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Gibbons v. Ogden

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• Supreme Court
John Marshall
Marbury v. Madison
McCulloch v. Maryland


Definition: One of the most important decision of the early Supreme Court. Led by Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court said that the federal commerce clause, in effect, outranked a state law that had granted a monopoly to one group of people.

Here is a summary:

  • The New York Legislature had passed a law giving a monopoly on steamship travel in New York state to a group of investors, including Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamship Clermont. Among the people who had permission to do business under this monopoly was Aaron Ogden.
  • Thomas Gibbons, another steamship trader, wanted to use the New York waterways for his business, too. He had been given federal permission to do so. He was denied access to these waterways by the State of New York, which cited its law as enforcement. Gibbons sued Ogden, and the Supreme Court agreed to decide the case.
  • The majority opinion, written by Marshall, said that the U.S. Constitution had a commerce clause that allowed the federal government to regulate commerce, in this case trade, wherever it might be, including within the borders of a state. Previously, it was thought that the federal government had power over only interstate commerce. But Marshall's opinion said that the commerce clause applied here, too. Thus, the Supreme Court extended the definition of interstate commerce and cemented the power of the federal government over the states when laws conflicted.

Related Resources:
The Supreme Court
Learn more about the nation's top court.

The 19th Century
Get a glimpse of what life was like in the exciting 1800s.

Elsewhere on the Web:
Encyclopedia Article: Gibbons v. Ogden
Just the facts.

Text of the Opinion
Read it for yourself.

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