While we now have 26,200 miles of navigable rivers and some 2,800 miles of canals in operation (with nearly as much more inoperative or abandoned) which during 1904 carried, respectively, 127,000,000 and 5,000,000 tons of freight, we have also 222,500 miles of railways which during 1906 carried 1,631,374,219 tons—i. e., although the United States has a more extensive and better distributed natural system of inland waterways than any other country, and despite the fact that water carriage costs on the average but a third or a fourth as much as rail carriage, less than one ninth of our freight lines are waterways, and only one twelfth of our commodities are carried by water. And of our aggregate assets of say $107,000,000,000, our steam railways have risen to some $16,000,000,000 or $18,000,000,000, or nearly one sixth, which even at first sight seems out of proportion; and the disproportion becomes still more glaring when current production is compared with railway earnings—the former in 1906 reaching $7,000,000,000 to $10,000,000,000 (according to mode of estimate of farm products) and the latter $2,325,765,167, or fully one fourth as much. The case is clear; we are employing extravagant agencies and paying exorbitant rates for transportation; the prices of our staples depend too little on cost of production, too largely on cost of carriage.
The condition is not new, only grown worse yearly; it led largely to the establishment of the Department of Commerce and Labor, and wholly to the creation of some of its bureaus; it has led to legislation in several states, and thence to conflict between state and federal authority in a number of cases; and above all else it has led to such paralysis of settlement and production as to check the growth of the country. In a dozen states the "oppressed and degraded state of commerce" is not an idle phrase; it denotes a condition now intolerable, and soon to be suicidal unless relieved, and that by measures both prompt and permanent. Our productions are ample and our ports sufficient to maintain a beneficial balance of international trade; yet products and ports were but a burden unless the one can be laid down at the other at prices permitting interchange with the rest of the world. Our Panama Canal is a gateway to the nations—yet of what profit to us unless our exports can be delivered on the sea-board at a competitive figure, i. e., at a reasonable increase on the cost of production? The time has come to inquire whether Boston, New York,