Gibbons v. Ogden | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

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U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government exclusive power to regulate interstate commerce.
  • This decision is a landmark case as it constituted the first significant challenge to the commerce clause.
  • The court also ruled that navigation upon waterways is a form of commerce, broadening the definition of that term.
  • The court ruled that federal law overrules conflicting state law and struck down a state statute.
  • The majority opinion was written by Chief Justice John Marshall (1755–1835) and reflects his Federalist view of the Constitution, which aimed to strengthen the power of the federal government.
  • The dispute arose because of conflicting licenses—one issued by New York and the other by the federal government—for operating steamboat service on the Hudson River. It was an appeal of a decision by a New York court.
  • Underlining the significance of the case, it was argued before the court by some of the most famous lawyers of the time, including Daniel Webster (1782–1852), whose argument for Gibbons the court accepted.
  • The case was an important precedent for allowing the federal government to regulate the economy.


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