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Street Law, Inc. and The Supreme Court Historical Society present
Street Law /
Landmark Cases /
Gibbons v. Ogden
"... 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.
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 FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.
* Answers to the background questions, vocabulary, and activities can be found in the FOR TEACHERS ONLY tab under each case.
Read the background summary (•) and answer the questions.
Show students the diagram of How the Case Moved through the Court System.
Complete the Classifying Arguments in the Case activity. Discuss which arguments the students find most convincing.
For homework, have students read the Key Excerpts from the Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students
Complete all activities for the first day.
On the second day, go over the Key Excerpts from the Opinion and questions with students to clarify any misunderstandings.
Have students complete the What Does that Law Have to Do with Interstate Commerce? activity so they can see how expansive the powers of Congress have become under the Commerce Clause.
For homework, have students complete the Chief Justice John Marshall's Legacy activity.
Complete all activities described for the first day.
On the second and third day, conduct a mini-moot court hearing on the U.S. v. Lopez case, using the materials in the Modern Debate over the Commerce Clause: The Case of U.S. v. Lopez (1995) activity.
Complete all activities listed for the first two days.
On the third and fourth day, conduct a mini-moot court hearing on the U.S. v. Lopez case, using the materials in the Modern Debate over the Commerce Clause: The Case of U.S. v. Lopez (1995) activity.
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