Home  »  Volume XVI: American EARLY NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART II LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART I  »  § 9. McCulloch vs. Maryland; Dartmouth College vs. Woodward; Gibbons vs. Ogden

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

XV. Publicists and Orators, 1800–1850

§ 9. McCulloch vs. Maryland; Dartmouth College vs. Woodward; Gibbons vs. Ogden

In other decisions of vast influence on developing America, Marshall announced his doctrine of nationalism and marked out the limits of state competence. One of these, the case of McCulloch vs. Maryland, gave with renewed elaboration the doctrine of implied powers in the hands of the national government and laid down principles limiting the rights of the states. Here too Marshall examined the character of the Union and the scope of governmental authority under the Constitution, and did so with remarkable clearness. In the well-known case of Dartmouth College vs. Woodward, Marshall declared that a charter of a private corporation was a contract, inviolable by state authority. This decision is probably more sharply criticized by the modern lawyer than any other, and yet it is still standing and has stood for a century, the bulwark of the corporations, saving them at least from unreasonable and purely gratuitous attacks upon their privileges and property. A third case, Gibbons vs. Ogden, proclaiming in broad terms the extent of Federal power over interstate commerce, served as the foundation on which later decisions rested and at least suggested the legal foundation for the great development of nation-wide commerce. Thus, it will be seen, his work was of significance not alone because it furnished theories and principles of national organization and helped in determining the character of the Union, but also because, in passing on questions of state competence, his vision was sufficiently wide and far-reaching to comprehend the need for secure industrial growth.

Though Marshall’s best-known decisions were in the field of constitutional law, where he was easily master, his work was by no means confined to that subject, for many problems besides those involving constitutional construction came before the court. During his term as chief justice he rendered over five hundred opinions, dealing with almost every one of the main divisions of modern jurisprudence. But he did even more; he placed the Court itself in a position of authority and influence, dignified and made potent the whole Federal judicial system, and thus helped to build up that respect for the Federal courts which has been of such tremendous importance in the development of American life. This in fact was no easy task; the Supreme Court itself was often fiercely attacked; it often went counter to the intense prejudice of parties, states, and sections. But by virtue of his own integrity and inherent power he compelled respect and overcame prejudice.