Tracy E. Danese


The 1887 Florida Legislature created the state’s first Railroad Commission to curb monopoly abuses by railroad companies. 1 The legislation, which vested regulatory jurisdiction in a three-person commission appointed by the governor, was popular and suited to the reform tenor of the times. It had passed unanimously in the house and with only three dissenting votes in the senate. 2 Yet, in a peculiar twist of Florida political history, the commission’s statutory basis was abruptly repealed only four years later. Florida’s intrastate rail service was left once again unfettered by regulatory constraints.3 Then, six years later, the legislature reestablished the commission in almost its original form.4 Such quick reversals of political direction strongly infer that collateral issues dominated the outcome on the main question of railroad regulation. The episode prompts a two-fold question: Why the repeal in the first place, and why reenactment six years later? This article explores the interrelated dynamics of senatorial elections prior to enactment of the 17th Amendment, the agrarian reform movement and railroad politics in the context of those questions.