Justice Joseph Story and the Rise of the Supreme Court

By Gerald T. Dunne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII Bridges, Bank Notes, and Immigrants

THE QUESTIONS

On June 17, 1786, the eleventh anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Charles River Bridge connecting Boston and Charlestown was opened, and by invitation of the bridge company a stately procession of the members of the Massachusetts legislature crossed over to commemorate the battle on the spot where it was fought. It was a symbolic opening note; the bridge was fated to have an embattled future. At the time, however, only felicity was apparent, for it was a structural wonder and represented a great advance in safety and convenience over the ferry which, since the middle of the seventeenth century, had afforded the only means of passage.

The legislators crossed for free, but all others paid a toll, the quid pro quo which the commonwealth of Massachusetts had authorized as a reward to the company putting up the bridge in the first place. According to ancient English custom, the business of operating a bridge, a ferry, or a wharf was undertaken not on the basis of entrepreneurial choice but on that of a sovereign grant awarded in the public interest. In line with this tradition the commonwealth had in 1650 granted the ferrying rights between Boston and Charlestown to Harvard College. In 1785 the grant

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