Marshall’s Expansion of Federal Power

While presiding over the United States Supreme Court as Chief Justice from 1801 to 1835, John Marshall practiced Judicial Nationalism, or strengthening of the Federal government’s power at the expense of the states'. For most of Marshall’s term there was a two party system consisting of the Federalists, who supported a strong Federal government; and Republicans, who were in support of states' rights over Federal authority. In the middle of Marshall’s service the Federalist party dissolved, but the Democratic Republicans took over their roll. Often times Marshall’s views were so influential that he managed to sway Federalists and Republicans alike. Marshall presided over such important cases as McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), and Dartmouth College v. Woodward (1819). Through specific cases Marshall increased the Federal branch’s power by following the Constitution strictly, and interpreting it as a document reinforcing Federalism.

Nationalism is defined, in this case, as in favor of, and increasing, the power of a strong central government. Several cases came to the Supreme Court under appeal during Marshall’s term that allowed the court to rule in such a manner as to increase the power of the Federal government over that of the state. Despite the Republicans in the Supreme Court, Marshall often got his opinions through. His belief was that the Supreme Court was set in place to interpret the Constitution, which in his mind was a document based on Federalism; Marshall himself was a Federalist. In the case of McCulloch v. Maryland, the state of Maryland was, in essence, taxing the Federal Bank by declaring that the branch in Maryland had to print their money on Maryland banknotes. McCulloch was the teller of the branch, so therefore was he responsible for the refusal of the tax. The Supreme Court, with Marshall's guidance, found that "that the power to tax involves the power to destroy, that the power to destroy may defeat the power to create..." the state cannot have such power. The finding in McCulloch v. Maryland reinforced the Supremacy Clause; stated in the constitution that Federal laws, treaties and such are “supreme Law of the Land.”

In 1824 the question of supremacy came into the Supreme Court again with Gibbons v. Ogden. Ogden sued Gibbons for the right to ferry passengers across the Hudson, for Ogden was granted a New York State monopoly, whereas Gibbons had a Federal license. Due to the interstate nature of the commerce, the decision in favor of the Federal set immense precedent. The ruling reestablished the supremacy of the Federal government in interstate commerce; as stated in the Constitution in Article I Section VIII, wherein it is stated that Congress has the power to “regulate Commerce with... several States.”

With Dartmouth College v. Woodward the power of the Federal government yet again increased over the state. The president of the college at that time, along with state backing, decided that Dartmouth should become a state college. After being appealed to the Supreme Court, the decision handed down stipulated that the college was charted as a private venture, and thus it would stay. The ruling, while not directly extending the power of the Federal government, certainly reduced the power of the state government.

The powers of the state were certainly diminished in some areas over others under Marshall, mainly in terms of commerce and laws. As mentioned earlier in McCulloch v. Maryland, the Supreme Court favored the Federal government; the result of this case was that Federal laws, when conflicting with state laws, were deemed supreme. The result of the findings in Gibbons v. Ogden reaffirmed the Federal government’s control of interstate commerce, as well as limited the state’s ability to effect business as before. In Dartmouth College v. Woodward it was clear that the court’s decision limited the state’s power. Each case is important because they establish precedent for the Constitutional clauses on which they were based. The Supreme Court under John Marshall followed the Constitution very strongly, which asserted the Federal laws as supreme, as well as allowed them greater influence on state economy.

The influence of the Federal Government over the state would be greatly favored by the Federalists of this era. Started by Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists were the framers of the Constitution, and therefore favored a large, powerful Federal government. The opposing party of the time, the Republicans, were still rooted in agrarian Confederacy theology. While expanding the power of the Federal Government, Marshall upset the Republican party, who in turn did not often support Marshall. Quite amazing, though, was the fact that during Marshall’s duration the Republicans were in control of the presidency, and many judgeships. Starting in 1819 the Federalist party disbanded and the Republicans became more Federalists like until their split; one group, the National Republicans, was more like the Federalists of old, while the Democrats maintained the Democratic-Republican doctrine. Marshall believed, like Hamilton and the Federalists, that the constitution was a body of work meant to frame a Federalist society and states shouldn’t get in the way. Marshall pointed to the Supremacy Clause and it’s declaration that Federal laws are the “supreme Law of the Land.” He also referenced the interstate commerce clause, which allows the Federal government to “regulate Commerce with... several States.”

During John Marshall’s term he fulfilled his Federalists beliefs by finding many cases in favor of the Federal Government over the states. While Chief Justice, it is clear that John Marshall was very influential in his push for Federal power, for he supplied over half of the opinions of the court. In Gibbons v. Ogden Marshall’s decision increased the power of the Federal government over state economy; and with McCulloch v. Maryland the supremacy of Federal laws were established. While not increasing the power of the Federal government, Dartmouth v. Woodward certainly took power away from the states. John Marshall was only one man on a court of 9 judges, yet his influence was so vast that he is considered responsible for expanding the power of the Federal government more than any other justice.

Quotes taken from Marshall’s opinions and The United States Constitution

This node represents a slightly different view on Marshall’s court than Sycrim’s WU. I felt is somewhat necessary, for what Scyrim calls “improvements” might not be considered that by all. Marshall expanded the power of the federal government vastly... is that an improvement?

and hey it’s all in good fun anyway!