Nathaniel Hillyer. Egleston.

The North American review (Volume 139) online

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in this way dimmish the labors and anxieties of their managers.
Nearly one-fourth of the entire force of employe's on our large
railways are engaged in manufacturing and repairing, and in
most cases they labor under great disadvantages, and are sub
jected to great inconveniences, both by reason of the disposition
of their forces and the character of the tools and appliances.

Taking into consideration the average condition of the road
beds of our railways, too high a rate of speed has been attempted,
both for passenger and freight trains. Somebody has said that
if two trains were about to start for a certain place, one of them
by a route known to be perfectly safe, but on slow time, and the
other by a route necessitating the crossing of a trestle over one
corner of the infernal regions, the average passenger would pre
fer the latter route. The engineers themselves, with their lives
in their hands, often assume the most imprudent risks. Increased
speed involves, of course, increased friction, and consequent
wear and tear to both rolling-stock and track. Fast trains are
undoubtedly a great convenience to the traveling public, who
would hardly be content to have them discontinued; but
they are expensive for the railroad companies, and the small
additional charge in the rate of fare does not compensate
for the extra cost of running them. The ordinary passenger
does not understand these things, and probably does not care
to, and as he glides along at the rate of fifty miles an


hour, lie blandly inquires of the conductor, "When is your
company going to reduce the fares?' 7 Estimating fifty cents
per mile as the cost per train mile, it costs in round numbers
five hundred dollars for each trip between Chicago and New
York. One train each way for the three lines would make 2190
trips, costing $1,095,000 as the annual expense to the railways.
It is extremely doubtful whether any corresponding net result
is obtained. Passenger fares, at best, are too low. Through the
introduction of various improvements, and the reduced cost of
some materials, the expense of operating has been very materially
reduced ; but the reduction in rates for transportation has been
in greater ratio than the reduction in expenses justified. The
percentage of passenger expenses is greater than that of freight.
These facts, I think, have not been appreciated by the traveling
public. Economical measures for the time being are exhausted,
and expenses have been reduced to a minimum. In 1850, when
a passenger rode from New York to Chicago, sitting up two
nights in an ordinary, not over-cleanly, and illy ventilated car,
and arrived perhaps five hours late, he was tolerably well satis
fied. Now, if after riding twenty-seven hours in an elegant
coach, he should by any chance happen to have his trip extended
two hours, he will expect a rebate in his fare.

Considering the wholesale denunciation that has been in
dulged in against the leading railway managers of this country
(much of it undeserved), it is refreshing to contemplate the fact,
that the number that have brought discredit upon the system is,
in comparison with the whole number engaged, exceedingly
limited. A few men possessing little or no knowledge of prac
tical management, have obtained the control of some great rail
way system, and assumed a responsibility for which they were
fitted neither by education nor by experience. When such men
have retired at the end of a few years, with a wealth of several
millions of dollars, it has naturally aroused suspicions of irregu
larity. It would be conferring no benefit upon the railway
system of this country to attempt to shield the conduct of such
men ; it would have been far better if their actions had been
more mercilessly exposed at the outset ; but the railway system
is not to be judged by any such standard as these few exceptions
present, and my remarks are designed to have an exceedingly
limited application, and are not intended to reflect in any man
ner upon the active managers of our railways, who, as a class,


are as thoroughly honest and conscientious a body of men as
can be found in any branch of commercial life.

The great advantages possessed by the older lines are in their
right of way, and terminal facilities, in and through the larger
cities. The volume of business that a railway can command is
often governed, not by capacity of rolling-stock, but by its
ability to handle freight at important terminals. This fact is
daily becoming more fully appreciated as the necessity for these
facilities becomes apparent. The neglect of some of the larger
lines to provide proper terminal and local accommodations at
important railway points, has proved serious, and of course the
difficulty will increase from year to year j the cost of supplying
them will be greater, and the possibility of securing them will
be more remote. For this reason alone it is not probable that
any more trunk lines will be constructed between Chicago and
New York.

The cost of terminal facilities to any new through line would
approximate one-third of the entire cost of the line. The three
most valuable, as well as most convenient, terminals in this
country are those of the Pennsylvania Central in Philadelphia,
the New York Central in New York, and the Illinois Central in
Chicago. Imagine any of these lines making application at
this late day for the right of way into the hearts of these great
cities. With what success would they meet? The early man
agers of these lines were far-sighted, and secured what they
regarded prospectively as necessary accommodations. Certainly
some credit is due them for this sagacity, and they should be
allowed to place upon these advantages a just present value. It
is practically impossible for any new line constructed at this
late day to compete successfully with lines enjoying such
extraordinary advantages. Sooner or later all the railways,
except the tunnel routes, entering the large cities, will be com
pelled to adopt the elevated system. The necessity for this
will become more apparent as the population of these places
increases ; the longer the work is postponed, the more expensive
it will prove, but the event is inevitable. And to none will the
work prove more advantageous than to the railways, giving
them advantages both as regards speed and safety, as well as
economy of operation, that can be secured in no other way.

Most of the difficulties that have surrounded the railways in
the past may be attributed either to causes inherent in the


system or to the irregularities of those that have secured tem
porary control of them. The embarrassments with which they
will have to contend in the future, it appears to me, will be of a
somewhat different nature, though to a certain extent growing
out of past evils. Some of these may be stated as follows :

First. The burden of unproductive branches that they have
acquired by lease, purchase, or construction, which do not earn
enough to pay their fixed charges.

Second. Oppressive legislation. If any one doubts that there
is danger from this source, let him examine the calendar of any
of our State legislative bodies after they have been in session a
few weeks, and note the number of bills that are hostile to the
interests of railways. Each member appears to regard it as a
solemn duty to his constituents to introduce at least one bill of
this character during a session ; and the extent to which this
warfare has been carried on does not argue well for the future.

Third. The hostility of the press, which, in its strife for
popularity with producers, shippers, and politicians, evinces a
disposition to magnify every little evil in the system, and ridi
cule every effort in the direction of reform, by which course it
practically encourages the communistic tendencies of the age.
In the discussion of the difficult problem of railway transporta
tion, which has been carried on through the press during the
past fifteen years, the railways have not been allowed a fair
presentation of their case 5 and even in courts of justice they
have had to encounter much judicial prejudice engendered by
the press in its uncandid statements of fact. The railway papers
have striven faithfully to overcome the prejudices excited against
the great interest they represent ; but the general public do not
read these papers, and therefore their efforts, read only by the
railway officials, are like sermons to the converted. A statement
published in the last number of " Poor's Manual/' does great in
justice to the railway interest of this country. It says that
" stocks and bonds to the amount of $530,132,000 were listed at
the New York Stock Exchange in 1883, .... equivalent
to about $80,000 per mile of new road built during the year."
And then it adds, by way of explanation, "A considerable
amount, however, of the securities listed was on account of old
works." After explaining how so large an amount came to
be listed, and what a large portion it really represented, the
"Manual" proceeds to say: "It is in this immense increase of


fictitious capital that is to be found the cause of the general dis
trust which prevails." The simple fact is, that the amount of
bonds listed in any one year bears no relation whatever to the
number of miles of road constructed during that year. An edi
torial was published in the Chicago "Evening Journal "a few
weeks since, founded upon Mr. Poor's statement of the cost of
the roads of this country, from which the following is an extract :

" If the roads had cost only what it would cost now to build them, only
one-half as much net earnings would be required to pay interest and dividend
charges, and their rates for passengers and freight might be reduced in pro

While it is true that many items that enter into the cost of
construction of a railway are to-day lower in price than they
were a few years since, nothing like? the reduction implied has
taken place. If the remark applies at all, it would only apply
to such lines as were constructed between 1869 and 1873. Many
of the older lines could not be duplicated for double the sum
they cost, and these constitute a large portion of the mileage of
the country. But in this statement the writer entirely ignores
a most important fact, viz., that the railways for the most part
are not able, and do not attempt, on the basis of the present
tariff, to pay any dividend or interest on a very large portion of
the nominal capital referred to by Mr. Poor, and could not if
they wished. Transportation charges are not based upon cost
or value of road, but upon cost of carrying, and are regulated
by that inexorable law of trade known as competition.

Fourth. Increase of freight earnings, with a disproportion
ate increase in tonnage moved, showing that a larger amoLint of
freight is being carried at lower rates. This is a noticeable
feature in the annual reports of many of our large railways,
published during the past three years, and indicates a general
shrinkage in rates.

Fifth. The increase of operation expenses disproportionate
to that of gross earnings, shows that the additional business
is done without profit ; or, in other words, it shows that the
operating expenses have been brought down as low as possible.
Forces have been reduced wherever it was practicable to do so ;
but until some reduction can be effected in the prices of labor
(and this I believe to be inevitable, despite the promise of pro-


tection), no marked decrease in the percentage of operation
expenses can be looked for.

Sixth. The clamorous and unreasonable demands of shippers,
both as to rates and facilities, the extent of which can only be
known to those that come more directly in contact with this
class, whose claims are often presented with a degree of per
sistence and selfishness that places them beyond the pale of

Seventh. The attitude of the railways toward one another,
even in cases where their interests appear to be identical ; as
shown by the want of unanimity among their chief officials,
and by insincerity in making, and faithlessness in keeping,
agreements ; in winking at the trickery of subordinates, in
cutting rates, in over-loading cars, in under-billing weight,
in paying rebates, and in making time contracts. " You have
not kept your agreement to maintain rates, and have been
getting more than your share of business," said one freight
agent to another. " Oh, well," was the reply, " you keep the
agreement, and I will keep the business."

Eighth. A foolish and unnecessary rivalry between the prin
cipal competing lines, resulting in a needless and continuous
decrease in rates, and a consequent reduction in net income.

Ninth. Increased and indiscriminate issue of free passes.
Even that class of passes known as " annuals," which were
originally exchanged as a matter of courtesy, have proved an
excessive annoyance to the officers issuing them, who would
gladly discontinue an evil that they are powerless even to check.

Tenth. Popular prejudice against pools, concerning which
there appears to be a great misapprehension in the public mind,
though for protecting the interest of both shipper and railway
alike, the plan seems to be the only feasible one. It does not, as
many suppose, encourage extortion, nor does it countenance
discrimination, but serves as a protection and as an equalizing
power in the interest of both shipper and railway.

No one who has watched the course of events can have failed
to observe that a marked disintegration in railway property has
been going on during the past five years. Nor can it be doubted
that, if the present condition of affairs is allowed to continue, a
crisis is imminent. Many of the lines whose shares may now be
classed as purely speculative, have already practically passed
beyond the control of their managers. "With others, the status of


their ownership is so vague and indefinite that they appear to be
rapidly approaching that condition. Certain others, though not
experiencing actual embarrassment, are warned by the signs of
the times of the necessity of retrenchment. In contrast with
these, the prudently managed lines that have husbanded their
resources in the past, stand out in bold comparison, and view
(but not without anxiety) approaching events. But the railway
system of the country, divested of its fictions and fungous
growths, and guarded by a higher standard of morality, will, I
believe, again shine out with renewed splendor, and, under a
new and more stable order of things, will pursue the even tenor
of its way in working out the grand problem for which it was



IP England had ever possessed a constitution in the sense in
which that term has in modern times been used in other coun
tries meaning, that is to say, a written text of fundamental
law, distributing and denning the powers of government it
would not be difficult to foretell how changes can from time to
time be made in the political structure. But in this sense Eng
land has never had but one frame of government that could be
called a constitution. This was the political system imposed by
Cromwell in the famous instrument that established the Protec
torate ; a system that was mainly the product of his own genius.
The old monarchy that fell, apparently forever, when the axe
descended upon the neck of Charles I., survived only as a possi
ble claim in the person of his son, Charles II. While Oliver
lived, the Royalists, however numerous and respectable as a
party, could only conspire against one of the most vigorous
rulers that ever held supreme power in the British isles. If
Richard Cromwell had been a man capable of wielding the
scepter that his father had prepared for him, England would
have gone on with a constitution deliberately framed and cap
able of such modifications as future circumstances might have
required. But Richard, unable on the one hand to control the
military chiefs of his own party, or the soldiery either, or on the
other hand to encounter the Royalists, meekly and quietly laid
down the power that had descended to him. The Restoration
brought back the old monarchy, in the person of Charles II.,
without any change in the King's prerogatives, and without the
guarantees that ought to have been required. By a fiction that
admirably answered its purpose, the Parliament, which had
recalled the King and restored the monarchy, was transformed
into the old legislature of the realm, consisting of the Lords
spiritual and temporal as one chamber, and the Commons of



England as the other coordinate branches of one supreme legis
lative power, with the King as supreme executive magistrate,
and at the same time as an independent and coordinate part of
the legislative authority, because of his acknowledged right to
sanction or reject all acts of legislation.

The old frame of civil polity, thus restored, remained after the
Restoration substantially what it had been before. It remains
the same to this day j for, notwithstanding the growth of the
power of the House of Commons, the rise and function of the
ministry, the denial and discontinuance of the sovereign's
power of dispensing with the laws, and all the other reforms
or changes of the past two centuries, the frame of government
continues to be the sovereign and the two houses of the legisla
ture. And to this day England has no constitution save the
unwritten law that has always recognized the several functions
of the King, the Lords, and the Commons, as the divisions of
the state, founded in and fixed by immemorial usage.

As a basis of government, an unwritten constitution may be
as good as a written one. In a country where regular govern
ment, accompanied by a fair increase of liberty, has existed long
enough to make usage, in the acceptance of the governed, a firm
ground on which to rest the duty of civil obedience, an unwrit
ten constitution is by no means an unsafe basis of a state. But
the two kinds of constitutions are essentially unlike. In our
sense of a constitution, England never had one before the time
of Oliver Cromwell, and it has never had one since his day. It
has had nothing but institutions, great and admirable institu
tions, the growth of more than a thousand years, adapted to the
genius and habits of the people, capable of slow and safe ameli
oration, and affording many most valuable examples of the
application of certain divisions in the framework of govern
ment, of which we in America have largely availed ourselves.
All these divisions of the powers of government are in England
nothing but institutions. The House of Commons is an insti
tution ; the House of Lords is an institution ; the sovereign is
an institution. Excepting, perhaps, in the initiation of money
bills, or bills for raising revenue, the legislative function of the
House of Lords is coordinate and equal with that of the House
of Commons. Upon the recognized principles of what is called
the British constitution, the House of Commons has no more
right to demand the assent of the Lords to a bill than the


Lords have to demand the same thing of the Commons. The
House of Commons has no more right than the House of
Lords to say that it speaks the will of the nation. The will of
the nation is expressed through an act of legislation j and an
act of legislation cannot become an expression of that will
until it has passed regularly through both houses of Parliament,
according to certain forms, and then received the royal assent.
Even after a dissolution, when the ministry has appealed to the
people on any question arising by reason of the rejection by the
Lords of a measure sent up from the Commons, and a majority,
however large, has been returned to the House of Commons
under circumstances that show clearly that a majority of the
constituencies support the ministry upon that very measure, the
power and the duty of the Lords in regard to it remain just
what they were before. If a majority of the Lords shall think
that the public welfare is really not to be promoted by their
concurrence, they have the same right to refuse their concur
rence that the Commons have to ask for it. This is the familiar
principle that runs through all governments having a dual
legislature; it is what gives value to the distribution of the
legislative authority into two chambers. If each of them is not
independent of the other, if they are not coordinate and equal
in power on all matters that are not recognized as constituting
fixed exceptions, as, for example, in reference to money bills,
there is virtually but one chamber, and the existence of the
second one is a form approaching to the character of a farce. If,
in any case of serious conflict between the Lords and the Com
mons, the former think it expedient to give way, they do so j not
because they are destitute of the rightful power to act on their
own convictions, but because they are the rightful judges of
what it is best for them to do in the particular case whether it
is better to allow a measure that they disapprove to become a
law, than to have a turmoil in which agitators and demagogues
can inflame public feeling against them. When a crisis of this
kind arises, it strikes an impartial foreigner as something amaz
ingly inconsistent with the acknowledged principles of the
British constitution, and with the theory of all other free gov
ernments possessing a dual legislature, to hear the House of
Lords threatened with abolishment of their function in the
state, because they do not concur in a measure promoted by the
ministry of the day, and sent up to them from the House of


Commons. If the House of Lords, with its immemorial rights
and powers, as ancient at least as the rights and powers of the
Commons, and resting upon the same basis of prescription,
exists for any useful purpose, it is as a check on legislation, in
order to secure the benefits of wise consideration by an order of
men who do not hold their seats by the same tenure as that by
which the members of the lower house hold theirs. Surely, there
fore, it cannot be anything but an encroachment upon the inde
pendent right of the Lords to decide for themselves whether they
will concur in a measure, to threaten them and the whole people
of Great Britain with what must be a revolution, whenever and
however it is brought about, unless they decide a public ques
tion in the way in which they are required to decide it by a
power that has just the same and no higher function in the
state than they have.

When one of these conflicts arises, and we begin to hear dis
cussions of the expediency or necessity of abolishing the House
of Lords, there are some interesting facts of which all in
telligent foreigners are at once reminded, although they do
not materially affect the practical questions that will be be
fore the British people whenever the idea of dispensing
with the House of Lords shall be seriously entertained. If
anything like a separate computation could be made, be
ginning with the day when the Barons of England extorted
from King John all that Magna Charta secured for their fellow-
subjects as well as for their own order, and coming down to the
present time, it might perhaps be found that the English
aristocracy, in their capacity of hereditary legislators, have done
as much for liberty as has been done by the House of Com
mons ; and if to their side of the account should be added the
good they have done by checking unwise legislation, there would
be a very respectable summary of their historical merits as a
ruling order in the state. Among these reminiscences, some at
least might be found of peculiar interest to us. We might be
reminded of the fact that, although the measures that led to the
American Eevolution were concurred in by a majority of the
Lords, it was in the House of Commons that that steady, unfail
ing, ever reliable power lay, which enabled George III. to mis
govern these colonies until he drove them into rebellion. Nay,
we might be reminded that for a long while the head and front
of the opposition that resisted the ministry of that day, in all


things relating to America, was a peer of the realm, the excel
lent, wise, although not very powerful Marquis of Rockingham,

Online LibraryNathaniel Hillyer. EglestonThe North American review (Volume 139) → online text (page 53 of 60)