Marbury v. Madison and the Marshall Court

Start Free Trial

How did Chief Justice John Marshall enhance the strength of the federal government? How did Chief Justice John Marshall enhance the strength of the federal government and its role in developing business through the court’s decisions in Dartmouth College v. Woodward and McCulloch v. Maryland?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

John Marshall was one of the Federalist "Midnight Judges" appointed at the last minute by John Adams in an expanded judicial system, mainly to frustrate and block incoming Thomas Jefferson from undoing everything Adams had done as President.  He was a consistent supporter of the federal government in his rulings, from Marbury vs. Madison in 1803. Marshall guided the court for over 30 years, and almost always came down on the side of the federal government in terms of authority over states and businesses.

Particularly in McCulloch vs. Maryland, writing for the majority, Marshall said, "The power to tax implies the power to destroy", and denied the right of states to tax federal property or institutions.  This was a key ruling during his tenure.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

McCulloch vs. Maryland gave the federal government the power to do more or less whatever it wanted through the "elastic clause" of the Constitution.  This allowed the Congress to do whatever was "necessary and proper" to provide for things specified in the Constitution (like the general welfare of the people).  If the Court had ruled differently, the Congress might only have been allowed to do what the Constitution clearly said it could do.  In this case, the Court allowed the Congress to create a Bank of the US.


The Dartmouth College case said that the states could not break contracts that they had previously made with private coporations.  By doing this, Marshall didn't exactly help the federal government but he did do two things

  • Weakened the state governments by not allowing them to break contracts
  • Made a better business environment by allowing them to know that once a contract was made it couldn't just be broken because the government wanted to.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial