Stop, Look and Listen: Railroad Transportation in the United States

By David Hinshaw; W. Espey Albig | Go to book overview

Chapter X
REGULATION AND THE INTERSTATE COMMERCE COMMISSION

REGULATION of the railroads began with the police power of the community acting to safeguard the life and health of its citizens. Later, as competition increased among the railroads and abuses developed, the state legislatures undertook to regulate the rates and the service of the railroads. The United States Supreme Court held for a long time that railway charters were contracts with legislatures which would protect the railways from state regulation of rates. By 1885 the Supreme Court had changed its point of view and affirmed the power of the state to fix rates. It made clear also that this power to regulate did not include power to destroy by emphasizing that "limitation is not the equivalent of confiscation."

The Supreme Court did not until a quarter of a century had elapsed register in its decisions the change which was taking place in the public mind regarding railroad regulation. While the courts were waiting for the situation to assert itself, the state legislatures were proceeding to action. The popular unrest which accompanies reform legislation tends to obscure the underlying principles.

-187-

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