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During the War but little attention was given to the great increase in the price of freights, as the price of produce was proportionately high; but we look in vain for any abatement, now that we are obliged to accept less than half the former prices for much that we raise.
We look in vain for any diminution in the carrying rates, to correspond with the rapidly declining prices of the means of living, and of materials for constructing boats, cars, engines, and tracks; but on the other hand, we see a total ignoring of that rule of reciprocity between the carrying and producing interests which prevails in every other department of trade and commerce.
Does it not behoove us, then, to inquire earnestly how long we can stand this descending scale on the one hand, and the ascending on the other, and which party must inevitably and speedily go to the wall?
I by no means counsel hostility to the carrying interest it is one of the producer's best friends; but, like the fire that cooks our food and warms our dwelling, it may also become the hardest of masters. The fire fiend laughs as he escapes from our control, and in an hour licks up and sweeps away the accumulations of years of toil.
As we cherish the fire fiend, so we welcome the clangor of the carrier fiend as he approaches our dwellings, opening up communications with the busy marts of trade. But it needs no great stretch of imagination to hear also the cach! cach! cachinations of the carrier fiend as he speeds beyond our reach, and leaving no alternative but compliance with his exorbitant demands. Many of us are not aware of the gigantic proportions the carrying interest is assuming. Less than forty years ago the first railroad fire was kindled on this continent, [but] which now, like a mighty conflagration, is crackling and roaring over every prairie and through every mountain gorge. The first year produced fifteen miles; the last, five thousand.1
On the same mammoth scale goes on the work of organization and direction. By the use of almost unlimited means it enlists in its service the finest talents of the land as officers,
1 The total mileage, which was about 30,000 in 1860, increased to 52,000 in 1870 and to 87,800 in 1880.
attorneys, agents, and lobbyists; gives free passes and splendid entertainments to the representatives of the people; and even transports whole legislatures into exceeding high mountains, showing them the kingdoms of the world, with lavish promises of reward for fealty and support; witness its land grants and franchises1 secured from the powers that be, such as no similar interest ever acquired even in the Old World. . . .
I fancy I hear the response: "These things are so, but what can we do?" Rather, my friends, what can we not do? What power can withstand the combined and concentrated force of the producing interest of this Republic? But what avails our strength if, like Polyphemus in the fable, we are unable to use it for want of eyesight? or like a mighty army without discipline, every man fighting on his own hook? or worse, reposing in fancied security while Delilahs of the enemy have well nigh shorn away the last lock of strength? In this respect we constitute a solitary exception, every other interest having long since protected itself by union and organization.
As a measure calculated to bring all interested, as it were, within speaking distance, and as a stepping stone to an efficient organization, I propose that the farmers of the great north-west concentrate their efforts, power, and means, as the great transportation companies have done theirs, and accomplish something instead of frittering away their efforts in doing nothing.
And to this end I suggest a convention of those opposed to the present tendency to monopoly and extortionate charges by our transportation companies, to meet at Bloomington, Illinois, on the twentieth day of April next, for the purpose of discussion, and the appointment of a committee to raise funds to be expended in the employment of the highest order of legal talent, to put in form of report and argument an exposition of the rights, wrongs, interests, and injuries (with their remedies) of
1 Before the year 1872 our government had granted to the railroads 155,000,000 acres of public land- — a tract equal to New England, New York, and Pennsylvania combined. About $200,000,000 had been granted as subsidies by state legislatures, besides private subscriptions to the stocks and bonds of railway companies (cf. E. R. Johnson, American Railway Transportation, p. 314).
the producing masses of the north-west, and lay it before the authorities of each state, and of the general government. Congress is now in session, and the constitutional convention of this state will then again be convened. Farmers, now is the time for action!
The meeting in response to this call was held in Bloomington, Illinois, on April 20, 1869. It adopted the following resolutions:
First, that the present rate of taxation and transportation are unreasonable and oppressive and ought to be reduced.
Second, that our legal rights to transportation and market ought to be clearly set forth and defined.
Third, that if there be no such remedy, measures should be taken to secure one by appropriate legislation.
Fourth, that statistics should be collected and published to show the relation of the north-west products to those of the rest of the country.
Fifth, that nothing can be accomplished for the enforcement of our rights and the redress of our wrongs without an efficient organization on the well-known principles that give the great corporations such tremendous power.
Sixth, that with honest pay for honest labor, and compensation commensurate with great service, we can secure the assistance and support of the highest order of learning, ability and skill.
Seventh, that this convention should appoint a commissioner of agricultural and carrying statistics to prepare and publish, with the aid of eminent counsel, a report of the products of the north-west, the rights to market and transportation, and the remedies available for existing wrongs, the expenses thereof to be defrayed by subscription price for such report.
Kansas followed Illinois in the agitation for farmers' rights against the railroads. Then other Western states took up the cause. At a National Agricultural Congress held at Indianapolis, May 28, 1873, the following resolutions were adopted:
Whereas, we recognize the railways of the country as an effectual means of developing its agricultural resources, and as having an interest, common and inseparable, with the country through which they pass; and, whereas, we have in times past fostered and aided them by liberal charters and concessions, made by public and private parties, and still desire to encourage further development of the railway system; therefore
Resolved, that a fair degree of reciprocity would suggest that corporations having a common interest and public aid, should in their turn endeavor to subserve the interest of the country through which they pass, by charging fair rates of freights, and by the equitable and just treatment of all localities along their lines.
Resolved, that on the contrary railroad corporations in many instances have been exorbitant in their charges, have discriminated unjustly between localities and have failed to respond to the generous grants of powers and moneys that have been given to them by our national and state governments.
Resolved, that the system adopted and now practiced in the building of railroads, viz.: the soliciting of stock subscriptions from individuals, corporations and countries . . .; then requiring the producer and the shipper to pay dividends on the fictitious cost by charging excessive freight and passenger tariffs operates most injuriously to the best interests of the farming class, and calls loudly for reform and restraint by adequate legislation.
Resolved, that we recommend all farmers to withhold their voices and their aid from railway corporations, unless it be fully conceded and agreed that corporations so aided are subject to regulation by the power incorporating them, and will not, after receiving the advantages conferred by the public authority, claim the immunities of a private corporation. .
Resolved, that a railway, being practically a monopoly, controlling the transportation of nearly all the country through which it passes; and that as competition, except at a few points, cannot be relied on to fix rates, therefore it becomes the duty of the state to fix reasonable maximum rates, affording a fair remuneration to the transporter, and without being an onerous charge to the producer and consumer.
Resolved, that inasmuch as Belgium has succeeded in regulating the rates upon railways by government lines, we ask an investigation of the proposition to control the rates upon existing railways by trunk lines built and controlled by the state authorities and run at fixed uniform and cheap rates.
Resolved, that the consolidation of parallel lines of railway is contrary to public policy, and should be prohibited by law.
Resolved, that wherever a railway corporation owns or controls a line or lines in two or more states, it is the right and duty of the general government to regulate the rates of freight and fare upon such lines, under the constitutional power to regulate commerce between the states.1
Resolved, that we commend the thorough organization of the farmers of the country in local, county, and state organizations, for the purpose of reforming the great abuses and dealing out equal and exact justice to all men.
The resumption of specie payment, or the pledge of 106. The rethe United States to pay in coin at their full face value all sumption of specie paythe notes issued by the government during the stress of the ment, 1869Civil War, was attended with grave embarrassments. The debtor farmer communities of the West, who had done
1 Article I, Sect. VIII, par. 3. The general government had already begun to notice this question of the control of the railroads. A few months before the Indianapolis convention, President Grant, in his annual Message of December 2, 1872, had written: "The attention of Congress will be called during its present session to various enterprises for the more certain and cheaper transportation of the constantly increasing surplus of Western and Southern products to the Atlantic seaboard. The subject is one that will force itself upon the legislative branch of the Government sooner or later, and I suggest, therefore, that immediate steps be taken to gain all available information to ensure equable and just legislation."— Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. VII, p. 195. In spite of the opposition of the railways and the insistence of their counsel that Congress had no power to meddle with their affairs, a committee on railways and canals reported, through its chairman, G. H. McCrary, in January, 1874, affirming the power of Congress to regulate commerce between the states. The result of long debates on the subject was the Interstate Commerce Act of February 4, 1887 (See Muzzey, An American History, p. 425).