Изображения страниц
[ocr errors]

purpose other than as a field for the construction of railways, and if our chief end upon earth, as a people, is merely to serve as passive factors in the working out of great railway problems, further consideration of the matter is useless, and there is nothing for us to do but to bear, as best we may, "the ills we have,” and all that are to come. But, neither the country nor the people in it were created expressly for the railways. On the contrary, the country exists for the people, without reference to the railways, and the railway system ought to be merely one of the many agencies working for the people's daily comfort and business convenience.

The existing state of things is clearly due to the want of proper regulation of the railroads and their affairs. What we call our railway system is not a well-organized and smoothly working system, in any sense of the word. It cannot be denied, perhaps, that the best-laid track, the finest equipment, and the most efficient transportation service in the world are all to be found here; but what we term our railway system merely represents, so to speak, a mob of interests constantly struggling among themselves for supremacy, and frequently, in their struggles, trampling other and just as important interests under foot. While such is the case, of course there never can be any improvement of the relation between the railroads and the people. On the contrary, as already stated, the larger the mob becomes and the longer it continues without control, the fiercer and more damaging will be its struggles. The vital necessity of the hour, therefore, is to quell the mob, to put it under control, and to establish order in the place of the strife. This done, the mob, which has been so long a cause of so much disturbance and anxiety, would come to be a source of strength and help. But how can this change be accomplished ? It never can be accomplished while the railways are subject to the laws of forty different States, those of no two States being alike. On the contrary, the greater the number of miles of track that are operated, and the greater the number of States controlling them, the vorse will always be the confusion among the roads.

No two por more men can possibly, together, drive a team of a dozen horses. The only way in which such a team can be

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

made to pull evenly is for one strong man to hold the reins over them. A single driver, with nerve and judgment, can get good service out of any team, which, with more than one driver, would be, as our railways are, “always in a snarl.” The only way in which peace can be assured among our warring railroads and order established among them, the only way in which they can be brought into line and made to pull together evenly for the general good, is for one pair of hands, backed by nerve and judgment, to hold the reins over them. The only hands that are big enough to grasp, and strong enough to hold, the lines over all the railroads of the country, are Uncle Sam's. This being so, why should not Uncle Sam take the driver's seat? Why should not the railroads be under national control?

The suggestion of national control, however, is not meant to imply national ownership and operation of the roads, with every railway official and employee an appointee of the government. By the suggestion is meant precisely the same sort of control as that which the government now exercises over the national banks. Every body understands what that is, and everybody appreciates how perfectly the national banking system works under it. The government does not establish nor own the banks. It merely permits any one, complying with certain conditions, to establish a national bank; but after such a bank has been established, it must be conducted in accordance with the code of laws governing the conduct of all other national banks, and the officers of the bank become government officials only to the extent that they are responsible to the government for the honest and proper conduct of the bank's affairs.

Who cannot recall the wretched condition of our banking system when it was conducted under the laws of the various States? It was, so to speak, chaotic. Its complexities and uncertainties, not to say dangers, constantly and largely absorbed the attention of the people, and operated continually to keep every interest in the country in an unsettled state; precisely as now the affairs of the railroads absorb the country's attention and keep its financial and business interests constantly disturbed. But who thinks of the banks or banking system to-day? Under national control and uniform law, the vast system, comprising

3,000 banks, representing $800,000,000 of capital, and carrying $1,500,000,000 of deposits, works with perfect smoothness, and benefits every interest in the country. Why would not the railway system, under precisely the same sort of control and under uniform law, work just as smoothly and contribute as much or more to the daily comfort and convenience of the whole community? So controlled, why should not the railway system, which, with the continual agitation, the everlasting pulling and hauling that goes on in its affairs, is almost a public curse, come to be a public blessing ?

It was eminently wise, from every point of view, for the government to assume control of the banks. The people's money constituted both the capital and the deposits, and the banks were everywhere, so to speak, part and parcel of the people's daily business life. It was, therefore, fit that the people, in self-protection, to insure the safety of their money, invested and deposited, and to secure to themselves the best possible banking facilities, should, through the government, assert control over the banks. Ought not the people, for the same reason precisely, to assume control of the railroads, which are the public highways? The roads everywhere constitute a part of the daily life of the community, the people's money to the extent of thousands of millions is invested in them, and all the earnings of the roads come out of the people's pockets. Why should not the people, therefore, do whatever may be necessary to insure the safety of their invested money, and to compel such management of railway affairs as would most conduce to the country's general welfare?

In other lands the railroads are under government control. Why should the railway interest here be allowed to "go as you please"? Why should it not here, more than anywhere else, be controlled by the government, for two reasons : first, because here the government is the people, and secondly, because the railway interest here is larger and more closely connected with all other interests than anywhere else? Because of the immensity and myriad complexities of our railway system, because of our methods of financiering, and because of men's rapacity and dishonesty, there are more and greater evils connected with the system bere than anywhere else; and here, more than anywhere else, the people are the direct sufferers from all such evils.

To effect the change from the old disjointed and wretched banking system to the system which we now enjoy, was compara. tively easy. Of course it would not be as easy to bring about the suggested change with reference to the railway system ; indeed, there are almost insuperable difficulties in the way of such a change; but an enlightened statesmanship, seeking the people's good, could surely arrive at methods by which it would be ultimately, if not immediately, accomplished. It would be especially difficult to effect the change, because the people have been so thoroughly taught to regard with distrust any governmental interference with private interests, on the ground that such interference tends toward a centralization of power and a possible restriction of the people's liberties. But surely “governmental interference with private interests" ought not to be such a terrible bugbear, after what we have witnessed of the salutary results of the Inter-state Commerce Bill, which the last Congress, in its wisdom, made a law of the land.

The Inter-state Commerce Bill was a step in the direct line of the suggestion berein made, but it was only a step, and now that experience bas proved the move to be in the right direction, why should we not be encouraged to go boldly forward, and to complete the reform that has been begun? Why should not the railroads be declared national highways, and why should not the government compel their management to be honest to those whose money is invested in them, as well as most serviceable to the public at large? Why should there not be a national railway commission, with the same supervisory authority over the railways which the Treasury Department now exercises over the national banks? The commission might consist of five, seven, nine, or even more members, appointed for life, as the judges of the Supreme Court are appointed, and with salaries commensurate with the responsibilities of their office-twenty, thirty, or even fifty thousand dollars a year apiece.

The ever-ready argument that such a commission would be amenable to corrupt influences should have no more weight than the same argument would have against the Supreme Bench. Who suspects the judges of the Supreme Court of corruption ? And who cannot think of a half-dozen or more men, not statesmen nor lawyers nor politicians, but thoroughly experienced and competent railway men, capable in every way to deal with the situation, who, if appointed for life as national railway commissioners, would be just as far above the suspicion of corruption in their monitorship of railway affairs as are the Supreme Court judges in their decisions of the cases that come before them? If, among our 60,000,000 of people, there are not a dozen men competent and honest enough to serve as such commissioners, then is our boasted civilization a failure indeed. At least, is it not worth considering that the liability to corruption now attaches to the legislatures and the railway commissions of forty different States, and the thousands who control, with comparatively no responsibility to anybody, our railway corporations; and that the situation would be no worse, to put it mildly, if that liability were restricted to a few thoroughly competent government officers, sworn to have no personal interest in the railways, and to perform their duties honestly? The duty of the railway commission in many of the States hardly goes beyond the annual compilation and publication of reports. In those States, however, where the commissions have authority, it is not infrequently exercised for political ends, and not so much for the public good as for most wrongful oppression of the roads. The commissioners appointed by the roads enjoy place, but, comparatively speaking, no power. Why should not the people now appoint commissioners, with both ability and power to hold the railway system throughout the country in proper check, on the one hand, while compelling, for the railways, fair play at the hands of the people, on the other?

A proper railway bureau under the commission would require the services of fifty, a hundred, perhaps five hundred, clerks. Whatever might be needed for the effective working of the commission should be supplied without stint. The expense of the commission and the bureau would be considerable; but no matter how large, an infinitesimal percentage of the gross earnings of the railways would easily suffice to meet it.

There is a code of laws governing the national banks and

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »