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.
On June 19, 1846, the Rochester, New York, Democrat newspaper reported that over 4,000 people assembled to witness the launch of a new steamship (then often called a “propeller” due to the novel screw propulsion mechanism), the Genesee Chief. She was described as “faultless in her model and appointments.” At 144 feet long, with 20 state rooms, and berths for 75 cabin and 100 steerage passengers, with room for more, she was to be the start of regular steamship service between Rochester and Chicago.
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.
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 However, a Democratic-Republican Party-led Congress repealed the Judiciary Act of 1801 (aka the “Midnight Judges Act”) and subsequently replaced it with the Judiciary Act of 1802, causing the Supreme Court to be on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.
Faithful readers of Constituting America’s 90-Day Study have followed the story of our constitution through each of our presidential elections. We have seen that the moral foundations of both of our constitutions—the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution that replaced it—find their most cogent expression in the Declaration of Independence. There, the Founders held the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments must therefore be framed to secure those unalienable rights. Our God-endowed, or natural, rights—regulated by the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God—find security in our legal or civil rights, defended by a system of government so structured as to channel the ambitions of political men and women toward the guardianship of those rights. This requires a regime designed to empower the government so our rights can be defended effectively against those who threaten them, at home or abroad. At the same time, the powers of that government will check and balance one another, so that no single individual or group of individuals will likely usurp all those powers, setting us on the road to tyranny. America’s early Constitutional conflicts centered on the question of how much power should be placed in the hands of the national government vis-à-vis the states’ governments. But whether Federalists or Anti-Federalists, Hamiltonians or Jeffersonians, all of the principal founders aimed at securing the natural rights of Americans by the means of well-designed constitutional forms.
Only once before the twenty-first century has America had three consecutive eight-year presidencies: the years 1801-25 in which three members of “the House of Virginia,” Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe each won two general elections and served for eight years. Historians have called the end of this period “the Era of Good Feelings,” in part because Monroe won his second term without opposition with a single electoral vote cast for his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams.
The election of 1956 saw Adlai Stevenson again tasked with the unenviable duty of an electoral contest against Dwight D. Eisenhower, which, it will come as no surprise, did not end in Stevenson’s favor. Eisenhower is well known to students of history and government, Stevenson, a one-term governor of Illinois, barely garners a mention in most books on the Cold War. Despite his loss, Stevenson was an important bridge between the New Deal policies of the Roosevelt administration and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson. He articulated a progressive platform that would guide the Democratic Party for the coming decades in regards to domestic policy. Electoral defeat is quite common for ideologues and intellectuals on both ends of the ideological spectrum, but part and parcel with his intellectual bend came a truly unique rhetoric for the role of government in society.
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.
FDR’s Third Term and the Twenty-Second Amendment
On November 5, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the first and only U.S. president to be elected for more than two terms. A newspaper headline depicted the historic moment with a joke that captured the public’s ambivalence toward Roosevelt’s unprecedented break from tradition: “Safe on third!”
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.”