« PreviousContinue »
an extraordinary tax on steam navigation visiting the ports of New York, and leaving it free everywhere 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, affecting 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
* 1 Bl. Com. 273. 4 BI. Com. 100.
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 commere, 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 color of grants like this, that prohibition might be wholly evaded. This grant authorises 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 sécuring 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.
IN THE CASE OF OGDEN vs. SAUNDERS, IN THE SUPREME COURT
OF THE UNITED STATES, JANUARY TERM, 1827.
This was an action of Assumpsit brought originally in the Circuit Court of Louisiana by Saunders, a citizen of Kentucky, against Ogden, a citizen of Louisiana. The plaintiff below declared upon certain bills of exchange, drawn on the 30th of September, 1806, by one Jordan, at Lexington, in the State of Kentucky, upon the defendant below, Ogden, in the city of New York, (the defendant then being a citizen and resident of the State of New York,) accepted by him at the city of New York, and protested for non-payment.
The defendant below pleaded several pleas, among which was a certificate of discharge under the act of the legislature of the State of New York, of April 3d, 1801, for the relief of insolvent debtors, commonly called the threefourths act.
The jury found the facts in the form of a special verdict, on which the Court rendered a judgment for the plaintiff below, and the cause was brought by writ of error before this Court. The question, which arose under this plea as to the validity of the law of New York as being repugnant to the constitution of the United States, was argued at February term, 1824, by Mr. Clay, Mr. D. B. Ogden, and Mr. Haines, for the plaintiff in error, and by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, for the defendant in error, and the cause was continued for advisement until the present term. It was again argued at the present term, by Mr. Webster and Mr. Wheaton, against the validity, and by the Attorney General, Mr. E. Livingston, Mr. D. B. Ogden, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Sampson, for the validity.
Mr. Wheaton opened the argument for the defendant in error; he was followed by the counsel for the plaintiff in error; and Mr. Webster replied as follows :
The question arising in this case is not more important, nor so important even, in its bearing on individual cases of private right, as in its character of a public political question. The constitution was intended to accomplish a great political object. Its design was not so much to prevent injustice or injury in one case, or in successive single cases, as it was to make general salutary provisions, which, in their operation, should give security to all contracts, stability to credit, uniformity among all the States, in those things which materially concerned the foreign commerce of the country, and their own credit, trade, and intercourse among themselves. The real question is, therefore, a much broader one than has been argued. It is this, whether the constitution has not, for general political purposes, ordained that bankrupt laws should be established only by national authority? We contend that such was the intention of the constitution; an intention, as we think, plainly manifested by a consideration of its several provisions.