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decided: January 23, 1893.



Author: Field

[ 147 U.S. Page 404]

 MR. JUSTICE FIELD, after stating the case, delivered the opinion of the court.

The question presented for determination is the validity of the ordinance of the city of Chicago exacting a license from the plaintiff for the privilege of navigating the Chicago River and its branches by tug-boats owned and controlled by him. the Chicago River is a navigable stream, and its waters connect with the harbor of Chicago, and the vessels navigating the river and harbor have access by them to Lake Michigan, and the States bordering on the lake and connecting lakes and rivers. The tugs in question, from the owner of which the license fees were exacted, were enrolled and licensed in the coasting trade of the United States, under the provisions of the Revised Statutes prescribing the conditions of such license and enrolment. The license is in the form contained in section 4321 of the Revised Statutes, in Title L, under the head of "The Regulations of Vessels in Domestic Commerce." It declares that William Harmon, managing owner, of Chicago, having given bond that the steam tug (naming it and her tonnage,) shall not be employed in any trade while this license shall continue in force, whereby the revenue of the United States shall be defrauded, and having also sworn that this license shall not be used for any other vessel, nor for any other employment than herein specified, the license is hereby granted for such steam tug (naming it,) to be employed in carrying on the coasting and foreign trade, for one year from the date thereof.The license is given by the collector of customs of the district, under his hand and seal. The licenses for the several tugs were in this form, differing from each other only in the name of the tug licensed and its tonnage. The licenses confer a right upon the owner of the steam tugs to navigate with them the rivers and the waters of the United States for one year, which includes the river and harbor of Chicago, Lake Michigan, and connecting rivers and lakes. It appears from the record that at the time the license fees in controversy were exacted, these tugs were actually engaged in the coasting and foreign trade, and in towing vessels engaged in interstate commerce,

[ 147 U.S. Page 405]

     from Lake Michigan to the Chicago River and its branches, and in towing vessels similarly engaged from the river into the lake.

In Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheat. 1, 213, this court held that vessels enrolled and licensed pursuant to the laws of the United States, as these tugs were, had conferred upon them as full and complete authority to carry on this trade as it was in the power of Congress to confer.

The language of the court in that case respecting the first section of the act then under consideration is equally applicable to the provisions of section 4311 of Title L of the Revised Statutes. This latter section declares that "vessels of twenty tons and upward, enrolled in pursuance of this Title, and having a license in force, or vessels of less than twenty tons, which, although not enrolled, have a license in force as required by this Title, and no others, shall be deemed vessels of the United States, entitled to the privileges of vessels employed in the coasting trade or fisheries." The first section of the act mentioned in Gibbons v. Ogden is substantially the same as the above section 4311, and, referring to the privileges conferred by it, the court said: "These privileges cannot be separated from the trade, and cannot be enjoyed, unless the trade may be prosecuted. The grant of the privilege is an idle, empty form, conveying nothing, unless it convey the right to which the privilege is attached, and in the exercise of which its whole value consists. To construe these words otherwise than as entitling the ships or vessels described, to carry on the coasting trade, would be, we think, to disregard the apparent intent of the act."

The business in which the tugs of the plaintiff were engaged is similar to that of the vessels mentioned in Foster v. Davenport, 22 How. 244. In that case a steamboat was employed as a lighter and tow-boat in waters in the State of Alabama. It was, therefore, insisted that she was engaged exclusively in domestic trade and commerce, and consequently the case could be distinguished from the preceding one of Sinnot v. Davenport, 22 How. 227, argued with it, in which a law of Alabama, passed in 1854, requiring the owners of steamboats navigating

[ 147 U.S. Page 406]

     the waters of the State, before leaving the port of Mobile, to file a statement in writing in the office of the probate judge of Mobile County setting forth the name of the vessel, the name of the owner or owners, his or their place or places of residence, and the interest each had in the vessel, was held to be in conflict with the act of Congress passed in February, 1793, so far as the State law was brought to bear upon a vessel which had taken out a license, and was duly enrolled under the act of Congress for carrying on the coasting trade. But Mr. Justice Nelson, speaking for the court, replied as follows: "It is quite apparent, from the facts admitted in the case, that this steamboat was employed in aid of vessels engaged in the foreign or coastwise trade and commerce of the United States, either in the delivery of their cargoes, or in towing the vessels themselves to the port of Mobile. The character of the navigation and business in which it was employed cannot be distinguished from that in which the vessels it towed or unloaded were engaged. The lightering or towing was but the prolongation of the voyage of the vessels, assisted to their port of destination. The case, therefore, is not distinguishable in principle from the one above referred to."

In the present case a neglect or refusal of the owner of the tugs to pay the license required by the ordinance subjects him to the imposition of a fine. His only alternative is to pay the fine, or the use of his tugs in their regular business will be stopped. Of course, the ordinance, if constitutional and operative, has the effect to restrain the use of the vessels in the legitimate commerce for which they are expressly licensed by the United States. It would be a burden and restraint upon that commerce, which is authorized by the United States, and over which Congress has control. No State can interfere with it, or put obstructions upon it, without coming in conflict with the supreme authority of Congress. The requirement that every steam tug, barge or tow-boat, towing vessels or craft for hire in the Chicago River or its branches shall have a license from the city of Chicago, is equivalent to declaring that such vessels shall not enjoy the privileges conferred by the United States, except upon the conditions imposed by the

[ 147 U.S. Page 407]

     city. This ordinance is, therefore, plainly and palpably in conflict with the exclusive power of Congress to regulate commerce, interstate and foreign. The steam tugs are not confined to any one particular locality, but may carry on the trade for which they are licensed in any of the ports and navigable rivers of the United States. They may pass from the river and harbor of Chicago to any port on Lake Michigan, or other lakes and rivers connected therewith. As justly observed by counsel: The citizen of any of the States bordering on the lakes who with his tug-boat, also enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade, may wish to tow his or his neighbor's vessel, must, according to the ordinance, before he can tow it ...

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