Gibbons v. Ogden

views updated May 29 2018

Gibbons v. Ogden


Fultons Steamboat. In August 1807 Robert Fultons steam-powered ship, the Clermont, traveled up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in thirty-two hours. Fultons success proved that steamships traveling through inland waterways could be an efficient and profitable means of transporting passengers and commodities. Steamboats were faster and more reliable than wind-powered vessels, and their services proved to be far less expensive than hauling goods by wagon over primitive road networks. Political leaders in New York envisioned their state becoming a vital passage for both migration and trade to the West, and they worked aggressively to capitalize on the revolution represented in Fultons success. As early as 1800 some enterprising New Yorkers hoped to open a canal through upstate New York, linking the Hudson River to Lake Erie. In 1815 DeWitt Clinton, former mayor of New York City, became the canals leading advocate, and in 1817 New Yorks legislature agreed to finance the project. The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 at a cost of $7 million. Travel and trade along this and ancillary water routes (many inspired by the Erie project) quickened the movement of people and commerce into the Trans-Appalachian West. Shipping costs between New York City and Lake Erie dropped from one hundred dollars to nine dollars per ton. The western periphery of New York, and thus the Great Lakes, now could be incorporated into the economy of the eastern United States.

State-Sanctioned Monopoly. The great success of the Erie Canal demonstrated the efficacy of governmental efforts to support commerce and migration through the creation of a permanent transportation system. States supported businesses and protected their competitive advantage with regard to other states through other means as well. New York State awarded Fulton and his partner, Robert R. Livingston, the exclusive rights to navigate all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam. In other words, Fulton and Livingston received a monopoly. Hoping to make a profit in the shipping business, the steamship operator Aaron Ogden purchased a license from Livingston that allowed his company to operate in New York waters. Thomas Gibbons, owner of a license under the Federal Coasting Act, ran a competing line that ran between New York City and New Jersey. To defend his business against a rival Ogden filed an injunction against Gibbons. In 1820 the New York courts upheld Fulton and Livingstons monopoly, and by extension Ogden prevailed in his suit. Gibbons appealed his case to the Supreme Court.

Commercial Nationalism. Gibbons v. Ogden reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1824. The critical issue that emerged was not over the legitimacy of the virtual monopoly New York State awarded to a few businesses but rather whether states could pass such laws, which, in operation, restrained trade. Chief Justice John Marshall, speaking for the Court in a 6-0 decision on 2 March, overturned the act passed by the New York legislature. Taking a nationalist position, Marshall referred to the power that the Constitution gave Congress to regulate interstate commerce. The Court defined trade and commerce broadly and in such a way as to embrace the transportation of people as well as goods. In this light, acts passed by Congress (such as granting navigation rights to commercial ships engaged in coastal trade) superseded state laws, many of which overlapped or conflicted with one another. Marshall was careful to articulate a narrow interpretation and avoided claiming that the federal government had exclusive rights in matters of interstate commerce. In the end the decision discouraged states from pursuing independent policies on trade.


Lawrence M. Friedman, A History of American Law (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985);

Charles Sellers, The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 18151846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) .

Livingston, Henry Brockholst

views updated May 18 2018


Henry Brockholst Livingston came from a powerful New York family. He was educated at Princeton alongside james madison, had political ties to thomas jefferson, and enjoyed rapid advancement through the military, private practice, and the bench. From 1802 to 1807, Livingston served on the New York Supreme Court. An outspoken anti-Federalist in his youth, Livingston grew more conservative in later life. He served as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1807 until his death in 1823.

Livingston was born November 25, 1757, in New York City. Established in New York in the late seventeenth century, his family also included other notable public figures: Philip

Livingston (1716–78) signed the Declaration of Independence, William Livingston (1723–90) was New Jersey's first governor, robert r. livingston (1746–1813) negotiated the louisiana purchase, and edward livingston (1764–1836) served in Congress and as secretary of state. At an early age, Livingston had several outstanding accomplishments in military service. He was commissioned a major at age nineteen. At twenty-two he was a secretary in Spain to his brother-in-law, U.S. minister john jay. At twenty-five he helped negotiate the end of the Revolutionary War.

Livingston's legal career advanced in similar fashion. After being admitted to the New York bar in 1783, he was soon in private practice working alongside alexander hamilton and aaron burr. He entered politics in 1786 when he was elected to the New York Assembly. In 1789 he delivered the first Independence Day speech in Saint Paul's Church, before Congress, President george washington, and other distinguished leaders. During this period he became a fierce anti-Federalist and sided with Jefferson.

Livingston's outspokenness in public and in print led to conflict. He survived an assassination attempt in 1785, and in 1798, after being punched in the nose by an angry Federalist, he killed the man in a duel. But his politics also brought rewards. In return for helping Jefferson win the state of New York in the 1800 presidential election, Livingston was appointed to the New York Supreme Court.

In four years on the New York bench, Livingston gained high distinction. He wrote 149 opinions—a prodigious number—many concerning his specialty, commercial law. He tended to favor business interests at a time when capitalism was bustling. In civil liberties he took the traditional view that truth and good faith were not defenses against a charge of seditious libel. He was also a practitioner of the art of judicial humor. His most-quoted opinion is his dissent in the so-called Foxhunt case, Pierson v. Post, 3 Cai. R. 175 (1805), which dealt with the question of who should be entitled to claim a fox—the hunter who has pursued it up to the end, or another hunter who snatches it at the last moment. "This is a knotty point," wrote Livingston, "and should have been submitted to the arbitration of sportsmen."

In 1807 President Jefferson made Livingston his second appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court. Under Chief Justice john marshall, Livingston's anti-Federalism was tempered, and he generally followed the chief justice's lead. Compared with the stream of opinions he issued in New York, his output of thirty-eight majority opinions, eight dissents, and six concurrences was minimal. He continued to write chiefly on commercial and maritime law; in the latter area, he was a specialist in prize law, a now antiquated area of jurisprudence that dealt with the capture of goods at sea during wartime. Early Supreme Court justices, in addition to their duties on the Court, routinely travelled the circuit to which they were assigned and presided over its cases. Most scholars have found Livingston's circuit court decisions more notable than his opinions in Supreme Court cases, especially Adams v. Storey, 1 Fed. Cas. 141 (C.C.D.N.Y. 1817) (No. 66), in which he upheld New York's insolvency law against a challenge that it violated the Constitution's Contracts Clause and federal bankruptcy jurisdiction.

Livingston suffered two ethical lapses while on the Supreme Court. He told john quincy adams the Court's decision in fletcher v. peck, 10 U.S. (6 Cranch) 87, 4 L. Ed. 629 (1810) before it was announced, when Adams was a counsel on the case. And while the Court was deciding dartmouth college v. woodward, 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 518, 4 L. Ed. 629 (1819), he reportedly received extrajudicial information about the case from a former colleague.

Neither incident seems to have damaged his career. He continued to serve on the Court until his death on March 18, 1823, in Washington, D.C.

further readings

Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel, eds. 1969. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions. New York: Chelsea House.

Gibbons v. Ogden

views updated Jun 27 2018


More than three decades after the ratification of the Constitution, Gibbons v. Ogden (22 U.S. 1 [1824]) raised, for the first time, questions concerning the nature and scope of congressional authority in regulating interstate commerce. Chief Justice John Marshall, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, held that Congress's power to regulate commerce extended to every species of commercial trade, including navigation, between the United States and foreign nations and between the states.

In 1798 New York granted to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton the exclusive right of navigating the state's waters with steamboats. Livingston and Fulton subsequently granted Aaron Ogden the exclusive right to operate a ferry between New York City and several ports in New Jersey. The holders of this monopoly so dominated and energetically enforced it that other states threatened to pass laws in retaliation that would refuse to let steam-powered vessels from New York into their waters.

Thomas Gibbons, who possessed a federal permit under the 1793 Coastal Licensing Act, began to operate a service carrying passengers between New York and New Jersey. Boats belonging to Gibbons and his partner, Cornelius Vanderbilt, entered New York waters, attempting to gain as much business as possible. Ogden was successful in convincing the New Jersey courts to deny Gibbons the right to enter New York waters. Gibbons retained William Wirt, the U.S. attorney general, and Daniel Webster, the lawyer and congressman, to represent his interests at the Supreme Court.

In arguments before the Court that lasted four and a half days, Ogden's attorney, Thomas J. Oakley, held that navigation was not commerce under the meaning of the Constitution; thus intrastate commerce was left to the states to regulate. Wirt put forth the argument that the federal license issued to Gibbons took precedence over a state-granted monopoly. Webster went further, arguing that the commerce clause of the Constitution gave Congress sole power over commerce and that the state-granted monopoly was in conflict with this clause.

The Court ruled in favor of Gibbons but did not go as far as Webster would have liked. The ruling that Gibbons's federal license nullified the New York grant of monopoly had both immediate and long-term consequences. The opinion held that commerce involves more than the buying and selling of goods. The decision was popular because it broke up the monopoly, prevented further conflict between the states, and left the power to regulate intrastate commerce to the states; this last provision kept states' rights advocates happy. Furthermore, the public welcomed the ruling because, in stating that Congress had the power to regulate interstate commerce, the Court allowed for the nation's economy to operate under one set of laws. The decision was broad enough to apply to new technologies in transportation and communications and to support federal regulation over banking, industry, and labor throughout the nation.

See alsoStates' Rights; Steamboat; Supreme Court; Transportation: Canals and Waterways .


Baxter, Maurice G. The Steamboat Monopoly: Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824. New York: Knopf, 1972.

J. Mark Alcorn

Gibbons v. Ogden

views updated May 11 2018


GIBBONS V. OGDEN, 9 Wheaton 1 (1824), a Supreme Court case that, for the first time since ratification of the U. S. Constitution, explicated the meaning of Article I, section 8, which gave Congress the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce. Before the case was decided, it was common for states to legislate in matters that touched on commerce between states, and it was not clear whether navigation or transportation should be deemed "commerce." Chief Justice John Marshall, in one of his most famous decisions, made a powerful statement of the scope of Congress's power. In language that would be quoted countless times in future Supreme Court opinions, he insisted that it was wrong to "contend for that narrow construction which, in support of some theory not to be found in the Constitution, would deny to the government those powers which the words of the grant, as usually understood, import, and which are consistent with the general views and objects of the instrument." Marshall went on to state: "All America understands, and has uniformly understood, the word 'commerce' to comprehend navigation. …The power over commerce, including navigation, was one of the primary objects for which the people of America adopted their government, and must have been contemplated in forming it."

The dispute in the case was whether the New York legislature's grant of an exclusive monopoly to operate steamboats to Aaron Ogden could prevail over a federal law, under the authority of which Thomas Gibbons was running steamboats in competition with those of Ogden. Marshall held that the New York statute under which Ogden sought to exclude competition from Gibbons was an unconstitutional infringement of interstate commerce. Finding that a federal statute had provisions that applied to steamboats, Marshall declared New York's legislation granting Gibbons an exclusive license to operate steamboats barred. Marshall's opinion in Gibbons left open the question of the extent to which states could regulate interstate commerce if Congress had failed to act, and this became an important issue in future commerce clause litigation. Marshall's expansive reading in Gibbons, however, and his rejection of "strict construction" was frequently invoked in the late twentieth century to permit federal intrusion into many areas formerly regarded as the exclusive prerogative of state and local governments.


Baxter, Maurice G. The Steamboat Monopoly: Gibbons v. Ogden, 1824. New York: Knopf, 1972.

Frankfurter, Felix. The Commerce Clause under Marshall, Taney, and Waite. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1937.

Kmiec, Douglas W., and Stephen B. Presser. The American Constitutional Order: History, Cases, and Philosophy. Cincinnati: Anderson, 1998.

Stephen B.Presser

See alsoCommerce Clause ; Constitution of the United States ; Interstate Commerce Laws .

Livingston, Henry Brockholst

views updated May 14 2018

Livingston, Henry Brockholst

LIVINGSTON, HENRY BROCKHOLST. (1757–1823). Continental officer. New York. Born in New York City on 25 November 1757, Henry Brockholst was the the son of William Livingston. Brockholst, as he was generally known, graduated from Princeton in 1774 and entered the army in 1775 as captain and aide-de-camp to General Philip Schuyler. In December 1775 he was named major of the Third New York Regiment, and then became aide-de-camp to General Arthur St. Clair on 8 March 1776. A deep admirer of Benedict Arnold, Livingston was present at the Saratoga campaign as a member of Arnold's staff. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel after the battle.

Livingston won praise from General Nathanael Greene for his performance at the battle of Newport on 29 August 1778. In 1779 he took a twelve-month leave of absence to serve as private secretary to his brother-in-law, John Jay, during Jay's mission to Spain. Livingston was captured by the British on his return trip in 1782. Jailed in New York City, he was freed almost immediately on the order of Sir Guy Carleton and sent home on parole. He then went to Albany to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1783. He became a highly successful lawyer and an anti-Federalist. In 1802 he was named to the state supreme court, was co-founder of the New York Historical Society in 1805, and in 1808 helped organize the state's public school system. In 1807 he became associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, which he served on until his death in Washington, D.C., on 18 March 1823.

SEE ALSO Livingston, Henry Beekman; Livingston, William; Newport, Rhode Island (September 1777).


Dunne, Gerald T. "Brockholst Livingston." In The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. 5 vols. Edited by Leon Friedman and Fred L. Israel. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1997.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles

Gibbons v. Ogden

views updated May 09 2018


Gibbons v. Ogden, 22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1, 6 L. Ed. 23, was a landmark decision of the Supreme Court that defined the scope of power given to Congress pursuant to the commerce clause of the Constitution.

In 1800, the state of New York enacted a statute that gave robert livingston and Robert Fulton a monopoly—an exclusive right—to have their steamboats operate on the state waterways. Aaron Ogden owned a steamboat company and had received a license from Livingston and Fulton to conduct a business between ports in New York City and New Jersey. Ogden had formerly been in business with Thomas Gibbons, who started his own steamship company that operated between New York and New Jersey, in direct competition with Ogden.

Ogden brought an action to enjoin Gibbons from continuing to run his steamships, which were licensed in the coastal trade under a 1793 act of Congress. The state courts granted Ogden the injunction, and the case was brought on appeal to the Supreme Court.

daniel webster, the attorney for Gibbons, argued that the issuance of the injunction was wrongful since the laws that authorized the monopoly were enacted in violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. This clause gave Congress, not the states, the power to regulate commerce among the states. The term commerce included not only buying and selling but also navigation necessary to bring about such transactions.

In the majority opinion drafted by Chief Justice john marshall, the Court agreed with this definition of commerce and then reasoned that since Congress was vested with the power to regulate commerce, there could be no infringement of this power other than that specified in the Constitution. States cannot act in this area without express permission of Congress. The actions of New York State were an unauthorized interference with the power of Congress to regulate commerce, and therefore, the Court reversed the decree of the state court and dismissed the injunction against Gibbons.