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IN THE CASE OF GIBBONS vs. OGDEN, IN THE SUPREME COURT OF
THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY TERM, 1824.
This was an appeal from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New York. Aaron Ogden filed his bill in the Court of Chancery of that State, against Thomas Gibbons, setting forth the several acts of the Legislature thereof, enacted for the purpose of securing to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton, the 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 authorising 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. 8. 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 tbe 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.
Mr. Weester, for the appellant, admitted, that there was a very respectable weight of authority in favor 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 neces
cessarily 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 sole and exclusive right was granted to John Filch, 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 sugges tion 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. Livingston, 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, froin 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 vessel, without the license 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 deemed to accrue on the day on which such boat or vessel should navigate the waters of the State; and that Livingston and Fulton might immediately have an action for such boat or vessel, in like manner as if they themselves had been dispossessed thereof by force; and that on bringing any such suit, the defendant therein should be prohibited, by injunction, from removing the boat or vessel out of the State, or using it within the State. There were one or two other acts mentioned in the pleadings, which principally respected the time allowed for complying with the condition of the grant, and were not material to the discussion of the case.
By these acts, then, an exclusive right is given to Livingston and Fulton, to use steam navigation on all the waters of New York, for thirty years from 1808.
It is not necessary to recite the several conveyances and agreements, stated in the record, by which Ogden, the plaintiff below, derives title under Livingston and Fullon, to the exclusive use of part of these waters.
The appellant being owner of a steam boat, and being found navigating the waters between New Jersey and the city of New York, over which waters Ogrlen, the plaintiff
' below, claimed an exclusive right, under Livingston and Fulton, this bill was filed against him by Ogden, in October, 1818, and an injunction granted, restraining him from such use of his boat. This injunction was made perpetual, on the final hearing of the cause, in the Court of Chancery; and the decree of the Chancellor has been duly affirmed in the Court of Errors. The right, therefore, which the plaintiff' below asserts to have and maintain his injunction, depends obviously on the general validity of the New York laws, and, especially, on their force and operation as against the right set ip 'oy the defendant. This right he states, in his answer, to be, that he is a citizen of New Jersey, and owner of the steam boat in question; that the boat was a vessel of more than twenty tons burden, dnly enrolled and licensed for carrying on the coasting trade, and intended to be, employed by him, in that trade, between Elizabethtown, in New Jersey, and the city of New York; and was actually employed in navigating between those places, at the time of, and until notice of the injunction from the Court of Chancery was served on him.
On these pleadings the substantial question is raised: Are these laws such as the Legislature of New York had a right to pass? If so, do they, secondly, in their operation, interfere with any right enjoyed under the constitution and laws of the United States, and are they, therefore, void, as far as such interference extends?
It may be well to state again their general purport and effect, and the purport and effect of the other State laws, which have been enacted by way of retaliation.
A steam vessel, of any description, going to New York, is forfeited to the representatives of Livingston and Fulton, unless she have their license.
Going from New York, or elsewhere, to Connecticut, she is prohibited from entering the waters of that State, if she have such license.
If the representatives of Liringston and Fulton, in New York, carry into effect, by judicial process, the provision of the New York laws, against any citizen of New Jersey, they expose themselves to a statute action, in New Jersey, for all damages, and treble costs.
The New York laws extend to all steam vessels; to steam frigates, steam ferry-boats, and all intermediate classes.
They extend to public as well as private ships; and to vessels employed in foreign commerce, as well as to those employed in the coasting trade.
The remedy is as summary as the grant itself is ample; for immediate confiscation, without seizure, trial, or judgment, is the penalty of infringement.
In regard to these acts, he should contend, in the first place, that they exceeded the power of the Legislature; and, secondly, that if they could be considered valid, for any purpose, they were void, still, as against any right enjoyed under the laws of the United States, with which they came in collision; and that, in this case, they were found interfering with such rights.
He should contend, that the power of Congress to regulate commerce, was complete and entire, and, to a certain extent, necessarily exclusive; that the acts in question were regulations of commerce, in a most important particular; and affecting it in those respects, in which it was under the exclusive authority of Congress. He stated this first proposition guardedly. He did not mean to say that all regulations which might, in their operation, affect commerce, were exclusively in the power of Congress; but that such power as had been exercised in this case, did not remain with the States. Nothing was more complex than commerce; and in such an age as this, no words embraced a wider field than commercial regulation. Almost all the business and intercourse of life may be connected, incidentally, more or less, with commercial regulations. But it was only necessary to apply to this part of the constitution the well settled rules of construction. Some powers are holden to be exclusive in Congress, from the use of exclusive words in the grant; others, from the prohibitions on the States to exercise similar powers; and others, again, from the nature of the powers themselves. It has been by this mode of reasoning that the Court has adjudicated on many im
portant questions; and the same mode is proper here. And, as some powers have been holden exclusive, and others not so, under the same form of expression, from the nature of the different powers respectively; so, where the power, on any one subject, is given in general words, like the power to regulate commerce, the true method of construction would be, to consider of what parts the grant is composed, and which of those, from the nature of the thing, ought to be considered exclusive. The right set up in this case, under the laws of New York, is a monopoly. Now, he thought it very reasonable to say, that the constitution never intended to leave with the States the power of granting monopolies, either of trade or of navigation; and, therefore, that as to this, the commercial power was exclusive in Congress.
It was in vain to look for a precise and exact definition of the powers of Congress, on several subjects. The constitution did not undertake the task of making such exact definitions. In conferring powers, it proceeded in the way of enumeration, stating the powers conferred, one after another, in few words; and, where the power was general, or complex in its nature, the extent of the grant must necessarily be judged of, and limited, by its object, and by the nature of the power.
Few things were better known, than the immediate causes which led to the adoption of the present constitution; and he thought nothing clearer, than that the prevailing motive was to regulate commerce; to rescue it from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law. The great objects were commerce and revenue; and they were objects indissolubly connected. By the confederation, divers restrictions had been imposed on the States; but these had not been found sufficient. No State, it was true, could send or receive an embassy; nor make any treaty; nor enter into any compact with another State, or with a foreign power; nor lay duties, interfering with treaties which had been entered into by Congress. But all these were found to be far short of what the actual condition of the country required. The States could still, each for itself, regulate commerce, and the consequence was, a perpetual jarring and hostility of commercial regulation.
In the history of the times, it was accordingly found, that the great topic, urged on all occasions, as showing the necessity of a new and different government, was the state of trade and commerce. To benefit and improve these, was a great object in itself; and it became greater when it was regarded as the only means of enabling the country to pay the public debt, and to do justice to those who had most effectually labored for its independence. The leading state papers of the time are full of this topic. The New Jersey resolutions* complain, that the regulation of trade was in the power of the several States, within their separate jurisdiction, in such a degree as to involve many difficulties and embarrassments; and they express an earnest opinion, that the sole and exclusive
regulating trade with foreign States, ought to be in Congress. Mr. Witherspoon's motion in Congress, in 1781, is of the same general
* 1 Laws U. S. p. 28.