Gibbons v. Ogden

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How did the ruling in Gibbons v. Ogden extend federal power over the states?

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Like many of the decisions of the Marshall Court, Gibbons v. Ogden greatly enhanced the powers of the federal government. In this case, it did so by asserting the exclusive power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. The case itself involved the granting of a license by the...

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Like many of the decisions of the Marshall Court, Gibbons v. Ogden greatly enhanced the powers of the federal government. In this case, it did so by asserting the exclusive power of the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. The case itself involved the granting of a license by the state of New York that essentially gave Aaron Ogden a monopoly of steamboat ferries between that state and New Jersey. When he used this license to try to force a competitor, Thomas Gibbons, to stop running his ferry line, the case went to court. It eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where the Court held that the Interstate Commerce clause gave Congress the power to regulate any commerce that passed between states--not just trade. Conceding that the "completely internal commerce" within a state would be under the jurisdiction of that state only, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in his majority opinion that:

The power of Congress, then, comprehends navigation, within the limits of every State in the Union, so far as that navigation may be in any manner connected with "commerce with foreign nations, or among the several States, or with the Indian tribes."

This, essentially, gave Congress the power to regulate all commerce that could possibly be construed as "interstate." As the national economy became increasingly complex, this term could be used to describe almost any commerce. So the decision greatly expanded the regulatory powers of the Congress. 

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