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Department 1



On January 12, 1815, the former Federalist governor of New Jersey, Aaron Ogden, wrote a brief letter to a young political antagonist, Samuel L. Southard, requesting Southard's "professional aid in a hearing before the Legislature, which I expect will take place on Tuesday next." Observing that he had the relevant documents organized so that Southard could get quickly acquainted with the facts of the matter at issue, Ogden added that "the cause will be entertaining and interesting, and as to compensation, you will please to name your own sum."

A good deal of history lay behind these remarks, and the "entertaining and interesting case" that Ogden had requested Southard to argue ultimately would create a good deal of history itself. Involved was a matter of monopoly rights and steamboats, an embroglio more than a decade in the making, and nearly a decade short of resolution. The hearing before the New Hersey legislature to which Ogden referred was one of a series of legal contests that culminated in the famous case of Gibbons v. Ogden, decided by the Marshall Court in 1824. At all stages of the case, the basic issue was the validity of legislative sanctioned transportation monopoly-a matter of increasing importance to a nation whose economic maturation depended on free and cheap modes of travel, communication, and trade. [excerpt]