The case of McCulloch (sometimes spelled M'Culloch) v. Maryland dealt with an attempt by the state of Maryland to tax a branch of the Second Bank of the United States which was doing business within its borders. Two issues were involved. Since the U.S. Constitution is silent on the question of whether the federal government could charter a bank, was the Second Bank constitutional? If constitutional, could the state of Maryland still tax it?
Chief Justice John Marshall wrote the majority opinion, and it became one of the most influential in his tenure. Marshall interpreted the "necessary and proper" clause of the Constitution as authorizing Congress to act as it had in chartering the Second Bank. The bank was a means to fulfill its enumerated power to collect taxes, therefore:
The government which has a right to do an act, and has imposed on it the duty of performing that act, must, according to the dictates of reason, be allowed to select the means; and those who contend that it may not select any appropriate means, that one particular mode of effecting the object is excepted, take upon themselves the burden of establishing that exception.
Marshall saw no reason to make an exception in this case. The next question was whether a tax could be imposed on a constitutionally created federal bank. Marshall said not:
We are unanimously of opinion, that the law passed by the legislature of Maryland, imposing a tax on the Bank of the United States, is unconstitutional and void.
This opinion does not deprive the states of any resources which they originally possessed. It does not extend to a tax paid by the real property of the bank, in common with the other real property within the state, nor to a tax imposed on the interest which the citizens of Maryland may hold in this institution, in common with other property of the same description throughout the state. But this is a tax on the operations of the bank, and is consequently a tax on the operation of an instrument employed by the government of the Union to carry its powers into execution. Such a tax must be unconstitutional.
Spencer Roane was the man that Thomas Jefferson would have appointed chief justice had the opportunity presented itself. Instead, he served on the Virginia Supreme Court, where his views on the limited role of the federal government had less influence on the course of the country's history. Following Marshall's decision in McCulloch, Roane wrote a response that expressed his disagreement, expressing once again the viewpoint that the constitution had enumerated certain federal powers, and reserved the rest to the states and the people, precisely so that the federal government could not have free rein to decide for itself what powers it would deploy.
The course of American history would have been quite different if Jefferson had appointed Roane as Chief Justice.
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Quotes regarding McCulloch v. Maryland.
By John Marshall 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.
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