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It cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the right of continuous transportation from one end of the country to the other is essential in modern times to that freedom of commerce from the restraints which the State might choose to impose upon it, that the commerce clause was intended to secure. This clause, giving to Congress the power to regulate commerce among the States and with foreign nations was among the most important of the subjects which prompted the formation of the Constitution. And it would be a very feeble and almost useless provision, but poorly adapted to secure the entire freedom of commerce among the States which was deemed essential to a more perfect union by the framers of the Constitution, if at every stage of the transportation of goods and chattels through the country, the State within whose limits a part of this transportation must be done could impose regulations concerning the price, compensation, or taxation, or any other restrictive regulation interfering with and seriously embarrassing this commerce.
A statute of Illinois enacts that, if any railroad company shall, within that State, charge or receive for transporting passengers or freight of the same class, the same or a greater sum for any distance than it does for a longer distance, it shall be liable to a penalty for unjust discrimination. The defendant in this case made such discrimination in regard to goods transported over the same road or roads, from Peoria, in Illinois, and from Gilman, in Illinois, to New York; charging more for the same class of goods carried from Gilman than from Peoria, the former being eighty-six miles nearer to New York than the latter, this difference being in the length of the line within the State of Illinois.
Was the statute a regulation of commerce, thus, should have been enacted by the Congress of the United States under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution?
The Court concluded that the type of regulation was one that had to be, if established at all, of a general and national character, and could not be safely and wisely remitted to local rules and local regulations. The Court held that the statute was a regulation of commerce, and of a national scope. Accordingly, the regulation could only appropriately exist if it had been enacted by the Congress of the United States under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Because it was not, it was void and unenforceable.