Taney Court, nationalist project, U.S. Supreme Court case, implied powers, deference to Congress, federal power


M’Culloch v. Maryland is rightly regarded as a landmark opinion, one that affirmed the ability of Congress to exercise implied powers, articulated a rule of deference to Congressional judgments about whether given legislative actions were in fact “necessary,” and limited the ability of the states to impair or restrict the operations of the federal government. Most scholarly discussions of the case and its legacy emphasize these aspects of the decision. Less common are attempts to place M’Culloch within the ebb and flow of the Marshall Court and the political and social realities of the time. So, for example, very few individuals have examined M’Culloch’s robust theory of national power in the light of two other major cases decided in the same Term, Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward and Sturges v. Crowninshield. Fewer still try to explain it by placing it within the contexts provided by other significant events of the time: legal, economic, and political issues of which the Justices were surely aware, the implications of which almost certainly influenced the manner in which Chief Justice John Marshall couched his opinion for the Court. Finally, virtually none recognize that key aspects of M’Culloch did not actually break new constitutional ground.