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12 HOWARD, 299. 1851.


These cases were brought to the United States Supreme Court by writs of error to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. They • were actions to recover half-pilotage fees collected under a law of the State of Pennsylvania, passed March, 1803, providing that a vessel which neglects or refuses to take a pilot shall forfeit and pay to the master warden of the pilots, for the use of the Society for the Relief of Distressed Pilots, one-half the regular amount of pilotage. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania sustained the validity of the fees. One of the grounds of error assigned was that the State law was repugnant to the commerce clause of the Constitution of the United States. (Art. I, Sec. 8, Clause 3).

MR. JUSTICE Curtis delivered the opinion of the court.

The power to regulate navigation is the power to prescribe rules in conformity with which navigation must be carried on. It extends to the persons who conduct it, as well as to the instruments used.

It becomes necessary, therefore, to consider whether this law of Pennsylvania, being a regulation of commerce, is valid.

The act of Congress of the 7th of August, 1789, § 4, is as follows:

“That all pilots in the bays, inlets, rivers, harbors, and ports of the United States shall continue to be regulated in conformity with the existing laws of the States, respectively, wherein such pilots may be, or with such laws as the States may respectively hereafter enact for the purpose, until further legislative provision shall be made by Congress."

If the States were divested of the power to legislate on this subject by the grant of the commercial power to Congress, it is plain this act could not confer upon them power thus to legislate. If the Constitution excluded the States from making any law regulating commerce, certainly Congress cannot regrant, or in any manner reconvey to the States that power. And yet this act of 1789 gives its sanction only to laws enacted by the States. This necessarily implies a constitutional power to legislate; for only a rule created by a sovereign power of a State acting in its legislative capacity, can be deemed a law, enacted by a State, and if the State has so limited its sovereign power that it no longer extends to a particular subject, manifestly it cannot, in any proper sense, be said to enact laws thereon. Entertaining these views, we are brought directly and unavoidably to the consideration of the question whether the grant of the commercial power to Congress did per se deprive the States of all power to regulate pilots.



Either absolutely to affirm or deny that the nature of this power requires exclusive legislation by Congress, is to lose sight of the nature of the subjects of this power, and to assert concerning all of them what is really applicable but to a part. Whatever subjects of this power are in their nature national, or admit only of one uniform system, a plan of regulation, may justly be said to be of such a nature as to require exclusive legislation by Congress. That this cannot be affirmed of laws for the regulation of pilots and pilotage, is plain. The act of 1789 contains a clear and authoritative declaration by the first Congress, that the nature of this subject is such that until Congress should find it necessary to exert its power, it should be left to the legislation of the States; that it is local and not national; that it is likely to be the best provided for, not by one system, or plan of regulations, but by as many as the legislative discretion of the several States should deem applicable to the local peculiarities of the ports within their limits.

Viewed in this light, so much of this act of 1789 as declares that pilots shall continue to be regulated “by such laws as the States may respectively hereafter enact for that purpose," instead of being held to be inoperative, as an attempt to confer on the States a power to legislate, of which the Constitution had deprived them, is allowed an appropriate and important signification. It manifests the understanding of Congress, at the outset of the government, that the nature of this subject is not such as to require its exclusive legislation. The practice of the States, and of the national government, has been in conformity with this declaration, from the origin of the national government to this time; and the nature of the subject, when examined, is such as to leave no doubt of the superior fitness and propriety, not to say the absolute necessity, of different systems of regulation, drawn from local knowledge and experience, and conformed to local wants.

It is the opinion of a majority of the court that the mere grant to Congress of the power to regulate commerce, did not deprive the States of Power to regulate pilots, and that although Congress has legislated on this subject, its legislation manifests an intention, with a single exception, not to regulate this subject, but to leave its regulation to the several States.

If the grant of commercial power in the Constitution has deprived the States of all power to legislate for the regulation of pilots, if their laws on this subject are mere usurpations upon the exclusive power of the general government, and utterly void, it may be doubted whether Congress could, with propriety, recognize them as laws, and adopt them as its own acts; and how are the legislatures of the States to proceed in future, to watch over and amend these laws, as the progressive wants of a growing commerce will require, when the members of those legislatures are made aware that they cannot legislate on this subject without violating the oaths they have taken to support the Constitution of the United States?



We are of opinion that this State law was enacted by virtue of a power residing in the State to legislate; that it is not in conflict with any law of Congress; that it does not interfere with any system which Congress has established by making regulations, or by intentionally leaving individuals to their own unrestricted action; that this law is therefore valid, and the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in each case must be affirmed.

M’LEAN, J., and WAYNE, J., dissented; and DANIEL, J., although he concurred in the judgment of the court, yet dissented from its reasoning

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Leisy and other persons, residents of Illinois, shipped a certain quantity of beer to Iowa to be sold there in its original package. (122 one-quarter barrels, 171 one-eighth barrels and 11 sealed cases). The beer was seized by Hardin, Marshal, of the city of Keokuk, Iowa, under an Iowa statute which forbade the sale of liquor except for medicinal purposes. This action was brought originally in the Superior Court of Keokuk, which court awarded to Leisy the return of the property. This judgment was reversed by the Supreme Court of Iowa, whereupon the decision was brought to the United States Supreme Court for review.

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the court.

The power vested in Congress "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes,” is the power to prescribe the rule by which the commerce is to be governed, and is a power complete in itself, acknowledging no limitations other than those prescribed in the Constitution. It is co-extensive with the subject on which it acts and cannot be stopped at the external boundary of a State, but must enter its interior and must be capable of authorizing the disposition of those articles which it introduces, so that they may become mingled with the common mass of property within the territory entered. Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. i. Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419.

And while, by virtue of its jurisdiction over persons and property within its limits, a State may provide for the security of the lives, limbs, health and comfort of persons and the protection of property so situated, yet a subject matter which has been confided exclusively to Congress by the Constitution is not within the jurisdiction of the police power of the State, unless placed there by congressional action. Henderson v. Mayor of New York, 92 U. S., 259. The power to regulate commerce among the States is a unit, but if particular subjects within its operation do not require the application of a




general or uniform system, the States may legislate in regard to them with a view to local needs and circumstances, until Congress otherwise directs; but the power thus exercised by the States is not identical in its extent with the power to regulate commerce among the States. The power to pass laws in respect to internal commerce, inspection laws, quarantine laws, health laws and laws in relation to bridges, ferries and highways, belongs to a class of powers pertaining to locality, essential to local intercommunication, to the progress and development of local prosperity and to the protection, the safety and the welfare of society, originally necessarily belonging to, and upon the adoption of the Constitution reserved by, the States, except so far as falling within the scope of a power confided to the general government. Where the subject matter requires a uniform system as between the States, the power controlling it is vested exclusively in Congress, and cannot be encroached upon by the States; but where, in relation to the subject matter, different rules may be suitable for different localities, the States may exercise powers which, though they may be said to partake of the nature of the power granted to the general government, are strictly not such, but are simply local powers, which have full operation until or unless circumscribed by the action of Congress in effectuation of the general power. Cooley v. Port Wardens, 12 How. 299.

Whenever, however, a particular power of the general government is one which must necessarily be exercised by it, and Congress remains silent, this is not only not a concession that the powers reserved by the States may be exerted as if the specific power had not been elsewhere reposed, but, on the contrary, the only legitimate conclusion is that the general government intended that power should not be affirmatively exercised, and the action of the States cannot be permitted to effect that which would be incompatible with such intention. Hence, inasmuch as interstate commerce, consisting in the transportation, purchase, sale and exchange of commodities, is national in its character, and must be governed by a uniform system, so long as Congress does not pass any law to regulate it, or allowing the States so to do, it thereby indicates its will that such commerce shall be free and untrammelled.

That ardent spirits, distilled liquors, ale and beer are subjects of exchange, barter and traffic, like any other commodity in which a right of traffic exists, and are so recognized by the usages of the commercial world, the laws of Congress, and the decisions of courts, is not denied. Being thus articles of commerce, can a State, in the absence of legislation on the part of Congress, prohibit their importation from abroad or from a sister State, or when imported prohibit their sale by the importer? If the importation cannot be prohibited without the consent of Congress, when does property imported from abroad, or from a sister State, so become part of the common mass of property within a State as to be subject to its unimpeded control ?

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The doctrine now firmly established is, as stated by Mr. Justice Field, in Bowman v. Chicago, &c., Railway Co., 125 U. S., 507, “that where the subject upon which Congress can act under its commer cial power is local in its nature or sphere of operation, such as harbor pilotage, the improvement of harbors, the establishment of beacons and buoys to guide vessels in and out of port, the construction of bridges, over navigable rivers, the erection of wharves, piers and docks, and the like, which can be properly regulated only by special provisions adapted to their localities, the State can act until Congress interferes and supersedes its authority; but where the subject is national in its character, and admits and requires uniformity of regulation, affecting alike all the States, such as transportation between the States, including the importation of goods from one State into another, Congress can alone act upon it and provide the needed regulations. The absence of any law of Congress on the subject is equivalent to its declaration that commerce in that matter shall be free. Thus the absence of regulations as to interstate commerce with reference to any particular subject is taken as a declaration that the importation of that article into the States shall be unrestricted. It is only after the importation is completed and the property imported has mingled with and become a part of the general property of the State, that its regulations can act upon it, except so far as may be necessary to insure safety in the disposition of the import until thus mingled."

The conclusion follows that, as the grant of the power to regulate commerce among the States, so far as one system is required, is exclusive, the States cannot exercise that power without the assent of Congress, and, in the absence of legislation, it is left for the courts to determine when State action does or does not amount to such exercise, or, in other words, what is or is not a regulation of such commerce. When that is determined, controversy is at an end.

These decisions rest upon the undoubted right of the States of the Union to control their purely internal affairs, in doing which they exercise powers not surrendered to the national government; but whenever the law of the State amounts essentially to a regulation of commerce with foreign nations or among the States, as it does when it inhibits, directly or indirectly, the receipt of an imported commodity or its disposition before it has ceased to become an article of trade between one State and another, or another country and this, it comes in conflict with a power which, in this particular, has been exclusively vested in the general government, and is therefore void.* *

The plaintiffs in error are citizens of Illinois, are not pharmacists, and have no permit, but import into Iowa beer, which they sell in original packages, as described. Under our decision in Bowman v. Chicago, &c., Railway Co., they had the right to import this beer into that State, and in the view which we have expressed they had the right to sell it, by which act alone it would become mingled

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