Chapter

Into the Ideological Breach

R. W. Kostal

in Law and English Railway Capitalism 1825–1875

Published in print October 1997 | ISBN: 9780198265672
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191682926 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198265672.003.0006
Into the Ideological Breach

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The Parliamentarians of the 1830s and 1840s had not intended to create private commercial monopolies over steam railway transport. They had imagined, rather, that the private railway acts would establish a network of privately owned rail ‘ways’ accessible to any party suitably equipped and able to pay tolls. Private railway acts were made to include clauses which purported to ensure that railway customers would receive ‘fair and equal’ treatment by the companies. Almost no scholarly attention has been paid to the sustained, bitter, and high-stakes litigation that these clauses generated. From the 1840s until the legislated reforms of I872, England's common law courts heard a long succession of cases concerning attempts by railway companies to monopolize the small freight trade on their lines. The autonomy of business decision-makers, the legality of predatory commercial practices, the survival of small business in the face of creeping corporate monopolism—all of these issues were left to the courts to resolve. More directly than other Victorian decision-makers, English judges were obligated both to confront the commercial conflicts engineered by the rise of powerful domestic corporations, and to repair the breach that monopoly capitalism had caused in liberal economic dogma.

Keywords: private railway acts; transportation monopolies; railway companies; monopoly capitalism

Chapter.  17329 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Law

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