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REMARKS OF MR. WILSON, OF IOWA.
IN THE U.S. SENATE DEC. 21, 1886.
The Senate resumed the consideration of the report of the Committee on Commerce on the bill (S. 1,532) to regulate comřerce.
MR. WILSON, of Iowa.-Mr. President, it is more than a decade since the agitation which finds a result in the report now commanding our attention became active in Congress. It had moved upon the minds of the people and made its presence felt by the instrumentalities of state governments before it appeared here. At its inception it manifested staying powers which portented ultimate success. It was an assertion by disturbed conditions and interests of sections, localities, business of the forceful doctrine of equality on which our system of government is founded. It was a cumulative declaration that that doctrine is not confined in its application to the individual and his distinctive personal relations, but extends to all of the affairs, interests, and relations that are evolved and established by organized communities and movements of government. It was an assertion that the equality which has been our boast and pride from the beginning is a principle of society applicable to all things upon which government can act. Hence the agitation in the very nature of things had staying powers equal to all of the exactions which the struggle precedent to success might impose.
A comparatively new system of transportation had in effect and substantially reversed all of our methods of domestic trade and commerce. It had assaulted all of the doctrines of our long established law relative to the duties and responsibilities of common carriers. It had asserted a masterful control of the doctrine of equal rights, and established in its stead a practice of discrimination that at last shocked the people's sense of justice and fair play. It laid its usurping hand upon sections, localities, associations, and individuals, and all of their interests of trade, commerce, and business of whatsoever kind. It has steadily and unreasonably refused to recognize the simplest business principles, and marked out lines of action for itself, which has excited the resentment of almost every interest it was created to serve. It has made itself an intermeddler in almost every department of business and in almost every detail thereof. It has refused to admit that it was created to serve the proper purposes and interests of society, and has assumed to direct and control them. Not the public interests, but its own have been its study, forgetting that the true method of conserving the best conditions of both is to recognize the equal rights of each.
The managers of this system, while admitting great defects in it in respect of its own affairs, have resolutely opposed all efforts of the state and national governments to project and establish reforms which would tend to assure justice and promote the common interest, and this explains why some conservative and proper legislation for the regulation of the unsatisfactory conditions existing in the interstate commerce of the
country was not years ago enacted by Congress. There has been no disposition on the part of the managers of our transportation system to aid in the formulation of legislation which would tend to correct the abuses that they, in common with afflicted individuals and communities, admit to exist. They have tried among themselves to find remedies for some of these things in so far as they affect themselves and the immediate interests committed to their charge, and have uniformly failed. They will neither keep faith with each other nor allow the public to aid them; and in all this they have done violence to their own interests and have intensified the demand of the people for some legislative remedy. It will not be wise to longer delay some affirmative response to this demand.
Mr. President, the contest which has attended this subject has been long and tedious. We have now reached a point in the movement when something may be done. The adoption of the report of the conference committee which we are now considering, by both houses of Congress, while it will not accomplish all that I should like to have done, will afford the country an opportunity to test a regulative remedy, unless objections by the President be interposed by a veto of the bill. That differences of opinion prevail relative to the various propositions embodied in the report, we all know. But this is not a new phase of the movement. From the very commencement of the agitation which has culminated in the bill now before us, these differences have existed.
The most earnest friends of legislative regulation of interstate commerce have never wholly agreed. But they have toilsomely pursued the subject. Study, investigation, earnest effort they have pursued for years. Both houses of Congress have had their proper committees at work on the subject for more than a decade. The public press has given it prolonged attention and forceful discussion. All of these agencies of information and effort, in so far as they have tended to affirmative action, have been confronted by the apparition of the forces of the transportation system of the country. These forces are active now, pleading for further delay and more investigation. In the New York Tribune of the 19th instani I read a reported interview with the president of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad, and from it I make the following extract. The question having been put to him, “What do you suggest?” he answered:
“That Congress at once pass a bill something like this, appointing five boards of commissioners of three members each, to examine all questions involved and clothed with all powers necessary to obtain thorough, accurate information, including the examination of the books and accounts of the railroad companies, one of these boards to act in the territory of the Pacific roads, one for the roads northwest of Chicago, one for the States between the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, one for the Southern States, and one for the trunk lines; these commissioners to assume their duties immediately upon their appointment by the President and confirmation by the Senate, and be required to have their reports ready by October 1, 1887. Then these fifteen commissioners, as a board, should recommend to Congress when it reassembles next December suitable legislation to meet the requirements of the case and to settle this difficult problem.”
No one need have any difficulty in arriving at the true meaning of this statement. It simply means delay. For more than ten years this
has been the policy of the managers of the transporting companies of the country. Their constant and ever repeated declaration has been that Congress is not sufficiently informed in respect of the intricacies of the transportation problem to act with due caution and wisdom thereon. But Congress has for years been informing itself concerning ail of the phases of the question. Committees have spent months of time in the investigation. They have visited various sections of the country, examining hundreds of witnesses, and giving to all parties and interests ample opportunity to present their views. Report after report has been made, accompanied by thousands of pages of printed testimony, all of which have been open to the inspection of whomsoever cared to devote their time and give their attention thereto. There is not a proposition either important or unimportant in the conference report now before the Senate that has not been considered in the investigations of the committees of Congress time and again and year after year. During all this time the demand has been for more delay, and it has been allowed until the public has become tired of it and now demands action,
But it is urged that there is great diversity of opinion relative to what ought to be done in the premises. This is true. It has been true from the beginning of the agitation. Will delay change this feature of the case? Will the practices of the transporting companies in respect of the things complained of by the people and concerning which this report proposes remedies? Answering these questions in the light of past experience, a negative must be given to each of them. How are we to resolve this conflict of opinion except by doing something? Theories have been having free course of assertion for years. They are as divergent now as ever. Delay will not change this fact. Another committee, whether it be composed of Senators and Representatives or of commissioners of inquiry, will bring us no more definite result than we now have before us. And so, in my judgment, there is but one way to an effective resolution of this conflict of opinion.
We must have affirmative action. We must enact a law for the regulation of interstate commerce, and by experience under its administration come to a knowledge of the right and wrong of the war of opinion now obstructing our way. We may investigate and debate forever and still be apart. But action and the experience it will enforce are sure to bring an end to the contention that will conserve the true interests of all concerned. ' If we elect the opposite course then will we invite into the case the elements of danger; for a continuance of the many real iniquities which have found lodgement in our transportation system may induce a resentment on the part of the people that may not be satisfied with the character of experiment it is now proposed to try.
Mr. President, no one who has studied the railroad problem and has come to a knowledge of the men who manage our railroad corporations can doubt its difficulties, nor dispute the very great aggregation of commanding ability found among those who handle the great interests involved. But while these men possess very great ability and are marked intellectual forces, they have, it seems to me, fallen short in one essential element. Had they possessed this at its best, I doubt if the railroad problem with its present involvements could have appeared in this country. That one element is what is usually denominated common sense.
Most of the facts on which the complaints of the people relative to the management of the transportation of the country are based may be accounted for by the absence of this essential element.
There is no other way by which to account for the present unfor. tunate involvement of the transportation question. The average amount of prudential action found in ordinary business affairs of men would, if applied to railroad management, have avoided our present predicament. This is apparent not only in their relations with the public but also in those pertaining to the corporations themselves. Let a man step out of active railroad management, though still retaining his investment interest, and he is very apt to acknowledge the truth of all that I have said in this regard. I found such a case reported in the Chicago Tribune a few days ago. An ex-railroad manager, still largely interested in Eastern and Western roads, in talking with a reporter of that paper in respect of the very measure we are now considering, said:
“ It would prevent reckless competition between the various roads and stop the craze for constructing useless lines in territory already sufficiently supplied with railroad facilities. He was particularly enthusiastic about the provision prohibiting pooling. This, he said, was the best feature of the bill, and he could not see why any particular opposition should be shown toward it by Senator Platt. The law itself would accomplish all and much more than was expected of the pools. There being no longer any reckless competition, no unjust discrimination, and the publicity and uniformity of rates assured, there would no longer be any use for pools. Those pools had proved a most expensive experiment, and no adequate results were gained. Enough would be saved by having no longer to support high-salaried commissioners, assistant commissioners, arbitrators, armies of clerks, and from office rents, advertising, commissions, rebates, etc., to pay the dividends for many of the lines which are now barely able able to meet the interest on their indebtedness.”
This statement of the case is forceful and true. It comes from a man who has had experience as a railroad manager, and who, as such, doubtless participated in the very follies which, as an investor, he now denounces. He sees how great reform would come from the enactment of this bill. No one thing has given the railroads greater cost and more trouble than the pool system. No one thing has done more to demoralize railroad managers, officers, agents, and all involved either directly or indirectly in its administration than the railroad pool. Indeed, it has come to be expected that the pool of to-day will be disregarded by some of its members to-morrow, and it has come to be the basis of the hope of reward to railroad officers and agents to successfully enlarge business in violation of such arrangements. But such practices cannot be kept under cover forever, and then comes the rate war and loss of revenue from points of competition.
Under the present system, however, these losses are unloaded on to the business of intermediate or local points. This practice, in itself an outrage, is a most fruitful source of complaint on the part of the people. But even when the obligations of the pool are observed the traffic is oftea conducted on a basis of rates less than fairly remunerative, when compared with those charged at the local stations. A vast amount of the railroad traffic of the country is done from so-called competing points at rates less than half those charged at local points on the same lines. This . is an inequity that ought not to be tolerated, and which the bill we are now considering will prevent, if it shall become a law. Let this be done, and no one can fail to see that it will go very far towards correcting the bad state of feeling existing between the railroads and the people. It will serve the true interests of the railroads, because it will prevent the foolish, wasteful, and demoralizing rate wars; for no railroad company will grant a less than remunerative rate for through freight if it can not unload its loss on the local stations along its line. It will serve the interests of the people whose business goes to and from the local stations, because it will assure them at least as reasonable rates as are given to others, and this is one of the most desirable results that can be found in the entire field covered by the present controversy. If it can be reached and established it will go far towards restoring that equality to localities that has been so perfectly eliminated from our transportation system.
The two sections of the bill reported by the conference committee which most tend to bring about this result are the fourth and fifth.
The fourth section is a modification of the provision as it originally passed the Senate. It preserves the clause of that bill which declared that the provision relative to the shorter and longer distances, shall not be construed as authorizing any common carrier within the terms of the act to charge and receive as great compensation for the former as for the latter. It is also modified so as to make it more effective in respect of the prohibition against greater charges being made for the shorter than the longer distance; and it limits the power of the commissioners to authorize the charging of less for a greater than a shorter distance to special cases. Each one of these modifications is in the line of the original bill as it passed the Senate, and, it seems to me, improves it.
The two sections quoted have been sharply criticised by the representatives of the railroad companies by letters in the public press and by telegrams from the day they were first given to the country in the report of the conference committee. It is objected that the provision of the fourth section in respect of distances will, if enacted into law, establish a rule of mileage rates; that it can only be obeyed by the companies by charging the same rate per mile, no matter what the distance may be. I shall not stop to discuss the subject presented by this objection. It is sufficient to say that the section presents no such proposition, and I shall discuss what we have before us instead of wasting time on what is not here. The language of the section is:
That it shall be unlawful for any coinmon carrier subject to the provisions of this act to charge and receive for the transportation of passengers, or of like kind of property, under substantially similar circumstances and conditions for a shorter than a longer distance over the same line, in the same direction, the shorter being included in the longer distance.
What does this mean? Let me answer this question by an illustration. In round numbers it is, say, 500 miles from Omaha, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Chicago, Ill. Suppose the railroad companies operating lines between these points should, in the event of this bill becoming a law, fix a rate on any particular class of freight at $40 per car for the entire 500-mile haul, what would result as to intermediate points ? Why, that each of such points could not be charged more than $40 per car for a shorter haul of like class of freight over the same line.