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.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has addressed several constitutional topics in cases involving lotteries. Perhaps none is as significant as Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in Cohens v. Virginia. The case was the third major act in a decades-long contest over the nature of the Union and, more specifically, over the constitutional relationship between federal and state laws and between the federal and state judiciaries. On the last point the contest directly involved repeated clashes between the United States Supreme Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals (the state supreme court), and between two dominant jurists, Marshall and the chief judge of Virginia, Spencer Roane. Cohens v. Virginia is the climax in the story of those two rivals.
“The Great Chief Justice,” John Marshall (1755-1835)
The longest-serving Chief Justice in our history, author of every major Supreme Court ruling in the first third of the nineteenth century—including the one establishing the principle of judicial review—John Marshall earned undisputed honor as “the Great Chief Justice.” He deserves honor also as a great man.
Marbury v. Madison (1803) – A Landmark Decision Establishing The Supreme Court’s Role
In an effort to fill the Chief Justice vacancy on the Supreme Court before leaving office, President John Adams offered the position to John Jay, who declined, citing the lack of dignity and respect of the Supreme Court. Secretary of State John Marshall was with Adams when Adams received Jay’s rejection letter and, with time running out, Adams offered Marshall the Chief Justice position, which Marshall accepted. The Senate confirmed Marshall on January 27, 1801, and he became Chief Justice. However, a Democratic-Republican Party-led Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (aka the “Midnight Judges Act”) and subsequently replaced it with the Judiciary Act of 1802, causing the Supreme Court to be on hiatus from December 1801 until February 1803.
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.