McCulloch v. Maryland
PART 1: Guided Questions for Watching McCulloch v. Maryland Segment
As you view the DVD clip, think about the following questions:
A. Who were the major players in the case?
B. What was at the root of the conflict?
C. What did the Court decide in the case of McCulloch v. Maryland? What reasons did the Court give for its decision?
Do not move on to part 2 until your teacher asks you to do so.
PART 2: McCulloch v. Maryland News Flash
You and the other members of your group will assume the role of reporters who are breaking the story about the Supreme Court's decision in the McCulloch v. Maryland case.
Of course, if you were living in 1819 when the case was decided, you would likely have reported it through a pamphlet or newspaper article. With allowances for creative time travel, your group can choose to report the story using any of the following media:
1. Decide as a group which medium you want to use to report the story.
- newspaper article
- radio news story
- television news story
2. Prepare for your news story by learning more about the background of the case and the decision.
- If you do a newspaper article, it should include a headline and a picture or visual aid that illustrates the important parts of the story. The article should be approximately 300 words long. Be prepared to read, show, and turn in your article.
- If you do a pamphlet, it should include a title and a picture or visual aid that illustrates the important parts of the story. It should also be approximately 300 words long. Be prepared to read, show, and turn in your pamphlet.
- If you do a television news story, write up a script and practice reading it so that it takes no more than 60 seconds to read "on the air." This time frame will force you to focus on the most important and main ideas. Your newscast should also include a headline and a picture or visual aid that illustrates the important parts of the story. Be prepared to read, show, and turn in your newscast.
- If you do a radio news story, write up a script and practice reading it so that it takes no more than 75 seconds to read "on the air." This time frame will force you to focus on the most important and main ideas. Your story should also include a headline. Be prepared to read, show, and turn in your news story.
Together with your group, read the material that is provided on the rest of this handout. This should take about 15 minutes.
You may want to take turns, with one student reading each section aloud as others read silently. After you read each section, discuss it to be sure that everyone in the group understands it. Then move on to the next part of the handout (and another student reading aloud).
3. After your group has read the material on the handout, spend about 15 minutes creating your news story.
Background of the Case:
After the War of 1812, the U.S. government needed additional funds to pay off the debts of the war. Instead of being able to borrow money from one institution, the government had to work with multiple state banks. As a result, in 1816, Congress opted to set up the Second Bank of the United States with branch offices in multiple locations. Many states opposed the National Bank because the state banks then had to compete for business. In response, Maryland passed a law requiring the national bank to pay a heavy tax to the state of Maryland. James McCulloch, the bank's cashier, refused to pay the tax.
McCulloch was convicted of failing to pay the tax and was fined $2,500. He appealed the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which upheld the decision of the lower court and affirmed McCulloch's conviction. The dispute reached the Supreme Court of the United States.
The Court Considered These Constitutional Questions:
Relevant Excerpts of the Constitution:
- Did Congress have the power to establish a national bank?
- Did the Maryland law to tax the nationally chartered bank unconstitutionally interfere with federal powers?
Main Arguments for McCulloch:
- The Necessary and Proper Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 18)
"The Congress shall have the Power ... To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers and all other Powers vested in this Constitution."
The Necessary and Proper Clause is also known as the "Elastic Clause" because its meaning may be stretched to allow Congress to pass a variety of laws.
- The Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2)
"This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof ... shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding."
This part of the Constitution specifically states that federal laws take priority over state laws.
- The Tenth Amendment
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people."
Main Arguments for Maryland:
- Although the power to charter a national bank is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, it is one of the implied powers that the Necessary and Proper Clause grants Congress.
- The bank is a "necessary and proper" way for Congress to conduct the financial affairs of the country.
- If Maryland is allowed to tax the bank, the state could destroy the bank by taxing it so much that it would have to close.
The Court's Decision:
- The right of the national government to establish a bank is not specifically granted in the Constitution.
- It is also not an implied power, so Congress had no right to establish a national bank.
- The power to establish banks is reserved for the states.
- States are sovereign (they have complete and permanent authority over themselves), so they have the authority to tax institutions and businesses in their borders.
The Court unanimously ruled in favor of the national government's right to establish the bank and also found that the state did not have the power to tax the institution.
Chief Justice Marshall, writing for the Court, stated that the federal government possessed powers that were not explicitly expressed in the Constitution, known as implied powers. Although the federal government did not specifically have the power to charter a national bank, the national Congress did have the authority to make all laws "necessary and proper" to accomplish other tasks.
Marshall also held that even though the states retained the power of taxation, "the constitution and the laws made in pursuance thereof are supreme ... they control the constitution and laws of the respective states, and cannot be controlled by them." Maryland did not have the ability to tax a federal establishment. Taxing the national bank was really an attempt by the state to destroy the bank, and this was a challenge to the federal government's constitutional supremacy.