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interested themselves by various means in their affairs.
Finally, by one bold and single leap, the Congress of the United States has, through the Inter-State Commerce Act, sought to absolutely direct all of the business of railroad transportation in the United States. This piece of legislation, although not
new in thought, as we shall hereafter see, is entirely novel in the history of the United States Government; and when it passes through the ordeal of the courts, and its constitutionality is challenged, it will be found that outside of some disjected dicta of judges, there is no precedent for it in the decisions of the United States courts.
What its effect will be, assuming the perfect constitutionality of the Act, upon the prosperity or progress of the country, and upon the business and financial interests of the railroad corporations, no one can foretell; but that it will be a factor of the most vital importance, in the management of railroads, will be readily conceded. Whether the Act will be injurious to the financial condition of all the railroad corporations, or favorable to some and detrimental to others, it is impossible to predict.
But this is certain : So much power is lodged in the hands of the Inter-State Commerce Commissioners, that it lies mainly with those officials to determine whether the law will be salutary or hurtful, either to the railroads or the public; because there can be no question that if the Act is broadly and wisely interpreted, and prudently administered, by the Inter-State Commerce Commissioners, all interests may be subserved, if not benefited.
This move of the National Legislature is one strongly towards the direction of centralization of power in the hands of the Federal Government. Strangely enough, its chief promoters and advocates are representatives from the South. The next natural step must be the purchase and absolute control, by the same power, of all this vast railroad property.
The subjects involved in the Inter-State Commerce Act are so interesting, and the people of the country are so deeply involved in its results, that no apology need be made for this little treatise, which embraces a history of the law, an analysis of its different provisions, as well as other matters generally connected with the subject.
OF INTER-STATE COMMERCE LEGISLA
TTEMPTS to regulate the business of
common carriers, and to prescribe rates of charges for transporting persons and property, and for storing or handling the latter, date back at least to 1870, when the people of Illinois incorporated in their constitution several sections relative to elevators or storehouses, where grain or other property was stored for a compensation ; and on April 25, 1871, to carry out the purposes of this constitutional provision, an act of the General Assembly of Illinois was passed, which was sustained as constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. (Munn v. Illinois, 94 United States, 113.)
In that case the Court held : “ That where warehouses are situated and their business is carried on exclusively within a State, she may, as a matter of domestic concern, prescribe regulations for them, notwithstanding they are used as instruments by those engaged in interState, as well as in State, commerce ; and, until Congress acts in reference to their inter-State. relations, such regulations can be enforced, even though they may indirectly operate upon commerce beyond her immediate jurisdiction.”
At the same term of the Supreme Court of the United States (October, 1876), an act of the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, entitled “ An act to establish reasonable maximum rates of charges for the transportation of freight and passengers on the different roads. of this State," approved March 23, 1874, was also sustained as constitutional, and held not to be a regulation of inter-State commerce. (Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy R. R. Co. v. Iowa, 94 United States, 155.)
A similar statute of Wisconsin, prescribing a maximum of charges, to be made by the Chicago & Northwestern R. R. Co., for transporting persons or property within the State, or taken up outside of the State and brought within it, or taken up inside and carried without, was also upheld as constitutional. (Peik v. Chicago & Northwestern R. R. Co., 94 United States, 164.)