Appellant: Thomas Gibbons
Appellee: Aaron Ogden
Appellant's Claim: That a New York state law granting exclusive rights to individuals to operate steamships in New York waters while conducting interstate commerce violates the Constitution's Commerce Clause.
Chief Lawyers for Appellant: Thomas A. Emmet, Thomas J. Oakley
Chief Lawyers for Appellee: William Wirt, Daniel Webster, David B. Ogden
Justices for the Court: Gabriel Duvall, William Johnson, Chief Justice John Marshall, Joseph Story, Thomas Todd, Bushrod Washington
Justices Dissenting: None (Smith Thompson did not participate)
Date of Decision: March 2, 1824
Decision: Ruled in favor of Gibbons by finding that steamship navigation is part of commerce and that states could not pass laws regulating steamship traffic operating between two or more states.
Significance: The landmark ruling was the first to interpret federal powers under the Constitution's Commerce Clause. It provided a broad interpretation of what is commerce under the clause, holding that commerce was more than simply the buying and selling of goods and forming the basis for numerous rulings involving the Commerce Clause throughout the history of the United States.
"Dinner will be served at exactly 2 o'clock . . . Tea with meats . . . Supper at 8 in the evening . . . A shelf has been added to each berth, on which gentlemen will please put their boots, shoes, and clothes, that the cabin will not be encumbered." So read a handbill distributed to passengers on Robert Fulton's (1765–1815) steamship operating on the Hudson River in New York state.
Government regulation of business was a deep concern of colonists who had been subjected to the burdensome tax policies of Great Britain, a major issue leading to the Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Fear of national government control of local businesses led the colonists to be very restrictive in granting trade regulation power to a national government when drafting the Articles of Confederation in 1781. The only trade control given to Congress was that concerning trade with Indians. Regulation of interstate and foreign trade was reserved to the individual states. However, business competition between the states grew intense. Each state was more eager to build their own prosperity than seek agreement on trade policy. They each had their own tariff (import tax) policies on goods coming from other states or foreign countries. To further complicate matters, each state held authority to make their own money. Having thirteen currencies greatly inhibited trade. Another problem for businessmen was trying to collect on their bills when interstate trade was conducted. Local courts often proved protective of local businesses from their distant creditors.
The resulting chaotic trade situation was soon widely recognized as a major problem for the economic growth of the new nation. As a result the Framers of the U.S. Constitution during the Constitutional Convention...