The origins of the Texas Railroad Commission
Fowler, Pamela McDougald
Hyman, Harold M.
Master of Arts
The political and economic structures of nineteenth-century Texas did not mirror fidelity to laissez faire ideology. Like their neighbors to the north and east, Anglo Texans sought to develop their state's economy by whatever means seemed practicable. Railroads provided the technological solution to Texas' formidable transportation problems. But the state did not have the resources to build a rail network. To attract private investment, Texas subsidized railroad corporations with land grants on the state level and tax-supported bond subscriptions as well as cash gifts on the county and municipal levels of government. From the beginning of subsidization, the state government regulated corporate activities. American courts developed three legal doctrines to legitimize subsidization and regulation. They were the common law doctrine of "public interest," the eminent domain power, and the state police power. As the economic clout of corporate business increased, majoritarian state governments undertook more stringent regulation. They delegated certain powers of sovereignty to agencies which could formulate regulations having the force of law. The agencies were empowered to enforce their regulations. The Texas Railroad Commission was a prime example of such an agency. Its creation represented a culmination of legal and political development over the course of the century.