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JOSEPH HENRY BEALE, JR.,
BUSSEY PROFESSOR OF LAW IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF LAW IN HARVARD UNIVERSITY.
BY JOSEPH HENRY BEALE, JR.,
LIMARY OF THE
LELAND STANFORD, JR., UNIVERSITY
The passage of the Federal Railroad Rate Act of 1906 has both emphasized the present importance and added to the future importance of the law governing the regulation of railroad rates. In all interstate shipments, which comprise so large a proportion of our railroad traffic, and in the local shipments of a very large number of our States, the maximum rates are now regulated by law; either directly by legislature, or (as is usually the case) by the action of a commission under authority conferred by the legislature.
It is hardly necessary at this time to call special attention to the practical importance to every member of the community of the charges made by the railroads. To the vast majority these charges are an important part of the cost of their food; it is in the power of the great trunk lines, except where the law can restrain them, by an increase of rates to cause a famine as serious as would be caused by a complete failure of the crops. To a great number of our people, on the other hand,—to the great farmers of the interior, to the ranch men of the plains, to the planters of the South, to the manufacturers of the seaboard, and to the millions of their employes who are dependent upon their prosperity, railroad charges are of greater immediate importance. The railroads, if unrestrained by law, can prosper or can ruin them; they can build up a great and flourishing business, or they can turn an industrious city into a wilderness again. That power such as this should be the subject of legal restraint is inevitable; that the legal qualities and limitations of such restraint should be of the greatest interest to the profession and to the people at large is clear.