This general doctrine that there is no federal common law requires considerable explanation, if not qualification. In the first place, with reference to those matters of which interstate commerce is the most important example, general common-law principles are held, in the absence of express legislative provision to the contrary, to apply.
In Western Union Telegraph Co. v. Call Publishing Co.,36 decided in 1901 and reaffirming the doctrines of previous cases, with reference to the subject of interstate commerce, the court say:
"There is no body of federal common law separate and distinct from the common law existing in the several States, in the sense that there is a body of statute law enacted by Congress separate and distinct from the body of statute law enacted by the several States. But it is an entirely different thing to hold that there is no common law in force generally throughout the United States, and that the countless multitude of interstate commercial transactions are subject to no rules and burdened by no restrictions other than those expressed in the statutes of Congress." After defining the term "common law," the court continue: "Can it be that the great multitude of interstate commercial transactions are freed from the burdens created by the common law, as so defined, and are subject to no rule except that to be found in the statutes of Congress ? We are clearly of opinion that this cannot be so, and that the principles of the common law are operative upon all interstate commercial transactions, except so far as they are modified by congressional enactment."
35 It should be said that the federal power to adopt common-law principles by statutory action may be exercised only with reference to those matters which by the Constitution are within the sphere of federal regulation.
36 181 U. S. 92; 21 Sup. Ct. Rep. 561; 45 L. ed. 765.
The principle here stated with reference to the subject of interstate commerce would seem to be applicable with reference to all other matters falling within the control of the Federal Government. -