The Legal Meaning of "Commerce" in the Commerce Clause

60 Pages Posted: 31 Jan 2008

See all articles by Robert G. Natelson

Robert G. Natelson

Independence & Montana Policy Institutes


This Article surveys the use of the word "commerce" in Anglo-American law as it existed at the time of the American Founding. The goal is to determine the probable intended scope of the word "commerce" in the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The survey relies on computer word searches of nearly 300 years of case law as well frequently used legal treatises, digests, legal dictionaries, and other writings authored by lawyers. The author concludes that the evidence is decisive that "commerce" in the constitutional context denominated trade and certain related activities of the kind traditionally governed by the law merchant. In the constitutional context, "commerce" did not include, as has been claimed by a few authors, the entire economy or all human relationships.

Keywords: constitutional law, constitution, commerce clause, original intent, original meaning, original understanding, congress, constitutional history

JEL Classification: k10, k19, k30, k39, k40

Suggested Citation

Natelson, Robert G., The Legal Meaning of "Commerce" in the Commerce Clause. St. John's Law Review, Vol. 80, No. 3, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Robert G. Natelson (Contact Author)

Independence & Montana Policy Institutes ( email )

727 E. 16th Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
United States
303-279-6536 (Phone)


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