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M’Culloch v. Maryland

Citation. 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819)
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Citation. 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819)

Brief Fact Summary.

Maryland sued the federal bank’s cashier for his failure to pay the taxes and penalties required under the state law of Maryland. The state trial and appellate courts upheld the tax.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

The powers of the government are limited and that its limits shall not be transcended. However, the construction of the Constitution allows the national legislature discretion, with respect to the means by which the powers it confers are to be carried into execution, which will enable Congress to perform the high duties assigned to it.


Congress created the First Bank of the United States in 1790 over strong opposition by Secretary of Thomas Jefferson who said that Congress lacked the authority to create such a bank. The First Bank expired in 1811 but in 1812, the economic recession persuaded the President to support a bank’s recreation. The Second Bank, however, was criticized by many for many believed it worsened the recession. Maryland enacted a tax on any bank not chartered by the state, but branches of the Bank of the United States did not pay the tax. The federal government claimed that the Bank was a federal instrumentality and thus need not pay the state tax.


  1. Does Congress have the power to create a bank?
  2. May the State of Maryland impose a tax on the branches of federal corporations?


  1. Yes, Congress indeed has the power to create a bank. the people who framed the Constitution was elected by the state legislatures. However, the instrument, when it came from their hands was a mere proposal, without obligations. The instrument was submitted to the people, not to the States, and the federal government proceeds directly from the people.
  2. No, the Court unanimously held that the Maryland law imposing taxes upon the federal bank is unconstitutional and void.


  1. While the enumerated powers do not expressly mention the power of Congress to create a bank, such authority is implied. The Constitution provides that powers not delegated to the United States nor prohibited to the States are reserved to the States or to the people. However, among the enumerated powers of government, there are great powers to lay and collect taxes; to regulate commerce, all of which are entrusted to the federal government. Moreover, Congress enjoys the powers to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper to carry into execution the powers of the government. If the word “necessary” was used in a strict and rigorous sense for which Maryland contend, it would be an extraordinary departure from the usual course of human mind.
  2. If a corporation may be employed indiscriminately with other means to carry into execution of powers of the government, no particular reason can be attached to exclude the use of a bank. However, if the necessity of the state law is less apparent, one can deny its being an appropriate measure.

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