100 Americans Making Constitutional History: A Biographical History presents 100 profiles of the key people behind some of the most important U.S. Supreme Court cases. Edited by Melvin I. Urofsky, a respected constitutional historian, each 2,000-word profile delves into the social and political context behind landmark Court decisions. For example, while a case like Brown v. Board of Education is about an important idea—the equal protection of the law—at its heart it is the story of a little girl, Linda Brown, who wanted to go to a decent school near her home. The outcome is accessible and objective “stories” about the individuals—heroes and scoundrels—who fought their way to constitutional history.

Robert Fulton

Robert Fulton

The Steamboat Monopoly

“A Full and Equal Right to Navigate”

Gibbons v. Ogden

22 U.S. (9 Wheat.) 1 (1824)

Robert Fulton (1765–1815) was an artist and engineer who built the first commercially practical steamboat and subsequently operated steamboats in accordance with government-sanctioned monopolies. His ambition eventually drew him and his successors into numerous legal conflicts, including Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), the first case in which the Supreme Court addressed the issue of interstate commerce under the U.S. Constitution.

Fulton was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. His father was a Scots-Irishman who found scant financial success as a tailor and farmer. He died in 1774, leaving his widow and five young children with little money. Robert Fulton had practically no formal schooling, but as a child he showed considerable ...

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