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Gibbons v. Ogden

Commerce Or Navigation?

However, the U.S. Supreme Court saw things differently. In the decision written by Chief Justice Marshall, the Court began by referring to the so-called "Commerce" clause of the U.S. Constitution: "Congress shall have the power . . . to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes . . . "

The Court also cited a provision of the Constitution that gave Congress the power to "promote the progress of science and useful arts . . . "

Basically, the Court ruling acknowledged the importance of steamship traffic to U.S. interstate commerce. Since steamships helped to facilitate commerce, the Court found that they came under Congress' power to regulate commerce. Therefore, any state attempts to regulate steamship activity between states--such as Gibbons' ships, which traveled between New York and New Jersey--was a breach of the Constitution.

The Court ruling established three major principles:

(1) "Commerce" as defined by the Constitution is not limited simply to buying and selling, but also includes navigation;

(2) The operation of steamships is an aspect of commerce, and therefore protected under the U.S. Constitution;

(3) States could not make any laws that would in any way result in the restriction of interstate commerce, which, again, was protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940Gibbons v. Ogden - Steamships: Navigating For The Future, A Fight Between Two Partners, Commerce Or Navigation?, Implications For The Future