Free Society, Technology

Railroad to Cross the Nation

(c) 2012 – Earl Haehl  Permission is granted to redistribute this in whole as long as credit is given.  Book rights are reserved.

Presidential Beginnings

Abraham Lincoln, at the time of his election as President, was a well-to-do lawyer whose chief client was the Illinois Central Railroad. His handling of the Government Bridge Case led a significant achievement in the shape of American transportation and may be of more import to the future of the Republic than anything that happened in his prosecution of the 1861-65 war. During the trial phase of the case he met Grenville Dodge—as the two talked on a summer evening on a porch in Davenport, Iowa, where they drew a line on a map from Omaha, Nebraska, to San Francisco, California. That route, not previously surveyed, became the route for the Pacific Railway that was approved by Congress in 1862. This was necessary, so said the President, to keep California from joining the Confederacy which had a route surveyed from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Lincoln also held two patents which made barge traffic easier, but his defense of the Davenport Bridge made barge traffic less important.

Jefferson Davis was, at the time, Secretary of War. As such, he had an interest in maintaining the navigability of the Mississippi River which was contrary to the necessity for the bridge. Having been ordered to survey routes for a Transcontinental Railroad, his War Department surveyed four likely routes and recommended a Southern Route—even acquiring land from Mexico via the Gadsden Purchase.  It should be noted that the Southern Route was chosen because there were fewer obstacles to construction.

The transcontinental railroad was finished in 1869. Lincoln was dead and Davis would die within months.


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