There are many cases, however, where the acknowledged powers of a State may be exerted and applied in such a manner as to affect foreign or interstate commerce without being intended to operate as commercial regulations. If their operation and application in such cases regulate such commerce, so as to conflict with the regulation of the same subject by Congress, either as expressed in positive laws or implied from the absence of legislation, such legislation on the part of the State, to the extent of that conflict, must be regarded as annulled. To draw the line of interference between the two fields of jurisdiction, and to define and declare the instances of unconstitutional encroachment, is a judicial question often of much difficulty, the solution of which, perhaps, is not to be found in any single and exact rule of decision. Some general lines of discrimination, however, have been drawn in varied and numerous decisions of this court. It has been uniformly held, for example, that the States cannot by legislation place burdens
The statute of Indiana held to be valid in that case was an addition to and an amendment of the general body of the law previously existing and in force regulating the relative rights and duties of persons within the jurisdiction of the State, and operating upon them, even when engaged in the business of interstate commerce. This general system of law, subject to be modified by state legislation, whether consisting in that customary law which prevails as the common law of the land in each state, or as a code of positive provisions expressly enacted, is nevertheless the law of the State in which it is administered, and derives all its force and effect from the actual or presumed exercise of its legislative power. It does not emanate from the authority of the national government, nor flow from the exercise of any legislative powers conferred upon Congress by the Constitution of the United States, nor can it be implied as existing by force of any other legislative authority than that of the several states in which it is enforced. It has never been doubted but that this entire body and system of law, regulating in general the relative rights and duties of persons within the territorial jurisdiction of the State, without regard to their pursuits, is subject to change at the will of the
It is among these laws of the states, therefore, that we find provisions concerning the rights and duties of common carriers of persons and merchandise, whether by land or by water, and the means authorized by which injuries resulting from the failure properly to perform their obligations may be either prevented or redressed. A carrier exercising his calling within a particular state, although engaged in the business of interstate commerce, is answerable according to the laws of the State for acts of nonfeasance or misfeasance committed within its limits. If he fail to deliver goods to the proper consignee at the right time or place, he is liable in an action for damages under the laws of the State in its courts; or if by negligence in transportation he inflicts injury upon the person of a passenger brought from another state, a right of action for the consequent damage is given by the local law. In neither case would it be a defence that the law giving the right to redress was void as being an unconstitutional regulation of commerce by the State. This, indeed, was the very point decided in Sherlock v. Alling, above cited. If it is competent for the State thus to administer justice according to its own laws for wrongs done and injuries suffered, when committed and inflicted by defendants while engaged in the business of interstate or foreign commerce, notwithstanding the power over those subjects conferred upon Congress by the Constitution, what is there to forbid the State, in the further exercise of the same jurisdiction, to prescribe the precautions and safeguards foreseen to be necessary and proper to prevent by anticipation
It is that law which defines who are or may be common carriers, and prescribes the means they shall adopt for the safety of that which is committed to their charge, and the rules according to which, under varying conditions, their conduct shall be measured and judged; which declares that the common carrier owes the duty of care, and what shall constitute that negligence for which he shall be responsible.
But for the provisions on the subject found in the local law of each State, there would be no legal obligation on the part of the carrier, whether ex contractu or ex delicto, to those who employ him; or if the local law is held not to apply where the carrier is engaged in foreign or interstate commerce, then, in the absence of laws passed by Congress or presumed to be adopted by it, there can be no rule of decision based upon rights and duties supposed to grow out of the relation of such carriers to the public or to individuals. In other words, if the law of the particular State does not govern that relation, and prescribe the rights and duties which it implies, then there is and can be no law that does until Congress expressly supplies it, or is held by implication to have supplied it, in cases within its jurisdiction over foreign and interstate commerce. The failure of Congress to legislate can be construed only as an intention not to disturb what already exists,
There is no common law of the United States, in the sense of a national customary law, distinct from the common law of England as adopted by the several States each for itself, applied as its local law, and subject to such alteration as may be provided by its own statutes. Wheaton v. Peters, 8 Pet. 591. A determination in a given case of what that law is may be different in a court of the United States from that which prevails in the judicial tribunals of a particular State. This arises from the circumstance that the courts of the United States, in cases within their jurisdiction, where they are called upon to administer the law of the State in which they sit or by which the transaction is governed, exercise an independent though concurrent jurisdiction, and are required to ascertain and declare the law according to their own judgment. This is illustrated by the case of Railroad Co. v. Lockwood, 17 Wall. 357, where the common law prevailing in the State of New York, in reference to the liability of common carriers for negligence, received a different interpretation from that placed upon it by the judicial tribunals of the State; but the law as applied was none the less the law of that State.
In cases, also, arising under the lex mercatoria, or law merchant, by reason of its international character, this court has held itself less bound by the decisions of the state courts than in other cases. Swift v. Tyson, 16 Pet. 1; Carpenter v. Providence Washington Insurance Co., 16 Pet. 495; Oates v. National Bank, 100 U.S. 239; Railroad Company v. National Bank, 102 U.S. 14.
There is, however, one clear exception to the statement that there is no national common law. The interpretation of the Constitution of the United States is necessarily influenced by the fact that its provisions are framed in the language of the English common law, and are to be read in the light of its history. The code of constitutional and statutory construction which, therefore, is gradually formed by the judgments of this court, in the application of the Constitution and the laws
The statute of Alabama, the validity of which is drawn in question in this case, does not fall within this exception. It would, indeed, be competent for Congress to legislate upon its subject matter, and to prescribe the qualifications of locomotive engineers for employment by carriers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce. It has legislated upon a similar subject by prescribing the qualifications for pilots and engineers of steam vessels engaged in the coasting trade and navigating the inland waters of the United States while engaged in commerce among the States, Rev. Stat. Tit. 52, §§ 4399-4500, and such legislation undoubtedly is justified on the ground that it is incident to the power to regulate interstate commerce.
In Sinnot v. Davenport, 22 How. 227, this court adjudged a law of the State of Alabama to be unconstitutional, so far as it applied to vessels engaged in interstate commerce, which prohibited any steamboat from navigating any of the waters of the State without complying with certain prescribed conditions, inconsistent with the act of Congress of February 17, 1793, in reference to the enrollment and licensing of vessels engaged in the coasting trade. In that case it was said (p. 243): "The whole commercial marine of the country is placed by the Constitution under the regulation of Congress, and all laws passed by that body in the regulation of navigation and trade, whether foreign or coastwise, is therefore but the exercise of an undisputed power. When, therefore, an act of the legislature of a State prescribes a regulation of the subject repugnant to and inconsistent with the regulation of Congress, the state law must give way, and this without regard to the source of power whence the state legislature derived its enactment."
The power might with equal authority be exercised in prescribing the qualifications for locomotive engineers employed by railroad companies engaged in the transportation of passengers and goods among the States, and in that case would supersede
But the provisions on the subject contained in the statute of Alabama under consideration are not regulations of interstate commerce. It is a misnomer to call them such. Considered in themselves, they are parts of that body of the local law which, as we have already seen, properly governs the relation between carriers of passengers and merchandise and the public who employ them, which are not displaced until they come in conflict with express enactments of Congress in the exercise of its power over commerce, and which, until so displaced, according to the evident intention of Congress, remain as the law governing carriers in the discharge of their obligations, whether engaged in the purely internal commerce of the State or in commerce among the States.
No objection to the statute, as an impediment to the free transaction of commerce among the States, can be found in any of its special provisions. It requires that every locomotive engineer shall have a license, but it does not limit the number of persons who may be licensed nor prescribe any arbitrary conditions to the grant. The fee of five dollars to be paid by an applicant for his examination is not a provision for raising revenue, but is no more than an equivalent for the service rendered, and cannot be considered in the light of a tax or burden upon transportation. The applicant is required before obtaining his license to satisfy a board of examiners in reference to his knowledge of practical mechanics, his skill in operating a locomotive engine, and his general competency as an engineer, and the board before issuing the license is required to inquire into his character and habits, and to withhold the license if he be found to be reckless or intemperate.
Certainly it is the duty of every carrier, whether engaged in the domestic commerce of the State or in interstate commerce, to provide and furnish itself with locomotive engineers of this precise description, competent and well qualified, skilled and sober; and if, by reason of carelessness in the selection of an engineer not so qualified, injury or loss are caused, the carrier, no matter in what business engaged, is responsible according
The statute in question further provides that any engineer licensed under the act shall forfeit his license if at any time found guilty by the board of examiners of an act of recklessness, carelessness, or negligence while running an engine, by which damage to person or property is done, or who shall, immediately preceding or during the time he is engaged in running an engine, be in a state of intoxication; and the board are authorized to revoke and cancel the license whenever they shall be satisfied of the unfitness or incompetency of the engineer by reason of any act or habit unknown at the time of his examination, or acquired or formed subsequent to it. The eighth section of the act declares that any engineer violating its provisions shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction inflicts upon him the punishment of a fine not less than $50 nor more than $500, and also that he may be sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than six months.
If a locomotive engineer, running an engine, as was the petitioner in this case, in the business of transporting passengers and goods between Alabama and other States, should, while in that State, by mere negligence and recklessness in operating his engine, cause the death of one or more passengers carried, he might certainly be held to answer to the criminal laws of the State if they declare the offence in such a case to be manslaughter. The power to punish for the offence after it is committed certainly includes the power to provide penalties directed, as are those in the statute in question, against those acts of omission which, if performed, would prevent the commission of the larger offence.
It is to be remembered that railroads are not natural highways of trade and commerce. They are artificial creations; they are constructed within the territorial limits of a State, and by the authority of its laws, and ordinarily by means of corporations exercising their franchises by limited grants from the State. The places where they may be located, and the plans according to which they must be constructed, are prescribed by the legislation of the State. Their operation
In conclusion, we find, therefore, first, that the statute of Alabama, the validity of which is under consideration, is not, considered in its own nature, a regulation of interstate commerce, even when applied as in the case under consideration; secondly, that it is properly an act of legislation within the scope of the admitted power reserved to the State to regulate the relative rights and duties of persons being and acting within its territorial jurisdiction, intended to operate so as to secure for the public, safety of person and property; and, thirdly, that, so far as it affects transactions of commerce among the States, it does so only indirectly, incidentally, and remotely, and not so as to burden or impede them, and, in the particulars in which it touches those transactions at all, it is not in conflict with any express enactment of Congress on the subject, nor contrary to any intention of Congress to be presumed from its silence.
For these reasons, we hold this statute, so far as it is alleged
The judgment of the Supreme Court of Alabama is therefore affirmed.
MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY dissented.