Gibbons v. Ogden

Decision Date02 March 1824
PartiesGIBBONS, Appellant , v. OGDEN, Respondent
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

exclusive navigation of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years which has not yet expired; and authorizing the Chancellor to award an injunction, restraining any person whatever from navigating those waters with boats of that description. The bill stated an assignment from Livingston and Fulton to one John R. Livingston, and from him to the complainant, Ogden, of the right to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown, and other places in New-Jersey, and the city of New-York; and that Gibbons, the defendant below, was in possession of two steam boats, called the Stoudinger and the Bellona, which were actually employed in running between New-York and Elizabethtown, in violation of the exclusive privilege conferred on the complainant, and praying an injunction to restrain the said Gibbons from using the said boats, or any other propelled by fire or steam, in navigating the waters within the territory of New-York. The injunction having been awarded, the answer of Gibbons was filed; in which he stated, that the boats employed by him were duly enrolled and licensed, to be employed in carrying on the coasting trade, under the act of Congress, passed the 18th of February, 1793, c. 3. entitled, 'An act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same.' And the defendant insisted on his right, in virtue of such licenses, to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown and the city of New-York, the said acts of the Legislature of the State of New-York to the contrary notwithstanding. At the hearing, the Chancellor perpetuated the injunction, being of the opinion, that the said acts were not repugnant to the constitution and laws of the United States, and were valid. This decree was affirmed in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, which is the highest Court of law and equity in the State, before which the cause could be carried, and it was thereupon brought to this Court by appeal.

Principles of interpretation.

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 foreiga nations, and among the several States. It dees 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 as are prescribed in the constitution itself.

The power to regulate commerce, so far as it extends, is exclusively vested in Congress, and no part of it can be exercised by a State.

State inspection laws, health laws, and laws for regulating the internal commerce of a State, and those which respect turnpike roads, ferries, &c. are not within the power granted to Congress.

The laws of N. Y. granting to R.R.L. and R. F. the exclusive right of navigating the waters of that State with steam boarts, are in collision with the acts of Congress regulating the coasting trade, which being made in pursuance of the constitution, are supreme, and the State laws must yield to that supremacy, even though enacted in pursuance of powers acknowledged to remain in the States.

A license under the acts of Congress for regulating the coasting trade, gives a permission to carry on that trade.

The license is not merely intended to confer the national character.

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 instrument ality of wind and sails.

Feb. 4th, 5th, and 6th.

Mr. Webster, for the appellant, admitted, that there was a very respectable weight of authority in favour of the decision, which was sought to be reversed. The laws in question, he knew, had been deliberately re-enacted by the Legislature of New-York; and they had also received the sanction, at different times, of all her judicial tribunals, than which there were few, if any, in the country, more justly entitled to respect and deference. The disposition of the Court would be, undoubtedly, to support, if it could, laws so passed and so sanctioned. He admitted, therefore, that it was justly expected of him that he should make out a clear case; and unless he did so, he did not hope for a reversal. It should be remembered, however, that the whole of this branch of power, as exercised by this Court, was a power of revision. The question must be decided by the State Courts, and decided in a particular manner, before it could be brought here at all. Such decisions alone gave the Court jurisdiction; and therefore, while they are to be respected as the judgments of learned Judges, they are yet in the condition of all decisions from which the law allows an appeal.

It would not be a waste of time to advert to the existing state of the facts connected with the subject of this litigation. The use of steam boats, on the coasts, and in the bays and rivers of the country, had become very general. The intercourse of its different parts essentially depended upon this mode of conveyance and transportation. Rivers and bays, in many cases, form the divisions between States; and thence it was obvious, that if the States should make regulations for the navigation of these waters, and such regulations should be repugnant and hostile, embarrassment would necessarily happen to the general intercourse of the community. Such events had actually occurred, and had created the existing state of things.

By the law of New-York, no one can navigate the bay of New-York, the North River, the Sound, the lakes, or any of the waters of that State, by steam vessels, without a license from the grantees of New-York, under penalty of forfeiture of the vessel.

By the law of the neighbouring State of Connecticut, no one can enter her waters with a steam vessel having such license.

By the law of New-Jersey, if any citizen of that State shall be restrained, under the New-York law, from using steam boats between the ancient shores of New-Jersey and New-York, he shall be entitled to an action for damages, in New-Jersey, with treble costs against the party who thus restrains or impedes him under the law of New-York! This act of New-Jersey is called an act of retortion against the illegal and oppressive legislation of New-York; and seems to be defended on those grounds of public law which justify reprisals between independent States.

It would hardly be contended, that all these acts were consistent with the laws and constitution of the United States. If there were no power in the general government, to control this extreme belligerent legislation of the States, the powers of the government were essentially deficient, in a most important and interesting particular. The present controversy respected the earliest of these State laws, those of New-York. On those, this Court was now to pronounce; and if they should be declared to be valid and operative, he hoped somebody would point out where the State right stopped, and on what grounds the acts of other States were to be held inoperative and void.

It would be necessary to advert more particularly to the laws of New-York, as they were stated in the record. The first was passed March 19th, 1787. By this act, a sale and exclusive right was granted to John Fitch, of making and using every kind of boat or vessel impelled by steam, in all creeks, rivers, bays, and waters, within the territory and jurisdiction of New-York, for fourteen years.

On the 27th of March, 1798, an act was passed, on the suggestion that Fitch was dead, or had withdrawn from the State, without having made any attempt to use his privilege, repealing the grant to him, and conferring similar privileges on Robert R. Liringston, for the term of twenty years, on a suggestion, made by him, that he was possessor of a mode of applying the steam engine to propel a boat, on new and advantageous principles. On the 5th of April, 1803, another act was passed, by which it was declared, that the rights and privileges granted to R. R. Livingston, by the last act, should be extended to him and Robert Fulton, for twenty years, from the passing of this act. Then there is the act of April 11, 1808 purporting to extend the monopoly, in point of time, five years for every additional boat, the whole duration, however, not to exceed thirty years; and forbidding any and all persons to navigate the waters of the State, with any steam boat or 11, 1808, purporting of Livingston and Fulton, under penalty of forfeiture of the boat or vessel. And, lastly, comes the act of April 9, 1811, for enforcing the provisions of the last mentioned act, and declaring, that the forfeiture of the boat or vessel, found navigating against the provisions of the previous acts, shall be...

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