Hamburg v. American Steamship Co. v. Grube, 196 U.S. 407 (1905)

Author: Justice Fuller

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Hamburg v. American Steamship Co. v. Grube, 196 U.S. 407 (1905)

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE FULLER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The assertion by plaintiff in error that federal questions were decided by the action of the courts below turns on the denial of the motion to direct a verdict on the two grounds above set forth.

As to the first ground, the contention is that the act of Congress of June 28, 1834, 4 Stat. 708, c. 126, giving consent to the agreement or compact between the states of New Jersey and New York in respect of their territorial limits and jurisdiction, dated September 16, 1833, vested exclusive jurisdiction in the federal government over the sea adjoining the two states. But there is absolutely nothing in the agreement and confirmatory statutes abdicating rights in favor of the United States, and the transaction simply amounted to fixing the boundaries between the two states. Laws New York, 1834, p. 8, c. 8; Laws New Jersey, 1834, p. 118. The first proposition raised no federal question.

As to the second ground, the contention is that the cession by New Jersey to the United States of jurisdiction over a certain strip of land at Sandy Hook vested in the United States exclusive legislative jurisdiction over the littoral waters extending three miles to the eastward of the coast line thereof.

Yet there was evidence introduced on behalf of defendant that the collision took place outside of that limit, and the trial court was not requested to instruct the jury that, if they found the collision to have occurred within that limit, the verdict should be for the defendant.

The charge of the court is not before us, nor was any exception taken to any part of it, and the verdict and judgment must be held to have been rendered on the facts according to law. Hamburg-Am. S.S. Co. v. Lennan, 194 U.S. 629.

This being the situation, we hesitate to retain jurisdiction. Nevertheless, as clause 17 of § 8 of Article I of the Constitution{1} may be regarded as having been properly invoked by the second proposition, we feel justified in declining to sustain the motion to dismiss, and, retaining jurisdiction, we think the judgment must be affirmed.

The jurisdiction of the United States over Sandy Hook is derived from the act of the legislature of New Jersey of March 12, 1846, set forth below.{2} Laws N.J., 1846, p. 146. In 1806 and 1817, deeds of the land included in Sandy Hook were given the United States, being simple conveyances of real estate for named money consideration.

The New Jersey act of 1846 was merely one of cession, and the operation of the general laws of New Jersey was reserved as therein provided. Ft. Leavenworth R. Co. v. Lowe, 114 U.S. 525; Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Company v. McGlinn, 114 U.S. 542.

Moreover, as was held by the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Middleton v. La Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, 100 F. 866, the act did not purport to transfer jurisdiction over the littoral waters beyond low water mark, and for the purposes of this case the public laws of New Jersey must be regarded as obtaining there, whether enacted prior or subsequent to the cession.

Judgment affirmed.


The Congress shall have power . . . to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States, and to exercise like authority over all places purchased by the consent of the legislature of the state in which the same shall be, for the erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.


1. That the jurisdiction in and over all that portion of Sandy Hook, in the County of Monmouth, owned by the United States, lying north of an east and west line through the mouth of Young’s Creek at low water and extending across the island or cape of Sandy Hook from shore to shore, and bounded on all other sides by the sea and Sandy Hook Bay be, and the same is hereby, ceded to the said United States for military purposes, and the said United States shall retain such jurisdiction so long as the said tract shall be applied to the military or public purposes of said United States, and no longer.

2. That the jurisdiction ceded in the first section of this act shall not prevent the execution on the said tract of land of any process, civil or criminal, under the authority of this state except so far forth as such process may affect any of the real or personal property of the United States of America within the said tract, nor shall it prevent the operation of the public laws of this state within the bounds of the said tract so far as the same may not be incompatible with the free use and enjoyment of the said premises by the United States for the purposes above specified.


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Chicago: Fuller, "Fuller, J., Lead Opinion," Hamburg v. American Steamship Co. v. Grube, 196 U.S. 407 (1905) in 196 U.S. 407 196 U.S. 414–Joint_196 U.S. 415. Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2023,

MLA: Fuller. "Fuller, J., Lead Opinion." Hamburg v. American Steamship Co. v. Grube, 196 U.S. 407 (1905), in 196 U.S. 407, pp. 196 U.S. 414–Joint_196 U.S. 415. Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: Fuller, 'Fuller, J., Lead Opinion' in Hamburg v. American Steamship Co. v. Grube, 196 U.S. 407 (1905). cited in 1905, 196 U.S. 407, pp.196 U.S. 414–Joint_196 U.S. 415. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2023, from