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Landmark Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court

Street Law / Landmark Cases / Cases / McCulloch v. Maryland

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

State Taxes, National Supremacy

". . . Although, among the enumerated powers of government, we do not find the word "bank" or "incorporation," we find the great powers to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; to declare and conduct a war; and to raise and support armies and navies . . . But it may with great reason be contended, that a government, entrusted with such ample powers . . . must also be entrusted with ample means for their execution. The power being given, it is the interest of the nation to facilitate its execution. . . . " —Chief Justice John Marshall

The U.S. government created the first national bank for the country in 1791, a time during which a national bank was controversial due to competition, corruption, and the perception that the federal government was becoming too powerful. Maryland attempted to close the Baltimore branch of the national bank by passing a law that forced all banks that were created outside of the state to pay a yearly tax. James McCulloch, a branch employee, refused to pay the tax. The State of Maryland sued McCulloch saying that Maryland had the power to tax any business in its state and that the Constitution does not give Congress the power to create a national bank. McCulloch was convicted and fined, but he appealed the decision. The Supreme Court determined that Congress has implied powers that allow it to create a national bank, even though the Constitution does not explicitly state that power, and that Maryland’s taxing of its branches was unconstitutional.

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About the materials

These materials were developed for students of various skill levels, and teachers should choose the level that works best for their students.  Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.

Background summary and questions to consider (by reading level)

Important vocabulary (by reading level)

Legal Concepts

Other useful background information


The Case
After the Case 

* Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.

Teaching strategies used

Planning time and activities

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If you have two days . . .

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If you have four days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first, second, and third days.
  • For homework on the third day, divide students into two groups: one group to support the statements in the Can We Justify the Implied Powers of Congress portion of the Justifying the Implied Powers of the Federal Government activity and one group to refute the statements.
  • On the fourth day, hold a brief debate on the statements, selecting several students to support each side.
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