The Supreme Court of Tennessee decided that the law of that
state imposing an annual tax upon "all peddlers of sewing machines
and selling by sample," levies such "tax upon all peddlers of
sewing machines, without regard to the place of growth or produce
of material or of manufacture." Held
that the law, so
construed, is not in violation of the Constitution of the United
The facts are stated in the opinion of the Court.
MR. JUSTICE SWAYNE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The Howe Machine Company is a corporation of the State of
Connecticut. It manufactured sewing machines at Bridgeport, in that
state, and had an agency at Nashville, in the State of Tennessee.
From the latter place, an agent was sent into Sumner County to sell
machines there. A tax was demanded from him for a peddler's license
to make such sales. He denied the validity of the law under which
the tax was claimed, but, according to a law of the state, paid the
amount demanded by the defendant, as clerk of the county court. The
company, who brought this suit to recover it back, was defeated in
the lower court, and the judgment was affirmed by the supreme court
of the state.
The Constitution of Tennessee, art. 11, sec. 30, declares that
"no article manufactured of the produce of this State shall be
taxed otherwise than to pay inspection fees."
"Sales by peddlers of articles manufactured or made up in this
state, and scientific or religious books, are exempt from
taxation." Code of Tennessee, sec. 546.
"All articles manufactured of the produce of the State" are
exempt from assessment or taxation. Acts of 1875, c. 98, sec.
"All peddlers of sewing machines and selling by sample" shall
pay a tax of ten dollars. Code, sec. 553a
, subsec. 43.
By a subsequent act of the legislature, this tax was increased
to fifteen dollars.
Page 100 U. S. 677
The sewing machines here in question were made in Connecticut.
The supreme court of the state held, in this case,
"that the law taxing the peddlers of such machines, levied the
tax upon all peddlers of sewing machines, without regard to the
place of growth or produce of material or of manufacture."
We are bound to regard this construction as correct, and to give
it the same effect as if it were a part of the statute.
2 Black 599.
The question presented for our consideration is not difficult of
solution. A brief reference, however, to some of the adjudications
of this Court, bearing with more or less directness upon the
subject, may not be without interest.
A state cannot require a license to be taken out to sell foreign
goods while remaining in the packages in which they were imported.
Such a law is contrary to the provision of the Constitution of the
United States touching the laying of imposts by a state, and to the
commerce clause of that instrument. Brown v.
The State of Maryland,
12 Wheat. 419.
A state cannot give to the master and wardens of a port, in
addition to other fees, the sum of five dollars, whether they are
called on to perform any service or not, for every vessel arriving
in the port. This would be a regulation of commerce and a tonnage
duty, both involving the exercise of a power which is withheld from
the states. Steamship Company v. The
6 Wall. 31.
A purchaser of goods coming from abroad, the goods to be at his
risk until delivered to him, is not an importer, and the goods may
be taxed while in the original packages. Waring v.
8 Wall. 110.
The provision in the Constitution of the United states that "no
state shall levy imposts or duties on imports or exports," does not
refer to articles brought from one state into another, but
exclusively to articles imported from foreign countries. Hence, a
tax imposed by a state upon all auction sales, whether by citizens
of such state or of another state, and whether the articles are the
products of such state or of another state, without any
discrimination, is valid. Woodruff v. Parham,
Where a state imposes the same rate of taxation upon like
Page 100 U. S. 678
articles, whether brought from another state or the products of
the state imposing the tax, the tax may be enforced.
Hinson v. Lott,
A state cannot impose a higher tax upon peddlers from another
state than is imposed upon her own citizens under like
circumstances. Any discrimination in favor of the latter is fatal
to the statute. Ward v. state of
12 Wall. 163, 79 U. S. 418
A state cannot impose a tonnage tax upon vessels belonging to
her own citizens, and engaged exclusively in commerce between
places within her own limits. Id. 79 U. S. 204
A state law imposing a tax upon freight brought into, taken
from, or carried through the state is a regulation of commerce, and
contrary to the provision of the Constitution which declares that
"Congress shall have power to regulate commerce with foreign
nations, between the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
Case of the state Freight
A state cannot impose a tonnage tax upon vessels owned in
foreign ports, to defray the expenses of administering her
quarantine regulations. Peete v.
A tax for a license to sell goods is in effect a tax on the
goods authorized to be sold.
A law which requires a license to be taken out by peddlers who
sell articles not produced in the state, and requires no such
license with respect to those who sell in the same way articles
which are produced in the state, is in conflict with the power of
Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the
several states. This power applies to articles taken from one state
into another, until they become mingled with and a part of the
property of the latter, and thereafter protects such articles from
any burden imposed by reason of their foreign origin.
The nonexercise by Congress of the power to regulate interstate
commerce is equivalent to a declaration that it shall be free from
any restrictions. Welton v. State of Missouri,
91 U. S. 275
A state may demand from a vessel a list of passengers, with
their ages, places of birth, occupations, last place of legal
settlement, &c. Such a requirement is a police regulation.
City of New York v.
11 Pet. 102.
Page 100 U. S. 679
But it cannot require a sum to be paid for each passenger
7 How. 283.
A statute which imposes a heavily burdensome condition upon a
shipmaster as a prerequisite to landing his passengers and allows
him the alternative of paying a small sum for each one landed is a
regulation of commerce, and therefore void.
What may be done by a state to protect itself from the influx of
paupers and convicted criminals, in the absence of legislation on
the subject by Congress, is left undecided. Henderson v. The
Mayor of New York, 92 U. S.
A tax by a state on the amount of goods sold at auction is a tax
upon the goods so sold. A law which requires every auctioneer to
pay into the state treasury a tax on his sales is, when applied to
goods imported and sold in the original packages, in conflict with
secs. 8 and 10, art. 1, of the Constitution of the United states,
and therefore invalid. Cook v. Pennsylvania, 97 U. S.
A state cannot by law authorize a municipal corporation to exact
such wharfage as it may deem reasonable from vessels using certain
designated wharves, and laden with articles not the products of the
state, while vessels laden with such products of the state are
exempted from any charge whatever. Such a statute, and an ordinance
enacted by the corporation to carry it out, are void. They are a
regulation of commerce. Guy v. Baltimore, supra,
100 U. S. 434
In all cases of this class to which the one before us belongs,
it is a test question whether there is any discrimination in favor
of the state or of the citizens of the state which enacted the law.
Wherever there is, such discrimination is fatal. Other
considerations may lead to the same result.
In the case before us, the statute in question, as construed by
the supreme court of the state, makes no such discrimination. It
applies alike to sewing machines manufactured in the state and out
of it. The exaction is not an unusual or unreasonable one. The
state, putting all such machines upon the same footing with respect
to the tax complained of, had an unquestionable right to impose the
burden. Woodruff v. Parham, Hinson v. Lott, Ward v. State of
Maryland, Welton v. State of Missouri, supra.