“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 Marshall, speaking for a unanimous Court

This case explores the legal concepts of federalism, national supremacy, and the Commerce Clause. 

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 U.S. 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.

This section is for students. Use the links below to download classroom-ready .PDFs of case resources and activities. 

About the Case

Full Case Summaries

A thorough summary of case facts, issues, relevant constitutional provisions/statutes/precedents, arguments for each side, decision, and case impact.

Case Background and Vocabulary

Important background information and related vocabulary terms.



Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

This section is for teachers.

Use the links below to access:

  • student versions of the activities in .PDF and Word formats
  • how to differentiate and adapt the materials
  • how to scaffold the activities
  • how to extend the activities
  • technology suggestions
  • answers to select activities  

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About the Case

Learning Activities

The Case

After the Case

Teacher Resources

Teaching Strategies Used

Landmark Cases Glossary

The LandmarkCases.org glossary compiles all of the important vocab terms from case materials. It is provided as a view-only Google Sheet.


Planning Time and Activities

If you have one day . . .

  • Read the background summary (•••, ••, •) and answer the questions.
  • Complete the Classifying Arguments 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.

If you have two days . . .

  • Complete all activities for the first day (excluding homework).
  • Complete Applying Precedents Activity.
  • 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 read the Key Excerpts from the Opinion and answer the questions. Follow-up the next day by reviewing the questions with students.

If you have three days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first and second days (including homework).
  • On the third day, complete the Modern Debate Over the Commerce Clause activity. 
  • For homework, complete the Chief Justice John Marshall's Legacy activity.

If you have four days . . .

  • Complete the activities for the first, second, and third days.
  • On the fourth day, complete You Decide: Bibb v. Navajo Freight Lines (1959).

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