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NORTHERN SECURITIES CO. v. UNITED STATES (1904)

Whereas the Slaughterhouse Cases in the Court sanctioned a government-created private monopoly, in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, the U.S. government would for the first time dismantle one of the monster corporations that controlled much of the American economy.

Industrial growth following the C^ivilWir resulted in the emergence of tens of thousands of small entrepreneurs. At the same time, new technology vastly increased the cost of establishing business. Thus, the cost ot a primitive oil refinery in the 1850s was about $500, but had grown, with technological complexity, to $72,000 when J. D. Rockefeller bought his first refinery in 1865. The result was combinations of industries. Industrialists found more and more ingenious ways to combine for the purpose of eliminating cut-throat competition. Not only were there trusts in sugar, oil, and steel, but also in bicycles, playing cards, whiskey, coal, salt, cotton seed, and more. By the 1880s, it was clear to the public and to the business community that some controls had to be put in place by the federal government.

Astride them all, stretching from Chicago to San Francisco, were three oreat railroad networks: the Northern Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy.The first of these was controlled by the financial czar of Wall Street, J. Pierpont Morgan. He was allied with J. J. Hill, who controlled the Great Northern, which in turn closely patrolled the Northern Pacific. South of these was Edward Harnmans Union Pacific. Whoever could get control of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy could control transcontinental transportation out of Chicago, which meant virtually everywhere. First Harriman and then Hill went to work to gain control of the Burlington. When it looked like the dust would never settle, the combatants declared a truce, joined together, declared a collective victory, and set up a mammoth trust capitalized at $400 million, called the Northern Securities Company. That arrangement, launched in May 1901, was not completed until November. In the meantime, someone shot President William McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt, "that darned cowboy" (as McKinley supporter Mark Hannah characterized him), became president. Roosevelt had different ideas.

Roosevelt was determined to assert the force of government, as much to make the point of who was boss as to remedy die problem of monopoly. He charged his attorney general, Philander C. Knox, with the job of bringing the Sherman Antitrust Act to bear on the Northern Securities combine. On March 10, 1902, suit was filed. The legal issue came down to the question of whether a "mere" stock trade constituted interstate commerce under the terms of the Sherman Act. In the end Northern Securities lost in a 5-4 decision. The Courts close decision was not a death blow to monopolistic consolidations. Consolidations continued, though much abated.

Teddy Roosevelt's successor, William Howard Taft, launched many more "trust busting" suits than did Roosevelt. More by effective creation of a symbolic episode than bv practical results, Teddy Roosevelt had made his point: the United States government and, in the end, Teddy Roosevelt, were bigger than Northern Securities and J.P. Morgan.

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