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APPROPRIATIONS FOR PUBLIC WORKS.
SURELY no argument is needed to demonstrate the immeasurable importance of cheap transportation in promoting the commercial prosperity and general welfare of a nation, or its vital importance to a country of such vast extent as our own. In the language of Governor Horatio Seymour, " the chief element in the prosperity of every State or nation is the economy of transportation of persons or property." Commerce and civil. ization have ever gone hand in hand with the development of improved means of transportation and communication. The growth of commerce has uniformly followed the extension of facilities for transportation, and it has invariably increased rapidly whenever these have been improved and enlarged.
During the last quarter of a century the railroads have accomplished wonders in the direction of virtually bringing together the producer and the consumer, however widely they may be separated in fact. The railroads have made possible the interchange of products throughout the whole extent of our vast domain, rendering available the diversified natural resources of the nation, and adding wonderfully to its productive capacity. The almost inestimable advantages which have been gained, commercially and socially, through the marvelous development of our railway system, are universally acknowledged, but they have not been attained without accompanying disadvantages. The policy under which that system has been so rapidly developed has been one of unwarranted discrimination, and its effect has been, as I have said heretofore,
"To build up the strong at the expense of the weak, to give the large dealer an advantage over the small trader, to make capital count for more than individual credit and enterprise, to concentrate business at great commercial centers, to necessitate combinations and aggregations of capital, to foster monopoly, to encourage the growth and extend the influence of corporate power, and to throw the control of the commerce of the country more and more into the hands of the few." The methods of railway management which have prevailed have encouraged concentration and consolidation in every form of commercial enterprise, industry, and production, and their legitimate fruits are to be seen in the "combinations” and “trusts" which have justly occasioned a widespread feeling of uneasiness in the public mind.
The Inter-state Commerce Law was enacted for the purpose of calling a halt on the prevailing railroad policy of unwarranted discrimination, and its effect in checking the general tendency toward the concentration of commercial interests in the hands of aggregated capital will become more and more apparent as time passes. Under the beneficent operation of the “short-haul" principle the smaller cities and towns situated between great commercial centers receive the benefits of their natural advantages of location, instead of being, as heretofore, merely tributary to, and dependent upon, the favored distributing points. This law has given new life, strength, and courage to the small shipper and the small trader in their unequal competition with those controlling large capital, and will in time stimulate the growth of local industries and enterprises throughout the land, thereby promoting commerce in every quarter, and increasing the prosperity of the whole people. In the progress of time, as it is perfected, strengthened, and more thoroughly enforced, it will eventually accomplish whatever can be accomplished by means of legislation in the way of railroad regulation, but much can readily be done by other methods to improve and cheapen the facilities for transportation which the nation now enjoys.
The most practicable and most certain method of securing the manifold blessings of cheap transportation which remains open to us is by the proper improvement of our water-ways. The cheapest known method of transportation is by water. No railroad can compete successfully with a free and unobstructed water route in the matter of the cost of carriage, nor can any combination of corporate capital long control or injuriously monopolize a navigable water-way which is open to all comers. The natural and artificial water routes of the United States not only afford in themselves the cheapest existing rates of transportation, but, in addition, they also exercise an absolutely and beneficially controlling influence in regulating railroad rates over a large extent of territory which they do not themselves directly reach. The highest railway authorities have borne witness to the controlling effect of the competition of the great water routes of the country in reducing and keeping down railroad charges. Those whose opinions have been recorded substantially agree with the statement made by Mr. Albert Fink, the Commissioner of the Trunk Line Association, that,
“Under ordinary circumstances, the lakes, the Erie Canal, and Mississippi River are the great regulators of railroad transportation charges."
As is well known, the rates between Chicago and New York are the basis of the railway rates throughout the entire region north of the Ohio and between the Mississippi and the Atlantic seaboard, and those rates are largely determined by the rates by water between the cities named. Whatever disturbs railway rates on any line within that region disturbs them upon all other lines to a greater or less degree. The controlling influence of the water route between Chicago and New York is shown by lower railway rates during the season of navigation than during the winter; and the great reductions that have been made in these rates in recent years, in consequence of the important improvements effected in the water routes, show what might readily be done in other sections of the country by means of similar improvements in the interest of cheap transportation.
It should be remembered that the efficiency of a water route as a means of transportation is measured by its capacity at its least efficient point, and that an enlargement of its capacity at that point may increase correspondingly the efficiency of the entire route. One single improvement may double the efficiency of a route hundreds of miles in extent, by removing obstructions or deepening the channel at a particular point, because the cost of water transportation diminishes as the size of the vessels that can be used increases. The deepening of the channel through the St. Clair Flats, which made possible upon the lakes the use of steam vessels carrying cargoes three times as large as those
previously carried, in connection with the abolition of tolls upon the Erie Canal, effected a permanent reduction of at least twelve cents a bushel in the cost of transporting grain from Chicago to the Atlantic seaboard. The immense and widespread benefits of such a reduction can scarcely be appreciated. It adds to the profits of the producer of grain, and decreases the cost of food to the consumer. It is almost universally advantageous. The millions expended upon the St. Clair Flats by the general government bave saved many millions to the people of the United States. No investment of any other character could bave proved so productive and so profitable. In no other way could an equal expenditure have resulted in so much direct benefit to the whole people, saving to them millions of dollars, not at any one time, but year after year for all time.
It is my profound conviction that no expenditures made by the government are so profitable to the whole people as those that are properly made for public works of value to commerce. Whatever public money is devoted to the construction and improvement of great highways of commerce, to opening up barbors on the seaboard or on the lakes, to removing obstructions from navigable waters or deepening their channels, or to digging canals to connect together these natural water-ways, yields a much larger direct return to the pockets of the whole people than any other class of expenditures made by the government. And the benefits of such expenditures are not temporary, but continuous; they accrue to the producer and consumer alike year after year in a reduced transportation tax. Millions are expended annually to sustain the government without accomplishing any other result than simply to meet its living expenses, which must be met by like expenditures each coming year. Necessary and useful as these expenditures are, they are, nevertheless, of a temporary character only. But public improvements by which commerce is encouraged and promoted become a continuing source of wealth to the country, yielding returns to the people year after year, and adding to the common prosperity.
It has long been the settled policy of the general government to make appropriations from the public revenues for public works of the character indicated; yet no systematic and welldefined policy with respect to them has been adopted, and the methods in vogue are rather the result of chance than of deliberate legislative intention. Although the policy of making liberal appropriations for such purposes is firmly established, although the importance of such improvements is appreciated by the public, and although the commercial advantages resulting from many of the improvements thus made are universally acknowledged, the annual river and harbor bills are the subjects of fierce attacks at each recurring session of Congress. With so many considerations to commend it to popular favor, the River and Harbor Bill, which should be one of the most beneficent measures enacted by Congress, has fallen into disrepute, and is looked upon with suspicion by a large part of the public. Why? Simply because it is believed to contain many items that are inserted mainly with a view to advancing the local political interests of individual legislators, and which could find a place in it only through the process commonly known as “log-rolling." For this unfortunate condition of affairs some adequate remedy ought to be and can be found.
To find a remedy we must ascertain the cause of the trouble. My investigation of the subject has led me to the conclusion that the difficulty with regard to our national public works is a fundamental one. The fault lies at the basis of the whole system; or rather, more properly speaking, the trouble is occasioned by the want of any comprehensive and well-considered policy and system.
To begin with, the present practice is radically at fault, in that Congress reserves to itself alone the right to take the initiative in the inauguration of all river and harbor works. Nothing is done in the way of ascertaining what improvements are most urgently needed and would be of the most value to the commercial interests of the nation. Whatever official investigations are made for the information of Congress relate to particular projects, each of which stands by itself, and is so considered. This is the reason why the improvements undertaken are so often of a sectional or local character. New projects, however important, receive no consideration unless those most directly benefited bring them to the attention of Congress. The