Necessary and Proper eLesson

Since at least the 1790s, debate has raged over the Necessary and Proper Clause. In the early republic, debate over the interpretation of the Clause focused on the constitutionality or lack thereof of the First Bank of the United States. When the Bank was first proposed in 1790, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson argued that its establishment was not authorized by the Necessary and Proper Clause because the word “necessary” should be interpreted to include only such measures as are truly essential to the implementation of other federal powers. By contrast, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton defended the Bank, arguing that “necessary” should be interpreted to include any law that is “useful” or “convenient.”

The issue of the constitutionality of the Bank did not reach the Supreme Court until 1819, when the justices decided the case of McCulloch v. Maryland. Read all about it in this week’s eLesson.


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McCulloch v. Maryland (PDF)