In May, 1818, James William McCulloch was a cashier at the Baltimore branch of the Second Bank of the United States. McCulloch issued a series of bank notes on which the bank did not pay a Maryland state tax. The state treasurer quickly sued to recover the money and won a judgment in Maryland’s highest court. The Supreme Court soon accepted the case, which would have a profound impact in defining the principle of federalism, the reading of the Necessary and Proper Clause in the Constitution, and the national vision of the Marshall Court.
1948: The Dixiecrats
The primary elections of 2016 have invited comparisons to political factions in American politics that haven’t appeared in such clear focus for nearly seventy years. Although the Republican Party of 1948 had papered over its divisions between moderate-to-liberal business interests on the East Coast—represented by New York Governor Thomas Dewey—and Middle-Western conservatives—represented by Robert Taft and, behind him, Herbert Hoover—Democrats split bitterly into three groups. The mainstream of the party nominated President Harry Truman; the left wing (which included democratic socialists and some communists) ran Henry Wallace on the ticket of the Progressive Party; and the segregationist, southern Democrats ran South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond on the ticket of the States’ Rights Democratic Party or “Dixiecrats.” In one of the most famous upsets in American political history, Truman overcame his party’s fracturing and defeated Dewey, although the Dixiecrats won the combined 38 electoral votes of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina. The Progressives failed to win a single electoral vote.
From today’s standpoint, the presidential election of 1924 might appear to be an oddity or an outlier. In 1924 the nominees of both parties ran on a conservative domestic agenda of limited government and tax cuts. For this reason author Garland Tucker calls 1924 “The High Tide of American Conservatism.”
The regular appearance of remarks on financial corruption in the proceedings of Congress in the Nineteenth Century might seem to indicate that American Government always was susceptible to the highest bidder. Rather, these comments are markers of Americans’ strong dislike and fear of corruption than they are proof that financial corruption was in fact eating the roots of their republicanism. The Americans had good reason to regard financial corruption in their government as an unmitigated evil, and so they loudly denounced it when they espied it, and publicly shamed, if not impeached, corrupt politicians upon discovery.