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U.S. Supreme Court

Slaughterhouse Cases, 83 U.S. 16 Wall. 36 36 (1872)

Slaughterhouse Cases*

83 U.S. (16 Wall.) 36


1. The legislature of Louisiana, on the 8th of March, 1869, passed an act granting to a corporation, created by it, the exclusive right, for twenty-five years, to have and maintain slaughterhouses, landings for cattle, and yards for inclosing cattle intended for sale or slaughter within the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, and St. Bernard, in that State (a territory which, it was said -- see infra, p. 83 U. S. 85 -- contained 1154 square miles, including the city of New Orleans, and a population of between two and three hundred thousand people), and prohibiting all other persons from building, keeping, or having slaughterhouses, landings for cattle, and yards for cattle intended for sale or slaughter, within those limits, and requiring that all cattle and other animals intended for sale or slaughter in that district, should be brought to the yards and slaughterhouses of the corporation, and authorizing the corporation to exact certain prescribed fees for the use of its wharves and for each animal landed, and certain prescribed fees for each animal slaughtered, besides the head, feet, gore, and entrails, except of swine. Held, that this grant of exclusive right or privilege, guarded by proper limitation of the prices to be charged, and imposing the duty of providing ample conveniences, with permission to all owners of stock to land, and of all

Page 83 U. S. 37

butchers to slaughter at those places, was a police regulation for the health and comfort of the people (the statute locating them where health and comfort required), within the power of the state legislatures, unaffected by the Constitution of the United States previous to the adoption of the thirteenth and fourteenth articles of amendment.

2. The Parliament of Great Britain and the State legislatures of this country have always exercised the power of granting exclusive rights when they were necessary and proper to effectuate a purpose which had in view the public good, and the power here exercised is of that class, and has, until now, never been denied.

Such power is not forbidden by the thirteenth article of amendment and by the first section of the fourteenth article. An examination of the history of the causes which led to the adoption of those amendments and of the amendments themselves demonstrates that the main purpose of all the three last amendments was the freedom of the African race, the security and perpetuation of that freedom, and their protection from the oppressions of the white men who had formerly held them in slavery.

3. In giving construction to any of those articles, it is necessary to keep this main purpose steadily in view, though the letter and spirit of those articles must apply to all cases coming within their purview, whether the party concerned be of African descent or not.

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