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In 1850 the State of New York enacted a Free Railroad Law which represented perhaps the most sweeping legislative endorsement of laissez faire in American history. With remarkable speed, state after state followed suit, expressing the New York doctrine of political economy: faith in the wonder-working qualities of the “natural laws of trade.” And yet, in 1887 the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act formally signaled the end of laissez faire in transportation.
The merchants, farmers, railroaders and financiers all had quite different ideas as to the proper allocation of economic rewards, and they expressed their ideas in no uncertain terms. However, there was general agreement that free enterprise must be maintained, although free competition as such might fall by the wayside.