Constitutional Development in Alabama, 1798-1901: A Study in Politics, the Negro, and Sectionalism

By Malcolm Cook McMillan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
GENERAL CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION

One of the most important issues to come before the convention was that of state control of railroads. Significant within itself, it also showed the alignment between corporate interests and the Black Belt by which decisions on the suffrage, representation, control of railroads, and most of the reform measures to come before the convention were made. Although the Alabama Railroad Commission had been established by statute in 1881, it did not have plenary powers and was an appointive rather than an elective commission.1 Under its able chairman Walter L. Bragg and his two associates the commission met with initial successes, but its influence declined after the legislature refused to give it additional powers in 1885.2 In this period the people of the state seemed more interested in getting more railroads than they were in regulating the existing systems. However, in the eighteen-nineties popular demand for railroad regulation increased as the railroads grew more numerous and powerful. It is safe to conclude that long before the convention of 1901 a large majority of the people of Alabama wanted an effective commission. The Georgia commission of 1879 became a model for those in Alabama who wanted a commission with authority to fix and enforce uniform rates, establish freight classifications, and prevent discrimination.3 Before the turn of the century, Braxton Bragg Comer assumed leadership of the forces in the state demanding railroad regulation,4 an issue upon which he was elected to the railroad commission in 1904 and governor in 1906. Having been defeated in the legislature because of strong railroad influences, advocates of railroad control were determined to write into the Constitution of 1901 provisions for a popularly elected commission with plenary powers. Also, they were determined to

____________________
1
James F. Doster, Alabama's First Railroad Commission, 1881-1885 ( University, 1949), 44-46.
2
Ibid.,178-179; Allen J. Going, "The Establishment of the Alabama Railroad Commission", Journal of Southern History, XII ( 1946), 384-385. "Since the time of Captain Bragg, who attempted as it was designed, to make it useful to the State, and who was fought to the death, the Commission has degenerated into a sinecure and junket," said the Montgomery Advertiser, July 23, 1901.
3
James F. Doster, "The Influence Upon Alabama of Georgia's Regulation of Railroads", Georgia Historical Quarterly, XXXVII ( March, 1953), 39-51.
4
James F. Doster, "Alabama's Political Revolution of 1904", The Alabama Review, VII ( April, 1954), 85-86.

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