Brown v. Maryland
Annotate this Case
25 U.S. 419 (1827)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Brown v. Maryland, 25 U.S. 12 Wheat. 419 419 (1827)
Brown v. Maryland
25 U.S. (12 Wheat.) 419
An act of a state legislature, requiring all importers of foreign goods by the bale or package, &c., and other persons selling the same by wholesale, bale, or package, &c., to take out a license, for which they shall pay fifty dollars, and in case of neglect or refusal to take out such license subjecting them to certain forfeitures and penalties is repugnant to that provision of the Constitution of the United States which declares that
"No state shall, without the consent of Congress, lay any impost or duty on imports or exports, except what maybe absolutely necessary for executing its inspection laws,"
and to that which declares that Congress shall have power "to regulate commerce with foreign nations, among the several states, and with the Indian tribes."
The power to regulate commerce, given to Congress by the Constitution, is coextensive with the subject on which it acts, and cannot be stopped at the external boundary of a state, but must enter its interior. If the power reaches the interior of a state, and may be there exercised, it must be capable of authorizing the sale of those articles it introduces. Commerce is intercourse; one of its most ordinary ingredients is traffic. It is inconceivable that the power to authorize this traffic, when given in the most comprehensive terms, with the intent that its efficacy shall be complete, should cease
at the point when its continuance is indispensable to its value. To what purpose should the power to allow importation be given unaccompanied with the power to authorize a sale of the thing imported. Sale is the object of importation, and it is an essential ingredient of that intercourse of which importation constitutes a part. It is as essential an ingredient, as indispensable to the existence of the entire thing, as the importation itself. It must be considered as a component part of the power to regulate commerce. Congress has not only a right to authorize importation but to authorize the importer to sell.
This was an indictment in the City Court of Baltimore against the plaintiffs in error upon the second section of an act of the Legislature of the State of Maryland, passed in 1821, entitled, "An act supplementary to the act laying duties on licenses to retailers of dry goods, and for other purposes." The second section of the act provides
"That all importers of foreign articles, or commodities, of dry goods, wares, or merchandises by bail or package, or of wine, rum, brandy, whiskey, and other distilled spirituous liquors, &c., and other persons selling the same by wholesale,
bale, or package, hogshead, barrel, or tierce, shall, before they are authorized to sell, take out a license as by the original act is directed, for which they shall pay fifty dollars, and in case of neglect or refusal to take out such license, shall be subject to the same penalties and forfeitures as are prescribed by the original act, to which this is a supplement."
The penalties and forfeitures prescribed by the original act, which was passed in 1819, were, a forfeiture of the amount of the license tax and a fine of $100, to be recovered by indictment.
The defendants having demurred to the indictment, a judgment was rendered upon the demurrer against them in the city court which was affirmed in the Court of Appeals, and the case was brought, by writ of error, to this Court.