Barron v. Baltimore

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Barron v. Baltimore
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued February 11, 1833
Decided February 16, 1833
Full case name John Barron, survivor of John Craig, for the use of Luke Tiernan, Executor of John Craig v. The Mayor and City Council of Baltimore
Citations 32 U.S. 243 (more)
7 Pet. 243; 8 L. Ed. 672
Prior history Accepted on writ of error to the Court of Appeals for the Western Shore of the State of Maryland.
State governments are not bound by the Bill of Rights.
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Marshall
Associate Justices
William Johnson · Gabriel Duvall
Joseph Story · Smith Thompson
John McLean · Henry Baldwin
Case opinions
Majority Marshall, joined by unanimous
Superseded by
Fourteenth Amendment[1]

Barron v. Baltimore, 32 U.S. (7 Pet.) 243 (1833), is a landmark United States Supreme Court case in 1833, which helped define the concept of federalism in US constitutional law. The Court established a precedent that the Bill of Rights did not apply to the state governments.


John Barron and John Craig, who co-owned a profitable wharf in the Baltimore harbor, sued the mayor for damages. They claimed that when the city had diverted the flow of streams while it was engaging in street construction, it created mounds of sand and earth near his wharf, making the water too shallow for most vessels.

The trial court awarded Barron damages of $4,500, but the appellate court reversed the ruling.


The Supreme Court decided that the Bill of Rights, such as the Fifth Amendment guarantee of just compensation for takings of private property for public use, are restrictions on the federal government alone. Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall held that the first ten "amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them."

To demonstrate that Constitutional limits did not apply to states unless expressly stated, Marshall used the example of Article I, Sections 9 and 10:

The third clause (of Section 9), for example, declares that "no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed." No language can be more general; yet the demonstration is complete that it applies solely to the government of the United States.... the succeeding section, the avowed purpose of which is to restrain state legislation... declares that "no state shall pass any bill of attainder or ex post facto law.” This provision, then, of the ninth section, however comprehensive its language, contains no restriction on state legislation.


The case was particularly important in terms of American government because it stated that the Bill of Rights did not restrict the state governments.[2]

The decision was initially ignored by the growing abolitionist movement, some of whom maintained that Congress could constitutionally abolish slavery, under the Bill of Rights. The case was largely unknown in the 1860s; during a debate in Congress on the Fourteenth Amendment, Congressman John Bingham had to read part of Marshall's opinion out loud to the Senate.[3]

Later Supreme Court rulings would return to Barron to reaffirm its central holding, most notably in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1876). However, since the early 20th century, the Supreme Court has used the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was interpreted to have the same meaning as the Fifth Amendment, to apply most of the Bill of Rights to the states by selective incorporation. Therefore, as to most of the Bill of Rights, Barron and its progeny have been circumvented, if not actually overruled.


  1. ^ Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925).
  2. ^ Cortner, Richard C. 2006. "Barron v. Baltimore". Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia
  3. ^ Randy E. Barnett (2010). "Whence Comes Section One? The Abolitionist Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment." The Journal of Legal Analysis, Vol. 3, 2011. SSRN 1538862

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