What Is the Summary of the Gibbons V. Ogden Case?

The Gibbons v. Ogden trial of 1824 was an important decision where the Supreme Court ruled that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution granted the Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce, including navigation of interstate seaways. The trial started when Thomas Gibbons, a steamboat owner, opposed the extensive fees required to navigate his steamboats in the waters of New Jersey and New York.

Despite having a federal coastal license, Gibbons had to pay substantial fees to operate his business. Gibbons tried challenging the law, but the New York courts continually ruled out of his favor, granting a monopoly license to Aaron Ogden.

When the case reached the Supreme Court, it unanimously ruled that New York’s licensing requirements opposed the regulation of coastal trade. In the majority opinion, then-Chief Justice John Marshall developed the first clear definition of the term “commerce,” asserting that it included interstate waterways, where Gibbons operated his business.

While Marshall asserted that the Commerce Clause was a right afforded specifically to Congress, Justice William Johnson, who wrote a concurring opinion, had a stronger interpretation. Johnson stated that Congress had the sole power of interstate commerce, thereby negating state laws that conflicted with the decisions of Congress over interstate commerce.

The Gibbons v. Ogden case set important legal precedents, concerning the powers afforded to the government by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. However, the case would soon be undermined by later decisions, such as the United States v. E. C. Knight, which would limit federal authority over the Interstate Commerce Clause. In the 1930s, the Court changed its opinion again and granted even more power to the federal government than was outlined in Gibbons v. Ogden, stating that the government could control a state’s commerce, if deemed necessary.