers: "Let the end be legitimate, let it be within the scope of the constitution, and all means which are appropriate, which are plainly adapted to that end, which are not prohibited, but consist with the letter and spirit of the constitution, are constitutional." The chartering of a bank, according to the Court, was a power implied from the power over federal fiscal operations. Because the state cannot impede constitutional federal laws, the tax was voted unconstitutional. One of the most important decisions in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall's opinion called for a broad interpretation of the powers of the federal government. The case became the legal cornerstone of subsequent expansions of federal power.

See study by Gerald Gunther, ed. (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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