Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824
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Established that The Constitution Defines Federal Power to Regulate Commerce
and No Part of Such Power Can Be Exercised by a State
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
March 2, 1824
(Cite As: 22 U.S. 1)
The acts of the Legislature of the State of New-York, granting 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, are repugnant to that clause of the constitution of the United States, which authorizes Congress to regulate commerce, so far as the said acts prohibit vessels licensed, according to the laws of the United States, for carrying on the coasting trade, from navigating the said waters by means of fire or steam.
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 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 foreign 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.
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 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 Fulton, 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 Ogden, 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 up by 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, duly 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 forefeited 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 the State, if she have such license.
If the representatives of Livingston 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 suck 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 important 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 confering 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 regulate 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 laboured 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 power of regulating trade with foreign States, ought to be in Congress. Mr. Witherspoon's motion in Congress, in 1781, is of the same general character; and the report of a committee of that body, in 1785, is still more emphatic. It declares that Congress ought to possess the sole and exclusive power of regulating trade, as well with foreign nations, as between the States. The resolutions of Virginia, in January, 1786, which were the immediate cause of the convention, put forth this same great object.
Indeed, it is the only object stated in those resolutions. There is not another idea in the whole document. The entire purpose for which the delegates assembled at Annapolis, was to devise means for the uniform regulation of trade. They found no means, but in a general government; and they recommended a convention to accomplish that purpose. Over whatever other interests of the country this government may diffuse its benefits, and its blessings, it will always be true, as matter of historical fact, that it had its immediate origin in the necessities of commerce; and, for its immediate object, the relief of those necessities, by removing their causes, and by establishing a uniform and steady system. It would be easy to show, by reference to the discussions in the several State conventions, the prevalence of the same general topics; and if any one would look to the proceedings of several of the States, especially to those of Massachusetts and New-York, he would see, very plainly, by the recorded lists of votes, that wherever this commercial necessity was most strongly felt, there the proposed new constitution had most friends. In the New-York convention, the argument arising from this consideration was strongly pressed, by the distinguished person whose name is connected with the present question.
We do not find, in the history of the formation and adoption of the constitution, that any man speaks of a general concurrent power, in the regulation of foreign and domestic trade, as still residing in the States. The very object intended, more than any other, was to take away such power. If it had not so provided, the constitution would not have been worth accepting.
He contended, therefore, that the people intended, in establishing the constitution, to transfer, from the several States to a general government, those high and important powers over commerce, which, in their exercise, were to maintain an uniform and general system. From the very nature of the case, these powers must be exclusive; that is, the higher branches of commercial regulation must be exclusively committed to a single hand. What is it that is to be regulated? Not the commerce of the several States, respectively, but the commerce of the United States. Henceforth, the commerce of the States was to be an unit; and the system by which it was to exist and be governed, must necessarily be complete, entire, and uniform. Its character was to be described in the flag which waved over it, E PLURIBUS UNUM. Now, how could individual States assert a right of concurrent legislation, in a case of this sort, without manifest encroachment and confusion? It should be repeated, that the words used in the constitution, 'to regulate commerce,' are so very general and extensive, that they might be construed to cover a vast field of legislation, part of which has always been occupied by State laws; and, therefore, the words must have a reasonable construction, 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 prohibitions 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 every thing, in regard to commerce, till Congress shall undo it, would suppose a state of 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 favour 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 authorized by New-Jersey, against citizens of New-York; and when one could not cross a ferry, without 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 monopolies? 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 humbly 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. Therefore, 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 commerce.
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 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.
Now, it must be remembered, that this grant is made as an exercise of sovereign political power. It is not an inspection law, nor a health law, nor passed by any derivative authority; it is professedly an act of sovereign power. Of course, there is no limit to the power, to be derived from the purpose for which it is exercised. If exercised for one purpose, it may be also for another. No one can inquire into the motives which influence sovereign authority. It is enough, that such power manifests its will. The motive alleged in this case is, to remunerate the grantees for a benefit conferred by them on the public. But there is no necessary connexion between that benefit and this mode of rewarding it; and if the State could grant this monopoly for that purpose, it could also grant it for any other purpose. It could make the grant for money; and so make the monopoly of navigation over those waters a direct source of revenue. When this monopoly shall expire, in 1838, the State may continue it, for any pecuniary consideration which the holders may see fit to offer, and the State to receive.
If the State may grant this monopoly, it may also grant another, for other descriptions of vessels; for instance, for all sloops.
If it can grant these exclusive privileges to a few, it may grant them to many; that is, it may grant them to all its own citizens, to the exclusion of every body else.
But the waters of New-York are no more the subject of exclusive grants by that State, than the waters of other States are subjects of such grants by those other States. Virginia may well exercise, over the entrance of the Chesapeake, all the power that New-York can exercise over the bay of New-York, and the
waters on the shore. The Chesapeake, therefore, upon the principle of these laws, may be the subject of State monopoly; and so may the bay of Massachusetts. But this is not all. It requires no greater power, to grant a monopoly of trade, than a monopoly of navigation. Of course, New-York, if these acts can be maintained, may give an exclusive right of entry of vessels into her ports. And the other States may do the same. These are not extreme cases.
We have only to suppose that other States should do what New-York has already done, and that the power should be carried to its full extent.
To all this, there is no answer to be given except this, that the concurrent power of the States, concurrent though it be, is yet subordinate to the legislation of Congress; and that, therefore, Congress may, when it pleases, annul the State legislation; but, until it does so annul it, the State legislation is valid and effectual. What is there to recommend a construction which leads to a result like this? Here would be a perpetual hostility; one Legislature enacting laws, till another Legislature should repeal them; one sovereign power giving the rule, till another sovereign power should abrogate it; and all this under the idea of concurrent legislation! But further; under this concurrent power, the State does that which Congress cannot do; that is, it gives preferences to the citizens of some States over those of others. I do not mean here the advantages conferred by the grant on the grantees; but the disadvantages to which it subjects all the other citizens of New-York. To impose an extraordinary tax on steam navigation visiting the ports of New-York, and leaving it free every where else, is giving a preference to the citizens of other States over those of New-York. This Congress could not do; and yet the State does it: so that this power, at first subordinate, then concurrent, now becomes paramount.
The people of New-York have a right to be protected against this monopoly. It is one of the objects for which they agreed to this constitution, that they should stand on an equality in commercial regulations; and if the government should not insure them that, the promises made to them, in its behalf, would not be performed.
He contended, therefore, in conclusion on this point, that the power of Congress over these high branches of commercial regulation, was shown to be exclusive, by considering what was wished and intended to be done, when the convention, for forming the constitution, was called; by what was understood, in the State conventions, to have been accomplished by the instrument; by the prohibitions on the States, and the express exception relative to inspection laws; by the nature of the power itself; by the terms used, as connected with the nature of the power; by the subsequent understanding and practice, both of Congress and the States; by the grant of exclusive admiralty jurisdiction to the federal government; by the manifest danger of the opposite doctrine, and the ruinous consequences to which it directly leads.
It required little now to be said, to prove that this exclusive grant is a law regulating commerce; although, in some of the discussions elsewhere, it had been called a law of police. If it be not a regulation of commerce, then it follows, against the constant admission on the other side, that Congress, even by an express act, could not annul or control it. For if it be not a regulation of commerce, Congress has no concern with it. But the granting of monopolies of this kind is always referred to the power over commerce. It was as arbiter of commerce that the King formerly granted such monopolies. This is a law regulating commerce, inasmuch as it imposes new conditions and terms on the coasting trade, on foreign trade generally, and on foreign trade as regulated by treaties; and inasmuch as it interferes with the free navigation of navigable waters.
If, then, the power of commercial regulation, possessed by Congress, be, in regard to the great branches of it, exclusive; and if this grant of New-York be a commercial regulation, effecting commerce, in respect to these great branches, then the grant is void, whether any case of actual collision had happened or not.
But, he contended, in the second place, that whether the grant were to be regarded as wholly void or not, it must, at least, be inoperative, when the rights claimed under it came in collision with other rights, enjoyed and secured under the laws of the United States; and such collision, he maintained, clearly existed in this case. It would not be denied that the law of Congress was paramount. The constitution has expressly provided for that. So that the only question in this part of the case is, whether the two rights be inconsistent with each other. The appellant had a right to go from New-Jersey to New-York, in a vessel, owned by himself, of the proper legal description, and enrolled and licensed according to law. This right belonged to him as a citizen of the United States. It was derived under the laws of the United States, and no act of the Legislature of New-York can deprive him of it, any more than such act could deprive him of the right of holding lands in that State, or of suing in its Courts. It appears from the record, that the boat in question was regularly enrolled, at Perth Amboy, and properly licensed for carrying on the coasting trade. Under this enrolment, and with this license, she was proceeding to New-York, when she was stopped by the injunction of the Chancellor, on the application of the New-York grantees. There can be no doubt that here is a collision, in fact; that which the appellant claimed as a right, the respondent resisted; and there remains nothing now but to determine, whether the appellant had, as he contends, a right to navigate these waters; because, if he had such right, it must prevail. Now, this right was expressly conferred by the laws of the United States. The first section of the act of February, 1793, c. 8. regulating the coasting trade and fisheries, declares, that all ships and vessels, enrolled and licensed as that act provides, 'and no others, shall be deemed ships or vessels of the United States, entitled to the privileges of ships or vessels employed in the coasting trade or fisheries.'
The fourth section of the same declares, 'that in order to the licensing of any ship or vessel, for carrying on the coasting trade or fisheries,' bond shall be given &c. according to the provisions of the act. And the same section declares, that the owner having complied with the requisites of the law, 'it shall be the duty of the Collector to grant a license for carrying on the coasting trade;' and the act proceeds to give the form and words of the license, which is, therefore, of course, to be received as a part of the act; and the words of the license, after the necessary recitals, are, 'license is hereby granted for the said vessel to be employed in carrying on the coasting trade.'
Words could not make this authority more express.
The Court below seemed to him, with great deference, to have mistaken the object and nature of the license. It seemed to have been of opinion that the license had no other intent or effect than to ascertain the ownership and character of the vessel. But this was the peculiar office and object of the enrolment. That document ascertains that the regular proof of ownership and character has been given; and the license is given, to confer the right, to which the party has shown himself entitled. It is the authority which the master carries with him, to prove his right to navigate freely the waters of the United States, and to carry on the coasting trade.
In some of the discussions which had been had on this question, it had been said, that Congress had only provided for ascertaining the ownership and property of vessels, but had not prescribed to what use they might be applied.
But this he thought an obvious error; the whole object of the act regulating the coasting trade, was to declare what vessels shall enjoy the benefit of being used in the coasting trade. To secure this use to certain vessels, and to deny it to others, was precisely the purpose for which the act was passed. The error, or what he humbly supposed to be the error, in the judgment of the Court below, consisted in that Court's having thought, that although Congress might act, it had not yet acted, in such a way as to confer a right on the appellant: whereas, if a right was not given by this law, it never could be given; no law could be more express. It had been admitted, that supposing there was a provision in the act of Congress, that all vessels duly licensed should be at liberty to navigate, for the purpose of trade and commerce, over all the navigable harbours, bays, rivers and lakes, within the several States, any law of the States, creating particular privileges as to any particular class of vessels, to the contrary notwithstanding, the only question that could arise, in such a case, would be, whether the law was constitutional; and that if that was to be granted or decided, it would certainly, in all Courts and places, overrule and set aside the State grant.
Now, he did not see that such supposed case could be distinguished from the present. We show a provision in an act of Congress, that all vessels, duly licensed, may carry on the coasting trade; nobody doubts the constitutional validity of that law; and we show that this vessel was duly licensed according to its provisions. This is all that is essential in the case supposed. The presence or absence of a non obstante clause, cannot affect the extent or operation of the act of Congress. Congress has no power of revoking State laws, as a distinct power. It legislates over subjects; and over those subjects which are within its power, its legislation is supreme, and necessarily overrules all inconsistent or repugnant State legislation. If Congress were to pass an act expressly revoking or annulling, in whole or in part, this New-York grant, such an act would be wholly useless and inoperative. If the New-York grant be opposed to, or inconsistent with, any constitutional power which Congress has exercised, then, so far as the incompatibility exists, the grant is nugatory and void, necessarily, and by reason of the supremacy of the law of Congress.
But if the grant be not inconsistent with any exercise of the powers of Congress, then, certainly, Congress has no authority to revoke or annul it. Such an act of Congress, therefore, would be either unconstitutional or supererogatory. The laws of Congress need no non obstante clause. The constitution makes them supreme, when State laws come into opposition to them; so that in these cases there is no question except this, whether there be, or be not, a repugnancy or hostility between the law of Congress and the law of the State. Nor is it at all material, in this view, whether the law of the State be a law regulating commerce, or a law of police, or by whatever other name or character it may be designated. If its provisions be inconsistent with an act of Congress, they are void, so far as that inconsistency extends. The whole argument, therefore, is substantially and effectually given up, when it is admitted, that Congress might, by express terms, abrogate the State grant, or declare that it should not stand in the way of its own legislation; because, such express terms would add nothing to the effect and operation of an act of Congress.
He contended, therefore, upon the whole of this point, that a case of actual collision had been made out, in this case, between the State grant and the act of Congress; and as the act of Congress was entirely unexceptionable, and clearly in pursuance of its constitutional powers, the State grant must yield.
There were other provisions of the constitution of the United States, which had more or less bearing on this question: 'No State shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty of tonnage.' Under colour of grants like this, that prohibition might be wholly evaded. This grant authorizes Messrs.
Livingston and Fulton to license navigation in the waters of New-York. They, of course, license it on their own terms. They may require a pecuniary consideration, ascertained by the tonnage of the vessel, or in any other manner. Probably, in fact, they govern themselves, in this respect, by the size or tonnage of the vessels, to which they grant licenses. Now, what is this but substantially a tonnage duty, under the law of the State? Or does it make any difference, whether the receipts go directly to her own treasury, or to the hands of those to whom she has made the grant?
There was, lastly, that provision of the constitution which gives Congress power to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing to authors and inventors, for a limited time, an exclusive right to their own writings and discoveries. Congress had exercised this power, and made all the provisions which it deemed useful or necessary. The States might, indeed, like munificent individuals, exercise their own bounty towards authors and inventors, at their own discretion. But to confer reward by exclusive grants, even if it were but a part of the use of the writing or invention, was not supposed to be a power properly to be exercised by the States. Much less could they, under the notion of conferring rewards in such cases, grant monopolies, the enjoyment of which should be essentially incompatible with the exercise of rights holden under the laws of the United States. He should insist, however, the less on these points, as they were open to counsel, who would come after him, on the same side, and as he had said so much upon what appeared to him the more important and interesting part of the argument.
Mr. Oakley, for the respondent, stated, that there were some general principles applicable to this subject, which might be assumed, or which had been settled by the decisions of this Court, and which had acquired the force of maxims of political law. Among these was the principle, that the States do not derive their independence and sovereignty from the grant or concession of the British crown, but from their own act in the declaration of independence.
By this act, they became 'free and independent States,' and as such, 'have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.' The State of New-York, having thus become sovereign and independent, formed a constitution, by which the 'supreme legislative power' was vested in its Legislature: and there are no restrictions on that power, which in any manner relate to the present controversy. On the other hand, the constitution of the United States is one of limited and expressly delegated powers, which can only be exercised as granted, or in the cases enumerated. This principle, which distinguishes the national from the State governments, is derived from the nature of the constitution itself, as being a delegation of power, and not a restriction of power previously possessed; and from the express stipulation in the 10th amendment, that 'the powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.' The national constitution must, therefore, be construed strictly, as regards the powers expressly granted, and the objects to which those powers are to be applied. As it is a grant of power in derogation of State sovereignty, every portion of power, not granted, must remain in the State Legislature.
These principles are all founded on the doctrine, that a strict rule of construction must be applied, in ascertaining the extent and object of those powers which are expressly delegated. The powers delegated are of two classes: such as are expressly granted, and such as are implied, as 'necessary and proper' to carry into execution the powers expressly enumerated. As to these implied powers, the constitution must be construed liberally, as respects their nature and extent: because the constitution implies that rule, by not undertaking to enumerate these powers, and because the grant of these powers is general and unlimited. But this rule has one exception: When the means of executing any expressly granted power are particularly enumerated, then no other mode of executing that power can be implied or used by Congress, since the constitution itself determines what powers are 'necessary and proper' in that given case.
These delegated powers, whether express or implied, are, those which are exclusively vested in the United States; and, those which are concurrent in the United States and the respective States.
It is perfectly settled, that an affirmative grant of power to the United States does not, of itself, devest the States of a like power. The authorities cited settle this question, and it is no longer open for discussion in this Court.
The powers vested exclusively in Congress are, (1.) Those which are granted in express terms. (2.) Those which are granted to the United States, and expressly prohibited to the States. (3.) Those which are exclusive in their nature.
All powers, exclusive in their nature, may be included under two heads:
(1.) Those which have their origin in the constitution, and where the object of them did not exist previous to the Union. These may be called strictly national powers.
(2.) Those powers which, by other provisions in the constitution, have an effect and operation, when exercised by a State, without or beyond the territorial limits of the State.
As examples of the first class, may be mentioned, the 'power to borrow money on the credit of the United States.' Here the object of the power, (to borrow money for the use of the United States,) and the means of executing it, (by pledging their credit,) have their origin in the Union, and did not previously exist. So as to the power 'to establish tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court,' the same remark will apply.
Of the second class, the power 'to establish an uniform rule of naturalization,' is an instance. This power was originally in the States, and was extensively exercised by them, and would now be concurrent, except for another provision in the constitution, that 'citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States.' [FN7] It is not held to be exclusive, from the use of the term 'uniform rule.' This Court has held, that the use of an analogous term, 'uniform laws,' in respect to the associated subject of bankruptcy, does not imply an exclusive power in Congress over that subject. [FN8] The true reason why the power of establishing an uniform rule of naturalization is exclusive, must be, that a person becoming a citizen in one State, would thereby become a citizen of another, perhaps even contrary to its laws, and the power thus exercised would operate beyond the limits of the State.
FN7 Chirac v. Chirac, 2 Wheat. Rep. 268, 269.
FN8 Sturges v. Crowninshield, 4 Wheat. Rep. 193
.As to concurrent powers: it is highly important to hold all powers concurrent, where it can be done without violating the plain letter of the constitution. All these powers are essential to State sovereignty, and are constantly exercised for the good of the State. These powers can be best exercised by the State, in relation to all its internal concerns, connected with the objects of the power. All powers, therefore, not expressly exclusive, or clearly exclusive in their nature, ought to be deemed concurrent. All implied powers are, of course, concurrent. It has never yet been contended, that powers implied as necessary and proper to carry into effect an exclusive power, are themselves exclusive. Such a doctrine would deprive the States almost entirely of sovereignty, as these implied powers must inevitably be very numerous, and must embrace a wide field of legislation. So also, all enumerated powers are to be considered concurrent, unless they clearly fall under the head of exclusive: either as being granted, in terms, exclusively to the United States, or as expressly prohibited to the States, or as being exclusive in their nature, as before explained.
A power exclusive in its nature, is said to be repugnant and contradictory to a like power in the States. This repugnancy exists only in cases where a State cannot legislate, in any manner, or under any circumstances, under a given power, without conflicting with some existing act of Congress, or with some provision of the constitution. Thus, it is laid down by the commentators on the constitution, that 'the power granted to the Union is exclusive, when the existence of a similar power in the States would be absolutely and totally contradictory and repugnant.' [FN9] 'Or where an authority is granted to the Union, with which a similar authority in the State would be utterly incompatible.' [FN10] And again: 'It is not a mere possibility of inconvenience in the exercise of powers, but an immediate constitutional repugnancy, that can, by implication, alienate and extinguish a pre-existing right of sovereignty.' [FN11] These strong expressions show that the repugnancy of power to power must be such, as to produce actual interference and conflict, under all circumstances, and in all cases, in which the power is exercised by the two governments: or, in other words, must be such that the States can pass no law on the subject matter of the power, without contravening the express provisions of the constitution; or without actually interfering with the operation of some statute of Congress. These terms are used by the author of the papers from which they are quoted, to distinguish those cases of absolute repugnancy from others, 'where the exercise of a concurrent jurisdiction might be productive of occasional interference in the polioy of any branch of administration, but would not imply any direct contradiction or repugnancy in point of constitutional authority.' The same principle has been adopted by this Court on several occasions.
It appears, then, that the repugnancy which makes a power exclusive, must be clear, direct, positive, and entire. It cannot be a matter of speculation or theory, but must be practical: not a repugnancy that may arise in some exercise of the power by both governments; but one that must arise, in any exercise of such power, which is attempted by the States. To ascertain, then, whether any given power be concurrent, we must inquire, (1.) Whether it was possessed by the States, previous to the constitution, as appertaining to their sovereignty? (2.) Whether it is granted, in exclusive terms, to the Union? (3.) Whether it is granted to the Union, and prohibited in express terms to the States? (4.) Whether it is exclusive in its nature, either as operating, when exercised by the States, without their territorial limits, and upon other parts of the Union; or as having its origin and creation in the Union itself; or as being so entirely repugnant, that no exercise of it can take place by the States, without actual conflict with the constitution of the Union, in its practical operation and effects.
All concurrent powers may be divided into two classes: (1.) Those where, from their nature, when Congress has acted on the subject matter, the States cannot legislate at all in any degree. (2.) Those where the States may legislate, though Congress has previously legislated on the same subject matter.
The first class includes those instances where any act of Congress covers the whole ground of legislation, and exhausts the subjects on which it acts.
Such is the power to fix the standard of weights and measures. Here, when the standard of any particular weight or measure is fixed by Congress, the whole power is executed as to that particular; and so far the power of the States is at an end. But, until Congress does this, it cannot be doubted that a State may act on the subject; and if the laws of Congress apply only to some weights and measures, all others are subject to State regulation. Thus, New-York has long had a law to regulate weights and measures, which establishes the English standard for that State, 'until Congress shall establish the standard for the United States.' [FN14] So, also, the power to regulate the value of foreign coin. An act fixing the value of any species of coin, necessarily disposes of the whole power as to that species. They are both instances in which, when Congress has acted at all, there immediately arises that entire and absolute repugnancy, and that utter incompatibility, which exclude the States from all power over the subject. The second class of concurrent powers contains those in which, from their nature, various regulations may be made, without any actual collision in practice. These are, those where the power may be exercised on different subjects; or on the same subject, in different modes; or where the object of the power admits of various independent regulations, which may operate together. In all these cases, the State may legislate, though Congress has legislated under the same power. This results from the very nature of concurrent power. Each party possessing the power, may of course use it.
Each being sovereign as to the power, may use it in any form, and in relation to any subject; and to guard against a conflict in practice, the law of Congress is made supreme.
The provision, that the law of Congress shall be the supreme law in such cases, is the ground of a conclusive inference, not only that there are concurrent powers, but that those powers may be exercised by both governments at the same time. One law cannot be said to be superior to another, and to control it, unless it acts in a manner inconsistent with and repugnant to that other. The question of supremacy, therefore, can never arise, unless in cases of actual conflict or interference. If the mere exercise of a power by Congress takes away all right from the State to act under that power, then any State law, under such a power, would be void; not as conflicting with the supreme law of Congress, but as being repugnant to the provisions of the constitution itself, and as being passed by the State, in the first instance, without authority. If this doctrine were true, then the provision that the laws of Congress should be supreme, was entirely idle. It would have been sufficient to have said merely, that the constitution should be supreme. [FN15] These positions are all supported by the judgments of this Court, and of other Courts whose authority deserves to be respected.
From this mass of authority, and the reasons on which it is founded, it results, (1.) That a State may legislate in all cases of concurrent power, though Congress has acted under the same power and upon the same subject matter. (2.) That the question of supremacy cannot arise, except in the case of actual and practical collision. (3.) That such collision must be direct and positive, and the State law must operate to limit, restrict, or defeat, the effect of a statute of Congress. (4.) That in such case, the State law yields in those particulars, in which such actual collision arises, but remains valid in all other respects.
The States have, accordingly, acted upon this construction to a great extent.
Thus, the power to lay and collect taxes, is admitted on all hands to be concurrent. It is constantly exercised by the States, in every form, and both real and personal estate have frequently been taxed by the national and local governments, at the same time. So, under the power to lay and collect excises, the same article has frequently been taxed by both governments. And the power to lay imposts, or duties on exports, and imports, and tonnage, is also concurrent, except that no State can lay any duty on imports and exports, or duty of tonnage, unless such as are absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws. So, also, the power to provide for the punishment of counterfeiting the securities and current coin of the United States, is a power which may be exercised by the States. A State may make it an offence to counterfeit the coin of any foreign country within its territory. Thus, New- York has provided for the punishment of counterfeiting 'any of the species of gold or silver coins, now current, or hereafter to be current in this State.'
And Congress has provided for the punishment of counterfeiting 'any gold or silver coin of the United States,' or of any 'foreign gold or silver coins, which, by law, now are, or hereafter shall be made current, or be in actual use and circulation as money, within the United States.' New-York has punished the counterfeiting of 'any promissory note, for the payment of money,'
including notes made by any body corporate; and under this the counterfeiting of the notes of the bank of the United States is punished.
Congress has punished the same offence in the law incorporating the bank of the United States. In all these acts of Congress, relating to coins and bank notes, it is provided, 'that nothing in them contained shall be so construed as to deprive the Courts of the individual States of jurisdiction, under the laws
of the several States, over any offence made punishable by these acts.' This shows that Congress considered the power to punish these offences as concurrent, and that it could be exercised by the States on the ground of their own inherent authority, as it is held that Congress cannot delegate any part of the criminal jurisdiction of the United States to the State tribunals. Again: the power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, is a concurrent power, according to the same principles. But the States have been in the constant habit of superadding to the regulations of Congress, additional provisions, suited to their own views and local circumstances. These instances, which might be greatly multiplied, show the practical construction put, both by Congress and the State Legislatures, upon these concurrent powers.
Mar. 8, 1821 APPEAL from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors of the State of New-York.
This was a bill filed by the plaintiff below, (Ogden,) against the defendant below, (Gibbons,) in the Court of Chancery of the State of New-York, for an injunction to restrain the defendant from navigating certain steam boats on the waters of the State of New-York, lying between Elizabethtown, in the State of New-Jersey, and the City of New-York: the exclusive navigation of which with steam boats had been granted, by the legislature of New-York, to Livingston and Fulton, under whom the plaintiff below claimed as assignee. On this bill an injunction was granted by the Chancellor, and on the coming in of the answer, which set up a right to navigate with steam boats between the City of New-York and Elizabethtown, under a license to carry on the coasting trade, granted under the laws of the United States, the defendant below moved to dissolve the injunction, which motion was denied by the Chancellor. The defendant below appealed to the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors; the decretal order, rufusing to dissolve the injunction, was affirmed by that Court; and from this last order the defendant below appealed to this Court, upon the ground, that the case involved a question arising under the constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States.
A decree of the highest Court of Equity of a State, affirming the decretal order of an inferior Court of Equity of the same State, refusing to dissolve an injunction granted on the filing of the bill, is not a final decree within the 25th section of the judiciary act of 1789, c. 20, from which an appeal lies to this Court.
The cause was opened for the appellant, by Mr. D. B. Ogden; but on inspecting the record, it not appearing that any final decree in the cause, within the terms of the 25th section of the judiciary act of 1789, c. 20. had been pronounced in the State Court, the appeal was dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
DECREE. This cause came on to be heard on the transcript of the record of the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and the Correction of Errors, of the State of New-York. On inspection whereof, it is ORDERED, that the appeal, in this cause, be, and the same is hereby dismissed, it not appearing from the record that there was a final decree in said Court for the Correction of Errors, &c. from which an appeal was taken. [FNa]
FNa Vide 4 Johns. Ch. Rep. 150. and 17 Johns. Rep. 488. where the learned reader will find the case reported as decided in the State Courts.
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