The Daniel Ball

Decision Date01 December 1870
Citation10 Wall. 557,77 U.S. 557,19 L.Ed. 999
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

APPEAL from the Circuit Court for the Western District of Michigan, the case being thus:

The act of July 7th, 1838,1 provides, in its second section, that it shall not be lawful for the owner, master, or captain of any vessel, propelled in whole or in part by steam, to transport any merchandise or passengers upon 'the bays, lakes, rivers, or other navigable waters of the United States,' after the 1st of October of that year, without having first obtained from the proper officer a license under existing laws; that for every violation of this enactment the owner or owners of the vessel shall forfeit and pay to the United States the sum of five hundred dollars; and that for this sum the vessel engaged shall be liable, and may be seized and proceeded against summarily by libel in the District Court of the United States.

The act of August 30th, 1852,2 which is amendatory of the act of July 7th, 1838, provides for the inspection of vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam and carrying passengers, and the delivery to the collector of the district of a certificate of such inspection, before a license, register, or enrolment, under either of the acts, can be granted, and declares that if any vessel of this kind is navigated with passengers on board, without complying with the terms of the act, the owners and the vessel shall be subject to the penalties prescribed by the second section of the act of 1838.

In March, 1868, the Daniel Ball, a vessel propelled by steam, of one hundred and twenty-three tons burden, was engaged in navigating Grand River, in the State of Michigan, between the cities of Grand Rapids and Grand Haven, and in the transportation of merchandise and passengers between those places, without having been inspected or licensed under the laws of the United States; and to recover the penalty, provided for want of such inspection and license, the United States filed a libel in the District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

The libel, as amended, described Grand River as a navigable water of the United States; and, in addition to the employment stated above, alleged that in such employment the steamer transported merchandise, shipped on board of her, destined for ports and places in States other than the State of Michigan, and was thus engaged in commerce between the States.

The answer of the owners, who appeared in the case, admitted substantially the employment of the steamer as alleged, but set up as a defence that Grand River was not a navigable water of the United States, and that the steamer was engaged solely in domestic trade and commerce, and was not engaged in trade or commerce between two or more States, or in any trade by reason of which she was subject to the navigation laws of the United States, or was required to be inspected and licensed.

It was admitted, by stipulation of the parties, that the steamer was employed in the navigation of Grand River between the cities of Grand Rapids and Grand Haven, and in the transportation of merchandise and passengers between those places; that she was not enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade; that some of the goods that she shipped at Grand Rapids and carried to Grand Haven were destined and marked for places in other States than Michigan, and that some of the goods which she shipped at Grand Haven came from other States and were destined for places within that State.

It was also admitted that the steamer was so constructed as to draw only two feet of water, and was incapable of navigating the waters of Lake Michigan; that she was a common carrier between the cities named, but did not run in connection with or in continuation of any line of steamers or vessels on the lake, or any line of railway in the State, although there were various lines of steamers and other vessels running from places in other States to Grand Haven carrying merchandise, and a line of railway was running from Detroit which touched at both of the cities named.

The District Court dismissed the libel. The Circuit Court reversed this decision, and gave a decree for the penalty demanded.

From this decree the case was brought by appeal to this court.

Mr. A. T. McReynolds, for the appellant:

1. The steamer Daniel Ball is not liable under the navigation laws, unless she was employed upon the navigable waters of the United States, in carrying on commerce among the States.

What, then, is meant by the term 'navigable waters of the United States,' and the kindred phrases employed in the navigation laws? And does Grand River fall within the class?

It is clear that the term is not employed in a territorial sense; merely or primarily to include all waters within the territorial limits of the United States, to which the term 'navigable' is applied in American law. We have extended that term to include not simply the tide-waters, as is understood by it in England, but also the great fresh-water rivers and lakes of our country; and, in a still broader sense, we apply it to every stream or body of water, susceptible of being made, in its natural condition, a highway for commerce, even though that trade be nothing more than the floating of lumber in rafts or logs.3

But if merely because a stream is a highway it becomes a navigable water of the United States, in a sense that attaches to it and to the vessels trading upon it the regulating control of Congress, then every highway must be regarded as a highway of the United States, and the vehicles upon it must be subject to the same control. But this will not be asserted on the part of the government.

The navigable rivers of the United States pass through States, they form their boundary lines, they are not in any one State, nor the exclusive property of any one, but are common to all. To make waters navigable waters of the United States, some other incident must attach to them besides the territorial and the capability for public use.

This term contrasts with domestic waters of the United States, and implies, not simply that the waters are public and within the Union, but that they have attached to them some circumstance that brings them within the scope of the sovereignty of the United States as defined by the Constitution.

Grand River, we maintain, is a domestic stream, and not a navigable water of the United States. It is not brought within the sphere of the sovereignty of the United States as defined in the Constitution, unless it be by becoming a highway for the commerce which Congress can regulate. By the Constitution, Congress regulates commerce with foreign nations, among the several States, &c. No such commerce is carried on upon Grand River. Commerce means an exchange of commodities. This river is entirely within the State of Michigan, and therefore an exchange of commodities between two States cannot be made upon it. It is navigated by vessels, the commencement and termination of whose voyage is within the State. It is not adapted to navigation by lake-going vessels, which alone could carry on commerce between the port at its mouth and any other State. It cannot, therefore, be said to be a public water of the United States, because forming part of a continuous route for vessels engaged in interstate trade.

The framers of the Constitution supposed that the State would be best able to establish all necessary regulations for commerce carried on between citizens...

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