Lord v. Steamship Company/Opinion of the Court

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Opinion of the Court

United States Supreme Court

102 U.S. 541

Lord  v.  Steamship Company

The single question presented by the assignment of errors is, whether Congress has power to regulate the liability of the owners of vessels navigating the high seas, but engaged only in the transportation of goods and passengers between ports and places in the same State. It It is conceded that while the Ventura carried goods from place to place in California, her voyages were always ocean voyages.

Congress has power 'to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes' (Const., art. 1, sect. 8), but it has nothing to do with the purely internal commerce of the States, that is to say, with such commerce as is carried on between different parts of the same State, if its operations are confined exclusively to the jurisdiction and territory of that State, and do not affect other nations or States or the Indian tribes. This has never been disputed since the case of Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1. The contracts sued on in the present case were in effect to carry goods from San Francisco to San Diego by the way of the Pacific Ocean. They could not be performed except by going not only out of California, but out of the United States as well.

Commerce includes intercourse, navigation, and not traffic alone. This also was settled in Gibbons v. Ogden, supra. 'Commerce with foreign nations,' says Mr. Justice Daniel, for the court, in Veazie v. Moor (14 How. 568), 'must signify commerce which, in some sense, is necessarily connected with these nations, transactions which either immediately or at some stage of their progress must be extra-territorial.' p. 573.

The Pacific Ocean belongs to no one nation, but is the common property of all. When, therefore, the Ventura went out from San Francisco or San Diego on her several voyages, she entered on a navigation which was necessarily connected with other nations. While on the ocean her national character only was recognized, and she was subject to such laws as the commercial nations of the world had, by usage or otherwise, agreed on for the government of the vehicles of commerce occupying this common property of all mankind. She was navigating among the vessels of other nations and was treated by them as belonging to the country whose flag she carried. True, she was not trading with them, but she was navigating with them, and consequently with them was engaged in commerce. If in her navigation she inflicted a wrong on another country, the United States, and not the State of California, must answer for what was done. In every just sense, therefore, she was, while on the ocean, engaged in commerce with foreign nations, and as such she and the business in which she was engaged were subject to the regulating power of Congress.

Navigation on the high seas is necessarily national in its character. Such navigation is clearly a matter of 'external concern,' affecting the nation as a nation in its external affairs. It must, therefore, be subject to the national government.

This disposes of the case, since, by sect. 4289 of the Revised Statutes, the provisions of sect. 4283 are not applicable to vessels used in rivers or inland navigation, and this legislation, therefore, is relieved from the objection that proved fatal to the trade-mark law which was considered in Trade-Mark Cases, 100 U.S. 82. The commerce regulated is expressly confined to a kind over which Congress has been given control. There is not here, as in Allen v. Newberry (21 How. 244), a question of admiralty jurisdiction under the law of 1845, but of the power of Congress over the commerce of the United States. The contracts sued on do not relate to the purely internal commerce of a State, but impliedly, at least, connect themselves with the commerce of the world, because in their performance the law of nations on the high seas may be involved, and the United States compelled to respond.

Having found ample authority for the act as it now stands in the commerce clause of the Constitution, it is unnecessary to consider whether it is within the judicial power of the United States over cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction.

Judgment affirmed.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).