The Railroad Question

Performed by William Jennings Bryan
Recorded July 21, 1908

The right of Congress to exercise complete control over interstate commerce, and the right of each state to exercise just as complete control over commerce within its borders, can no longer be questioned. But it is necessary that there shall be an enlargement of the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission to enable it to compel railroads to perform their duties as common carriers and to prevent discrimination and extortion. The first step in the direction of supervision and rate legislation is to be found in the valuation of the railroad, and we believe that the Interstate Commerce Commission should be authorized to make such valuation, taking into consideration not only the physical value of the property but the original cost of production and all other elements which enter into a fair and just evaluation. We believe that railroads should be prohibited from engaging in business which brings them into competition with their shippers, that the older issue of stocks and bonds should be prevented, and that such reductions should be made as conditions justify, care being taken to avoid reduction that would compel a reduction of wages, prevent adequate service, or do injustice to legitimate investment. The Interstate Commerce Commission should have the power to take the initiative in the determination of rate and all traffic agreements should be subject to the approval of the commission. Telegraph lines and telephone lines, so far as they are engaged in interstate commerce, should be also under the jurisdiction of the Interstate Commerce Commission. In other words, these quasi-public corporations must recognize the obligations which they owe to the public and the government acting to its reported agents should be in a position to require obedience to law, and submission to necessary regulations. Railroad managers sometimes assume that the general public is bent on injustice, but this is a mistake. There is a sense of justice among the masses and this sense of justice can always be appealed to. The Democratic party is not hostile to railroads, but it is hostile to the mismanagement of railroads and to the extortion that is sometimes practiced by railroads. It insists upon fair play and nothing more. It insists that the patron as well as the stockholder must be considered, and it believes that friendly relations between the railroads and the public can only be maintained by an understanding of the situation and by the recognition, by all corporations, of the supremacy of the government.