Burr, Aaron (1756-1836) Of the validity of the laws granting Livingston & Fulton the exclusive right of using fire and steam to propel boats or vessels
Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC06183
Author/Creator: Burr, Aaron (1756-1836)
Place Written: New York, New York
Type: Manuscript document signed
Date: 20 September 1812
Pagination: 15 p. : docket ; 27.5 x 22.1 cm.
Summary of Content: Legal review of the Robert R. Livingston - Robert Fulton steamboat monopoly case. Burr examines the case from two reference points, ”1st - With reference to the Laws and Constitution of New York. 2d - As to the Constitution and Laws of the United States.” Argues against the monopoly granted to Fulton and Livingston in a point by point analysis. With autograph summation signed by Burr on the last page stating that he made all attempts to make his remarks intelligible.
People: Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836., Livingston, Robert R., 1746-1813., Fulton, Robert, 1765-1815., Gibbons, Thomas, 1757-1826.
Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815
Full Transcript: Selected excepts:, , [excerpt],  Why should the Legislature Select Mr Livingston and say, - You only shall exercise your Genius on this Subject; no other man shall invent any thing; and if he do invent something superior to your’s And to all others, The Citizens of this State shall be debarred the use of it.? Had they merely said to Mr Livingston, you shall have the Sole benefit and use of your own invention, even for thirty years, it would have had some colour [sic] of reason. - , , [excerpt],  ...every Citizen has to the free exercise of his faculties - Mr Ln. has not invented either Steam of Fire, These powers were then Common property in which every Citizen had an interest and a right as much so as in Air or Water and a right to apply them, for any useful purpose, in any manner different from the modes invented by Mr. Livingston. - Allow therefore to Messrs. Livingston and Fulton the full benefit of their Inventions and improvements; but leave to others the free exercise of their - Ingenuity and Industry. - , But it is objected - ”The Supreme Legislative power of”  the State is vested in the Senate and Assembly - ” True. - And so is ”the Supreme executive power vested in the Governor” - And it would be as absurd in the one case as in the other to infer an unlimited and uncontrollable power from the mere use of the word Supreme - The same expression is, by the Constitution of the united States, applied to the laws and treaties of the united States, and the meaning is the same in each case - ”Supreme” When constitutionally and legally exercised. - , , [excerpt] ,  When an arm of the Sea is the boundary between two States, as a part of the Hudson, The Long Island Sound, the Kills, the Chesapeak [sic], the Delaware; to which of the adjoining states can this Sovereignty appertain? neither can have the exclusive Jurisdiction even to a moiety, for that might render the whole useless to either. - , [excerpt],  It would seem then reasonable to pronounce, that this sovereignty of the Seas was, by necessary implication, vested, for its protection, in the Government of the United States, where only it could be preserved inviolate for the Good of the whole - And indeed without this Conclusion, how would it be possible for the United States Government to make General and uniform regulations with respect to Commerce & navigation? - , It must therefore be concluded, that the jus publicum, the right of all the Citizens of the United States in all the Seas of the United States, cannot be abridged by State Authority. - , , [excerpt],  ...The Act in question declares, that certain seas and arms of the Sea, shall not be navigated by vessels propelled by Steam or fire without the permission of Livingston and Fulton [struck: even] although those vessels may have the special Authority of the United States to navigate therein - This is manifestly an abridgement of the general right of the Citizens of the United States & An interference with the powers of the General Government  and ought to be so declared whenever the question can be brought judicially before the Supreme Court of the United States. - , , [excerpt], …It is obvious that no other person could obtain a patent from the United States for the same thing unless by fraud & perjury, which would [rectiate] the Patent if obtained - , , [excerpt],  But whenever in this concurrent exercise of power, the Acts of the State shall interfere with those of Congress or be practically incompatible with them, the Authority of the United States must prevail. - , Objection - the Act in favour [sic] of Livingston and Fulton is a Contract and not a Grant or Patent. - [struck: The Plaintiffs] [inserted: Messrs. Livingston & Fulton or their advocates] appear to have amused themselves exceedingly with this distinction and to have attached to their fancied discovery, an importance which is altogether ridiculous - , Just so is every Patent of the United States a Contract, as thus - The Congress by the Patent law declares to all the citizens of the United States ”If you will exert your ingenuity and industry and spend your time and money in inventing any thing useful you shall have the exclusive benefit of the Discovery for fourteen years.”  Every Citizen, who, under this Invitation makes any useful discovery, has imposed on the Government, by accepting their terms, the obligation to grant him for fourteen years the exclusive use of his invention; and thus a ”Contract” is formed between the Citizen and Congress. - , , [excerpt],  The Grant to Livingston of 1798 is predicated on the repeal of Fitch’s law (1787.) and every subsequent act in favour of Livingston and Fulton is grounded on this of 1798 - Now if Fitch’s law was constitutional (And being Anterior to the adoption of the federal Constitution, it has stronger pretentions than any subsequent one) The Legislature had no right to repeal it; and the repealing act, being a law ”impairing a Contract” - is null, and with it fall all the claims of Livingston and Fulton to legislative Patronage. -
Sub Era: The Age of Jefferson & Madison
Background: Burr wrote this a few months after his return to the United States. In 1798, New York passed a law granting Livingston the exclusive right to operate all steamboats on any water ways within the state for a period of twenty years. The act allowed Fulton and Livingston to seize any steamboat run by others without their license, and to collect a penalty for every trip made. Thomas Gibbons challenged this monopoly granted to Livingston and Fulton. The case was finally heard before the Supreme Court in 1824 and the decision ended the monopoly.
LOC Search Terms: Steam-navigation--New York (State). , Monopolies--New York (State)--History--19th century. , Steamboats--Law and legislation--United States. , Conflict of laws--Patents--United States. , Paddle steamers.Order Image