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About The commoner. (Lincoln, Neb.) 1901-1923 | View Entire Issue (May 15, 1908)
MAY 15, 1908
RAILROADS PRIVATE PROPERTY?
In the' Chicago. 'live stock exchange case
Justice Brewer, who rendered the opinion for
the supreme court, said: "It must he remem
bered that railroads., are the private property
of their owners; that while, from the public
character of the work in which they are en
gaged, the public has the power to prescribe
rules for securing faithful and efficient service
and equality between shippers and commodities,
yet in no proper sense is the public a general
Jeremiah S. Black, the famous lawyer, did
not entertain Justice Brewer's idea. In a speech
delivered before a committee of the Pennsyl
vania legislature in 1883 Mr. Black dealt with
"the duties of corporations as public servants,"
and we are told by one authority "it is doubt
ful if any other speech on a technical question
of law and industrial economy ever produced
. effects so profound and far-reaching."
Note the similarity between the arguments
of the railroad literary bureau of today, and
the contention of the railroad magnates of Mr.
Black's time. Referring to these railroad
.claims, Mr. Black said:
"They assert that the management of
" the railroads, being a mere speculation of
' their own, these thoroughfares of trade and
travel must be run for their interests, with
. . out regard to public right. If they take ad
vantage of their power to oppress the labor
- and overtax the land of the state; if they
' crush the industry of one man or place to
.. build up the prosperity of another; if they
plunder the rich by extortion, or deepen the ,
distress of the poor by discriminating (
against them, they justify themselves by ;
.. showing that all this was in the way of i
- business; that their interest required them
to do it; that if they had done otherwise
- " their fortunes would not have been so great
- as they are; that it was the prudent, proper, ,
and successful method of managing their
- own affairs. This is their universal answer
', - to all complaints. Their protests against
legislative intervention to protect the public
". always takes this shape, with more or less
: .distinctness of outline."
' .,;; JVIay we not, referring to these same claims,
use the language employed by Jeremiah Black
;wheii In that same speech he said: "In what
ever language they clothe their argument, it is
the same in substance as that with which De
" metrius, the silversmith, defended the sancity
:' of the temple for which he made statues: 'Sirs,
' ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.' "
" It would be difficult to make better answer
', to these claims than that given by Mr. Black
: himself, and it would be well if every American
1 citizen could read Mr, Black's speech in full.
Mr. Blpck laid down the" doctrine that "the
. management of the railroads is not a matter of
4 business tottoe conducted like private enterprises,
'" merely for ithe profit of the directors or stock
holders." He cited an opinion rendered by the
supreme court of Pennsylvania, where it was
" determined that a railroad is a public highway
and in no sense private property, and that "the
corporation authorized to operate it is a ser-
.; yant of the state, much as an officer legally ap-
' pointed to do any other public duty; as strictly
r confined by the laws and as liable to be removed
for transgressing them;" and he said that no
.' judge "whose authority is worth a straw" ever
s- denied the doctrine for which ho contended,
the United States supreme court having affirmed
; it in scores of cases.
Because of the vast magnitude of the affairs
intrusted to the railroad magnates, and the ter
" rible temptation to which their cupidity is ex
posed, Mr. Black said that it was necessary that
the people "hold them to their responsibilities,
and hold them hard." He averred that a cor
. poration intrusted to do a public duty must per
. form it with an eye single to the public interest,
and that partiality or extortion should no more
be tolerated on the part of the railroad official
than when practiced by any other public, servant.
"The people," said Mr. Black, "have rights
of property as well as the corporations and ours
are or ought to be as sacred as theirs. Be
j. .tween the great domain which we have ceded to
" them and that which still belongs to us, the line
;. is plainly and distinctly marked, and if they cross
) it for purposes of plunder they should be driven
; back under the lash of the law."
Mr. Black showed that It is the duty of the
. state to open thoroughfares of trade and travel
through her territory; that for that purpose she
may take the property of citizens and pay for
the work out of her own treasury; that she may
i tie Commoner.
make that thoroughfare free to all comers or'
reimburse the cost by levying a special tax upon
those who use it; that she may authorize tho?
road to be built by a corporation or an individ
ual and pay for it by permitting the builder
to collect tolls; that she may empower a natural
or artificial person to do this work, but that "in
all cases the proprietary right remains in tho
state, and is held by her in trust for the use
of the people."
Mr. Black said that tho railroad corpora
tion is charged with the duty to see that "every
needed facility shall be furnished to all citizens,
like the justice promised in Magna Charta, with
out sale, denial or delay." And because such
services, If faithfully performed, are important
and valuable, the corporation is authorized to
pay itself by levying upon all who use tho road
a tax, or toll, or freight sufficient for a fair com
pensation. He added: "But this tax must bo
reasonable, fixed, certain and uniform, other
wise it is a fraud upon the people which no de
partment of the state government, nor all of
them combined, has power to legalize"
Mr. Black described tho contempt shown
by the railroad monopolist In his day just as
it is shown today. He said that the corporation
influence in official circles is "mysterious and In
calculable," and that upon tho subject of a popu
lar demand for tho enforcement of law "tho
press is shy" and the politicians are eager to
take a smoother road than that which leads to
conflict with corporation chiefs.
Referring to railroad impositions, he said:
"They have destroyed the business of hundreds
for one that they have favored; for every mil
lionaire they have made ten thousand paupers."
THERE ARE OTHERS
An Associated Press dispatch under date
of Washington, April 11, follows: "The army
orders today contain a prohibition against politi
cal activity on the part of classified civil service
employes and also against tho contribution or
solicitation of campaign funds. Tho order is
based on a direction by the president to Secre
tary Taft, enclosing a communication from tho
civil service committee, setting forth regulations
on the subject. The penalty for political ac
tivity, as set forth In tho regulations Is: Any
man violating the provision of tho rule in ques
tion renders himself liable . to , punishment by -removal.
The second caso of the suspension of.,
a civil service employe for political activity oc- '
curred today, when Acting Public Printer Brian,
on recommendation of the civil service commis
sion, suspended William A. Kroll, an employe
of the bindery of tho government printing office
for alleged pernicious political activity. B. H.
Warner, a republican candidate for congress in
tho Sixth district of Maryland, charged that
Knoll served as chairman of political meetings
in the interest of an opponent of Warner."
William A. Kroll, an humble employe of
tho government printing office, Is disciplined for
political activity because he worked against a
republican candidate for congress. But what
about some of the more Important government
officials? And what about the thousands of fed
eral employes, high and low, in various sections .
of the country, who are working day and night
for the nomination by the republican national
convention of the present secretary of war?
&w t i&rt tt
The New Haven (Conn.) Union says: "Ed--;
itor Pulitzer asks Editor Bryan about his inter
est in the people and Editor Bryan asks Editor
Pulitzer about his interests In the trusts."
And although the question is pertinent and
timely the World has not deigned to answer.
ifif itr f2 tc
A DEFENSE OP VICE
Mr. John McElroy has published through
the National.. Tribune, of Washington, a little,
book entitled "The Economic Functions of
Vice." It will bo read with interest by those
who are studying sociological and economic
questions. The author of the book argues that
vice removes the weaker members of society and
thus aids the stronger and more virtuous. One
paragraph will illustrate his position. Speak
ing of a royal family he says: "Idleness, luxury,
and more or less flagrant debauchery have done
their appointed work in removing the deterior
ated forms of human life from the world, that
their room might be had for more acceptable
growths." He even defends Intemperance, say
ing, "Whisky makes no man lazy, shiftless, dis
honest, false, cowardly or brutal. Theso must
be original qualities with him. If ho has tliem
ho will pr&bably take' to whiskythough not in
evitably which does tho community tho splen
did service of hurrying him along to destruc- .
tlon, and of abridging his Infliction upon tho
Ho seems to be applying tho Darwinian the-
??7rR mttn as wo find him t0fty "tl assumes
that that which Is destroyed by vice would havo
been hurtful if permitted to exist. ' '
His argument will not meet with favor'
among those who boliove in lifting up those who
fall, and In strengthening tho weak against
temptation, and it is well to havo every theory
stated frankly and candidly, and Mr. McElroy
has statod his theory very boldly in his little'
JUST BY THE WAY '
By tho way, tho right of tho state to rogu-' ,
late local freight rates has always existed and
has never been denied by the federal courts
What rates were reduced In Nebraska during '
the six years that the demo-pop reformers com
pletely controlled tho state board of transporta
tion? Omaha Bee.
Tho fusion legislature or "demo-pop"
legislature, if tho Omaha Bee profcrs it that
way of 1893, passed a law very materially
reducing tho freight rates in Nobraska. Tho H
railroads took tho new freight schedules into
court, and tho supremo court of tho United
States decided that under the then existing con
ditions the schedules were "confiscatory." Tho
law was, therefore, by federal court decree, de
clared inoperative. However, tho court did say
that at some future time It might bo persuaded
to let the law become operative, provided tho
state could show that bettered conditions no
longer made the rates confiscatory. The Omaha
Bee and other republican organs vociferously
claim that prosperity's return was coincident
with the return of the republican party to power
in Nebraska and in tho nation. Will tho Omaha
Bee now be kind enough to tell us what move
was made to secure tho enforcement of that law?
"THE BUSINESS MAN'S PARTY" "
Representative Tawnoy of Minnesota, chair
man of the committee on appropriation, recently
addressed tho house of representatives In these
words: "With a deficit of sixty or sixty-five
millions at the close of tho present fiscal year,
and with a prospect of a deficit of 150 millions
at tho end of the next fiscal year, our ontlro
surplus in the treasury threatens to be wiped
out, and it is almost certain that an issuo of
certificates of indebtedness will be necessary to
meet bur obligations. With this unpleasant
prospect this congress Is appropriating more
money than any of Its predecessors, and it is
time for tho members of this body to stop and
reflect what we are coining to."
Yet they tell us that the 'republican party
is tho "business man's party!"
A LIWTLE HAND
Perhaps there are. tenderer sweeter things
Somewhere in this tunbright land -,
But I thank the Lord for his blessings '. . f
And the clasp of a little hand! '
A little hanl that softly
Stole into mino that day
When I needed the tou-h I loved so much
To strengthen mo on tho way.
Softer it seemed than tho softest down
' On the .breast of the gentlest dove,
But its timid press and its sweet caress
Were strong In the strength of love. ,
It seemed to say, in a strange, sweet way:
"I love you and understand!"
And calmed my fears, as my hot, heart-team
Fell over that little hand.
Perhaps there are tenderer sweeter thing
Somewhere in this sunbright land.
But I thank the Lord for his blessings
And the clasp of a little bandj
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