Throughout U. S. History many different types of government were created in an attempt to govern and unify the people. One such government, federalism, divided the balance of power between the states and the national government. Federalism caused a lot of controversy throughout the history of the United States. One time period in which there were significant debates about federalism was the Supreme Court under John Marshall (1801-1835) due to his rulings based on his federalist views. The other time period was the Extension of Slavery (1820-1860) which also caused much debates between federalism and state rights.
Landmark Supreme Court decisions involving federalism were decided in both of these time periods. John Marshall served in the US Army under General George Washington. As a 22-year old Lieutenant, he saw firsthand nearly 4,000 men that were unfit for duty because they had no shoes. George Washington begged the states for supplies but it didn’t help. John Marshall understood that Congress was helpless in providing supplies to the men as their power was limited because the states were sovereign. John Marshall took the lessons he learned from war into his career.
John Marshall was once the leader of the Virginia Federalist Party. Between 1799 and 1800, he also served in the U. S. House of Representatives and was the Secretary of State under President Adams from 1800 to 1801. One of President Adams final judicial appointments was appointing John Marshall as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1801. Many landmark cases involving federalism were decided during his term as Chief Justice. Under Justice Marshall’s rule, the Supreme Court made several key decisions that balanced the powers between the Federal and State governments. One landmark Supreme Court case was
Fletcher v. Peck (1810). The court, under Justice Marshall, ruled that a state law was unconstitutional. This case was about a land grant that was approved by the Georgia State legislature, named the Yazoo Land Act of 1795. The land was taken away from the Native Americans. It was discovered that the grant was approved through bribery and later the grant was reversed by the Georgia State legislature. Justice Marshall’s decision, in accordance with Article 1, Section 10, Clause 1, of the Constitution was that a sale was a binding contract and wasn’t invalid even if the contract was secured illegally.
This case resulted in the Supreme Court stating that they have the right to invalidate a state law that didn’t abide by the Constitution. Fletcher’s argument was that the State of Georgia had the sovereign power to repeal the grant of the land didn’t work. Justice Marshall’s decision was the first time the Supreme Court struck down a state law because it was unconstitutional. Another of Justice Marshall’s landmark Supreme Court cases was McCulloch v. Maryland (1819). The case resulted from an event in 1818 where the State of Maryland tried to place a tax on all bank notes not chartered in the State, specifically at the Second Bank of the U. S. , which was the only out-of-state bank in Maryland. James William McCullough, head of the bank, refused to pay the tax.
This case involved the power of Congress to charter a bank which caused a lot of controversy between the Federal and State Government since the Constitution didn’t mention who can charter a bank. Two important principles were involved in this case. The first was that the Constitution gave Congress implied powers to make a functional national government. The second was these implied powers of Congress couldn’t interfere with any constitutional powers of the federal government.
The Supreme Court decided that Congress did have the power to create the bank and invoked the elastic clause of “necessary and proper” of the Constitution which said Congress is allowed to create a bank as long as it is within their powers and not forbidden by the Constitution. The Court rejected Maryland’s interpretation that “necessary” meant essential and determined that Maryland’s tax was unconstitutional. John Marshall’s belief was that the Constitution created a great American republic. The Extension of Slavery (1820-1860) was also significant in the debate over federalism.
Anti-federalists believed in strong states and a weak central government. Anti-federalist thought slavery was necessary. They needed the slaves to work their plantations. Federalists believed all men were created equal, including African Americans. Congress was involved in the debate over how to divide up the new territories into free states and slave states. In 1820, Congress passed the Missouri Compromise which regulated slavery in the western territories. The Compromise prohibited slavery in the new states north of the border of Arkansas territory.
It allowed Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state and Maine as a free state. The Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a free state. Also passed in 1850, to satisfy the pro-slavery states, was the Fugitive Slave Act. This controversial act made the Federal government responsible for catching fugitive slaves in the North and sending them back to the South. This act extended slavery from the South to the North. Fugitive slaves had no right to a jury trial. Many former slaves who were living as free men in the North decided to escape to Canada before being captured.
In 1857, the Supreme Court, in Dredd Scott v. Sanford, denied citizenship to all slaves and descendants of slaves. Dredd Scott was born in Missouri into slavery. He was the property of Dr. Emerson and traveled with Dr. Emerson to Illinois, a free state. Mr. Scott moved again with Dr. Emerson to Fort Snelling, which is now St. Paul Minnesota. Under the Missouri Compromise slavery was not allowed in the territory. Scott later returned to Missouri with his wife and child.
After Dr. Emerson’s death, Scott sued Dr. Emerson’s widow and asked that the Court declare him free because he was living in a free state. The lower court ruled in his favor and declared him a free man. However, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed the decision. Scott’s lawyers then sued Mrs. Emerson’s brother and legal owner of Scott, John Sanford of New York. Sanford’s lawyers argued that Scott could not sue because African American’s could not be citizens. The court ruled that it didn’t matter where Scott traveled to or lived but it was a matter of state law.
Scott’s attorney then took the case to the Supreme Court. The court had to decide if Scott was a citizen of the United States and allowed to sue in federal court and if Scott’s living in a free state made him a free man. In some northern anti-slavery states, if you stepped onto their land you were free. Another issue was if it was constitutional for Congress to ban slavery in territories. The Supreme Court decided that an African American was not a citizen of the United States and not entitled to sue in federal court.
The Court said that all slaves were property. According to the majority opinion, by a 7-2 vote, slavery was a matter for state law. Additionally, the Chief Justice Roger B. Taney ruled that the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional and that Congress didn’t have the right to prohibit slavery in the territories. This case was historical and controversial as the Supreme Court decided that an act of Congress (The Missouri Compromise) was unconstitutional and tensions rose between the North and the South over the issue of slavery.
Both time periods, the Supreme Court under John Marshall and the Extension of Slavery caused much debate between federalism and state rights. The Supreme Court under John Marshall, a well-known Federalist, handed down many decisions in favor of a strong central government, including the Fletcher v. Peck case and the McCullough v. Maryland. In contrast, the extension of slavery did more for the Anti-federalists with the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dredd Scott v. Sanford case. In fact, slavery continued to cause a rift between states and eventually led to the civil war.