THE NORTHERN SECURITIES SUIT
WHEN Roosevelt became President the vital question about the control of trusts or great corporations was whether the National Government had the power to exercise such control. A decision of the Supreme Court in 1895, in a suit brought under President Cleveland's administration against the Sugar Trust, held in effect that under the Constitution the National Government had not such power. The suit had been brought under the Sherman anti-trust law of 1890, which was designed to destroy monopoly and curb industrial combinations like the Sugar and Tobacco Trusts. The decision of the Supreme Court, known as the Knight decision, was in effect that the National Government had no power over the corporations, and it was so interpreted by them, for under it, virtually all the trusts in the country were formed later. One of them, known as the Northern Securities Company, was formed shortly before Roosevelt became President, and was a union or merger of practically the entire railway system of the Northwest, the chief lines being the Northern Pacific and Great Northern Roads.
Early in 1902 the President took up with the Attorney General, Philander C. Knox, the question of testing the legality of this merger in the courts. The Attorney General advised him that, in his judgment, an action would be sustained. Without consultation with other members of his Cabinet, the President directed the Attorney General to begin the suit. No intimation of his purpose had reached the public, and when, on the late afternoon of February 19, 1902, Mr. Knox gave out through the press a brief announcement that the President had so directed him, a tre