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The Elkins Act is a 1903 United States federal law that amended the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The Elkins Act authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to impose heavy fines on railroads that offered rebates, and upon the shippers that accepted these rebates. The railroad companies were not permitted to offer rebates. Railroad corporations, their officers, and their employees, were all made liable for discriminatory practices.
Prior to the Elkins Act, the livestock and petroleum industries paid standard rail shipping rates, but then would demand that the railroad company give them rebates. The railroad companies resented being extorted by the railroad trusts and therefore welcomed passage of the Elkins Act. The law was sponsored by President Theodore Roosevelt as a part of his "Square Deal" domestic program, and greatly boosted his popularity.
It has been argued that the Elkins Act was drafted by Congress on behalf of the railroads, and that while some railroads curtailed rebates for some customers, for others the practice continued unabated. Congress was criticized for enacting only monetary fines for violations of the law and avoiding imposition of criminal penalties.
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