I know this is a bit of a broad question, but what did leading thinkers and the American public think about government control of railroads as they were coming into widespread use post-Reconstruction?

I've heard two different stories: that there was demand for the government to own railroads and that there was pressure only for regulation of railroads. I'm sure they were both around to some degree, but was one more dominant than the other?

Even if you don't have a definite answer, I'd appreciate any hints as to where I should look. Quick Google searches haven't served me well in this case. My curiosity stems from all the talk of net neutrality and such, with the government regulating the Internet. I'm in a class which is currently studying the Gilded Age and we've talked about the emergence of railroads a great deal. I'm wondering how the public handled a groundbreaking technology like railroads compared to how we're handling the Internet today.

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Railroads were considered by economic historians to be central to the development of the United States beginning from the second half of the 19th century.

Despite this obvious benefit, farmers and city dwellers alike feared that the railroads were earn monopoly profits by "charging what the market would bear." Beginning in the 1880s, there were calls for regulation. The earliest issue was one of equal tariffs for everyone (large and small, local and national consumers), and disclosure of the same, because railroads represented interstate commerce. This was equivalent to today's call for "net neutrality."

Later (post Gilded Age, "Progressive") calls for regulation included the rate regulation of railroads almost as if they were utilities, with price caps that would allow a fair rate of return for the railroads, but prevent them from using their (quasi) monopoly powers to maximize profits. This was instituted through the Hepburn Act of 1906 and later legislation.


I think you must study President Grant, the economic depression of his tenure, the Black Hills gold, and the unjust war against the Plains Indians. President Grant facilitated the railroads to bring in settlers, kill all the buffalo to starve the Indians, and take over the Black Hills gold fields to support the country's economy. The Federal government supported the railroad magnates by giving them the land along the railroads, obviously a huge asset for the developing economy.

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