Slaughterhouse Cases,
83 U.S. 36 (1872)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 36 36 (1872)

Slaughterhouse Cases*

83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36


1. The legislature of Louisiana, on the 8th of March, 1869, passed an act granting to a corporation, created by it, the exclusive right, for twenty-five years, to have and maintain slaughterhouses, landings for cattle, and yards for inclosing cattle intended for sale or slaughter within the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, in that State (a territory which, it was said -- see infra, p. 83 U. S. 85 -- contained 1154 square miles, including the city of New Orleans, and a population of between two and three hundred thousand people), and prohibiting all other persons from building, keeping, or having slaughterhouses, landings for cattle, and yards for cattle intended for sale or slaughter, within those limits, and requiring that all cattle and other animals intended for sale or slaughter in that district, should be brought to the yards and slaughterhouses of the corporation, and authorizing the corporation to exact certain prescribed fees for the use of its wharves and for each animal landed, and certain prescribed fees for each animal slaughtered, besides the head, feet, gore, and entrails, except of swine. Held, that this grant of exclusive right or privilege, guarded by proper limitation of the prices to be charged, and imposing the duty of providing ample conveniences, with permission to all owners of stock to land, and of all

Page 83 U. S. 37

butchers to slaughter at those places, was a police regulation for the health and comfort of the people (the statute locating them where health and comfort required), within the power of the state legislatures, unaffected by the Constitution of the United States previous to the adoption of the thirteenth and fourteenth articles of amendment.

2. The Parliament of Great Britain and the State legislatures of this country have always exercised the power of granting exclusive rights when they were necessary and proper to effectuate a purpose which had in view the public good, and the power here exercised is of that class, and has, until now, never been denied.

Such power is not forbidden by the thirteenth article of amendment and by the first section of the fourteenth article. An examination of the history of the causes which led to the adoption of those amendments and of the amendments themselves demonstrates that the main purpose of all the three last amendments was the freedom of the African race, the security and perpetuation of that freedom, and their protection from the oppressions of the white men who had formerly held them in slavery.

3. In giving construction to any of those articles, it is necessary to keep this main purpose steadily in view, though the letter and spirit of those articles must apply to all cases coming within their purview, whether the party concerned be of African descent or not.

Primary Holding

The Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment is limited to federal citizenship rather than extending to state citizenship.


Like other states and cities across the country, Louisiana passed a law that restricted slaughterhouse operations in New Orleans to a single central corporation. This measure was deemed necessary to protect the health of the city's residents, since animal blood and waste products had flowed down the Mississippi River from slaughterhouses to the city and caused cholera outbreaks. Pursuant to the law, the Crescent City Live-Stock Landing and Slaughter-House Company received a charter to run a slaughterhouse downstream from the city. It planned to rent sections of its space to other butchers for a fee set by the legislature. No other areas around the city were permitted for slaughtering animals over the next 25 years, and existing slaughterhouses would be closed. The legislature sought to reduce the potential for a harmful monopoly by setting penalties should Crescent City refuse to rent space to any entity.

A group of butchers who were part of the Butchers' Benevolent Association argued that they would lose their right to practice their trade and earn a livelihood if this monopoly were permitted. They also argued that it was unfair to the residents of the city to restrict butchers to a small group. After being denied in state court, they appealed on constitutional grounds of the Fourteenth Amendment, which had been passed just a few years before. It is interesting to note that their attorney, John A. Campbell, had sympathized with the Confederacy during the Civil War and brought several cases during Reconstruction to challenge the Fourteenth Amendment.


  • John A. Campbell (plaintiffs)



  • Samuel Freeman Miller (Author)
  • Nathan Clifford
  • William Strong
  • Ward Hunt
  • David Davis

Not yet ready to extend due process from procedural to substantive grounds, Miller limited the scope of the Privileges or Immunities Clause with respect to the state's ability to exercise its police powers. He argued that, like the rest of the Fourteenth Amendment, it was designed to protect the rights of former slaves. Holding that there is a difference between being a citizen of the U.S. and being a citizen of a state, Miller pointed out that the plaintiffs referred only to the privileges and immunities that were due to citizens of the U.S. and assumed that these were the same as those due to citizens of states. In rejecting this interpretation, he relied on the Fourteenth Amendment's text and its reference to "citizens of the United States and of the State where they reside" to support a dual notion of citizenship. Any rights guaranteed by the Privileges or Immunities Clause were limited to areas controlled by the federal government, such as access to ports and waterways, the right to run for federal office, and certain rights affecting safety on the seas. As these examples make clear, the range of these rights was extremely narrow and unlikely to be relevant in most situations.


  • Stephen Johnson Field (Author)
  • Salmon Portland Chase
  • Noah Haynes Swayne
  • Joseph P. Bradley

Criticizing the majority for essentially eviscerating the Privileges or Immunities Clause, Field argued that the Fourteenth Amendment could not be construed as according protection only to former slaves. He believed that it incorporated strands of common-law doctrine and needed to be interpreted outside the Civil War context. While his view did not prevail in this instance, it would become the widely accepted position on the Fourteenth Amendment in modern jurisprudence.


  • Joseph P. Bradley (Author)


  • Noah Haynes Swayne (Author)

Case Commentary

Privileges and immunities should be construed to protect citizens from incursions by the federal government rather than state governments. There was no deprivation of a property right here based on the negative effect on certain businesses. This case represented an early attempt by the Court to curtail the scope of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments soon after Congress had created them. While its interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment overall has expanded significantly, the Slaughterhouse Cases remain valid law and the Privileges or Immunities Clause meaningless in most circumstances.

Unfortunately for Crescent City, Louisiana would expressly prohibit this type of monopoly through a revision to its constitution a decade later. It lost its rights granted under the charter and was unsuccessful in suing under the Contract Clause to restore them.

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