Railroad Commission

Source: Rowland, Dunbar, ed. Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, in three volumes. Vol. 2. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907. pages 499-502

Railroad Commission. Agitation for legislative supervision of the railroads resulted in the passage of the Barry railroad bill in the latter portion of the session of 1878, which declared all railroads to be public highways and the companies common carriers, prohibited the consolidating of parallel lines and discriminations, and fixed maximum rates for the transportation of cotton. Governor Stone did not return the bill, which act was called a "pocket veto," and at the next session he sent in a veto, on the ground that the act was in violation of that clause of the United States constitution forbidding laws to impair the obligation of contracts. In this legislature, (1880), a bill was introduced in the senate by W. W. Humphreys, known as the "Humphreys bill," which provided for a railroad commissioner to be elected by the legislature, to see to the enforcement of the requirements of the bill against discrimination and extortion in rates. The bill was debated at great length in both houses, passed the senate, but failed on the last day of the session to reach final vote in the house. The legislature adopted a memorial to congress appealing to that body to regulate freight rates on interstate railroads.

In his message of 1884 Governor Lowry said: "The right of the State to supervise railroads within constitutional limits, so as to restrain them from unjust discriminations and exorbitant charges for the transportation of persons and property, has been asserted at various times by the people of Mississippi. Other States of the American Union have exercised, and are now exercising this attribute of sovereignty with results somewhat varied, but in the main satisfactory. . . . I do not doubt the jurisdiction of the State to protect her citizens from abuses committed by railroads, with reference to domestic or internal commerce, but whether it is competent for the State to regulate interstate commerce or such parts thereof as may directly affect her people, to the extent of fixing or limiting the amount of charges for fare and freight thereon, even when congress has failed to assert its acknowledged jurisdiction over the subject, I regard as unsettled and doubtful. . . . I apprehend that evils might be so great as to justify the enactment of laws of doubtful constitutionality, in order to have them tested by the proper tribunals, for the purpose of obtaining relief by this means, if possible, where there is no other remedy, but when this course is adopted, there should be no doubt of or uncertainty as to the existence or gravity of the evils." He suggested "a just and liberal policy," and called attention to reductions in charges made by some of the roads.

A bill for railroad supervision passed both houses early in the session thus addressed by the governor, and he returned the same with a veto. The bill was then modified according to the governor's objections, and became a law March 11, 1884, under the title, "An act to provide for the regulation of freight and passenger rates on railroads in this State, and to create a commission to supervise the same, and for other purposes." It provided for a railroad commission of three, representing the three supreme court districts. Roads that discriminate in freight or passenger rates shall be guilty of extortion, and liable, either for damages to the injured party, or a fine of not less than ten or more than five hundred dollars. It requires the railroads to submit their tariff charges for transportation to the commissioners, whose duty it is to revise said tariff charges. It requires the railroads to poast their freight rates at their depot doors and makes the giving of rebates a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. It is also the duty of the commission to inspect depots and see that suitable ones are provided. The Governor appointed as the first commission: John M. Stone, W. B. Augustus and William McWillie. The legislature elected William McWillie, J. F. Sessions and John C. Kyle in 1886; Walter McLaurin, Sessions and Kyle in 1888, and McLaurin, Sessions and J. H. Askew in 1890.

The constitution of 1890 provided for election by the people of the three districts, the first election being fixed by ordinance of the convention in November, 1891, the board elect to serve until January, 1896, thereafter the board, chosen at general elections, to serve four years. McLaurin, Sessions and Askew were reelected for 1891-96; John D. McInnis, M. M. Evans and J. J. Evans for 1896-1900. In 1896 the salary was reduced to $2,000 a year.

J. J. Evans, president of the board, died November 19, 1899. He had had a distinguished official career in the Confederate military service, as chancery clerk of Monroe county and eight years treasurer of State. J. C. Kincannon, who has been elected in November, was appointed by the governor. The board in 1900-04, was John D. McInnis, Albert Q. May and J. C. Kincannon; in 1904 to the present, S. D. McNair, president, J. C. Kincannon, and R. L. Bradley, and T. R. Maxwell, secretary.

Soon after the adjournment of the legislature, the Illinois Central railroad brought suit to test the constitutionality of the law, asking an injunction against the commissioners "commanding that they absolutely abstain from all acts of interference," etc., and a preliminary injunction was granted by Judge Hill of the United States court on the grounds of violation of contract with the corporation and regulation of interstate commerce. The commission appealed to the United States supreme court. Suits in the State courts were decided against the commission, which appealed to the State supreme court, where it was held that the State had power originally to prescribe for a railroad company, created by it, the rates of compensation, and that any exercise of this power, which does not hinder or burden interstate commerce, is not an infringement of the constitutional duty of congress to regulate commerce among the States. But the court held that when the State had granted a company the right to fix its rates within maximum limits, it could not interfere with charges so long as the company kept within those limits. Only one company had no maximum prescribed by its charter, and this one, the Natchez & Jackson, appealed to the supreme court of the United States. The supreme court of the United States, on appeal from Judge Hill, in 1885 reversed the lower court, and upheld the constitutionality of the supervision law in all particulars.

In 1888 the board was required to revised the railroad assessments, and the duties of a Board of Control of the penitentiary were added, which became onerous after the cancellation of the lease to the Gulf & Ship Island railroad.

The board reported at the close of 1889 that the results of railroad supervision had been to secure an uniform rate of three cents a mile for passengers, except on one narrow gauge line. This was not secured without much tedious negotiation. They formulated the "Mississippi Classification" of freight rates in 1886, and on this basis, also on the basis of the Mississippi Valley and the Southern Association classifications, endeavored to secure uniformity in the classification of freight. The Southern Association classification was adopted throughout the State in 1888, except by the Illinois Central road, operating one-fourth of the mileage in the State, against which suits were begun, and withdrawn when the road submitted under protest. The Illinois Central was operating a number of roads, and deriving the profit therefrom, but prior to 1889, freight passing from one of the lines to another took the local rate of each line. The company was required in 1889 to establish a straight tariff. In a variety of ways, and in various cases, the commissioners secured similar arrangements for the benefit of the public.

On September 19, 1900, the board issued an order fixing the rates on cotton seed. Injunctions were obtained in the United States court by the Illinois Central system against the enforcement of the rates, but subsequently the suits were dismissed, and the rates adopted, which it was estimated would save $60,000 annually to shippers. A case was brought against the Gulf & Ship Island road, to test the power of the board adversely to its charter, but the chancellor and the supreme court sustained the latter, "the effect of which is to guarantee the road its charter privileges." (Atty. Gen. report)

The commission in its report of 1900 complimented Mr. Fish of the Illinois Central, and Mr. Russell, of the Mobile & Ohio, upon their success in developing their properties and advancing the interests of the country. Yet, said the board, the present adjustment of rates is not fair, and if a readjustment were denied, the public weapon of taxation must be resorted to.

By the law of 1890 it was made unlawful for a railroad to disuse a depot without the consent of the commission, and the board was given jurisdiction of the adequacy of passenger car service, and condition of road way and bridges.

The commission reported in 1906, "we have made a great many improvements for the public convenience in the matter of depot and passenger facilities. We have materially increased the assessed valuation of railroads and telephones, and telegraph companies doing business in this State, the total increase in valuations amounting to $2,814,794. . . . We have adopted such modifications and reductions in freight rates and regulations as seemed proper, and made many orders of great importance, involving differences in freight charges of many thousand dollars." An order that Illinois Central fast trains should stop at Magnolia had been resisted, and appeal taken by the road from Judge Niles to the United States supreme court. The Alabama & Vicksburg railroad has appealed from the State supreme court to the United States supreme court in opposition to the fixing of a grain rate from Vicksburg to Meridian. The State supreme court had sustained the board in the Pontotoc depot order, and there were other cases of important litigation.

 


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