Case Topics: State Rights, Commerce Clause

"... Few things were better known, than the immediate causes which led to the adoption of the present constitution ... that the prevailing motive was to regulate commerce; to rescue it from the embarrassing and destructive consequences, resulting from the legislation of so many different States, and to place it under the protection of a uniform law." —Chief Justice John Marshall

In 1808, the government of New York granted a steamboat company a monopoly to operate its boats on the state's waters, which included bodies of water that stretched between states. Aaron Ogden held a license under this monopoly to operate steamboats between New Jersey and New York. Thomas Gibbons, another steamboat operator, competed with Aaron Ogden on this same route but held a federal coasting license issued by an act of Congress. Ogden filed a complaint in New York court to stop Gibbons from operating his boats, claiming that the monopoly granted by New York was legal even though he operated on shared, interstate waters. Gibbons disagreed arguing that the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the sole power over interstate commerce. After losing twice in New York courts, Gibbons appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court determined that the commerce clause of the Constitution grants the federal government the power to determine how interstate commerce is conducted.

About the materials

These materials were developed for students of various skill levels, and teachers should choose the level that works best for their students. Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the "Answers & Differentiation Ideas" tab under each case.

Background summary and questions to consider (by reading level)

Important vocabulary (by reading level)

Legal Concepts

  • Federalism
  • National Supremacy
  • Commerce Clause

Other useful background information

Activities*

*See the "Answers & Differentiation Ideas" tab for access to answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities.

 


Teaching strategies used


Planning time and activities

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