How did the case of McCulloch v. Maryland affect the powers of the national government?  

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Supreme Court heard the case of McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819. John Marshall was the Chief Justice at the time.

This case involved the Second Bank of the United States, which had been authorized by Congress in 1816. The state of Maryland decided to levy a tax on the bank, and only on that bank. When the bank did not pay the tax, the case went to the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled that the bank was illegal because the Constitution did not expressly grant the federal government the power to establish a bank.

However, Marshall's Supreme Court ruled that even though the Constitution did not specifically give Congress power to create a bank, Article I of the Constitution did include the following clause, known as the “Necessary and Proper Clause”:

The Congress shall have Power ... To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The Court interpreted this clause to mean that Congress did have the power to enact a law that was necessary for the federal government to carry out its functions, even if that law was not specifically authorized by the Constitution. This ruling established the primacy of the federal government over the states. Up to this point, many people in the young United States believed that each state had greater power than the federal government, which was the case under the Articles of Confederation, the nation's first constitution. It was replaced by our present Constitution in 1789, with the intent of increasing federal power. McCulloch v. Maryland helped make that a reality.