Gibbons v. Ogden

Gibbons v. Ogden

Overview
Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1824), was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 by the Commerce Clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and capable attorneys at the time. Exiled Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 patriot Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet was an Irish and American lawyer and politician. He was a senior member of the revolutionary republican group United Irishmen in the 1790s and New York State Attorney General 1812–1813.-Background:...

 and Thomas J. Oakley argued for Ogden, while William Wirt
William Wirt (Attorney General)
William Wirt was an American author and statesman who is credited with turning the position of United States Attorney General into one of influence.-History:...

 and Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 argued for Gibbons.

The acts of the Legislature of the State of New York granted to Robert R.
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Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1824), was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 by the Commerce Clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and capable attorneys at the time. Exiled Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 patriot Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet was an Irish and American lawyer and politician. He was a senior member of the revolutionary republican group United Irishmen in the 1790s and New York State Attorney General 1812–1813.-Background:...

 and Thomas J. Oakley argued for Ogden, while William Wirt
William Wirt (Attorney General)
William Wirt was an American author and statesman who is credited with turning the position of United States Attorney General into one of influence.-History:...

 and Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 argued for Gibbons.

Background


The acts of the Legislature of the State of New York granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat...

 gave exclusive navigation privileges of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years. Livingston and Fulton granted a license to Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

. Thomas Gibbons operated a competing steamboat service between Elizabethtown, New Jersey and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 that had been licensed by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 in regulating the coasting
Coast
A coastline or seashore is the area where land meets the sea or ocean. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the dynamic nature of tides. The term "coastal zone" can be used instead, which is a spatial zone where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs...

 trade; he also took on Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

 as his business manager.

Case


Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

 filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 asking the court to restrain Thomas Gibbons from operating on these waters. Ogden's lawyer contended that states often passed laws on issues regarding interstate matters and that states should have fully concurrent power with Congress on matters concerning interstate commerce.

Gibbons' lawyer, Daniel Webster, argued that Congress had exclusive national power over interstate commerce according to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and that to argue otherwise would result in confusing and contradictory local regulatory policies.

The Court of Chancery of New York and the Court of Errors of New York found in favor of Ogden and issued an injunction to restrict Gibbons from operating his boats. Gibbons appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision.

Decision of the Court


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons. The sole argued source of Congress's power to promulgate the law at issue was the Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the Court had to answer whether the law regulated "commerce" that was "among the several states." With respect to "commerce," the Court held that commerce is more than mere traffic—that it is the trade of commodities—it is also intercourse. This broader definition includes navigation. The Court interpreted "among" as "intermingled with."

Marshall's ruling determined that "a Congressional power to regulate navigation is as expressly granted as if that term had been added to the word 'commerce'."

The court went on to conclude that Congressional power over commerce should extend to the regulation of all aspects of it, overriding state law to the contrary:
"If, as has always been understood, the sovereignty of Congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations and among the several states is vested in Congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the Constitution of the United States."

Importance of the case


Steven Redd argues that the decision in Gibbons v. Ogden survived until 1895, when the court began to limit the congressional power with the case of United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 1 , also known as the "Sugar Trust Case,'" was a United States Supreme Court case that limited the government's power to control monopolies...

, 156 U.S. 1 (1895). This marked the start of a 40-year period of history during which the Supreme Court limited the federal government's ability to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause. During the 1930s the Supreme Court changed course again and began to grant more federal authority under Commerce Clause, going beyond even the authority recognized in Gibbons v. Odgen. The Court went so far as to say that even activity entirely within one state could be regulated by the federal government if the activity had an effect on interstate commerce. See National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 , was a United States Supreme Court case that declared that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was constitutional...

, 301 US 1 (1937).

However, Strict Constructionists (those who believe that the Constitution must be given the narrowest possible construction) hold a different view of the meaning of Commerce Clause as established in Gibbons that it was limited in scope because the decision could be interpreted to say that navigation only pertained to the federal Commerce Clause because it was necessary to business as it allowed for the interstate transportation of goods. Therefore, under this theory the E.C Knight decision may be viewed not as a radical departure, but as a continuation of the original jurisprudence.

Note that in Gibbons v. Ogden the court specifically stated there are limits upon the federal commerce power, but chose not to put into detail what those limits were aside from goods specifically made, moved, and sold within one state were exclusively beyond the reach of the federal commerce power. This part of the Gibbons ruling stands in direct contrast to the post-New Deal decision in Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 , was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption. The U.S...

, 317 U.S. 111 (1942).

Opinion excerpts

  • The power to “regulate Commerce” is:

{{SCOTUSCase
|Litigants=Gibbons v. Ogden
|ArgueDate=February 5
|ArgueYear=1821
|DecideDate=March 2
|DecideYear=1824
|FullName=Thomas Gibbons, Appellant v. Aaron Ogden, Respondent
|USVol=22
|USPage=1
|Citation=22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1; 16 L. Ed. 23; 1824 U.S. LEXIS 370
|Prior=Appeal from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New York
|Subsequent=
|Holding=The New York law was found invalid because the Commerce Clause of the Constitution designated power to Congress to regulate interstate commerce and that the broad definition of commerce included navigation.
|SCOTUS=1823-1826
|Majority=Marshall
|JoinMajority=Washington, Todd, Duvall, Story
|Concurrence=Johnson
|NotParticipating=Thompson
|LawsApplied=U.S. Const. art. I sec. 8 clause 3
}}

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1824), was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 by the Commerce Clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and capable attorneys at the time. Exiled Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 patriot Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet was an Irish and American lawyer and politician. He was a senior member of the revolutionary republican group United Irishmen in the 1790s and New York State Attorney General 1812–1813.-Background:...

 and Thomas J. Oakley argued for Ogden, while William Wirt
William Wirt (Attorney General)
William Wirt was an American author and statesman who is credited with turning the position of United States Attorney General into one of influence.-History:...

 and Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 argued for Gibbons.

Background


The acts of the Legislature of the State of New York granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat...

 gave exclusive navigation privileges of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years. Livingston and Fulton granted a license to Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

. Thomas Gibbons operated a competing steamboat service between Elizabethtown, New Jersey and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 that had been licensed by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 in regulating the coasting
Coast
A coastline or seashore is the area where land meets the sea or ocean. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the dynamic nature of tides. The term "coastal zone" can be used instead, which is a spatial zone where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs...

 trade; he also took on Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

 as his business manager.

Case


Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

 filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 asking the court to restrain Thomas Gibbons from operating on these waters. Ogden's lawyer contended that states often passed laws on issues regarding interstate matters and that states should have fully concurrent power with Congress on matters concerning interstate commerce.

Gibbons' lawyer, Daniel Webster, argued that Congress had exclusive national power over interstate commerce according to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and that to argue otherwise would result in confusing and contradictory local regulatory policies.

The Court of Chancery of New York and the Court of Errors of New York found in favor of Ogden and issued an injunction to restrict Gibbons from operating his boats. Gibbons appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision.

Decision of the Court


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons. The sole argued source of Congress's power to promulgate the law at issue was the Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the Court had to answer whether the law regulated "commerce" that was "among the several states." With respect to "commerce," the Court held that commerce is more than mere traffic—that it is the trade of commodities—it is also intercourse. This broader definition includes navigation. The Court interpreted "among" as "intermingled with."

Marshall's ruling determined that "a Congressional power to regulate navigation is as expressly granted as if that term had been added to the word 'commerce'."

The court went on to conclude that Congressional power over commerce should extend to the regulation of all aspects of it, overriding state law to the contrary:
"If, as has always been understood, the sovereignty of Congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations and among the several states is vested in Congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the Constitution of the United States."

Importance of the case


Steven Redd argues that the decision in Gibbons v. Ogden survived until 1895, when the court began to limit the congressional power with the case of United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 1 , also known as the "Sugar Trust Case,'" was a United States Supreme Court case that limited the government's power to control monopolies...

, 156 U.S. 1 (1895). This marked the start of a 40-year period of history during which the Supreme Court limited the federal government's ability to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause. During the 1930s the Supreme Court changed course again and began to grant more federal authority under Commerce Clause, going beyond even the authority recognized in Gibbons v. Odgen. The Court went so far as to say that even activity entirely within one state could be regulated by the federal government if the activity had an effect on interstate commerce. See National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 , was a United States Supreme Court case that declared that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was constitutional...

, 301 US 1 (1937).

However, Strict Constructionists (those who believe that the Constitution must be given the narrowest possible construction) hold a different view of the meaning of Commerce Clause as established in Gibbons that it was limited in scope because the decision could be interpreted to say that navigation only pertained to the federal Commerce Clause because it was necessary to business as it allowed for the interstate transportation of goods. Therefore, under this theory the E.C Knight decision may be viewed not as a radical departure, but as a continuation of the original jurisprudence.

Note that in Gibbons v. Ogden the court specifically stated there are limits upon the federal commerce power, but chose not to put into detail what those limits were aside from goods specifically made, moved, and sold within one state were exclusively beyond the reach of the federal commerce power. This part of the Gibbons ruling stands in direct contrast to the post-New Deal decision in Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 , was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption. The U.S...

, 317 U.S. 111 (1942).

Opinion excerpts

  • The power to “regulate Commerce” is:

{{SCOTUSCase
|Litigants=Gibbons v. Ogden
|ArgueDate=February 5
|ArgueYear=1821
|DecideDate=March 2
|DecideYear=1824
|FullName=Thomas Gibbons, Appellant v. Aaron Ogden, Respondent
|USVol=22
|USPage=1
|Citation=22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1; 16 L. Ed. 23; 1824 U.S. LEXIS 370
|Prior=Appeal from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New York
|Subsequent=
|Holding=The New York law was found invalid because the Commerce Clause of the Constitution designated power to Congress to regulate interstate commerce and that the broad definition of commerce included navigation.
|SCOTUS=1823-1826
|Majority=Marshall
|JoinMajority=Washington, Todd, Duvall, Story
|Concurrence=Johnson
|NotParticipating=Thompson
|LawsApplied=U.S. Const. art. I sec. 8 clause 3
}}

Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. 1
Case citation
Case citation is the system used in many countries to identify the decisions in past court cases, either in special series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a 'neutral' form which will identify a decision wherever it was reported...

 (1824), was a landmark decision in which the Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases...

 held that the power to regulate interstate commerce was granted to Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 by the Commerce Clause
Commerce Clause
The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power listed in the United States Constitution . The clause states that the United States Congress shall have power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes." Courts and commentators have tended to...

 of the United States Constitution
United States Constitution
The Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the United States of America. It is the framework for the organization of the United States government and for the relationship of the federal government with the states, citizens, and all people within the United States.The first three...

. The case was argued by some of America's most admired and capable attorneys at the time. Exiled Irish
Irish people
The Irish people are an ethnic group who originate in Ireland, an island in northwestern Europe. Ireland has been populated for around 9,000 years , with the Irish people's earliest ancestors recorded having legends of being descended from groups such as the Nemedians, Fomorians, Fir Bolg, Tuatha...

 patriot Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet
Thomas Addis Emmet was an Irish and American lawyer and politician. He was a senior member of the revolutionary republican group United Irishmen in the 1790s and New York State Attorney General 1812–1813.-Background:...

 and Thomas J. Oakley argued for Ogden, while William Wirt
William Wirt (Attorney General)
William Wirt was an American author and statesman who is credited with turning the position of United States Attorney General into one of influence.-History:...

 and Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster
Daniel Webster was a leading American statesman and senator from Massachusetts during the period leading up to the Civil War. He first rose to regional prominence through his defense of New England shipping interests...

 argued for Gibbons.

Background


The acts of the Legislature of the State of New York granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton
Robert Fulton was an American engineer and inventor who is widely credited with developing the first commercially successful steamboat...

 gave exclusive navigation privileges of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years. Livingston and Fulton granted a license to Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

. Thomas Gibbons operated a competing steamboat service between Elizabethtown, New Jersey and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 that had been licensed by the United States Congress
United States Congress
The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Congress meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C....

 in regulating the coasting
Coast
A coastline or seashore is the area where land meets the sea or ocean. A precise line that can be called a coastline cannot be determined due to the dynamic nature of tides. The term "coastal zone" can be used instead, which is a spatial zone where interaction of the sea and land processes occurs...

 trade; he also took on Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt
Cornelius Vanderbilt , also known by the sobriquet Commodore, was an American entrepreneur who built his wealth in shipping and railroads. He was also the patriarch of the Vanderbilt family and one of the richest Americans in history...

 as his business manager.

Case


Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden
Aaron Ogden was a United States Senator and the 5th Governor of New Jersey.-Early life:Ogden was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey...

 filed a complaint in the Court of Chancery of New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 asking the court to restrain Thomas Gibbons from operating on these waters. Ogden's lawyer contended that states often passed laws on issues regarding interstate matters and that states should have fully concurrent power with Congress on matters concerning interstate commerce.

Gibbons' lawyer, Daniel Webster, argued that Congress had exclusive national power over interstate commerce according to Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution and that to argue otherwise would result in confusing and contradictory local regulatory policies.

The Court of Chancery of New York and the Court of Errors of New York found in favor of Ogden and issued an injunction to restrict Gibbons from operating his boats. Gibbons appealed the case to the Supreme Court, which reversed the decision.

Decision of the Court


The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gibbons. The sole argued source of Congress's power to promulgate the law at issue was the Commerce Clause. Accordingly, the Court had to answer whether the law regulated "commerce" that was "among the several states." With respect to "commerce," the Court held that commerce is more than mere traffic—that it is the trade of commodities—it is also intercourse. This broader definition includes navigation. The Court interpreted "among" as "intermingled with."

Marshall's ruling determined that "a Congressional power to regulate navigation is as expressly granted as if that term had been added to the word 'commerce'."

The court went on to conclude that Congressional power over commerce should extend to the regulation of all aspects of it, overriding state law to the contrary:
"If, as has always been understood, the sovereignty of Congress, though limited to specified objects, is plenary as to those objects, the power over commerce with foreign nations and among the several states is vested in Congress as absolutely as it would be in a single government, having in its constitution the same restrictions on the exercise of the power as are found in the Constitution of the United States."

Importance of the case


Steven Redd argues that the decision in Gibbons v. Ogden survived until 1895, when the court began to limit the congressional power with the case of United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co.
United States v. E. C. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 1 , also known as the "Sugar Trust Case,'" was a United States Supreme Court case that limited the government's power to control monopolies...

, 156 U.S. 1 (1895). This marked the start of a 40-year period of history during which the Supreme Court limited the federal government's ability to regulate under the Interstate Commerce Clause. During the 1930s the Supreme Court changed course again and began to grant more federal authority under Commerce Clause, going beyond even the authority recognized in Gibbons v. Odgen. The Court went so far as to say that even activity entirely within one state could be regulated by the federal government if the activity had an effect on interstate commerce. See National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation
National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, 301 U.S. 1 , was a United States Supreme Court case that declared that the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 was constitutional...

, 301 US 1 (1937).

However, Strict Constructionists (those who believe that the Constitution must be given the narrowest possible construction) hold a different view of the meaning of Commerce Clause as established in Gibbons that it was limited in scope because the decision could be interpreted to say that navigation only pertained to the federal Commerce Clause because it was necessary to business as it allowed for the interstate transportation of goods. Therefore, under this theory the E.C Knight decision may be viewed not as a radical departure, but as a continuation of the original jurisprudence.

Note that in Gibbons v. Ogden the court specifically stated there are limits upon the federal commerce power, but chose not to put into detail what those limits were aside from goods specifically made, moved, and sold within one state were exclusively beyond the reach of the federal commerce power. This part of the Gibbons ruling stands in direct contrast to the post-New Deal decision in Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 , was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized the power of the federal government to regulate economic activity. A farmer, Roscoe Filburn, was growing wheat for on-farm consumption. The U.S...

, 317 U.S. 111 (1942).

Opinion excerpts

  • The power to “regulate Commerce” is:


{{cquote|It is the power to regulate; that is, to prescribe the rule by which commerce is to be governed. This power, like all others vested in Congress, is co
  • In interpreting the power of Congress as to commerce “among the several states”:


{{cquote|The word “among” means intermingled with. A thing which is among others, is intermingled with them. Commerce among the States, cannot stop at the external boundary line of each State, but may be introduced into the interior….Comprehensive as the word “among” is, it may very properly be restricted to that commerce which concerns more States than one.}}
  • Defining how far the power of Congress extends:


{{cquote|The power of Congress, then, comprehends navigation, within the limits of every State in the Union; so far as that navigation may be, in any manner, connected with “commerce with foreign nations, or among the several States.”}}

Further reading

  • Herbert A. Johnson. "Gibbons v. Ogden": John Marshall, Steamboats, and the Commerce Clause (University Press of Kansas; 2010) 198 pages
  • Thomas H. Cox. Gibbons v. Ogden, Law, and Society in the Early Republic (Ohio University Press, 2009) 264 pages
  • Thomas H. Cox. “Contesting Commerce: Gibbons v. Ogden, Steam Power, and Social Change,” in Journal of Supreme Court History 34 (March 2008), 55-73.

External links