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IN THE CASE OF OGDEN vs. SAUNDERS, IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, JANUARY TERM, 1827.
This was an action of Assumpsit brought originally in the Circuit Court of Louisiana by Saunders, a citizen of Kentucky, against Ogien, a citizen of Louisiana. The plaintiff below declared upon certain bills of exchange, drawn on the 20th of September, 1806, by one Jordan, at Lexington, in the State of Kentucky, upon the defendant below, Og len, in the city of New York, (the defendant then being a citizen and resident of the State of New York,) accepted by him at the city of New York, and protested for non-payment.
The defendant below pleaded several pleas, among which was a certificate of discharge unter the act of the legislature of the State of New York, of April 3d, 1801, for the relief of insolvent debtors, commonly called the threefourths act.
The jury found the facts in the form of a special verdict, on which the Court rendered a jug nent for the plaintiff below, and the cause was brought by writ of error before this Court. The question, which arose under this plea as to the validity of the law of New York as being repugnant to the constitution of the United States, was argued at February term, 1824, by Mr. Clay, Mr. D. B. Ogden, and Mr. Haines, for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, for the defendant in error, and the cause was continued for a vise.nent until the present term. It was again argued at the present term, by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, against the vali lity, and by the Attorney General, Mr. E. Laringston, Mr. D. B. Ogden, Mr. Jones, ani Mr. Sampson, for the validity.
Mr. Wheaton opened the argument for the defendant in error; he was followed by the Counsel for the plaintiff in error; and Mr. Webster replied as follows:
THE question arising in this case is not more important, nor so important even, in its bearing on individual cases of private right, as in its character of a public political question. The constitution was intended to accomplish a great political object. Its design was nt so much to prevent injustice or injury in one case, or in successive single cases, as it was to make general salutary provisions, which, in their operation, should give security to all contracts, stabuity to credit, uniformity among all the States, in those things which materially concerned the foreign commerce of the country, and their own credit, trade, and intercourse among themselves. The real question is, therefore, a much broader one than has been argued. It is this, whether the constitution has not, for general political purposes, ordained that bankrupt laws should be established only by national authority? We contend that such was the intention of the constitution; an intention, as we think, plainly manifested by a consideration of its several provisions.
and the power should be considered as exclusively vested in Congress, so far, and so far only, as the nature of the power requires. And he insisted, that the nature of the case, and of the power, did imperiously require, that such important authority as that of granting monopolies of trade and navigation, should not be considered as still retained by the States.
It is apparent, from the próhibitions on the power of the States, that the general concurrent power was not supposed to be left with them. And the exception, out of these prohibitions, of the inspection laws, proves this still more clearly. Which most concerns the commerce of this country, that New York and Virginia should have an uncontrolled power to establish their inspection for flour and tobacco, or that they should have an uncontrolled power of granting either a monopoly of trade in their own ports, or a monopoly of navigation over all the waters leading to those ports? Yet, the argument on the other side must be, that, although the constitution has sedulously guarded and limited the first of these powers, it has left the last wholly unlimited and uncontrolled.
But, although much had been said, in the discussion on former occasions, about this supposed concurrent power in the States, he found great difficulty in understanding what was meant by it. It was generally qualified, by saying, that it was a power, by which the States could pass laws on the subjects of commercial regulation, which would be valid, until Congress should pass other laws controlling them, or inconsistent with them, and that then the State laws must yield. What sort of concurrent powers were these, which could not exist together? Indeed, the very reading of the clause in the constitution must put to flight this notion of a general concurrent power. The constitution was formed for all the States; and Congress was to have power to regulate commerce. Now, what is the import of this, but that Congress is to give the rule-to establish the system-to exercise the control over the subject? And, can more than one power, in cases of this sort, give the rule, establish the system, or exercise the control? As it is not contended that the power of Congress is to be exercised by a supervision of State legislation; and, as it is clear, that Congress is to give the general rule, he contended, that this power of giving the general rule was transferred, by the constitution, from the States to Congress, to be exercised as that body might see fit. And, consequently, that all those high exercises of power, which might be considered as giving the rule, or establishing the system, in regard to great commercial interests, were necessarily left with Congress alone. Of this character he considered monopolies of trade or navigation; embargoes; the system of navigation laws; the countervailing laws, as against foreign states; and other important enactments respecting our connexion with such states. It appeared to him a most reasonable construction, to say, that in these respects, the power of Congress is exclusive, from the nature of the power. If it be not so, where is the limit, or who shall fix a boundary for the exercise of the power of the States? Can a State grant a monopoly of trade? Can New York shut her ports to all but her own citizens? Can she refuse admission to ships of particular nations? The argument on the other
side is, and must be, that she might do all these things, until Congress should revoke her enactments. And this is called concurrent legislation. What confusion such notions lead to, is obvious enough. A power in the States to do anything, and everything, in regard to commerce, till Congress shall undo it, would suppose a state of things, at least as bad as that which existed before the present constitution. It is the true wisdom of these governments to keep their action as distinct as possible. The general government should not seek to operate where the States can operate with more advantage to the community; nor should the States encroach on ground, which the public good, as well as the constitution, refers to the exclusive control of Congress.
If the present state of things-these laws of New York, the laws of Connecticut, and the laws of New Jersey, had been all presented, in the convention of New York, to the eminent person whose name is on this record, and who acted, on that occasion, so important a part; if he had been told, that, after all he had said in favor of the new government, and of its salutary effects on commercial regulations, the time should yet come, when the North River would be shut up by a monopoly from New York; the Sound interdicted by a penal law of Connecticut; reprisals authorised by New Jersey, against citizens of New York; and when one could not cross a ferry, with out transhipment; does any one suppose he would have admitted all this, as compatible with the government which he was recommending?
This doctrine of a general concurrent power in the States, is insidious and dangerous. If it be admitted, no one can say where it will stop. The States may legislate, it is said, wherever Congress has not made a plenary exercise of its power. But who is to judge whether Congress has made this plenary exercise of power? Congress has acted on this power; it has done all that it deemed wise; and are the States now to do whatever Congress has left undone? Congress makes such rules as, in its judgment, the case requires; and those rules, whatever they are, constitute the system.
All useful regulation does not consist in restraint; and that which Congress sees fit to leave free, is a part of its regulation, as much
as the rest.
He thought the practice under the constitution sufficiently evinced, that this portion of the commercial power was exclusive in Congress. When, before this instance, have the States granted monopones? When, until now, have they interfered with the navigation of the country? The pilot laws, the health laws, or quarantine laws, and various regulations of that class, which have been recognised by Congress, are no arguments to prove, even if they are to be called commercial regulations, (which they are not,) that other regulations, more directly and strictly commercial, are not solely within the power of Congress. There was a singular fallacy, as he bumbly ventured to think, in the argument of very learned and most respectable persons, on this subject. That argument alleges, that the States have a concurrent power with Congress, of regulating commerce; and its proof of this position is, that the States have, without any question of their right, passed acts respecting turnpike
roads, toll bridges, and ferries.
These are declared to be acts of commercial regulation, affecting not only the interior commerce of the State itself, but also commerce between different States. fore, as all these are commercial regulations, and are yet acknowledged to be rightfully established by the States, it follows, as is supposed, that the States must have a concurrent power to regulate
Now, what was the inevitable consequence of this mode of reasoning? Does it not admit the power of Congress, at once, upon all these minor objects of legislation? If all these be regulations of commerce, within the meaning of the constitution, then, certainly, Congress having a concurrent power to regulate commerce, may establish ferries, turnpikes, bridges, &c. and provide for all this detail of interior legislation. To sustain the interference of the State, in a high concern of maritime commerce, the argument adopts a principle which acknowledges the right of Congress, over a vast scope of internal legislation, which no one has heretofore supposed to be within its powers. But this is not all; for it is admitted, that when Congress and the States have power to legislate over the same subject, the power of Congress, when exercised, controls or extinguishes the State power; and, therefore, the consequence would seem to follow, from the argument, that all State legislation, over such subjects as have been mentioned, is, at all times, liable to the superior power of Congress; a consequence, which no one would admit for a moment. The truth was, he thought, that all these things were, in their general character, rather regulations of police than of commerce, in the constitutional understanding of that term. A road, indeed, might be a matter of great commercial concern. In many cases it is so; and when it is so, he thought there was no doubt of the power of Congress to make it. But, generally speaking, roads, and bridges, and ferries, though, of course, they affect commerce and intercourse, do not obtain that importance and elevation, as to be deemed commercial regulations. A reasonable construction must be given to the constitution; and such construction is as necessary to the just power of the States, as to the authority of Congress. Quarantine laws, for example, may be considered as affecting commerce; yet they are, in their nature, health laws. In England, we speak of the power of regulating commerce, as in Parliament, or the King, as arbiter of commerce; yet the city of London enacts health laws. Would any one infer from that circumstance, that the city of London had concurrent power with Parliament or the Crown to regulate commerce? or, that it might grant a monoply of the navigation of the Thames? While a health law is reasonable, it is a health law; but if, under color of it, enactments should be made for other purposes, such enactments might be void. In the discussion in the New York Courts, no small reliance was placed on the law of that State prohibiting the importation of slaves, as an example of a commercial regulation, enacted by State authority. That law may or may not be constitutional aad valid. It has been referred to generally, but its particular provisions have not been stated. When they are more clearly seen, its character may be better determined.
It might further be argued, that the power of Congress over these high branches of commerce was exclusive, from the consideration that Congress possessed an exclusive admiralty jurisdiction. That it did possess such exclusive jurisdiction, would hardly be contested. No State pretended to exercise any jurisdiction of that kind. Ta States had abolished their Courts of Admiralty, when the constitution went into operation. Over these waters, therefore, or, at least, some of them, which are the subject of this monoply, New York has no jurisdiction whatever. They are a part of the high sea, and not within the body of any county. The authorities of that State could not punish for a murder, committed on board one of these boats, in some places within the range of this exclusive grant. This restraining of the States from all jurisdiction, out of the bodies of their own counties, shows plainly enough, that navigation on the high seas, was understood to be a matter to be regulated only by Congress. It is not unreasonable to say, that what are called the waters of New York, are, to purposes of navigation and commercial regulation, the waters of the United States. There is no cessi n, indeed, of the waters themselves, but their use, for those purposes, seemed to be entrusted to the exclusive power of Congress. Several States have enacted laws, which would appear to imply their conviction of the power of Congress, over navigable waters, to a greater extent.
If there be a concurrent power of regulating commerce on the high seas, there must be a concurrent admiralty jurisdiction, and a concurrent control of the waters. It is a common principle, that arms of the sea, including navigable rivers, belong to the sovereign, so far as navigation is concerned. Their use is navigation. The United States possess the general power over navigation, and, of course, ought to control, in general, the use of navigable waters. If it be admitted, that for purposes of trade and navigation, the North River, and its bay, are the river and bay of New York, and the Chesapeake the bay of Virginia, very great inconveniences and much confusion might be the result.
It might now be well to take a nearer view of these laws, to see more exactly what their provisions were, what consequences have followed from them, and what would and might follow from other similar laws.
The first grant to John Fitch, gave him the sole and exclusive right of making, employing, and navigating, all boats impelled by fire or steam," in all creeks, rivers, bays, and waters, within the territory and jurisdiction of the State." Any other person, navigating such boat, was to forfeit it, and to pay a penalty of a hundred pounds. The subsequent acts repeal this, and grant similar privileges to Livingston and Fulton: and the act of 1811 provides the extraordinary and summary remedy, which has been already stated. The river, the bay, and the marine league along the shore, are all within the scope of this grant. Any vessel, therefore, of this description, coming into any of those waters, without a license, whether from another State, or from abroad, whether it be a public or private vessel, is instantly forfeited to the grantees of the monopoly.