The Supreme Court established many of the most fundamental principles of American Constitutional law under the authority of Chief Justice John Marshall. Using the documents below and your knowledge of the court cases, define these basic principles.

That the people have an original right to establish for their future government such principles as, in their opinion, shall most conduce to the own happiness is the basis on which the whole American fabric has been erected. The exercise of this original right is a very great exertion; nor can it nor ought it to be frequently repeated. The principles, therefore, so established are deemed fundamental. And as the authority from which they proceed, is supreme, and can seldom act, they are designed to be permanent. This original and supreme will organize the government and assigns to different departments their respective powers. It may either stop here or establish certain limits not to be transcended by those departments. . . . The powers of the Legislature are defined and limited; and that those limits may not be mistaken or forgotten, the Constitution is written. . . . The distinction between a government with limited and unlimited powers is abolished if those limits do not confine the persons on whom they are imposed,. . . . It is a proposition too plain to be contested that the Constitution controls any legislative act repugnant to it. . . .

Marbury v. Madison, 1803 (USSC+)

The legislature of a State cannot annul the judgments, nor determine the jurisdiction, of the courts of the United States. The Court of Appeals in prize causes, erected by the Continental Congress, had power to revise and correct the sentences of the State courts of admiralty. Although the claims of a State may be ultimately affected by the decision of a cause, yet, if the State be not necessarily a defendant, the courts of the United States are bound to exercise jurisdiction. If the legislatures of the several states may at will annul the judgments of the courts of the United States, and destroy rights acquired under those judgments, the Constitution itself becomes a solemn mockery, and the Nation is deprived of the means of enforcing its laws by the instrumentality of its own tribunals.

United States v. Peters, 1809 (USSC+)

The question whether a law is void for it's repugnancy to the Constitution is at all times a question of much delicacy, which ought seldom, if ever, to be decided in a doubtful case. The Court, when impelled by duty to render such a judgment, would be unworthy of its station could it be unmindful of the solemn obligations which that station imposes. But it is not on slight implication and vague conjecture that the legislature is to be pronounced to have transcended its powers, and its act to be considered void. The opposition between the Constitution and the law should be such that the judge feels a clear and strong conviction of their incompatibility with each other.

Fletcher v. Peck, 1810 (USSC+)

It has been said that the people had already surrendered all their powers to the State sovereignties, and had nothing more to give. But surely the question whether they may resume and modify the powers granted to the Government does not remain to be settled in this country. Much more might the legitimacy of the General Government be doubted had it been created by the States. The power delegated to the State sovereignties were to be exercised by themselves, not by a distinct and independent sovereignty created by themselves. To the formation of a league such as was the Confederation. the State sovereignties were certainly competent. But when, "in order to form a perfect union," it was deemed necessary to change this alliance into an effective Government, possessing great and sovereign powers and acting directly on the people, the necessity of referring it to the people; and of deriving its powers directly from them, was felt and acknowledged by all. The Government of the Union then (whatever may be the influence of this fact on the case) is, emphatically and truly, a Government of the people. In form and in substance, it emanates from them. Its powers are granted by them, and are exercised directly on them, and for their benefit.

McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819 (USSC+)

Although, among the enumerated powers of Government, we do not find the word "bank" or "incorporation," we find the great powers, to lay and collect taxes; to borrow money; to regulate commerce; to declare and conduct a war; and to raise and support armies and navies. The sword and the purse, all the external relations, and no inconsiderable portion of the industry of the nation are intrusted to its Government. It can never be pretended that these vast powers draw after them others of inferior importance merely because they are inferior. Such an idea can never be advanced. But it may with great reason be contended that a Government intrusted with such ample powers, on the due execution of which the happiness and prosperity of the Nation so vitally depends, must be intrusted with ample means for their execution. . . . If, indeed, such be the mandate of the Constitution, we have only to obey; but that instrument does not profess to enumerate the means by which the powers it confers may be executed; nor does it prohibit the creation of a corporation, if the existence of such a being be essential, to beneficial exercise of those powers. it is, then, the subject of fair inquiry how far such means may be employed.

McCulloch v. Maryland, 1819 (USSC+)

A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only these properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it, expressly or as incidental to its very existence. These are such as are supposed best calculated to effect the object for which it was created. Among the most important are immortality, and, if the expression may be allowed, individuality; properties by which a perpetual succession of many persons are considered as the same, and may act as a single individual. They enable a corporation to manage its own affairs and to hold property without the perplexing intricacies, the hazardous and endless necessity of perpetual conveyances for the purpose of transmitting it from hand to hand. It is chiefly for the purpose of clothing bodies of men, in succession, with these qualities and capacities that corporations were invented and are in use.

Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819 (USSC+)

From the fact, then, that a charter of incorporation has been granted, nothing can be inferred which changes the character of the institution or transfers to the government any new power over it. The charter of civil institutions does not grow out of their incorporation but out of the manner in which they are formed and the objects for which they are created. The right to change them is not found on their being incorporated but on their being the instruments of government, created for its purposes. The same institutions, created for the same objects though not incorporated, would be public institutions and, of course, be controllable by the legislature. The incorporating act neither gives nor prevents this control. Neither, in reason, can the incorporating act change the character of a private, eleemosynary institution. . . . it is a contract made on a valuable consideration. It is a contract for the security and disposition of property. It is a contract of the faith of which real and personal estate has been conveyed to the corporation. It is then a contact within the letter of the Constitution, and within its spirits also, unless the fact that the property is invested by the donors in trustees for the promotion of religion and education, for the benefit of persons who are perpetually changing, though the objects remain the same, shall create a particular exception, taking this case out of the prohibition contained in the Constitution.

Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 1819 (USSC+)

The acknowledged inability of the government, then, to sustain itself against the public will and, by force or otherwise, to control the whole nation is no sound argument in support of its constitutional inability to preserve itself against a section of the Nation acting in opposition in the general will. That the United States form, for many and for most important purposes, a single nation has not been denied. In war, we are one people. In making peace, we are one people. In all commercial regulations, we are one and the same people. In many other respects, the American people are one; and the government which is alone capable of controlling and managing their interests in all these respects is the government of the Union. It is their government, and, in that character, they have no other. America has chosen to be, in many respects and to many purposes, a nation; and for all these purposes her government is complete; to all these objects, it is competent. The people have declared that in the exercise of all powers given for these objects it is supreme. It can, then, in effecting these objects, legitimately control all individuals or governments within the American territory. The constitution and laws of a state, so far as they are repugnant to the Constitution and laws of the United States, are absolutely void. These states are constituent parts of the United States; they are members of one great empire— for some purposes sovereign, for some purposes subordinate.

Cohens v. Virginia, 1821 (USSC+)

The power of regulating commerce extends to the regulation of navigation. The power to regulate commerce extends to every species of commercial intercourse between the United States and foreign nations, and among the several States. It does not stop at the external boundary of a State. But it does not extend to a commerce which is completely internal. The power to regulate commerce is general, and has no limitations but such are prescribed in the Constitution itself. The power to regulate commerce, so far as it extends, is exclusively bested in Congress, and no part of it can be exercised by a State. A license under the acts of Congress for regulating the coating trade gives a permission to carry on that trade....The power of regulating commerce extends to navigation carried on by vessels exclusively employed in transporting passengers. The power of regulating commerce extends to vessels propelled by steam or fire as well as to those navigated by the instrumentality of wind and sails.

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1 (1824) (USSC+)

A treaty is in the nature of a contract between two nations, not a legislative act. It does not generally effect, of itself, the object to be accomplished, especially so far as its operation is infra-territorial, but is carried into execution by the sovereign power of the respective parties to the instrument. In the United States, a different principle is established. Our Constitution declares a treaty to be the law of the land. It is consequently to be regarded in courts of justice as equivalent to an act of the legislature whenever it operates itself, without the aid of any legislative provision. But when the terms of the stipulation import a contact, when either of the parties engage to perform a particular act, the treaty addresses itself to the Political, not the Judicial Department, and the Legislature must execute the contract before it can become a rule for the Court.

Foster & Elam v. Neilson, 1829 (USSC+)


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