When Does an Imported Object Become Subject to State Law?
This question came directly before the court for the first time in the case of Brown v. The State of Maryland, 12 Wheat. 419. And the court there held that an article authorized by a law of Congress to be imported continued to be a part of the foreign commerce of the country while it remained in the hands of the importer for sale, in the original bale, package, or vessel in which it was imported; that the authority given to import necessarily carried with it the right to sell the imported article in the form and shape in which it was imported, and that no State, either by direct assessment or by requiring a license from the importer before he was permitted to sell, could impose any burden upon him or the property imported beyond what the law of Congress had itself imposed; but that when the original package was broken up for use or for retail by the importer, 575*575 and also when the commodity had passed from his hands into the hands of a purchaser, it ceased to be an import, or a part of foreign commerce, and became subject to the laws of the State, and might be taxed for State purposes, and the sale regulated by the State, like any other property. This I understand to be substantially the decision in the case of Brown v. The State of Maryland, drawing the line between foreign commerce, which is subject to the regulation of Congress, and internal or domestic commerce, which belongs to the States, and over which Congress can exercise no control. Thurlow v. Massachusetts, 46 US 504, 574-5 (1847).
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