Sterne, Simon

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STERNE, SIMON (1839–1901), U.S. lawyer and reformer. Sterne, who was born in Philadelphia, was admitted to the bar in Pennsylvania (1859) and New York (1860). He practiced law in New York and concurrently pursued the study and teaching of political economy, which he called the "science of liberty," and helped to introduce a number of practical reforms. On a visit to England in 1865, he encountered some of the leading personalities in social reforms, including John Stuart Mill, John Bright, and Thomas Hare, who were proponents of proportional representation. They encouraged Sterne's energetic espousal of a number of causes, including free trade, proportional representation, improvement in the drafting of legislation, democratizing political party methods and standards, and improving the accountability of railroads to the public, all of which he supported in his speeches, articles, and organizational activities.

Sterne was most widely known for the achievement of two successful reforms: demolition of the Tweed ring's hold on New York City politics and the regulation of railroads in the public interest through the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission (icc), the first U.S. regulatory commission. As the secretary of the Committee of Seventy, which for several years pursued New York City's boss Tweed and the "corrupt judges, venal legislators, and complacent lawyers" who had cooperated to put and retain him in power, Sterne was instrumental in obtaining Tweed's conviction in 1873 for forgery and larceny. Sterne's role in the creation of the icc began with his drafting a state railroad regulation bill in 1874. He conducted the investigations of the New York State Hepburn Commission into railroad administrative abuses (1879–80), and in 1882 the legislature passed a railroad commission act along the lines of Sterne's draft.

The legislative commission's report became a model for local and national government investigation and regulation of railroads. When the U.S. Senate began preparing legislation for national regulation, Sterne was consulted. He drafted some of the provisions of what was to be the law establishing the Interstate Commerce Commission, and was retained as counsel in some of the commission's most important lawsuits. In his private law practice Sterne was counsel for a number of corporations, railroad companies, and businesses.


J. Foord, Life and Public Services of Simon Sterne (1903).