Visit an American History Museum or Living History Site related to this video
Equal Justice Under the Law:
- Companion Teacher's Guide:
- Teacher's Guide (3.4mb)
McCulloch v. Maryland (1977) - 36 min
Can states tax the operations of the federal government? In this unpopular decision, the Supreme Court dealt a great blow to a claim of states' rights by striking down a state's attempt to interfere with a legitimate federal activity.
The Maryland Bank of the United States refused to buy stamped paper from the state of Maryland or to pay the annual $15.000 tax required by Maryland law. In 1818, the state of Maryland sued James McCulloch, the Bank's local cashier, for refusing to comply with Maryland law. The Baltimore County Court ruled against the Bank and the case was ultimately brought before the Supreme Court of the United States.
The case presented two principle issues to the Court. First, was the federal law that chartered the Bank in conflict with state tax laws? Second, if a conflict did exist, should the federal or the state law take precedence?
The Supreme Court held that since the Bank was necessary in order for Congress to meet its constitutional responsibilities, Congress had the implied power to charter a national bank. The states, however, did not have the power to tax the federal government's activities, and the Maryland law could not constitutionally be applied to the federal bank. This decision greatly restricted the powers of the states and engendered animosity toward the Court.