M'Culloch v. Maryland
Securing a Nation
Mark R. Killenbeck
Federalism—including its meanings and limits—remains one of the most contested principles in constitutional law. To fully understand its importance, we must turn to a landmark decision nearly two centuries old. M'Culloch v. Maryland (1819) is widely regarded as the Supreme Court's most important and influential decision-one that essentially defined the nature and scope of federal authority and its relationship to the states. Mark Killenbeck's sharply insightful study helps us understand why.
Killenbeck recounts how the cashier of the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States refused to pay Maryland's tax on the bank and how that act precipitated a showdown in the Supreme Court, which addressed two questions: whether the U.S. Congress had the authority to establish a national bank and whether Maryland's tax on the bank was barred by the Constitution. In one of Chief Justice John Marshall's most famous opinions, the Court unanimously answered yes to both, authorizing the federal government to exercise powers not expressly articulated in the Constitution—and setting an alarming precedent for states—rights advocates.
“Invaluable to students of the period.”
—Maryland Historical Magazine
“An excellent and much needed book on M’Culloch.”
—American Journal of Legal HistorySee all reviews...
“Killenbeck provides a clear, well-written and reasonably balanced history of M'Culloch for general readers, and for that purpose the book can be recommended without hesitation.”
—Journal of the Early Republic
“A comprehensive and lucid account of the constitutional debate surrounding the Bank of the United States during the early years of the Republic.. . . . This is a fine work that brings every thread of M’Culloch v. Maryland into a single volume. As an example of legal argument that combines politics, structural analysis, precedent, and pragmatic considerations, the debate over the Bank of the United States should be part of every constitutional law curriculum.”
—Law and History Review
“Killenbeck is eminently qualified to prepare this case study. . . . This is the famous 1819 Supreme Court decision that helped to expand congressional power through the ‘implied powers doctrine,’ also referred to as the ‘necessary and proper clause.’ . . . The writing style is clear and lucid. Recommended.”
“Killenbeck’s lively and informative study authoritatively demonstrates why M’Culloch v. Maryland is the Supreme Court’s foundational case in defining the nature of the Constitution and the scope of federal powers.”
—Charles F. Hobson, author of The Great Chief Justice: John Marshall and the Rule of Law and editor of The Papers of John Marshall
“An engagingly written and well-researched survey that demonstrates the formative and fundamental influence that M’Culloch continues to exert over American constitutional doctrine.”
—Herbert A. Johnson, author of The Chief Justiceship of John Marshall, 1801–1835
“A much-needed book-length account of one of the Supreme Court’s most influential decisions.”
—Kent Newmyer, author of John Marshall and the Heroic Age of the Supreme CourtSee fewer reviews...
The issues at the heart of M'Culloch are as important today as they were then: the nature and scope of federal constitutional authority, the division of authority between federal and state governments, and the role of the Supreme Court in interpreting and applying the Constitution. Situating the case within the protracted debate about the bank and about federal-state relations, the Panic of 1819, the fate of the Second Bank following the Court's momentous decision, and the ever-expanding and increasingly contentious debate over slavery, Killenbeck's book provides a virtual constitutional history of the first fifty years of the nation. As such, it shows that the development of the Constitution as a viable governing document took place over time and that M'Culloch, with its very broad reading of federal power, marked a turning point for the Constitution, the Court, and the nation.
As the Court continues to reshape the boundaries of federal power, M'Culloch looms large as a precedent in a debate that has never been fully settled. And as states today grapple with such questions as abortion, gay rights, medical marijuana, or assisted suicide, this book puts that precedent in perspective and offers a firm grasp of its implications for the future.