McCulloch v. Maryland


The pivotal 1819 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McCulloch v. Maryland affirmed the power of Congress to incorporate a national bank. Federalism, the division of sovereign power between national and state governments, produces perpetual tension over the degree of power possessed by each level of government. Creating such a division in 1787, the framers of the Constitution could offer only an impressionistic blueprint. Granting the new national government power with regard to several broadly construed subjects, the framers left the details—and thus the precise division of power—to future development. Chief Justice John Marshall’ opinion in McCulloch v. Maryland was the foundational Supreme Court decision that initiated the process of answering that question, which remains very much relevant in modern times.


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McCulloch v. Maryland (National Archives and Records Administration)

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