A Response to Chicago Railway: Minnesota Farmers' Fight for Lower Railroad Rates in the 1890s

Jobe, Matthew, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
McCurdy, Charles, Department of History, University of Virginia
Goluboff, Risa, School of Law, University of Virginia

In March of 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Chicago Railway that the reasonableness of a railroad rate set by the Minnesota Railroad and Warehouse Commission (RWC) was “eminently a question for judicial investigation, requiring due process of law for its determination.” Courts around the country now had the authority and duty to overturn rates if they unreasonably deprived railroads of profits from their property.
This Article decenters the Supreme Court and is a constitutional history from below. It contends that the conflict between Minnesota farmers and railroads continued in full force after 1890 and that farmers actually achieved significant victories by passing legislation that gave the state more control over the railroad industry. It also argues that, because the Court only put an imprecise limitation on rate setting in Chicago Railway, farmers and their allies effectively secured lower railroad rates by bringing complaints to the RWC and winning at the state supreme court. This Article shows the extent of the farmers’ success by describing the key developments in Minnesota between 1890 and 1898, when the Supreme Court again weighed in on the question of reasonable rates.

MA (Master of Arts)
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