|THE POLITICAL CONTROL OF RAILWAYS: IS IT CONFISCATION?|
IT may be doubted whether the non-enforcement of the Interstate Commerce law, however fortunate for the railway companies, is not an unmixed calamity for the country. For, if the shortest way to abolish a bad law is to vigorously enforce it, the danger is that the slumber of so un-American and unconstitutional a measure will lead, by mere lapse of time, to its becoming an apparent part of our governmental policy, and so, at the last, all the more awkward to be got rid of. Had the principle of the interstate commerce law been applied by Congress to any other industry or industries than that of transportation, it is exceedingly doubtful if the industries so paternally favored would have acquiesced as patiently and good-naturedly as have the railway companies. But there is no knowing how far the precedent may be pushed. So long as consumers outnumber producers and purchasers out-number sellers, if the temptation should ever arise for the consumers and purchasers to decree the price at which producers shall produce and sellers sell (that is to say, for the majority to confiscate the property of the minority), certainly the principle of the interstate commerce law could be cited in favor of such a confiscation. (The railway companies in at least one of our Western States have been enjoying this sort of confiscation, under what has been called "the Iowa idea," viz., that "railways can take care of themselves," in abject silence now for many years, thus affording another cumulative precedent for a possible majority programme.)
When Judge Nelson set aside the verdict of a jury, on the ground that it "took thirteen men to rob a corporation in that court," he was entertaining a sort of judicial cognizance of that disposition on the part of the average "jury of the vicinage" toward railway companies which, unchecked, would quite speedily make railway operating a very costly amusement for investors. But the utmost juries can do toward robbing or crippling railway corporations is a very small matter compared with this latest movement of political forces, to confiscate—under the pretext of caring for—the interests of the people, of which the laws we are about to glance at are the outcome. Every sovereign State in this Union has constituted a "Board of Railway Commissioners," which is, and must be, political in its character, and so shifting with the politics of the State and of its Executive; and to these boards is relegated the whole procedure of the railway companies.