The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster: With An Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style

By Edwin P. Whipple; Daniel Webster | Go to book overview

THE CASE OF GIBBONS AND OGDEN.

ARGUMENT MADE IN THE CASE OF GIBBONS AND OGDEN, IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, FEBRUARY TERM, 1824.

[THIS was an appeal from the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors of the State of New York. Aaron Ogden filed his bill in the Court of Chancery of that State, against Thomas Gibbons setting forth the several acts of the legislature thereof, enacted for the purpose of securing to Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton the exclusive navigation of all the waters within the jurisdiction of that State, with boats moved by fire or steam, for a term of years which had not then expired; and authorizing the Chancellor to award an injunction, restraining any person whatever from navigating those waters with boats of that description. The bill stated an assignment from Livingston and Fulton to one John R. Livingston, and from him to the complainant, Ogden, of the right to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown, and other places in New Jersey, and the city of New York; and that Gibbons, the defendant below, was in possession of two steamboats, called the Stoudinger and the Bellona, which were actually employed in running between New York and Elizabethtown, in violation of the exclusive privilege conferred on the complainant, and praying an injunction to restrain the said Gibbons from using the said boats, or any other propelled by fire or steam, in navigating the waters within the territory of New York.

The injunction having been awarded, the answer of Gibbons was filed, in which he stated, that the boats employed by him were duly enrolled and licensed to be employed in carrying on the coasting trade, under the act of Congress, passed the 18th of February, 1793, ch. 8, entitled, "An Act for enrolling and licensing ships and vessels to be employed in the coasting trade and fisheries, and for regulating the same." And the defendant insisted on his right, in virtue of such licenses, to navigate the waters between Elizabethtown and the city of New York, the said acts of the legislature of the State of New York to the contrary notwithstanding. At the hearing, the Chancellor perpetuated the injunction, be- ing of the opinion that the said acts were not repugnant to the Constitution and laws of the United States, and were valid. This decree was affirmed in the Court for the Trial of Impeachments and Correction of Errors, which is the highest court of law and equity in the State of New York before which the cause could be carried, and it was thereupon carried up to the Supreme Court of the United States by appeal.

The following argument was made by Mr. Webster, for the plaintiff in error.]

IT is admitted, that there is a very respectable weight of authority in favor of the decision which is sought to be reversed. The laws in question, I am aware, have been deliberately re-enacted by the legislature of New York; and they have also received the sanction, at different times, of all her judicial tribunals, than which there are few, if any, in the country, more justly entitled to respect and deference. The disposition of the court will be, undoubtedly, to support, if it can, laws so passed and so sanctioned. I admit, therefore, that it is justly expected of us that we should make out a clear case; and unless we do so, we cannot hope for a reversal. It should be remembered, however, that the whole of this branch of power, as exercised by this court, is a power of revision. The question must be decided by the State courts, and decided in a particular manner, before it can be brought here at all. Such decisions alone give this court jurisdiction; and therefore, while they are to be respected as the judgments of learned judges, they are yet in the condition of all decisions from which the law allows an appeal.

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