Territorial Extent of Admiralty and Maritime Jurisdiction.

Although he was a vigorous exponent of the expansion of admiralty jurisdiction, Justice Story for the Court in The Steamboat Thomas Jefferson947 adopted a restrictive English rule confining admiralty jurisdiction to the high seas and upon rivers as far as the ebb and flow of the tide extended.948 The demands of commerce on western waters led Congress to enact a statute extending admiralty jurisdiction over the Great Lakes and connecting waters,949 and in The Genes-see Chief v. Fitzhugh950 Chief Justice Taney overruled The Thomas Jefferson and dropped the tidal ebb and flow requirement. This ruling laid the basis for subsequent judicial extension of jurisdiction over all waters, salt or fresh, tidal or not, which are navigable in fact.951 Some of the older cases contain language limiting jurisdiction to navigable waters which form some link in an interstate or international waterway or some link in commerce,952 but these date from the time when it was thought the commerce power furnished the support for congressional legislation in this field.


23 U.S. (10 Wheat.) 428 (1825). On the political background of this decision, see 1 C. Warren, supra at 633–35. back
The tidal ebb and flow limitation was strained in some of its applications. Peyroux v. Howard, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 324 (1833); Waring v. Clarke, 46 U.S. (5 How.) 441 (1847). back
5 Stat. 726 (1845). back
53 U.S. (12 How.) 443 (1851). back
Some of the early cases include The Magnolia, 61 U.S. (20 How.) 296 (1857); The Eagle, 75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 15 (1868); The Daniel Ball, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 557 (1871). The fact that the body of water is artificial presents no barrier to admiralty jurisdiction. Ex parte Boyer, 109 U.S. 629 (1884); The Robert W. Parsons, 191 U.S. 17 (1903). In United States v. Appalachian Power Co., 311 U.S. 377 (1940), it was made clear that maritime jurisdiction extends to include waterways which by reasonable improvement can be made navigable. “It has long been settled that the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States includes all navigable waters within the country.” Southern S.S. Co. v. NLRB, 316 U.S. 31, 41 (1942). back
E.g., The Daniel Ball, 77 U.S. (10 Wall.) 557, 563 (1870); The Montello, 87 U.S. (20 Wall.) 430, 441–42 (1874). back