Lincoln and the Water
Illinois and Michigan Canal
1837 Internal Improvements Legislation
The Legislature in 1838
State Legislature in 1839-1840
The State Legislature in 1840-1841
Rivers and Harbors Convention
Internal Improvements Speech
Lincoln and Railroads
Illinois Central Railroad
Rock Island Bridge Case
Lincoln and the Water
By 1829, Abraham Lincoln saw his future on the river. The 20-year-old may also have seen rivers as his path to economic freedom. One of young Lincoln's neighbors recalled: "Abe came to my house one day and stood around about timid & Shy. I Knew he wanted Something. I said to him - Abe what is your Case. "Uncle I want you to go to the [Ohio] River -and give me Some recommendation to some boat." When the neighbor noted that Lincoln was not yet 21, young Lincoln replied: "I Know that, but I want a start."1 The teenage Lincoln had already helped dig the "Louisville and Portland Canal" along the Ohio River.2
Lincoln's lifelong fascination with rivers began early and was deeply personal. His first dollar was earned earlier when he lived in Indiana and worked at Posey's Landing at the confluence of Anderson Creek and the Ohio River. Around 1825, one day he rowed two men out to a steamer in the Ohio River on a boat he had built.3 Decades later Lincoln said: "I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day - that by honest work I had earned a dollar. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time."4 For many years, rivers would signify Lincoln's quest for personal and economic freedom.
Working on the water also introduced young Lincoln to the intricacies of the law when his entrepreneurial spirit got him into legal trouble. Lincoln had started rowing customers back and forth across the Ohio River to Kentucky. Lincoln scholar William H. Townsend wrote: "One day, just as Lincoln had made one of these trips, he was hailed from the opposite side by John T. Dill, who operated the ferry near this point, and in response to the signal Lincoln rowed over to the Kentucky shore. No sooner had his boat touched the bank than he was roughly seized by Dill and his brother Lin, who had been hidden in the bushes. In vehement language they accused Lincoln of interfering with a licensed ferry by transporting passengers for hire and announced their intention to 'duck' him in the river then and there. However, after some discussion, and influenced, no doubt, by the rather formidable physique of the young riverman, the Dill brothers decided not to attempt retaliation themselves, but to invoke the law instead."5 The siblings immediately took the case to the nearby home of Samuel Pate, the local justice of the peace.
Under the laws of Kentucky, argued the Dills, Lincoln was operating a ferry without a license. Justice Pate studied the relevant statue and decided against the Dills. Historian Michael Burlingame noted that the judge "ruled for the defense, pointing out that the statute in question covered ferries plying between the southern and northern banks of the Ohio and not ferrymen who merely rowed passengers partway across the river. This episode may have stirred young Lincoln's interest in the law; it might have also predisposed him to read Constable Thomas Turnham's copy of The Statues of Indiana with unusual avidity."6 There, Lincoln was introduced to the texts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
In the spring of 1829, Lincoln went down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in a flatboat with friend Allen Gentry - transporting produce and hogs to New Orleans. They were working for Allen's father, a local merchant. Writing of himself in the third person, Lincoln recalled: "He was a hired hand merely; and he and a son of the owner, with out other assistance, made the trip. The nature of part of the cargo-load, as it was called - made it necessary for them to linger and trade along the Sugar coast - and one night they were attacked by seven negroes with intent to kill and rob them. They were hurt some in the melee, but succeeded in driving the negroes from the boat, and then 'cut cable' 'weighed anchor' and left."7 After delivering their cargo in New Orleans, Lincoln and Gentry took a steamboat back to Indiana. "The 2,400-mile round trip...was a hefty responsibility, testifying to the early onset of adulthood on the frontier and the high regard James Gentry had for the maturity of the two young men," wrote Lincoln scholar Fred Kaplan.8
The adventure and the attack did not deter Lincoln from making a similar trip two years later - after Lincoln had moved to Illinois. Leaving his family in Macon County, Mr. Lincoln set off on his own - hiring himself out to a local shopkeeper to take a boat down to New Orleans from Beardstown. That spring he came to public attention in the village of New Salem when he maneuvered a raft over a dam along the Sangamon River. Using trees felled on federal land, Lincoln, stepbrother John Johnston, and cousin John Hanks built a flatboat for their new employer, merchant Dennis Offut.9 Local resident John Roll recalled:
It was the spring following the winter of the deep snow. Walter Carman, John Seamon and myself, and at times others of the Carman boys, had helped Abe in building the boat, and when we had finished we went to work to make a dugout, or canoe, to be used as a small boat with the flat. We found a suitable log about an eighth of a mile up the river, and with our axes went to work under Lincoln's direction. The river was very high, fairly 'booming.'
"After the dugout was ready to launch, we took it to the edge of the water and made ready to 'let her go,' when Walter Carman and John Seamon jumped in as the boat struck the water, each one anxious to be the first to get a ride. As they shot out from the shore they found they were unable to make any headway against the strong current. Carman had the paddle and Seamon was in the stern of the boat. Lincoln shouted to them to 'head up stream' and 'work back to shore,' but they found themselves powerless against the stream.
"At last they began to pull for the wreck of an old flatboat, the first ever built on the Sangamon, which had sunk and gone to pieces, leaving one of the stanchions sticking above the water. Just as they reached it Seamon made a grab, and caught hold of the stanchion, when the canoe capsized, leaving Seamon clinging to the old timber, and throwing Carman into the stream. It carried him down with the speed of a mill-race. Lincoln raised his voice above the roar of the flood and yelled to Carman to swim for an old tree which stood almost in the channel, which the action of the high water had changed.
"Carman, being a good swimmer, succeeded in catching a branch and pulled himself up out of the water, which was very cold and had almost chilled him to death; and there he sat shivering and chattering in the tree. Lincoln, seeing Carman safe, called out to Seamon to let go the stanchion and swim for the tree. With some hesitation he obeyed and struck out, while Lincoln cheered and directed him from the bank. As Seamon neared the tree, he made one grab for a branch, and missing it, went under the water. Another desperate lunge was successful, and he climbed up beside Carman. Things were pretty exciting now, for there were two men in the tree and the boat gone.
"It was a cold, raw April day and there was great danger of the men becoming benumbed and falling back into the water. Lincoln called out to them to keep their spirits up and he would save them. The village had been alarmed by this time, and many people had come down to the bank. Lincoln procured a rope and tied it to a log. He called all hands to come and help roll the log into the water, and after this had been done, he with the assistance of several others towed it some distance up the stream. A daring young fellow by the name of 'Jim' Dorrel then took his seat on the end of the log, and it was pushed out into the current, with the expectation that it would be carried down stream against the tree where Seamon and Carman were.
"The log was well directed and went straight to the tree. But Jim, in his impatience to help his friends, fell a victim to his good intentions. Making a frantic grab at a branch, he raised himself off the log, which was swept from under him by the raging water, and he soon joined the other two victims upon their forlorn perch.
The excitement on shore increased and almost the whole population of the village gathered on the river bank.
Lincoln had the log pulled up stream, and securing another piece of rope, called to the men in the tree to catch it if they could when he should reach the tree. He then straddled the log himself and gave the word to push out into the stream. When he dashed into the tree, he threw the rope over the stump of a broken limb and let it play until it broke the speed of the log which gradually drew back to the tree, holding it there until the three now nearly frozen men had climbed down and seated themselves astride. He then gave orders to the people on the shore to hold fast to the end of the rope which was tied to the log, and leaving his rope in the tree, he turned the log adrift. The force of the current, acting against the taut rope, swung the log around against the bank and all 'on board' were saved.
"The excited people, who had watched the dangerous experiment with alternate hope and fear, now broke into cheers for Abe Lincoln and praises for his brave act. This adventure made quite a hero of him along the Sangamon, and the people never tired telling of the exploit."10
After the loading the flatboat with pork, corn and hogs, they floated the boat downriver as far as New Salem where the loaded boat got stuck on a mill dam and filled with water. They offloaded part of the cargo before Lincoln drilled a hole in the boat bottom so water would run out and the flatboat could be moved down the river. According to William H. Herndon, "Offut was profoundly impressed with this exhibition of Lincoln's ingenuity. In his enthusiasm he declared to the crowd who covered the hill and who had been watching Lincoln's operation that he would build a steamboat to plow up and down the Sangamon, and that Lincoln should be her Captain. She would have rollers for shoals and dams, runners for ice, and with Lincoln in charge, 'By thunder, she'd have to go!'"11 Lincoln, Hanks and stepbrother John Johnston proceeded down the Sangamon to the Mississippi and down the Mississippi to New Orleans.12
Transportation was no academic issue for young Lincoln. After making his first dollar on the river, he never forgot its importance. "The Mississippi River was vividly real to him all his life," wrote Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg. "He had seen that river as a flatboatman, as a Black Hawk war soldier, as a lawyer trying cases in cities overlooking it; he had traveled to an island of that river to fight a duel; he had tried a law case involving the right of railroads to build bridges over it. His sentiment against disunion ran deeper because disunion would have meant a split control, a divided allegiance to his great river."13 After the fall of Vicksburg in the Civil War, Lincoln would declare the Mighty Mississippi flowed "unvexed to the sea."14
Settling on the Sangamon River in central Illinois at age 22, Lincoln's interest in river travel developed a local and political focus. Lincoln scholar Fred Kaplan wrote: "Flowing westerly, the [Sangamon] river could be navigated only by canoe or rowboat from Decatur to Springfield. Beyond, as it turned from west to northwest, where a number of towns eager for the river to be made navigable for commercial transportation. At one of them, New Salem, it had been dammed and a sawmill opened by a tavern keeper, James Rutledge, who had founded the village in 1829. Farther along, at Beardstown, the Sangamon joined the Illinois River, which flowed into the Mississippi. With mostly impassable dirt roads in a pre-railroad decade, how to make the river navigable to Beardstown preoccupied public discourse in south-central Illinois."15 Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that the Sangamon "was not a river that looked like promising much...but it was navigable for a good part of its length (depending on the season and the height of the river) by shallow-draft flatboats, and after curving in a long loop for some seventy miles downstream from Decatur, the Sangamon emptied into the Illinois River, which in turn finally joined the Mississippi just north of the village of Alton, with its splendid deep-draft docking, and St. Louis on the far Missouri side of the river."16
The following year in March 1832, Lincoln helped pilot a steamboat, the Talisman, up the Sangamon River to Springfield.17 On February 22 the boat had tied up in St. Louis, waiting for ice to clear before moving upriver. Local entrepreneur Vincent A. Bogue wanted to bring the steamboat Talisman up the Sangamon River to a mill Bogue had constructed at Portman Landing.18 Area residents were much taken by the notion that the Sangamon could carry goods to and from markets downriver. As Springfield attorney William H. Herndon wrote: "Springfield, New Salem, and all the other towns along the now interesting Sangamon were to be connected by water with the outside world. Public meetings, with the accompaniment of long subscription lists were held; the merchants of Springfield advertised the arrival of goods 'direct from the East per steamer Talisman;' the mails were promised as often as once a week from the same direction; all the land adjoining each enterprising and aspiring village along the river was subdivided into town lots - in fact, the whole region began to feel the stimulating effects of what, in later days, would have been called a 'boom.'"19
Lincoln joined the steamboat's crew after it reached Beardstown. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln and [Charles] Maltby, out of work after the failure of Offutt's store, saw an opportunity to make New Salem a shipping point for the new steamer. They bought a large log building, which they planned to use for storing and forwarding merchandise and crops. Bogue hired Lincoln and others to clear the channel of the Sangamon. In March the little vessel reached New Salem, where part of its cargo was stored at Lincoln and Maltby's warehouse, and proceeded upriver as far as Portland Landing, a few miles from Springfield."20 Young William Herndon recalled following the boat's progress upriver as it slowly moved toward Springfield, arriving nearby at Bogue's Mill on March 29. After attending a dance in Springfield in honor of the Talisman, Lincoln helped Rowan Herndon pilot the Talisman back downriver as the river level dropped so quickly that it threatened to strand the boat. In actions that would be echoed in the Effie Afton case more than two decades later, when the Talisman encountered a mill dam that blocked its passage at New Salem, the pilots rammed through the dam, greatly annoying the mill owners who had constructed it." When we struck the dam she hung," recalled Herndon. "We then backed off and threw the anchor over. We tore away part of the dam and raising steam, ran her over on the first trial."21
Local residents were overjoyed. "Springfield can no longer be considered an inland town," announced the Sangamo Journal.22 Actually, it still could be. The Talisman journey was an anomaly that would not be repeated. Soon thereafter, the Talisman burned while moored in St. Louis.23 "Bogue's promise of regular steamboat travel was not fulfilled and Springfield continued to be an inland town despite its predictions," noted Lincoln scholar Paul Angle.24
The Talisman incident, however, boosted Lincoln's political prospects in Sangamon County at a time when his economic prospects in New Salem were shrinking. Without other employment, he needed the $40 he received for his Talisman work as well as the political exposure it provided. Contemporary Harvey Lee Ross recalled: "When the legislature has passed a law a few years before declaring the Sangamon a navigable stream, little was thought of it. Now Lincoln had taken a flatboat load of produce down the river and had brought a steamboat up, which demonstrated the fact to a certainty that Sangamon river was a navigable stream. Great crowds of people came from all parts of the country to see her, as few had ever seen a steamboat. She laid at the wharf near Springfield a week and during that time Lincoln was the hero of the occasion. He took advantage of this by getting acquainted with the people, making several speeches and shaking hands with every one. He got acquainted with more people during that one week than he could have met in three months in traveling around the country. It was on this occasion that Mr. Lincoln's friends brought him out for the legislature. There was another circumstance connected with the running of the steamboat up the Sangamon that benefited Mr. Lincoln. It induced almost every man who had land above high water to have it laid out in town lots, and Mr. Lincoln got several fat jobs of surveying."25 One of those jobs was laying out the town of Huron, which Lincoln scholar Andy Van Meter noted was founded by Springfield area leaders who became Lincoln's close political allies.26
Harvey Lee Ross was wrong in his last statement. Lincoln actually would not begin surveying until the fall of 1833. Lincoln biographer Richard Lawrence Miller wrote: "At the end of February , Abe Lincoln prepared a petition to the Sangamon County commissioners, asking them to appoint persons to plan out a road starting at Musick's Ferry, on a tributary of the Sangamon River known as Salt Creek. The road would pass through New Salem and head toward the county line in the direction of Jacksonville. Lincoln and eighty-seven others ostensibly signed the petition. I say 'ostensibly' because the final dozen signatures were all in Lincoln's handwriting. Normally such petitions would simply ask that the best route be determined; this document was unusual in that it specified that the route had to be through New Salem....The proposed road certainly had political implications for Lincoln, demonstrating that he wanted to boost the economy of New Salem at the expense of Sangamo Town. The road would also help Petersburg, a settlement along the Sangamon River a few miles from New Salem, a settlement being promoted by real estate developers for whom Lincoln would later do survey work." Soon thereafter the county awarded Lincoln a surveying contract for the road he had proposed. Lincoln was assisted in this work by New Salem resident Jack Kelso and Jack Armstrong's brother.27
In March of 1832, Lincoln announced his candidacy for the State Legislature. Much of his "Communication to the People of Sangamo County" was addressed to the need for public works to promote transportation: "Time and experience have verified to a demonstration, the public utility of internal improvements. That the poorest and most thinly populated countries would be greatly benefitted by the opening of good roads, and in the clearing of navigable streams within their limits, is what no person will deny." Lincoln's comments were prescient for the fiscal "folly" that would befall the state after 1836: "But yet it is folly to undertake works of this or any other kind, without first knowing that we are able to finish them - as half finished work generally proves to be labor lost. There cannot justly be any objection to having rail roads and canals, any more than to other good things, provided they cost nothing. The only objection is to paying for them; and the objection to paying arises from the want of ability to pay."28
Lincoln's presidential aides and subsequent biographers, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, wrote that Lincoln's 1832 position on internal improvements "formed the burden of nearly every candidate's appeal to the people in that year. The excitement occasioned by the trip of the Talisman had not yet died away, although the little steamer was now dust and ashes, and her bold commander had left the State to avoid an awkward meeting with the sheriff. The hope of seeing Springfield an emporium of commerce was still lively among the citizens of Sangamon County, and in no one of the handbills of the political aspirants of the season was that hope more judiciously encouraged than in the one signed by Abraham Lincoln."29 Historian Harry E. Pratt noted that "more than half of the 'Address' was devoted to the need of steamboat travel on the Sangamon, then the chief topic of conversation at quilting bees, house raisings, public sales and in the taverns. It was a stroke of political acumen to make the topic of the day the leading plank in his platform. The month which Lincoln devoted to the Talisman enterprise gave him an excellent opportunity enlarge his acquaintance with the voters."30 Historian Daniel Walker Howe noted that Lincoln "shared the typical Whig aspiration for humanity to triumph over its physical environment," especially through the development of transportation routes.31
Lincoln's campaign statement reflected his vision and his realism as well as the trends of the times. Lincoln scholar Richard Lawrence Miller cited two key Lincoln points: "First, he felt that railroads were a better transportation mode than rivers or canals. Second, he felt that state financial resources were meager, and therefore state-sponsored projects had to be modest - a stance he would later change, with disastrous consequences."32 Historian William C. Harris noted: "Railroads had first appeared in America during the late 1820s and would soon attract considerable interest in Illinois and elsewhere. Other candidates for the state House of Representatives in 1832 also proclaimed their support for transportation improvements."33 Railroad scholar John F. Stover noted: "Lincoln's decision to favor river improvement over railroads was not too surprising. In 1832 there were only 229 miles of railroad in operation in the entire nation."34
Meanwhile, Lincoln's horizons were expanding. In April 1832 Lincoln joined the militia for the Black Hawk War; his first political campaign was interrupted as soon as it began. Three months later in July, he returned from northern Illinois to his home in New Salem. He and friend George Harrison started the trip on horseback, but somehow lost their steeds. In Peoria they bought a canoe to travel down the Illinois River. "They descended the Illinois River to the small village of Havana, Illinois; sold the canoe and walked to New Salem," wrote Lloyd H. Efflandt.35 In early August, Lincoln lost his first election, but he did well in his home village of New Salem. He prepared to run again for the state legislature in two years, using what would become standard Whig themes of personal and societal improvement. Lincoln was coming into his political maturity at a time of growing agitation for internal improvements across the country as Americans saw the future of domestic trade. Contemporary Harvey Lee Ross remembered Mr. Lincoln as a young man speaking to his equally young contemporaries in New Salem on a Saturday afternoon during that campaign: "He would generally speak on the subject of internal improvement and of the great resources of the State of Illinois, of its advantages over other states, and of the wonderful opportunities that lay in store for the young men of Illinois if they would only improve them. In those speeches he very seldom touched on politics, so everyone was pleased and none offended, the meeting generally closing with three cheers for Lincoln and a general handshaking. The people would go home happy, and few of them would come in town again until the next Saturday."36
By 1834, Lincoln's ideas about internal improvements had matured. Lincoln scholar Richard Lawrence Miller wrote: "One of Lincoln's big crowd pleasers was his call for constructing a canal from Beardstown, the region's big port on the Illinois River to a point on the Sangamon River a few miles downstream from Petersburg. An internal improvement like this would certainly boost prosperity in Petersburg and New Salem, but calls for such a project were unspoken acknowledgment that commercial navigation on the Sangamon River was impractical. The three towns were already linked by the Sangamon River's natural water route, and abandoning it in favor of a canal shows that promoters' schemes for the river just two years earlier had been no more than that."37 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "The canal, Lincoln told the electorate, would prevent spring flooding and allow farmers to transport their produce more cheaply to the Illinois River, 40 miles away. The Illinois was their preferred highway to the world; the Sangamon was mostly unnavigable except in the spring."38 In August 1834, Lincoln was elected to the State House of Representatives - coming in second in a field of twelve candidates in the county.
Years later, Lincoln would give a speech on "Discoveries" in which he discussed the importance of transportation to humankind: "By his natural powers of locomotion, and without much assistance from Discovery and invention, he could move himself about with considerably facility; and even, could carry small burthens with him. But very soon he would wish to lessen the labor, while he might, at the same time, extend, and expedite the business. For this object, wheel-carriages, and water-crafts - wagons and boats - are the most important inventions. The use the wheel & axle, has been so long known, that it is difficult, without reflection, to estimate it at its true value."39 In this 1858 speech, Lincoln stated: "As man is a land animal, it might be expected he would learn to travel by land somewhat earlier than he would by water. Still the crossing of streams, somewhat too deep for wading, would be an early necessity with him. If we pass by the Ark, which may be regarded as belonging rather to the miraculous, than to human invention the first notice we have of watercraft, is the mention of 'ships' by Jacob - Gen. 49:13. It is not till we reach the book of Isaiah that we meet with the mention of 'oars' and sails.'"40
Lincoln found inspiration in politics as well as the Bible. Once an admirer of Tennessee's Andrew Jackson, Lincoln as a young politician clearly identified with the politics of Kentucky's Henry Clay. Historian William C. Harris wrote: "Reflecting the internal improvements needs of his community, Lincoln naturally supported Clay's positive agenda for economic development....Though many Jacksonian Democrats had a similar background, Lincoln's life among the economically hard-strapped people of New Salem caused him to reject the Democratic idea of limited government in favor of an active government. The purpose of government, Lincoln later wrote, was 'to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all or can not, so well do, for themselves.'"41 Lincoln recognized, as did Henry Clay, that internal improvements had a political as well as economic impact in knitting together the fabric of American life. Lincoln's preoccupation with internal improvements was consistent with the emerging Whig philosophy across the country. Historian Mark Neely said of the Whigs: "If you take the program of the party - transportation, commerce, banks, roads, railroads - it's essentially a developer's dream. That's what the West needed, and that's what Abraham Lincoln needed."42 The work needed to be done at the state level. Historian Edward Pessen wrote that in the early 19th century, "[n]ational government proved to be peculiarly unhelpful in dealing with the problem. The men who ruled the nation from Washington's time to Jackson's were quite aware of the importance to it of 'internal improvements,' regularly speaking out in glowing terms of the many benefits it would confer." But no federal assistance would be forthcoming under the administrations of [Andrew] Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Pessen wrote: "During the so-called age of laissez-faire, municipal and, above all, state governments engaged in all manner of direct and indirect support to every variety of transportation project, running up debts for the purpose that were twice as great as all their other obligations combined."43
Lincoln biographer Paul Simon noted that Lincoln was hardly alone in his preoccupation with internal improvements in Illinois: "During the 1834 and 1836 campaigns, there was much more discussion in the Springfield newspaper about internal improvements than moving the seats of government. This was true even after the legislature was in session in 1836 and 1837." In 1836 when several Whig candidates challenged Democrat Martin Van Buren for the presidency, noted Simon, Illinois "legislators made it [internal improvements] the main issue. Except for the Van Buren and White candidacies for President, nothing stirred up so much interest." Even for Springfield, according to Simon, the issue of internal improvements was more important than its potential status as the state capital.44 Among those Illinois Democrats who favored support for internal improvements was another young state representative, Stephen A. Douglas. Also among those contemporaries who voted for the internal improvements were Democrats Usher F. Linder, John A. McClernand, and James Shields - men who would play an important part in Lincoln's life. Thomas Ford, later governor of Illinois, in his history of the state denounced these legislative leaders, including Lincoln. Ford wrote that it proved "how safe it is to a politician, but how disastrous it may be to the country, to keep along with the present fervor of the people."45
Illinois and Michigan Canal
Illinois was dreaming big and thinking about water transportation. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote of Lincoln's first legislative session that began in December 1834: "Economic issues dominated the session. The most important bill dealt with the much-discussed proposal to dig a canal from Chicago to La Salle, connecting the Great Lakes with the Illinois River, which fed into the Mississippi. (When completed in 1848, it helped make Chicago a regional metropolis.) Lincoln, who wished to be known as 'the De Witt Clinton of Illinois,' voted with the majority to finance that internal improvement with $5,000,000 in state bonds." At this session, "Lincoln introduced an unsuccessful resolution calling for the U.S. government to remit to the state at least one-fifth of such proceeds collected in Illinois."46
During the summer of 1835, Lincoln suffered physically and mentally from the death of his friend Ann Rutledge. But his support for the Beardstown Canal remained strong. Like many Illinois politicians, Lincoln combined personal and political interests. Burlingame wrote: "By December 1835, Lincoln managed to pull himself together enough to attend a special session of the legislature, which the governor had called to modify the Illinois and Michigan Canal Act and to reapportion the General Assembly. During his six weeks in Vandalia, he won approval for the incorporation of the Beardstown and Sangamon Canal Company, one of his pet projects. Lincoln bought stock in that corporation and at a public meeting urged others to do so; he even purchased land on the Sangamon a mile from the eastern terminus of the proposed canal, which was never dug. A Sangamo Journal article by 'Sangamo' (perhaps Lincoln) declared that the project 'must be of immense advantage to the country thro' which it will pass, and to the great West generally.'"47
Illinois politics were in flux. Congressman Joseph Duncan had been elected to the governorship in 1834. Although a Democrat, he had become alienated from the financial policies of President Andrew Jackson while in Washington. "But as he was absent in Congress when he became a candidate and never returned until after the election the rank and file of the Jackson party had no means of ascertaining his defection," observed Thomas Ford. "Governor Duncan was a man of genteel, affable, and manly deportment; with a person remarkably well adapted to win the esteem and affections of his fellow-citizens." By late 1834, according Ford, "the State was in a very flourishing and prosperous condition. Population and wealth were pouring into it from all the old States. The great speculation in lands and town lots, shortly afterwards so rife, had made only a beginning, and that at Chicago alone."48
"Governor Duncan called a special session of the Legislature in December, 1835, to make some necessary changes in the Illinois and Michigan Canal act and to reapportion the seats in the Legislature on the basis of the state census," wrote historian Harry E. Pratt. "Duncan declared that the sale of state-owned land along the route of the Illinois and Michigan Canal would pay for the cost of the canal."49 During the 1835-1836 special session, wrote Burlingame, Lincoln "consistently voted in favor of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, whose supporters finally prevailed on Christmas Eve, when the House by a 29-26 margin authorized the establishment of a Board of Commissioners, empowered it to build the canal, and permitted the governor to borrow up to half a million dollars to fund the effort."
Legislation to build the canal had been fruitlessly considered by the legislature for more than a decade - as had methods for its funding. An early history of Illinois declared: "A mere glance at the map of Illinois, must convince even the most casual observer, that the union of Lake Michigan and the Illinois river by a canal, is an object not only of easy accomplishment, but of great practical importance."50 Historian Reginald Charles McGrane wrote: "As early as 1823 the state had conceived the project of connecting the Illinois River with Lake Michigan by means of a canal, 'and a board of commissioners was appointed to explore the route and estimate the cost.'"51 The idea was not without controversy, however - especially in southern Illinois. Historian Glover Moore noted: "In the legislature of 1822-1823, a state senator even opposed the project for a canal to unite the Illinois River with Lake Michigan on the ground that it would be an inlet for swarms of 'blue-bellied Yankees' from the East."52 In 1822, Congress had granted Illinois the right to construct the canal across federal land and allotted some land for Illinois to help fund the canal. Thomas Crump wrote that "in 1825, a company had been incorporated to dig the canal; the completion of the Erie Canal in the same year...was almost a guarantee of the Illinois canal's profitability."53 But actual construction of the Illinois canal had awaited funding. A three-member commission was authorized in 1829, but they explored a railroad as an alternative. Thomas Ford wrote that during the 1832-1833 session of the legislature, in which Lincoln was not a member, "[s]everal charters passed to incorporate railroad companies; and an effort was made to procure a charter for a railroad from Lake Michigan to the Illinois river, in place of a canal. The stock in none of these companies was ever taken. At this session also were first proposed in the Senate surveys for a railroad across the State through Springfield; and the central railroad from Peru to Cairo."54
The Chicago canal remained more a dream than reality. Ford wrote: "In 1826, Congress donated to the State about 300,000 acres of land on the route of the canal, in aid of the work In 1825, a law was passed incorporating a company to make the canal. The stock was never subscribed. And in 1828, another law was passed, providing for the sale of lots and lands, for the appointment of a board of canal commissioners, and for the commencement of the work. Nothing was done under this law, except the sale of some land and lots, and a new survey of the route and estimate of costs, by the new engineer, Mr. Bucklin. The estimate this time ran into millions instead of thousands, but was yet too low, as experience has subsequently demonstrated."55
The matter revived as a political issue in the election of 1834. Governor Duncan became the champion for strong action.56 Railroad historian John Starr wrote: "The matter dragged along until 1835, when by act of the legislature the Governor was authorized to negotiate a loan not to exceed $500,000 on the canal lands and toll for the construction of the Canal."57 The full faith and credit of the state was not pledged to the canal bonds, retarding their marketability in the East. Proponents thought profits from land sales could provide a sufficient revenue stream. The belief that land sales, rather than taxes, could fund internal improvements was a persistent belief in Illinois.
Another stumbling block was a rift between northern Illinois which stood to benefit from the canal, and southern Illinois, which was skeptical about whether the canal served its interests. Michael Burlingame wrote: "Whereas northern Illinois had been settled by ambitious, industrious Yankees who erected mills, churches, schools, villages, and towns, southern Illinois had attracted from the South a more easygoing class of settlers who regarded the Yankees as tightfisted, dishonest, moneygrubbing misers lacking the spirit of generous hospitality....Residents of northern Illinois, in turn, looked on their neighbors to the south as indolent, ignorant primitives, scarcely more advanced than savages."58 Historian Theodore Calvin Pease wrote: "The canal bill was drawn up by its supporters in Chicago and altered and corrected by [Springfield's] George Forquer. According to whig accounts it was endangered and nearly defeated by the partisan efforts of the democrats to provide for the appointment of commissioners. The act as it was finally passed, largely through the influence of the whigs, provided for the negotiation by the governor of a loan on the credit of the state for $500,000, issuing for it a six per cent stock redeemable after 1860, with a provision that it should not be sold for less than par. The governor and senate were to appoint three commissioners, removable for cause, to hold office until January, 1837, after which they were to be appointed biennally as the legislature should direct."59 Historian Robert W. Johannsen wrote: "Construction had barely begun on the Illinois and Michigan Canal by 1836. The new interest in railroads presented the canal advocates with a formidable challenge, especially in the southern part of the state, where the people saw in railroad construction an opportunity to counter the fast-growing north."60
G. S. Hubbard, who came to know Mr. Lincoln as a legislator, subsequently became a lobbyist for construction first of the Illinois and Michigan Canal and later for a railroad. "Mr. Lincoln, in and out of the Legislature, favored its construction at the earliest possible moment, by his advice, and rendered efficient aid. Indeed, I very much doubt if the bill could have passed as early as it did without his valuable help."61 "During the 1835-1836 special session of the General Assembly," wrote Michael Burlingame, Lincoln's "most important contribution was the steadfast encouragement he gave to the Illinois and Michigan Canal." Lincoln's friend Bowling Green was eventually named a canal commissioner. Burlingame wrote that when running for the U.S. Senate in 1855, Lincoln referred to "his record in the General Assembly, where he had supported the Illinois and Michigan Canal (a pet project of northern Illinois) and other measures of interest to that part of the state, Lincoln protested that he would be 'surprized if it can be pointed out that in any instance, the North sought our aid, and failed to get it.'"62
The issue of the canal eclipsed other internal improvement projects during this legislative session. Theodore Calvin Pease wrote: "Inevitably various localities of the state came each to the conviction of the advisability of pooling local interests in internal improvements in a common stock....On November 2, 1833, the Sangamo Journal noticed the statement of a London paper that fifty million dollars of English capital could be lent to states desiring internal improvements or state banks. In 1834 several candidates garnished their announcements with statements for or against internal improvement systems. Duncan in his inaugural message proposed the future improvement of the Illinois and Wabash channels on some such fashion, but like a good whig he looked for a possible change of heart on Jackson's part which would bring federal aid. The Chicago Democrat, clipping the Peoria Champion, on December 3, 1834, proposed as business for the legislature the following railroads, Chicago to the Wabash, Chicago to Galena, and Terre Haute to Quincy. In that session, however, internal improvements were regarded as possible rivals to the canal and as such for the moment to be discouraged."63 The Illinois legislature was slowly learning how to pass and implement effective legislation.
1837 Internal Improvements Legislation
Running for reelection in 1836 to a second term, State Representative Lincoln wrote the Sangamo Journal a brief statement: "If elected, I shall consider the whole people of Sangamon my constituents, as well those that oppose, as those that support me." He continued: "While acting as their representative, I shall be governed by their will, on all subjects upon which I have the means of knowing what their will is; and upon all others, I shall do what my own judgment teaches me will best advance their interests. Whether elected or not, I go for distributing the proceeds of the sales of the public lands to the several states, to enable our state, in common with others, to dig canals, construct rail roads, without borrowing money and paying interest on it."64 This emphasis on using the proceeds from federal land sales to finance state internal improvements would become a consistent Lincoln theme.65 Three decades later, Lincoln friend Robert Wilson remembered the election campaign:
The campaign commenced about six weeks before the election, which under the old Constitution was held on the first Monday of August. Appointments being made and published in the Sangamo Journal and the State Register, the organs of the Parties then. We traveled on horseback from one grove to another - the pra[i]ries then were entirely unoccupied - The Speaking would begin in the forenoon, the candidates Speaking alternately until all who could Speak has his turn, generally consuming the whole afternoon. The discussions were upon National and State questions, prominant [sic] among which were the Subject of a National Bank, and the Tariff, and a general System of internal improvement, by the State and the finishing the Illinois and Michigan Canal, then in progress of construction -66
Pressure for public improvements sprang from the grassroots in 1836. A speculative mania infected the citizens of Illinois. Rampant land speculation was particularly evident around Chicago, but the fixation on internal improvements extended throughout the state. Early Illinois historian Henry Bowen wrote in 1844: "The year 1836 will long be remembered. Speculation was then in its zenith; its unregulated spirit filled every bosom, possessed every class in the community, controlled every avenue to business, monopolized every species of influence, absorbed the whole public attention; and, for a while, subjected to its control all that was valuable, all that was desirable here on earth. 'Men rose like exhalations, and their carnages glittered like meteors.'"67 The construction of railroads offered the promise to justify the speculation.
As a consequence of the economic policies of Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, virtually the entire country was in the middle of a speculative mania that drove up the price of land. Ford noted: "Speculation was the order of the day and every possible means was hastily and greedily adopted to give an artificial value to property. In accomplishing this object as to the manner and means, our people surrendered their judgments to the dictates of wild imagination. No scheme was so extravagant as not to appear plausible to some. The most wild calculations were made of the advantages of a system of internal improvements; of the resources of the State to meet all expenditures; and of our final ability to pay all indebtedness without taxation. Mere possibilities appeared highly probable; and probability wore the livery of certainty itself."68
The residents of the state were thinking big. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "A state legislature could do little to promote a national bank or raise tariffs, but internal improvements, which then usually meant the improvement of roads, rivers, harbors, and railways, were largely a local matter."69 Under the policies embraced by Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the federal government could play no role in funding local transportation projects. Here was where a state legislator could make his mark. "Internal Improvements was agitated by all classes with increasing interest until it became the absorbing subject of thought and discussion to the exclusion of all other public matters," wrote historian John F. Snyder.70 There was a political will but not necessarily a financial way. Historian Robert W. Johannsen noted: "Previous legislatures had chartered large numbers of private railroad companies, but the failure of these private interests to attract sufficient capital caused the people to look to the state."71 Thomas Ford observed that "a system of internal improvements began to be agitated in the summer and fall of 1836. It was argued that Illinois had all the natural advantages which constitute a great State: a rich soil, variety of climate, and great extent of territory. It only wanted inhabitants and enterprise. These would be invited by a system of improvements: timber would be carried by railroad to fence the prairies: and the products of the prairies by the same means would be brought to market. The people began to hold public meetings and pass resolutions on the subject; and before the next winter most of the counties had appointed delegates to an internal improvement convention to be assembled at the seat of government" in Vandalia.72
Elections were held in August, so the topic was a hot one that summer. Sangamon County Whig legislator Robert L. Wilson remembered: "Just before the meeting of the Legislature, which was on the first Monday of December, 1836. A mass Convention of the People of the county met at Springfield, and passed resolutions instructing the members from that County [to] vote for a general system of internal improvement. In the evening after the temporary organization of the house, a convention of Delegates from nearly all the Counties in the State Convened in the hall of the House and organized with Col[.] Thomas Mather of the State Bank as President, and after two days debate and deliberation, passed resolutions instructing the Legislature to pass a general system of internal improvements by authorizing the making of Rail Roads passing through nearly every county of the State, and also to improve the navigation of all Streams declared, and to be declared navigable; and to accomplish all this, to authorize the making of a loan of ten millions of dollars; issue bonds; Sell them; and pledge the faith of the State for thire [sic] redemption."73
Democrats controlled the legislature and took the lead in proposing legislation on internal improvements. The lead Democrat was a young freshman, Stephen A. Douglas. Biographer Robert W. Johannsen wrote: "Early in the session he introduced several resolutions providing for the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the construction of a railroad connecting the terminus of the canal with the Ohio River (the so-called Central Railroad project), the construction of a second railroad from Quincy eastward to the Indiana state line in the direction of the Wabash and Erie Canal, and the improvement of the Wabash and Illinois rivers....Douglas' proposal reflected his own interest in the development of the central and northern sections of the state, as well as his conviction that the internal improvements system must be general and varied, embodying canal, railroad, and river projects."74
Other Illinois legislators had bigger dreams and dreams with more direct impact on their constituents. Irrational enthusiasm swept Vandalia. Governor Duncan told the legislature that "the whole country shall be intersected by canals and railroads." Shortly after it opened for legislative business in December 1836, the legislature set up two new committees - one for Roads & Canals, Agriculture and one for Commerce and Manufactures. Usher Linder, then a Democratic state representative, recalled: "It was at that session that the subject of internal improvements became the all-absorbing question of the day. There was not a railroad at that time in the State of Illinois; nor was there any road in Indiana touching the line of our State." Linder, who would come both a personal friend and political opponent of Lincoln, wrote: "We ran perfectly wild on the subject of internal improvements. Every member wanted a road to his county town - a great many of them got one; and those counties through which no road was authorized to be constructed were to be compensated in money; which was to be obtained by a loan from Europe, or -- God knows where."75
One of Lincoln's leading Democratic adversaries was the lead sponsor of the legislation in the State Senate. Thomas Ford wrote: "At this session of the legislature, George Forquer, a senator for Sangamon county, as chairman of the committee on internal improvements, prepared and made an elaborate report in favor of a loan of half a million of dollars, on the credit of the State, to begin with. I call the report an elaborate one, because it is so: perhaps more able than any similar document submitted to any of the western legislatures. It contains evidence of vast research, and abundance of facts and probable conjectures, and is expressed in language at once pleasing, brilliant, and attractive. The report was accompanied by a bill authorizing a loan on the credit of the State, which passed the Senate, and would certainly have passed the legislature, but for the fact that the governor, in his general message, and also in a special message, asserted with confidence that the money could be obtained upon a pledge of the canal lands alone. Amended in this particular, the bill passed, and has served as a model for all the subsequent laws on that subject. The report was justly liable to one criticism. The cost was estimated too low."76 There was no discussion of taxation to fund these projects - only alternative sources of funds were considered by the legislature.
Lincoln colleague Robert Wilson noted during this session that Lincoln "[s]erved on the Committee of Internal Improvements in the House, and was an industrious, active, working member."77 Lincoln biographer J. H. Barrett wrote that Lincoln "held it to be the duty of Government to extend Its fostering aid, in every Constitutional way, and to a reasonable extent, to whatever enterprise of public utility required such assistance, in order to the fullest development of the natural resources, and to the most rapid healthful growth of the State. The Democratic party, while professing the let-alone (laissez-faire) principle in general, was compelled to follow pretty closely in the wake of its adversary, in some of its most distinctive features of public policy. The question of internal improvements was one of these. And while the Democrats had a decided majority of the members of each House, it was understood that, by the aid of pledges made contrary to Democratic teaching in general, a majority for liberal legislation in regard to internal improvements had likewise been secured."78
Jacksonville's Stephen Douglas was an advocate of internal improvements, but he was more temperate in his advocacy than were many legislators. Lincoln biographer Paul Simon contended that Lincoln and Douglas both "supported the Internal Improvements Act, introduced by Douglas. But when it came to voting for amendments expanding the act, Douglas was the more conservative. The record of neither man in this field is good, but Lincoln's all-out support makes his worse. (Ironically, an 1860 Lincoln campaign biography asserts just the opposite and makes Douglas appear more all-out in support of this ridiculous program.) Both Lincoln and Douglas voted to override the veto of the Internal Improvements Act. Both men voted against having a state-wide referendum on the Internal Improvements Act before it could become effective."79 Afterwards, Douglas himself recast his vote in favor of the legislation, which he had feared to oppose despite its size. Writing in 1838, Douglas defended his involvement in the process:
When I learned the nature and extent of the bill which the Committee on Internal Improvements were maturing, I attempted to arrest it by introducing resolutions by way of instruction...setting forth the kind and extent of a system I thought ought to be adopted. My resolutions proposed 1st: To finish the Illinois and Michigan canal. 2nd: To construct a railroad from the termination of the canal to the mouth of the Ohio river. 3rd: To make a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Wabash to connect with the Wabash and Erie canal.
I was willing and anxious to make these three works on the faith of the State; but was unwilling to go further. I believed the canal to be an important State and National work, which would be useful to the government and people. I entertained doubts whether the plan of construction adopted by the commissioners was the best one that could be pursued, but rather than hazard the success of the work by differences of opinion as to the best manner of doing it, I determined to support and did support the bill which was passed that session. In fact the bill passed that session was a compromise bill written by myself and introduced by Capt. Joseph Napier of Cook county from a committee of which we were both members.
But to return to the internal improvements system; when it was ascertained from my conversation, speeches, and resolution that I would oppose the mammoth bill, its friends procured me to be instructed by my constituents to go for it. It must be remembered that at that day the people were for the system - almost en masse. So strong was the current of popular feeling in its favor that it was hazardous for any politician to oppose it. Under these circumstances it was easy to obtain instructions in favor of a measure so universally popular, and accordingly the friends of the bill got up instructions, which, from my known sentiments in favor of the doctrine of instruction, I did not feel myself at liberty to disobey. I accordingly voted for the bill under these instructions. That vote was the vote of my constituents and no my own. My own sentiments upon this subject are founded recorded in the resolutions above referred to. If a limited and reasonable system, such as I proposed, had been adopted, instead of the one which did pass, I have no doubt it would have been entirely completed at this time, would be useful to the State and sustained by the people.80
(As a congressman and senator, Douglas would later become an even bigger supporter of internal improvements - with land grants and federal funding. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote that "the moment it became clear that his Illinois constituents were lusting quite happily for the cornucopia of goods which 'internal improvements' poured before them, Douglas suddenly discerned a difference 'between those works which were essential to the protection of commerce' and those 'asked for by parties having local interests to serve,' and he threw his votes behind federal appropriations to dredge the sandbars at the mouth of the Chicago River, federal land grants to the proposed Illinois Central Railroad, and the completion of the Illinois River canal."81 Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote: "Douglas had no qualms about voting for appropriations to construct harbors and canals, including for states and territories besides his own. He felt continually frustrated by the internal improvement vetoes of Presidents Tyler, Polk, and Pierce on strict construction grounds, and he defended the Illinois congressional delegation as progress-hungry visionaries thwarted by presidential backwardness." Eyal contended: "The growth and prosperity of local communities became more important to many Democrats of the 1840s and 1850s than fidelity to the constitutional principles established by their party." Eyal wrote: "Stephen A. Douglas thought it absurd for strict constructionists and states' rightists still to argue about internal improvements. As one report said of Douglas: "It occurred to him...that there were some powers in this Government that, by this time, ought to be conceded; that there were some principles which ought to be considered settled.....He made these remarks because of the attempt of some of his friends to read out of the republican [i.e., Democratic] party those who might differ with them.'"82
Lincoln scholar Ronald C. White, Jr., wrote: "The House Internal Improvements Committee proposed a $10 million bill for internal improvements on January 9, 1837. The biggest allocation, $3.5 million, was for an Illinois Central Railroad track from Cairo in the south to Galena and the lead mines in the north. Lincoln supported the argument that sister states were 'adopting and prosecuting gigantic schemes of improvement' and it was time for 'the patriot and enlightened statesmen of Illinois' to act. Governor Duncan threatened to veto the bill. John J. Hardin, a first-term Whig representative from Jacksonville, voiced his concern that the appropriation was precariously large, to no avail." Sangamon County legislator Edward D. Baker, who like Hardin, would oppose Lincoln for the Whig congressional nomination in 1843, also opposed the internal improvements program.83
On January 24, Lincoln participated in the House debate on the bill. He voted in favor of adding improvements to the bill. Lincoln scholar Ronald C. White, Jr., wrote: "Some legislators tried to point out that Illinois, a state just emerging from the frontier, did not have the money, manpower, or raw materials of the older, long-settled states. But in a time of expansive plans and hyperbolic rhetoric, not many legislators could focus on the problems when the possibilities seemed so bright."84 Local historian John Carroll Power wrote: "The most remarkable act ever passed by a legislative body in the State, was approved Feb. 27, 1837. It was entitled 'An act to establish and maintain a general system of internal improvements.' Two supplementary acts were approved March 4, 1837. The three acts are comprised in sixty-three sections, and fill thirty-two octavo pages. The object was to construct public improvements, in all parts of the State, at the expense of the State. A board of three Fund Commissioners was created, to manage the finances; also, a Board of Public Works, consisting of seven commissioners. The latter board was authorized to employ engineers, who were to lay out and superintend all public works. The board was authorized and required to adopt such measures as might be necessary to construct and complete within a reasonable length of time the following works."85 Historian Douglas L. Wilson wrote: "In hindsight, this system of roads, canals, and railroads, to be financed by state bonds in the mind-boggling amount of ten million dollars, was hopelessly beyond the means of an undeveloped and impecunious state, with no realistic chance of success. But the outlook of pioneers is necessarily upbeat, and the optimistic proponents of progress and prosperity carried all before them; of the resources of the State to meet all expenditures; and of our final ability to pay all."86
From its passage, the 1837 internal improvements legislation encountered problems. According to Governor Duncan, the banking and fiscal policies of the Jackson administration in Washington were hurting the state's efforts to finance internal improvements in Illinois.87 Lincoln scholar Harry E. Pratt noted that the suspension of specie payments by banks in the spring of 1837, effectively undermined funding of the program and beginning a six-year economic recession in the United States that hit Illinois hard. The situation would only get worse. Five years later, Governor Thomas Carlin would report to the legislature:
In 1837, in addition to the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, which had already been undertaken, and which of itself, for an inexperienced and almost infant State was a gigantic enterprise, the Legislature adopted a general system of internal improvements, the magnitude of which exceeded the wants in as great a degree as its estimated cost exceeded the resources of the State. To realize the funds necessary for the prosecution of this immense system, as well as the Canal, reliance was had mainly to the credit of the State, which was made available by the creation and sale of bonds bearing six per cent, interest, and reimbursable after a long term of years. Such was the delusion of the times that it was proposed to pay the interest as it would accrue upon these bonds by negotiating them in foreign markets, and realizing the difference of exchange, by depositing the money thus raised with banks until it should be disbursed, and receiving premiums upon it; and by subscribing for bank stock, the dividends upon which it was expected would greatly exceed the interest upon the bonds with which the stock was purchased.
Thus it was contemplated by the advocates of this policy to complete these extensive improvements without any expense to the Stale during their progress. When once in operation, it was maintained that they would yield a revenue not only sufficient for the payment of the interest upon the cost of their construction, but would furnish a surplus which might ultimately be applied to the liquidation of the principal. The people seeing no prospect of taxation, acquiesced in the use thus made of their credit.88
The Illinois and Michigan Canal was one of the most ambitious programs in the 1837 transportation package. Another important part was financing construction of a railroad system across the state. Under the 1837 legislation, noted early Lincoln biographer Joseph Barrett wrote: "about 1,300 miles of railroad were provided for, in various quarters,...and the improvement of the navigation of the Kaskaskia, Illinois, Rock, and Great and Little Wabash rivers; requiring in all a loan of $8,000,000. This included the novel appropriation of $200,000 to be distributed among those counties through which none of the proposed improvements were to be made. The system voted by the Legislature was on a most magnificent scale, such as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio or Indiana had not surpassed.89 Historian Michael Burlingame noted that in the grandiose scheme, "the most coveted 'persimmons' were roads, canals, railroads, and river improvements, which were universally desired and which the legislature was eager to provide. Illinoisans were, as Governor John Reynolds put it, 'perfectly insane' and 'crazed considerably with the mania' for canals and railroads. That mania was the key to Lincoln's strategy to make Springfield the new capital."90
Vote trading was a given in the legislature. Thomas Ford recalled: "This [Sangamon] delegation, from the beginning of the session, threw itself as a unit in support of, or opposition to, every local measure of interest, but never without a bargain for votes in return on the seat of government question. Most of the other counties were small, having but one representative, and many of them with but one for a whole district; and this gave Sangamon county a decided preponderance in the log-rolling system of those days. It is worthy of examination whether any just and equal legislation can ever be sustained where some of the counties are great and powerful and others feeble. But by such means 'the long nine' rolled along like a snow-ball, gathering accessions of strength at every turn, until they swelled up a considerable party for Springfield, which party they managed to take almost as an unit in favor of the internal improvement system, in return for which the active supporters of that system were to vote for Springfield to be the seat of government."91
The "Long Nine" representatives and senators from the Sangamon delegation operated on two tracks during that winter session - as it tried to fulfill its own ambitions as a county and help friendly delegations. A decade later as a congressman, Lincoln noted the problems of planning internal improvements: "All can recur to instances of this difficulty in the case of county roads, bridges, and the like. One man is offended because a road passes over his land, and another is offended because it does not pass over his; one is dissatisfied because the bridge, for which he is taxed, crosses the river on a different road from that which leads from his house to town; another can not bear that the county should be got in debt for these same roads and bridges; while not a few struggle hard to have roads located over their lands, and then stoutly refuse to let them be opened until they are first paid the damages.'"92
The size of the internal improvements pie was enlarged to make sure that every one got a piece until the swollen pie was indigestible within the limits of the state's finances. Historian Albert Beveridge wrote: "Debate was unceasing, [John] McClernand spoke ably for Douglas's plan, and for the Alton-Shawneetown railroad. But Lincoln would take no part; with one exception, he spoke on purely local matters. The Sangamon delegation, testifies one of Lincoln's colleagues [Robert Wilson], voted on every proposition in exchange for promises of support in the fight over the removal of the capital. The session became one of barter and deal, a debauch of logrolling. Nor was this practice confined to efforts of the 'Long Nine' to get votes for Springfield: 'members often support measures that they would not otherwise vote for, to obtain another member's vote for a friend,' wrote John J. Hardin of Morgan County."93 Historian Theodore Calvin Pease wrote: "The means by which the Sangamon delegation achieved their triumph were probably maneuvering and trading of the frankest sort. [Quincy State Senator] Orville H. Browning in his somewhat pompous way at a dinner in Springfield gave all praise to the delegation, pronouncing that it was their "'judicious management, their ability, their gentlemanly deportment, their unassuming manners, their constant and untiring labor for your interests,' that had won Springfield her triumph" of transferring the state capital to Springfield.94 There was a frenzy of legislative action in that session that encouraged such log-rolling. Beveridge wrote: "The capital of the State Bank at Springfield was increased by two million dollars, that at Shawneetown by one million, the stock to be taken by the State. Members were eager for places on boards and commissions which they themselves were creating. The people along the canal were threatened with the loss of it, if other parts of the State were denied improvements. Alton was given three railroads to get her powerful support. No pledge, no threat, no manner of manipulation was overlooked. Through this maze, the 'Long Nine' made their sure and skilful way, to the one objective they were determined to reach."95
Nevertheless, argued Paul Simon, there is no evidence of excessive logrolling by Lincoln and his Sangamon County colleagues: "The case against the usual accounts of trading comes near being airtight. The weight of evidence is heavily on the negative side. There likely was some trading by various local and personal interests, but nothing in the record indicates that Springfield's legislators were a prominent part of that. If there had been a brazen swap of Springfield for internal improvements, it would certainly have been mentioned in the mass of correspondence and pertinent source material available; but it is neither mentioned nor even hinted at." Simon added: "Every session of the legislature has some trading, but there is no evidence that Lincoln supported any measure with which he was in basic disagreement in order to secure votes for Springfield." Simon also argued that Lincoln's leadership role in moving the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield has been overdrawn: "Lincoln though a leader, was not the star performer that biographies have made him." Simon argued: "Public sentiment was overwhelmingly for internal improvements, so that Illinois did not need any capital relocation bill to force approval, any more than did any other state."96 Moreover, Lincoln did not support all public projects. One legislator recalled Lincoln speaking in opposition to one bill: "You may burn my body to ashes, and scatter them to the winds of heaven; you may drag my soul down to the regions of darkness and despair to be tormented forever; but you will never get me to support a measure which I believe to be wrong, although by so doing I may accomplish that which I believe to be right."97
On the other hand, contended historian Robert W. Johannsen: "Logrolling of the boldest kind was resorted to, as the delegation supported all the amendments to the internal improvements act (including an appropriation to those counties which would be bypassed by the proposed projects), presumably in return for support for Springfield's pretensions."98 In 1839, a Vandalia newspaper reported that in the legislature, "Mr. Lincoln admitted that Sangamon county had received great and important benefits, at the last session of the Legislature, in return for giving support, thro' her delegation to the system of Internal Improvement; and that though not legally bound, she is morally bound, to adhere to that system, through all time to come!"99 Future Lincoln law partner Stephen T. Logan recalled talking to Lincoln in Vandalia during the session: "I took him to task for voting for the Internal Improvement scheme. He seemed to acquiesce in the correctness of my views as I presented them to him. But he said he couldn't help himself - he had to vote for it in order to secure the removal here of the seat of government."100
Passage of the internal improvements bill on February 27, 1837 was cause for great rejoicing in the state capital. Paul Simon wrote: "'All was joy!' reported the Vandalia State Register. In the House that night there were sixty-one lights to honor the sixty-one members who voted for the bill, and in the Senate chamber twenty-five lights for as many supporters."101 Historian Reginald Charles McGrane wrote: "The magnitude of the Illinois schemes exceeded the wants of the people in as great a degree as its estimated cost exceeded the resources of the state."102 Theodore Calvin Pease wrote: "The state had embarked on its mad speculation in haste; it was to have full seven years in which to repent at its leisure."103
The lure of dynamic economic growth and an explosion of land prices blinded sensible Illinoisans from the light of economic reality. Lincoln's normal defenders, biographers Nicolay and Hay, noted that despite the allocated sums, "monstrous as they were, were still ridiculously inadequate to the purpose in view. But while the frenzy lasted there was no consideration of cost or of possibilities. These vast works were voted without estimates, without surveys, without any rational consideration of their necessity. The voice of reason seemed to be silent in the Assembly; only the utterances of fervid prophecy founds listeners." According to Nicolay and Hay,"Mr. Lincoln is continually found voting with his friends in favor of this legislation, and there is nothing to show that he saw any danger in it. He was a Whig, and as such in favor of internal improvements in general and a liberal construction of constitutional law in such matters....He took, however, no prominent part in the work by which these railroad bills were passed. He considered himself as specially commissioned to procure the removal of the State capital from Vandalia to Springfield, and he applied all his energies to the accomplishment of this work." Hay and Nicolay wrote: "The most we can say for Mr. Lincoln is that he obeyed the will of his constituents, as he promised to do, and labored with singular skill and ability to accomplish the objects desired by the people who votes....He shared in that sanguine epidemic of financial and industrial quackery which devastated the entire community, and voted with the best men of the country in favor of schemes which appeared them like a promise of an immediate millennium, and now seem like midsummer madness. He entered political life in one of those eras of elusive prosperity which so often precede great financial convulsions."104 They added: "It was too much to expect of the Illinois Legislature that it should understand that the best thing it could do to forward this prosperous tendency of things was to do nothing; for this is a lesson which has not yet been learned by any legislature in the world."105
What was unfortunate for Illinois was not necessarily bad for Lincoln's constituents. Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame wrote: "The bargain crafted by Lincoln wound up benefiting Springfield at the expense of Illinois...In 1832, Lincoln had sensibly warned voters about the 'heart-appalling' costs of railroads and canals. Four years later he cavalierly ignored his own good counsel and that of friends like Stephen T. Logan, Orville H. Browning, John J. Hardin, Alexander P. Field, and Edwin B. Webb and helped saddle Illinois with a $14 million system of internal improvements that its population of 500,000 could ill afford....The interest on the necessary loans exceeded the entire revenue raised by the state in 1836. When the economy collapsed in 1837, any slight chance that the state could pay for the many projects went glimmering. Illinois suspended interest payments on its debt, and for years thereafter its credit rating was poor and its treasury strapped. The state, as Governor Ford noted, 'became a stench in the nostrils of the civilized world.' In 1843, John Todd Stuart complained: 'Our reputation is very much that of a set of swindlers.' Illinois did not finally pay off the loans incurred for the internal improvement system until 1880."106 Historian David H. Donald, however, defended Lincoln against widespread historical criticism of his legislative role: "It was not stupid or irresponsible to support the internal improvements plan. Had prosperity continued, it might have done as much for the prosperity of Illinois as the construction of the Erie Canal for that of New York. Nor was it fair to blame Lincoln for the enactment of the legislation. Certainly he favored and supported it, but he was not a prime mover behind the bill. If any person could claim that role, it was Stephen A. Douglas."107 Of course, Douglas did not claim that role.
Unfortunately, the legislative initiative in Illinois occurred at the same time as a major economic contraction in the United States - one spurred by Jackson's actions after killing the Bank of the United States in 1833. Jackson Administration policies contributed to a strong contraction of credit which was exacerbated by British financial policies leading to the Panic of 1837. Also killed were "Lincoln's dreams of becoming the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois," wrote Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. "Public sentiment turned against the costly and still-unfinished internal improvements system. For months, Lincoln fervently defended the system against the rising tide of criticism...His unwillingness to abandon the policies he had championed became self-destructive stubbornness."108 Thomas Ford wrote that "the only hope...was that the State might not be able to borrow the money. This was soon taken away; for the fund commissioners succeeded in negotiating a loan in the summer of 1837; and before the end of the year the work had begun at many points on the railroads. The whole State was excited to the highest pitch of phrenzy and expectation. Money was as plenty as dirt. Industry instead of being stimulated, actually languished. We exported nothing; and everything from abroad was paid for by the borrowed money expended amongst us. And if our creditors have found us slow of payment, they have been justly punished for lending us the money. In doing so, they disappointed the only hope of the cool, reflecting men of the State."109 A large part of the state's financial problem came from the method of financing the needed loans in Europe. Usher LInder recalled that four men "with their satchels full of State bonds, posted off to London and Hamburg, to negotiate the loan; and my impression now is, that General [William F.] Thornton was the only one of them who was able to sell the bonds at par, and he, by some arrangement that he made to have the money paid in English sovereigns at New York city, realized a very handsome premium."110
Even with this funding, poor planning and a failure to set priorities doomed the ambitious infrastructure plan. Thomas Ford complained: "No previous survey or estimate had been made, either of the routes, the costs of the works, or the amount of business to be done on them. The arguments in favor of the system were of a character most difficult to refute, composed as they were partly of fact, but mostly of prediction. In this way I have heard it proved, to general satisfaction, by an ingenious orator in the lobby, that the State could well afford to borrow a hundred millions of dollars, and expend it in making internal improvements." Ford wrote: "It is very obvious now that great errors were committed. It was utterly improbable that the great number of public officers and agents for the faithful prosecution of so extensive and cumbrous a system, could be found in the State; or if found, it was less likely that the best material would be selected. But the legislature went on to create a multitude of officers, for a multitude of men, who were all to be engaged in the expenditure of money, and superintending improvements, as if there were a hundred De Witt Clintons in the State; but there is no limit to the conceit of aspiring ignorance. Indeed, our past experience goes far to show that it has not yet been safe for Illinois, as a government, to have any very complicated or extensive interests to manage, for the want of men to manage them; and for the want of an enlightened public will to sustain able and faithful public servants, and to hold the unfaithful to a just and strict account."111
The implementation process itself doomed the projects. It was sloppy, negligent, and corrupt. Pease wrote: "Not only were some of the commissioners guilty at least of neglect and mismanagement, if not of positive malversation, but the enterprises were from the first befogged in the atmosphere of logrolling and bargain, under which the system had been initiated by the legislature. This condition necessitated an equal attention to all the localities benefiting by the improvements and contributing their share to the bargain by which it was pushed into operation. Accordingly the provision requiring simultaneous construction on all the roads prevented the concentrating of effort to complete any one and install it as a revenue producer" that might help support other projects.112
Democratic politician Usher Linder later wrote: "As to the railroads, I suppose everybody knows that they were not built; here and there through the State you could find some gradings and fillings, but never a tie nor rail was laid upon them by the State. They remained as monuments of legislative folly."113 That was almost but not entirely true. John Stover noted that the key priority for railroad construction was the Northern Cross. "Contracts were soon let for the construction of 55 miles of this line, running from Meredosia, on the Illinois River, east through Jacksonville to Springfield. Jacksonville and Springfield were the principal towns in Morgan and Sangamon counties. Stephen Douglas was practicing law in Jacksonville."114 This line "would be completed five years later in May 1842 when the railroad finally connected Springfield to Jacksonsville on the Illinois River, where goods could be shipped by water. Even that railroad soon ran into problems, noted Springfield historian Andy Van Meter: "Some farmers, angry over high freight charges, senselessly sabotaged the rail lines that were intended to decrease the cost of transporting produce. The engines, isolated from Eastern manufacturers, broke down for lack of spare parts. Within a few months, the freight cars were being pulled by mules; within a year investors abandoned the enterprise."115 This was the only section of the proposed railroad lines that was ever built before construction started more than a decade later. Lois A. Carrier wrote: "By 1844 the one and only locomotive had worn out, and the line had become a financial disaster."116 Stover wrote: "The line never made any money, and in the meantime Illinois had become completely disillusioned about internal improvements. The line was sold at auction in 1847 for $21,000 to a local group under the name of the Sangamon and Morgan Railroad." The major north-south rail line was also begun: "While this larger project did not receive the attention given to the Northern Cross, contracts were quickly let for surveys and grading. Grading was soon started at Cairo, at Galena, and at intermediate points. Thousands of dollars were spent on extensive dikes near Cairo, and tens of thousands of dollars were cubic yards of earth were moved and graded to make a forty-mile right-of-way north of that city. Large amounts of rail were ordered, but little was laid. In all, perhaps a million dollars was expended by the state."117
The Legislature in 1838
The future of the internal improvements system was never fully discussed in the 1838 gubernatorial campaign between Democrat Thomas Carlin and Whig Cyrus Edwards. Thomas Ford wrote that "Edwards...declared himself to be decidedly in favor of it. Thomas Carlin, the democratic candidate, was charged with secret hostility to it, but never so sufficiently explained his views, during the pendency of the election, that he could be charged with entertaining an opinion one way or the other. A large majority of the legislature was for the system. And although Mr. Carlin was elected governor, and most probably was opposed to it, yet, finding that nothing could be done with such a legislature, he was at the first session forced to keep silence."118 Publicly, Carlin maintained the appearance of support. Nevertheless, noted historian Theodore Calvin Pease, the program was an important "political issue in the campaign of 1838, the democrats claiming that the whig nominees, Edwards especially, were then, or had been, hostile to the system. The whigs it is true endeavored to disprove the assertion that Edwards had opposed improvements, but admitted that he preferred that they should be constructed by private enterprise rather than by the state."119 The Kentucky-born Carlin was sturdy in body and mind, but he was more courageous in body than in mind. He kept his own counsel.
Lincoln continued to be committed philosophically and politically to the internal improvements program, but he was moving against the currents of economic reality and depression and reality. As he stepped down from his post in December 1838, Governor Duncan told the legislature: "Experience has now sufficiently shown that all my objections to [Internal Improvements] must in time be fully realized....That there should have been many mistakes committed and much waste of public money...was to have been expected. But I confess they have occurred to an extent never anticipated by myself - and whether by mistake or design, it is very manifest that large sums have been squandered."120 As Carlin stepped into the governorship, he was less forthcoming.
Although criticism of the internal improvements program was growing, the scope of its projects also continued to grow. John Starr wrote that "the finances of the state were daily becoming more snarled and it was getting harder to keep up the interest on the loans negotiated. The Fund Commissioners, in addition to facing the problem of how to obtain funds to carry on the project, were working at cross-purposes....Instead of curtailing expenditures, which it should have...seen as the wise thing to do, the Eleventh Assembly expanded upon the system. Additional outlays were authorized for other work. A general taxation law was passed, carrying with it the provision for a levy of twenty cents on each hundred dollars worth of property in the state."121 This tax increase did generate opposition and resentment - helping to turn public sentiment against the internal improvements program.
Early Illinois historian John Francis Snyder wrote: "When the eleventh general assembly met at Vandalia, in December, the Whig Senate was presided over by a Democrat, Stinson N. Anderson, and Gov. Carlin shared the fate of his predecessors, Coles, Edwards, Reynolds and Duncan, in having the dominant party in the legislature opposed to him. In organizing the House, Abraham Lincoln - whose greatness had not yet developed - was the Whig candidate for Speaker, and though his party had a majority of one over the Democrats and Independents combined, he was defeated by William L. Ewing, a Democrat, the vote standing, for Ewing, 43, and for Lincoln, 38." Snyder noted: "In his last message to the legislature, when retiring from the executive chair, Gov. Duncan deprecated the internal improvement craze in the most emphatic terms, and implored the general assembly to call a halt, and try to repair, as far as possible, the wretched mistakes of the last legislature."
Thoughtful, conservative party friends of Gov. Carlin fondly hoped, and expected, he would make the same wise recommendation; but to their astonishment and disgust he said, in his inaugural message, "The signal success which has attended our sister states in their extensive systems of internal improvements can leave no doubt of the wise policy and utility of such works,'' and enlarged upon their usefulness in developing "the natural and hidden resources of the country;'' and, further, extolled the plan adopted for construction of the works by the State as, in every way, wiser and better than that of entrusting them to joint stock companies, or private corporations. "Under the present plan of proceeding,'' he said, "near two millions of dollars have been expended, and whatever diversity of opinion may now exist as to the expediency of the system as originally projected, all must admit that the character and credit of the State forbid its abandonment."122
Debate on internal improvements was a major issue in the legislative session that followed the 1838 election. On January 17, 1839 Lincoln authored a House resolution that showed him as a dedicated booster of his state's future. The resolution stated "we are now so far advanced in a general system of internal improvements that, if we would, we cannot retreat from it, without disgrace and great loss. The conclusion then is, that we must advance; and if so, the first reason for the State acquiring title to the public lands is, that while we are at great expense in improving the country, and thereby enhancing the value of all the real property within its limits, that enhancement may attach exclusively to property owned by ourselves as a State, or to its citizens as individuals, and not to that owned by the Government of the United States. Again, it is conceded every where, as we believe, that Illinois surpasses every other spot of equal extent upon the face of the globe, in fertility of soil, and in the proportionable amount of the same which is sufficiently level for actual cultivation; and consequently that she is endowed by nature with the capacity of sustaining a greater amount of agricultural wealth and population than any other equal extent of territory in the world. To such an amount of wealth and population, our internal improvement system, now so alarming, in view of its having to be borne by our present numbers, and with our present means, would be a burden of no sort of consequence. How important, then, is it that all our energies should be exerted to bring that wealth and population among us as speedily as possible. But what, it may be asked, can the ownership of the land by the State do towards the accomplishment of that desirable object? It may be answered that the chief obstruction to the more rapid settlement of our country is found in the fact that so much of our best lands lie so remote from timber - an obstruction that, did our State but own those lands, our Legislature might do much towards removing, by extending encouragement in the shape of donations, exemptions from ordinary burdens, or otherwise, to the rearing and cultivating of timber, or to the invention of means of building and enclosure that might dispense with the present profuse use of timber. This, then, is another reason why the State should desire the control of all the lands within its limits."123 Nevertheless Lincoln did support fellow Whig John Hardin's call for investigation of the program: "If there is extravagance or wrong, make it known, and correct it - now is the best time to do this; there is no imputation cast on the Commissioners, they are not perfect."124
Lincoln had his own revenue program to fund the program. "One saving action - if it can be termed that - on Lincoln's part was a resolution urging the federal government to sell federally owned land to the state at twenty-five cents an acre, the state hoping to resell it at a profit. Lincoln placed the total cost of such a purchase at $5,000,0000," wrote Paul Simon. "To those who thought the federal government would not be interested in selling the land at that price, Lincoln's response was that $5,000,000 represented one-third of the cost of the Louisiana Purchase, and compared with that, the federal government would do well by getting $5,000,000."125
Worry about and opposition to the internal improvements program were growing. Ability did not trump politics, however. Any action was ensnared in other political questions such as filling the positions of Illinois secretary of state and U.S. senator - eclipsing the reality of the state's desperate fiscal situation. Paul Simon noted: "The report of the auditors showed a balance on hand at the end of the fiscal year of $92.16 for the state of Illinois! A further illustration - even aside from the internal improvements extravaganza - that the Illinois financial picture was not what it should have been was the fact that the auditor's report showed an estimated total state income for the year of $67,000 and an estimated expenditure of $80,000." Meanwhile the cost of the internal improvements program was pegged at $15 million."126 But reality was catching up with legislative politics.
Whigs called for a special session to address the financial problems of the state. The Democrats opposed the session until September, when the Whigs switched to opposition and the Democrats switched to support of a special session that was finally held in December 1838. The internal improvements program was breaking up the state's finances. Thomas Ford wrote: "This session repealed the system, and provided for winding it up. By this time it became apparent that no more loans could be obtained at par. The Fund Commissioner, and those appointed to sell canal bonds, had adopted some ingenious expedients for raising money, all of which most signally failed. Upon the creation of the New York free banking system, a demand was at once created for State stocks, to set the swindling institutions under it in motion. The law required a deposit of State stocks of double the value of circulation and debt, together with a certain per centage in specie. Our commissioner enabled several of these swindling banks to start, by advancing Illinois bonds on a credit, in hopes that when the banks came into repute, they would receive payment in their notes. These banks all failed, I believe, in a short time, and the amount they received was nearly a total loss. Other State bonds, to a large amount, were left in various places on deposit, for sale, and others again freely sold on a credit, although the law required ready payment in cash at par."127
With the money for internal improvements gone, the blame game began in earnest in Illinois. Historian Charles Manfred Thompson wrote: "As soon as it became evident that the finances of the state were in disorder each party hastened to disclaim any responsibility for such a state of affairs." Thompson noted that the Democrats tried to put the onus of the blame on the Whigs although the political affiliations of legislative members was often ambiguous. He noted: "Members whose political predilections were uncertain were claimed or rejected by either party depending on whether or not they were on the popular side of the legislation."128
State Legislature in 1839-1840
In March 1839, Whig Abraham Lincoln, Democrat John Calhoun and three other Sangamon County legislators signed a call for a public meeting on the state's fiscal problems: "We invite every man in the County, who opposes the Revenue Law, to come armed with all the arguments against it that he can, and we confidently believe, we will be able to show, that none of them are well founded." The Lincoln-Calhoun unity dissolved, however, at the meeting itself when Calhoun flip-flopped. "During the meeting Calhoun came out against the internal improvements system," noted Paul Simon. "The Whig Sangamo Journal lost no time in pointing out that Democrat Calhoun was the secretary of the original state internal improvements convention. 'It now appears that he was opposed to the system - at the time he recommended its adoption,' commented the paper."129
Lincoln continued to believe in the principle of state internal improvements. Michael Burlingame wrote that in November 1839, "'A Citizen' (Probably Lincoln) defended internal improvements spending in a letter to the Sangamo Journal. Illinois legislators had done 'that which they thought would be for the future glory and honor of the State.' They sought to help farmers create 'a ready market for the fruits of their labor' by borrowing money to build roads 'whereon the farmer could transport his products to some port of embarkation.' An improved transportation network would provide a home market as well as 'a cheap and easy conveyance of commodities to foreign markets.' The parts of the system in place had 'already dispelled the gloom from the face of many a farmer and mechanic.' The author warned that to abandon the system would be ill-advised. Should the state manage to get 'through it honorably she will get glory.'"130
Despite the shift in Illinois politics, the sale of canal bonds was continued by Illinois's agents during 1839 - especially in London. Some bonds were sold but not on terms advantageous to the state. Lincoln friend Orville H. Browning penned a report for a committee of the Illinois State Senate that concluded: "Well may we say of London [that] the shark is there, and the shark's prey, - the spendthrift and the leech that sucks him."131 A new blame game involved whose fault was the sale of bonds on terms that were injurious to the state. Even the Michigan Canal got caught up in political squabbles in northern Illinois.
National and state politics had also heated up by the fall of 1839 as politicians prepared for the presidential election in 1840. Illinois fell deeper into fiscal trouble over its excessive spending on internal improvements. The crisis had been compounded by the unfavorable (and perhaps corrupt) loan terms that Illinois' negotiators had arranged - much to Governor Thomas Carlin's chagrin.132 Historian Reginald Charles McGrane summarized the fiscal problems that had been created by the end of 1839: "This crisis was precipitated by the close connection between the Illinois banks and the internal improvement schemes. Many of the banks were fiscal agents for the canals and the railroads, and 'if they went down they would carry the canal and internal improvement schemes in their train. A special session of the legislature was quickly summoned, which legalized the suspension of specie payment by the banks, but refused to touch the subject of internal improvements. 'As a last resort, many of the canal contractors made a proposition to take canal script and bonds from the state in lieu of money, preferring to do this rather than suffer on account of a cessation of labor on the canals.' This afforded only temporary relief. 'Many of the late purchasers of bonds failed to make payments as agreed upon, and the credit of the state declined still further. Finally, in 1838, the board of commissioners determined to suspend operations under all new contracts, and to curtail their expenditures within the narrowest possible limits. In October of 1839, John Wright and Company of London, which had taken about one million dollars' worth of the first bonds issued in 1837, failed. This embarrassed to a still greater degree the credit of the state."133
This was a very stressful period in Illinois. Governor Carlin called for an end to new internal improvement projects that the state government could not afford. He also called the state legislature into special session for December 1839 in Springfield. By then, estimates of the state's debt ranged from $11 to $15 million. (Because it was the first session in the new state capital, the state capitol was not yet finished and meetings would be held elsewhere in Springfield.) Members of the legislature thought the state should back out of at least one of its funding contracts. According to Lincoln biographer Albert Beveridge, "Members were nervous, irritable, suspicious. Their state of mind and temper indicated that the session would be what Governor Ford afterward described it, full of 'bitterness and personal hatred.'"134 Carlin told the legislature: "I would most earnestly recommend the concentration of all future labor and expenditures upon the most useful and promising [rail] road and to the improvement of such of the larger class or rivers as may be susceptible of steamboat navigation, and to suspend operations and expenditures upon all others."
Lincoln still tried to preserve something of the state's internal improvements program. Michael Burlingame wrote that Lincoln "argued 'that at least some portion of our Internal Improvements should be carried on...at least one work calculated to yield something towards defraying its expense, should be finished and put in operation.' When he voted for an unsuccessful proposal to have joint-stock companies take over the system, with the state owning some shares, the Springfield Register sneeringly declared that Lincoln 'has blown his pledges to the winds, and left the system to shift for itself. What an example of good faith!' The jibe was unfair, for Lincoln voted repeatedly to sustain the system, including the Illinois and Michigan Canal. When it was proposed that work on the canal be suspended, he said 'we should lose much by stopping the work on the Canal - that a mutual injury would result to the State by suspending all operations there....The embankments upon the Canal would be washing away, and the excavations filling up.' Although the legislature did not kill the internal improvements system de jure, it did so de facto.'"135 Lincoln scholar Paul Simon wrote: "During committee hearings on internal improvements, [John] Hardin told the House that he thought it was 'unnecessary to abuse the Internal Improvement system. It was like abusing a horse after he was dead and commenced stinking.'" Simon contended that "the most sensible vote Lincoln cast on internal improvements during this session came on a motion which would have set up 'joint stock companies,' the state becoming a stockholder 'to the extent of its expenditures on all the roads,' the remainder of the needed capital coming from private investment; these corporations then would run the railroads. Whether any would have successfully operated the railroads is doubtful, but it was worth a try. The motion, however, lost 49-28, Lincoln one of the twenty-eight voting for it."136
Representative Lincoln continued to see the solution to the state's economic problems in assigning proceeds from federal lands to the states.137 Albert Beveridge called this "scheme...Lincoln's favorite idea and had been since his first candidacy for the Legislature."138 (In 1843, Lincoln, according to Michael Burlingame, 'ridiculed opponents of Henry Clay's plan to distribute the proceeds of federal land sales: 'Many silly reasons are given, as is usual in cases where a single good one is not to be found.'"139)
Lincoln's once strong support of the internal improvements had softened by late 1839. He attended a Whig convention in Springfield that resolved: "We are opposed to the creation of so large a debt, as it is now discovered, would be entailed on the state by carrying out the internal improvement System, as contemplated by law; and that we believe the Systems needs classification, curtailment or suspension."140 He nevertheless believed something should be salvaged of the public works program, telling the House of Representatives in January 1840 that they should try "to save something to the State, from the general wreck...at least some portion of our Internal Improvements should be carried on. That after the immense debt, we have incurred in carrying these works almost to completion, at least one work calculated to yield something towards defraying its expense, should be finished and put in operation."141
Even in these tough economic times, political jobs could be had. Democrats continued to value the patronage jobs created by the Illinois and Michigan Canal Authority. Lincoln's friend John Calhoun resigned as state representative in 1839 when he was appointed treasurer of the Canal Authority to replace Democrat John McClernand, who was in turn named by the governor as the new Illinois secretary of state. Whigs declared Calhoun constitutionally ineligible for the canal post because the legislature had voted to raise the post's salary while he was a state representative. In a complicated game of musical appointments, Calhoun vacated the canal office when the clerk of the House was appointed to that job as his replacement. Calhoun then became clerk of the House.
Lincoln continued to support work on the faltering Illinois and Michigan Canal and even twice chaired a special committee to reconsider funding. Paul Simon wrote: "In House debate Lincoln said that stopping canal construction would be like stopping 'a skiff in the middle of the river - if it was not going up it would go down.'"142 More than two decades later, President Lincoln would support efforts to expand the canal. According to Gabor Boritt, Chicago Congressman Isaac N. Arnold "evidently obtained the Chief Executive's discreet support for the new venture very early. The 1861 annual message to Congress spoke of the military need for navigation improvements and specifically mentioned the Great Lakes region." The Illinois and Michigan Canal bill was paired with another to expand the Erie and Oswego Canal. Boritt wrote how President Lincoln handled the opposition: "Lincoln conferred with various people on the subject, including the old transportation building war horse Samuel Ruggles, Seward and Illinois Governor Richard Yates. At the end of 1862 the annual message came to the projects' strong support. The Chief Magistrate tied the waterways to the already approved Pacific Railroad, as did earlier its congressional supporters. He spoke of the canals 'as being of vital, and rapidly increasing importance to the whole nation, and especially to the vast interior region' which he described as the economic heart of the nation. He transmitted an evaluation of the military significance of the works that he had ordered made. And he promised to have further statistical information prepared on the subject."143 Despite this limited support, the canal bill stalled in Congress where the powerful House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Thaddeus Stevens opposed it with his usual derision. As chairman of the House committee on roads and canals, Arnold nevertheless engineered House passage in January 1865, only to have the bill fail in the Senate.
In the early 1840s, the canal's construction had stalled because of the lack of funding. Historian Charles Manfred Thompson noted: "By 1842, even the most optimistic friends of the canal were convinced that it could not be completed according to original plans, hence there was a widespread demand for its completion within more modest dimensions. Such a change was not only advisable because the canal would be more rapidly finished, but it was almost absolutely necessary in order to reduce the amount of money to be borrowed from the creditors for its completion. The Canal Bill of 1843 provided for turning over the canal and its appurtances to the bond holders on condition that they advance $1,600,000 for its completion."144
In addition to its fiscal crisis, Illinois faced a related one concerning the State Bank. When the legislature was convened in December 1839, Lincoln was appointed to a joint legislative committee charged with investigating the bank. A resolution calling for repeal of the internal improvements program narrowly failed to pass the House. Democrats tried to blame Whigs for problems with both the internal improvements program and the state bank. In a situation reminiscent of the demise of the Second Bank of the United States earlier in the decade, Democrats sought to end all operations of the State Bank. If the State Bank suspended payment of notes in specie for more than sixty days, its charter automatically terminated. As Lincoln predicted, "The legislature...has suffered the Bank to forfeit it's charter without Benefit of Clergy."145 A month later, he predicted: "The Bank will be resusitated [sic] with some trifling modifications."146
Lincoln friend David Davis wrote family members in January 1840: "Each party in the State is endeavoring amid the universal odium of 'the System' to throw the responsibility on the other, when in truth and fact, no party is responsible. The members of the Legislature as Individuals, differing in politics are responsible for it."147 Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "By 1840, the fourth year of recession, the mood in the legislature was set against continuing these projects. With funds no longer forthcoming, the improvement system collapsed. The state bank was forced to liquidate. Land values fell precipitously, and new pioneers were deterred from emigrating to Illinois."148
The State Legislature in 1840-1841
The projects were dead, but the blame game continued in 1840. Paul Simon wrote that House Speaker William L. D. "Ewing appointed a majority of Democrats to all committees, but the internal Improvements Committee he packed with Whigs because 'he thought the subject had become odious to the people, and he would throw the responsibility on the Whigs.'"149 Lincoln's friend, State Senator Orville H. Browning, said: "From the very first moment the bill made its appearance in the Senate, I have been doing battle against it, and I thank God, that, in whatever else I may have erred, I have not to atone for the sin of having voted for one solitary measure connected with the whole system."150 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln managed, after much cajoling, to persuade his colleagues to raise the general land tax and to issue special bonds to cover the pending interest obligations. Lincoln's 'interest bonds' scheme was criticized as 'a mere gull trap, set for the purpose of catching money holders & sharpers.' The tax hike, however, yielded insufficient revenue to solve the problem, and in July 1841 the state defaulted on its interest payments, causing the price of Illinois bonds to plunge. A Democratic state senator complained that the 'very men who voted for the rail Road system, men who indebted State millions, are afraid to vote one cent of taxes on their constituents to sustain the tottering credit of the State.' In 1842, the state took in revenues of less than $100,000, while interest payments approached $800,000."151 Theodore Calvin Pease wrote that "the hard times, the overwhelming debt, the difficulty of meeting even such taxes as were laid, produced throughout the state a cry for repudiation."152
The economic crisis caused by the aborted internal improvements projects also preoccupied Stephen A. Douglas, who had been appointed to the State Supreme Court after the court's size was expanded during this legislative session. Johannsen wrote: "The state's financial distress, the result of the Panic of 1837, continued to concern Douglas during his judicial term. Work on the ambitious internal improvements system had ceased and the Illinois and Michigan Canal was still unfinished. The state had defaulted on its interest payments, indebtedness mounted, and many people despaired of ever salvaging the state's credit. There was increasing talk of repudiation. Banking facilities were inadequate and the state suffered from a lack of circulating medium. The legislature had legalized the suspension of specie payment by the state bank, but instead of reducing its note issue, as expected, the bank increased it. Both the value of the bank's stock and credit of its notes declined rapidly."153
Lincoln retired from the Illinois legislature at the end of the 1840-1841 session and largely retired from the Illinois wars over internal improvements as well. On the last day that the legislature conducted business, February 27, 1841, Lincoln voted with the majority, 37-33, to authorize completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal whose construction was stalled for lack of funds. After fits and starts of construction, the 96-mile long canal would open in 1848 and continue to operate until 1933. Ironically, the Irish immigrants who provided the muscle for the project would become reliable Democratic voters against Lincoln and his Whig/Republican allies.154 Lincoln may have been glad to leave the state's fiscal problems to others. Pease wrote: "In the maze of proposals, or appeals for relief, that came from all sides, not much can be seen in 1842 but the claims of personal, factional, sectional or party interest."155
Thomas Ford took office as governor just as Lincoln was leaving the legislature. Theodore Calvin Pease wrote that in December 1842 Governor "Carlin, passing off the stage as governor, sent a farewell message to the general assembly that is no more than a sigh of 'Tis a muddle.' Like the good locofoco he was he attributed the whole internal improvement scheme to the baleful effect of paper money. He detailed in meager, bewildered paragraphs the steps of the state's downfall; he told the legislature that their duty was to provide for the payment of the interest on eleven millions of debt, some $670,000. He denounced as impracticable the raising of any money from the sale of state lands; and as arguments against taxation to discharge the interest he pleaded a declining tax roll, a disappearing circulating medium and popular disapproval. Thus abandoning all hope of paying the interest on the debt, he told the general assembly that it must plan to reduce the principle by surrendering the state lands to the bondholders in case they cared to take them. He recommended the rejection of the state's share of the distribution fund on grounds of principle and stammered his way to the close alike of his message and of his official career."156
Here is where the historian took control as governor. Speaking to the State Legislature in December 1842, Governor Thomas Ford declared: "We were visionary and reckless, and without sober deliberation jumped headlong into ambitious schemes of public aggrandizement, which were not justified by our resources." He said: " We were not satisfied with the slow, but sure profits of industry and lawful commerce. Speculation, in every branch of business, was the order of the day, and every possible means was hastily and greedily adopted to give an artificial value to property. In accomplishing this object, we surrendered our judgment to the dictates of imagination. No scheme was so extravagant as not to appear plausible. The most wild calculations were made of the advantages of a system of internal improvement- of the resources of the State to meet all expenditures, and of our ability to pay all indebtedness without taxation. Possibilities appeared to be highly probable, and probabilities wore the livery of certainty."157
Rivers and Harbors Convention
Abraham Lincoln's belief in the potential of internal improvements reflected his underlying optimism for the future of his region and his country. For five years after leaving the legislature, however, he wisely avoided the issue. Then, as a congressman-elect in early July 1847, he decided to attend the Rivers and Harbors Convention in Chicago. The first two Sangamon County delegates to the convention were chosen on May 22. But according to Lincoln scholar Joseph L. Eisendrath, "On May 20 he paid $200.00 for two shares of railroad stock, and shortly afterwards was added as the third (and last delegate)."158 The Chicago Daily Journal reported: "Abraham Lincoln, the only Whig representative to Congress from this state, we are happy to see, is in attendance upon the Convention. This is his first visit to the commercial emporium of the state, and we have no doubt his visit will impress him more deeply, if possible, with the importance, and inspire a higher zeal for the great interest of River and Harbor improvements. We expect much from him as a representative in Congress, and we have no doubt our expectations will be more than realized, for never was reliance placed in a nobler heart and a sounder judgment. We know the banner he bears will never be soiled."159
President James K. Polk's veto of an internal improvements bill in August 1846 had stated that "some one of the objects of the appropriation, contained in this bill, are local in their character, and lie within the limits of a single state; and though in the language of the bill they are called harbors, they are not connected with foreign commerce, nor are they places of refuge or of shelter for our navy or commercial marine on the ocean or lake shores."160 He wrote that the underlying constitutional assumption "tends imperceptibly to a consolidation of power in a Government intended by the framers to be thus limited in its authority."161 Polk's position was consistent with traditional Democratic ideology dating back to Thomas Jefferson. Polk biographer Robert W. Merry wrote that the veto "message was a pure distillation of the Jacksonian philosophy of strict construction and limited government."162 Ronald White wrote: "The Whigs, who had long championed internal improvements, seized a strategic opportunity to present their case. The decision to hold the convention 'at the terminus of lake navigation,' recognized not simply the large number of rivers and lakes affected, but the huge migration of people to the West."163
Illinois had a special interest in the legislation and the veto. Lincoln scholar Larry A. Riney wrote: "To the chagrin of Illinoisans, the vetoed bill affected planned improvements to the Chicago harbor and to both Mississippi River rapids. Polk claimed none of the harbors and rivers included were used for international trade and were the responsibility of local governments."164 Historian Michael Burlingame wrote that "Polk's veto...[was] an action that Westerners interpreted as a pro-Southern blow to their region's interests. When news of the veto reached Chicago, ships there lowered flags to half-mast, and a sandbar at the harbor's entrance was christened 'Mount Polk.' Snags in rivers became known as 'Polk stalks.'"165 Lincoln left Springfield on July 1 and arrived in Chicago by the time the convention convened on July 5. Illinois still had no rail lines to speed his travel. Chicago was overwhelmed by 10,000 visitors to the convention who more than doubled the city's population. The city was an appropriate venue for the convention since the completion of the Michigan-Illinois Canal was about to turn Chicago into a boom town.
The canal that Lincoln had long championed would not open for another year, but it soon would allow goods to be transported from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River via the Illinois River, which it linked to at LaSalle.166 A British Army officer who observed the canal in 1850, wrote: "This work...has had two most opposite effects upon the prosperity of the state of Illinois. By opening out the country it has given it a better chance of developing its agricultural resources. But on the other hand, the state, by entailing upon itself so large a debt, had no resource but to repudiate its debt or increase its taxation."167 Historian Marc Egnal wrote that the canal "virtually overnight turned a muddy town into a bustling metropolis. In the year 1847, Congressman Richard Yates explained, 'before the completion of the canal, the imports and exports of the city were only $4,500,000; while in the year 1848, the first year after its completion, they amounted to $10,000,000.'"168 A Swedish immigrant, who visited Chicago in 1857, observed: "Through this canal the state of Illinois, which in fertility is surpassed by no other state in the Union, became commercially the most important state in the West, and the city of Chicago became the center of trade in products of America and other countries. The canal became the first powerful force leading to the present greatness and is still the artery through which rejuvenating strength flows into the constantly growing city."169 Ironically, the canal's construction would continue to undermine Lincoln politically throughout his adult life. A labor shortage in Illinois had necessitated the importation of Irish laborers, who would become reliable Democratic voters - hurting first the Whig and later the Republican party.170
Little is known of Lincoln's participation at the Chicago convention except that on July 6 he responded to a speech by New York City lawyer David Dudley Field in which Field rejected the federal government's right to do navigation work on the Illinois River since it did not affect interstate commerce. Michael Burlingame wrote: "Some Whigs, not sympathizing with Field's argument, had tried to silence him with shouts of derision. Ever the peacemaker, Lincoln urged the delegates to consider themselves 'a band of brothers' and not interrupt each other: 'I hope there will be no more interruption - no hisses - no jibes.'"171 After an adjournment, Congressman-elect Lincoln reportedly "spoke briefly and happily in reply to Mr. Field." The New York Tribune described him as "a tall specimen of an Illinoisan."172 Lincoln saved his hisses for his public comments. Lincoln countered Field, a supporter of federal spending on New York's Hudson River, by inquiring "how many States the lordly Hudson ran through."173
"Who is to decide differences of opinion on constitutional questions?" asked Lincoln in his speech. "What tribunal? How shall we make it out? The gentleman from Pennsylvania [the Hon. Andrew Stewart] says Congress must decide. If Congress has not the power, who has? Is it not, at least for Congress to remedy the objection [that the Constitution did not authorize Congress to appropriate funds for internal improvements], and settle this question. If there is any other tribunal, where is to be found? My friend from Pennsylvania, Mr. Benton and myself, are much alike on that subject."174
The star of the Chicago convention was Lincoln's future attorney general, Missouri's Edward Bates, who was selected to chair its proceedings. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote: "Bates delivered the final speech. No complete record of this speech was made, for once Bates began speak, the reporters, Weed confessed, were 'too intent and absorbed as listeners, to think of Reporting.' 'No account that can now be given will do it justice,' Horace Greeley wrote in the New York Tribune the following week. In clear, compelling language, Bates described the country poised at a dangerous crossroad 'between sectional disruption and unbounded prosperity.' He called on the various regions of the nation to speak in 'voices of moderation and compromise, for only by statesmanlike concession could problems of slavery and territorial acquisition be solved so the nation could move on to material greatness.'"175 This was the classic Whig position of tying the nation together through transportation.
Lincoln must have been pleased with the Ninth Resolution of the Chicago Rivers and Harbors Convention: "That in consequence of the peculiar dangers of the navigation of the Lakes, arising from the want of harbors for shelter, and of the Western Rivers from snags and other obstructions, there are no parts of the United States more emphatically demanding the prompt and continued care of the Government to diminish those dangers, and to protect the life and property exposed to them; and that any one who can regard provisions for those purposes as sectional or local, and not national, must be wanting in information of the extent of the commerce carried on upon those lakes and rivers, and of the amount of teeming population occupied or interested in that navigation."176 Although still a river and canal man, Lincoln would become a railroad guy in the 1850s. The convention itself deliberately avoided discussion of any non-water issues, but after it adjourned, it reconvened as a committee of the whole to discuss railroad issues, including a transcontinental railroad.
Internal Improvements Speech
Five months later in December 1847, Congressman Lincoln attended his first session of the House of Representatives, which was dominated by issues concerning the Mexican-American War. Historian Mentor L. Williams noted that Polk could have pocket-vetoed the improvements legislation, but on December 15, 1847, he instead sent a "second veto message" to Congress: "Polk felt so strongly on the subject that he believed he was morally and politically bound to defend his position and expand his arguments. It had become a cause celebre with him; he saw himself in the role of a white knight crusading against the evils of a 'system,' the excess of which might well bankrupt the country. If the states wanted internal improvements of their rivers and harbors, let them, with the approval of Congress, adopt a tonnage levy to provide for the cost."177 Federal support for internal improvements had wide support in the North but there was deep suspicion among southerners worried that federal power in this area could potentially lead to federal power to limit slavery. Williams noted: "On December 21, John Wentworth, Illinois Democrat, introduced a resolution in the House declaring that the federal government had the authority to construct harbors and improve rivers for the protection of commerce and for defense. This resolution was approved by a vote of 138 to 54."
As the presidential campaign warmed up in 1848, Congressman Lincoln's attention turned to more familiar issues - but he spent a good deal of time doing his research nonetheless. "Mr. Lincoln came to the library one day for the purpose of procuring some law books which he wanted to take to his room for examination," recalled a librarian at the Library of Congress. "Getting together all the books he wanted, he placed them in a pile on a table. Taking a large bandanna handkerchief from his pocket, he tied them up, and putting a stick which he had brought with him through a knot he had made in the handkerchief, adjusting the package of books to his stick, he shouldered it and marched off from the library to his room. In a few days he returned the books in the same way."178
Nearly a year after the Chicago convention, Congressman Lincoln wrote Illinois Attorney General David B. Campbell, a Democrat: "I have been making an internal improvement speech, of which I will send you a copy when it shall be printed. I do not expect it will interest the people much, in the midst of the political excitement, immediately preceding a presidential election - but, the subject, being one of great and permanent interest, particularly to our district, I felt it a duty to say something about it. I shall seek an opportunity to make one political - [Zachary] Taylor - speech before the end of the session, since that will be about the close of my congressional career."179 At the time, the House was debating issues raised by the Harbors and Rivers Convention report that had been submitted to Congress.
Lincoln's speech seemed to pick up on his earlier remarks to the Chicago convention and apply them to the current presidential campaign in which Secretary of State Lewis Cass would be the Democratic nominee. Case would be handicapped by the Democratic platform that declared federal aid for such improvements to be unconstitutional. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln denounced Polk's veto of an internal improvements bill and Cass's hostility to federal support for such legislation. Although that subject had been debated early in the session, Lincoln may have refrained from speaking on traditional Whig economic policies until Taylor, whose views on those matters were sketchy, was safely nominated....A New York Tribune correspondent called it 'a very sensible speech,' showing that Lincoln not only understood the subject' but even 'succeeded in making the House understand it.'"180 Lincoln addressed how local transportation improvements benefitted the nation. Lincoln scholar Fred Kaplan wrote of Lincoln's internal improvements speech: "Congress should establish a list of projects that met the test of national advantage, even if indirectly, the way the Illinois-Michigan canal benefits New Orleans as well as New York and every place between."181 After laying out candidate Cass's public position on internal improvements, Lincoln detailed the basic objections to funding internal improvements programs:
These general positions are: That internal improvements ought not to be made by the general government -
Lincoln observed: "'Do nothing at all, lest you something wrong' is the sum of these positions - is the sum of this message. And this, with exception of what is said about constitutionality, applying as forcibly to making improvements by state authority, as by the national authority. So that we must abandon the improvements of the country altogether, by any, and every authority, or we must resist, and repudiate the doctrines of this message. Let us attempt the latter."182 Lincoln continued: "The just conclusion from all this is, that if the nation refuse to make improvements, of the more general kind, because their benefits may be somewhat local, a state may, for the same reason, refuse to make an improvement of a local kind, because it's benefits may be somewhat general. A state may well say to the nation 'If you will do nothing for me, I will do nothing for you.' Thus it is seen, that if this argument of 'inequality' is sufficient any where, - it is sufficient every where; and puts an end to improvements altogether. I hope and believe, that if both the nation and states would, in good faith, in their respective spheres, do what they could in the way of improvements, what of inequality might be produced in one place, might be compensated in another, and that the sum of the whole might not be very unequal."
Lincoln said: "But suppose, after all, there should be some degree of inequality. Inequality is certainly never to be embraced for it's own sake; but is every good thing to be discarded, which may be inseparably connected with some degree of it? If so, we must discard all government. This capitol is built at the public expense, for the public benefit, but does anyone doubt that it is of some peculiar local advantage to the property holders, and business people of Washington? Shall we remove it for this reason? and if so, where shall we set it down, and be free from the difficulty? To make sure of our object, shall we locate it nowhere? and have congress hereafter to hold it's sessions, as the loader lodged 'in spots about'? I make no special allusion to the present president when I say there are few stronger cases in this...world, of 'burthen to the many and benefit to the few' - of 'inequality' - than the presidency itself is by some thought to be. An honest laborer digs coal at about seventy cents a day, while the president digs abstractions at about seventy dollars a day. The coal is clearly worth more than the abstractions, and yet what a monstrous inequality in the prices! Does the president, for this reason, propose to abolish the presidency? He does not, and he ought not. The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, that of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded. On this principle the president, his friends, and the world generally, act on most subjects. Why not apply it, then, upon this question? Why, as to improvements, magnify the evil, and stoutly refuse to see any good in them?"183
Congressman Lincoln argued: "Mr. Chairman, on the third position of the message, the constitutional question, I have not much to say. Being the man I am, and speaking when I do, I feel, that in any attempt at an original constitutional argument, I should not be, and ought not to be, listened to patiently. The ablest, and the best of men, have gone over the whole ground long ago. I shall attempt but little more than a brief notice of what some of them have said...184 Lincoln continued: "I have already said that no one, who is satisfied of the expediency of making improvements, need be much uneasy in his conscience about it's constitutionality. I wish now to submit a few remarks on the general proposition of amending the constitution. As a general rule, I think, we would [do] much better [to] let it alone. No slight occasion should tempt us to touch it. Better not take the first step, which may lead to a habit of altering it. Better, rather, habituate ourselves to think of it, as unalterable. It can scarcely be made better than it is. New provisions, would introduce new difficulties, and thus create, and increase appetite for still further change. No sir, let it stand as it is. New hands have never touched it. The men who made it, have done their work, and have passed away. Who shall improve, on what they did?"185
Lincoln's comments on the difficulties engendered by internal improvements timelessly reflect the nature of human self-interest: "That the subject is a difficult one, can not be denied. Still it is no more difficult in congress, than in the state legislatures, in the counties, or in the smallest municipal districts which anywhere exist. All can recur to instances of this difficulty in the case of county-roads, bridges, and the like. One man is offended because a road passes over his land, and another is offended because it does not pass over his; one is dissatisfied because the bridge, for which he is taxed, crosses the river on a different road from that which leads from his house to town; another can not bear that the county should be got in debt for these same roads and bridges; while not a few struggle hard to have roads located over their lands, and then stoutly refuse to let them be opened until they are first paid the damages."186
The lack of adequate transportation would stifle the economy. Lincoln said: "Such products of the country as are to be consumed where they are produced, need no roads or rivers - no means of transportation, and have no very proper connection with this subject. The surplus - that which is produced in one place, to be consumed in another; the capacity of each locality for producing a greater surplus; the natural means of transportation, and their susceptability of improvement; the hindrances, delays, and losses of life and property during transportation, and the causes of each, would be among the most valuable statistics in this connection. From these, it would readily appear where a given amount of expenditure would do the most good. These statistics might be equally accessable, as they would be equally useful, to both the nation and the states. In this way, and by these means, let the nation take hold of the larger works, and the states the smaller ones; and thus, working in a meeting direction, discreetly, but steadily and firmly, what is made unequal in one place may be equalized in another, extravagance avoided, and the whole country put on that career of prosperity, which shall correspond with it's extent of territory, it's natural resources, and the intelligence and enterprize of it's people."187
Lincoln's speech did not have an immediate political impact although the House voted, 128-59, to approve a resolution that argued that Congress had the authority to fund international improvements. Historian Mentor Williams wrote the 1848 presidential election trumped congressional action. The new vice president, Millard Fillmore, succeeded the new president, Zachary Taylor, when Taylor died in 1850. In 1852, wrote Williams, "Fillmore sanctioned a pork barrel appropriation of $2,212,790 for rivers and harbors."188
Lincoln and Railroads
Attorney Lincoln would have more impact on the question of internal improvements than did Congressman Lincoln Lincoln's return to Illinois from Congress in 1849 coincided with the eve of rapid railroad growth in Illinois. Railroads had been in their infancy in the 1830s. Olivier Frayssé wrote: "The internal improvements supporter of 1837 was firmly resolved to take his place in the development of railroads in Illinois, even if the wheels of progress crushed some agricultural interests. From the point of view of production, the arrival of the railroad was beneficial, as Lincoln explained in an open letter praising the Springfield and Alton Railroad....The question of who would profit from building the line, several shares of which Lincoln owned, was not brought up for the answer was obvious: all farmers, small and large, without distinction, because commodities could more easily reach the market."189 Railroads changed business and society. Historian Vernon Burton wrote: "The train was a powerful symbol for nineteenth century America and the age of industrialization. Trains standardized time across four zones in America. Trains changed the nature of rural life as farmers shipped their crops to market from towns that grew up around the railroads."190 There was a symbiotic relationship among cities, the railroad, and rural America. Historian Daniel Walker Howe wrote: "Most early American railroads, like Baltimore's, reflected the ambition of cities to engross the trade of a hinterland before some municipal competitor did so. They expressed the same geographical rivalries that canal building had."191 Howe noted: "By the end of the 1830s, there were 450 locomotives in the country, only 117 of them imported from Britain, and 3,200 miles of track - as much as the total canal mileage, and amazingly, more than twice the track in all Europe. Railroad building proceeded more quickly in the United States not only because of the greater felt need but also because of the availability of land. Where European railways had to spend a lot of time and money acquiring their rights-of-way, American ones got theirs cheaply or in free land grants."192
The promise in railroads became evident in the 1840s. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote that "railroad boosters, lobbyists, and lawyers descended so thickly on state capitals that they became a virtual branch of government. Federal assistance included a reduction of tariffs on imported iron (repealed in 1843 in defence to domestic foundries) and grants in the 1850s of 18 million acres of western land that subsidized forty-five railroads including the mighty Illinois Central linking Chicago and New Orleans." Government aid was important, noted McDougall: "Nearly 90 percent of the $1.25 billion spent on railroads by 1860 was private investment (much of it British and French); and the 'stimulation' provided by governments was so haphazard, exuberant, local, and crooked that that American railway construction was, in retrospect, a fiasco."193 The process was inefficient, but the end result was to increase economic efficiency. Historian Daniel Walker Howe wrote: "The efficiency with which railroads could transport freight meant that inventories and storage costs could be reduced in many parts of the economy. By facilitating long-distance travel, the railroads also made the labor market more responsive. Cultural consequences of the railroads included the proliferation of reading matter and the ability to take regular vacations in distant places, a custom that began with the wealthy and gradually extended to include the middle class."194 McDougall noted: "Railroads hastened the settlement of the West, created vast new real estate markets, inspired new ways to marshal capital, transformed Wall Street financial markets, accelerated the progress of thermodynamics and civil engineering, and caused the public and private sectors to improvise new ways to flirt with (and sometimes seduce) each other.'"195 Railroads literally tied the country together - especially the Midwest with the Northeast. In the process of building railroads, the North became more cohesive economically, noted Howe.196
Illinois's central geographic position made it pivotal to the growth of America's railroad network. The state was a natural hub for east-west and north-south lines. Lincoln returned to Illinois in turn to play a pivotal role in the railroad development of the state. Historian Michael Burlingame wrote: "In 1848, the adoption of a new state constitution, the completion of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the launching of a rail line connecting Chicago with Galena, and the arrival of a presidential message via the telegraph for the first time all heralded the end of the frontier era. During the 1850s, the state's rail network expanded rapidly (from 111 miles to 2,790) and its population doubled (from 851,470 to 1,711,951)...Railroads slashed the travel time between those cities [Chicago and Springfield] from 3 days to 12 hours. The 705-mile Illinois Central Railroad system, begun in 1851, was the world's longest when completed five years later."197 Illinois became a true railroad state in the 1850s - fulfilling the dreams that resident like Lincoln had in the 1830s. "The most important factor in the growth of population during the fifties was the development of railroads," wrote historian Benjamin P. Thomas of Illinois. "In 1850 no two county seats were connected by rail. During the decade of the fifties, however, railroads were built throughout the state, and by 1854, every county seat in the circuit, expect Pekin and Metamora, could be reached by train. The Chicago and Alton Railroad ran through Springfield, Lincoln and Bloomington. The Illinois Central served Bloomington, Clinton and Urbana, while the Great Western ran through Springfield and Danville." Growth along the railroad lines boomed. Thomas noted that the railroad through Logan County doomed "Mt. Pulaski as a county seat." Instead, a new town grew up around a railroad station on the Chicago and Alton line. The new town was named "Lincoln."198 It became the new county seat in 1854.
Illinois's progress in the early 1850s was as swift as it had been stunted in the late 1830s. Historian William C. Harris wrote: "When the decade began, Illinois had only 110 miles of railroad track, fewer even than South Carolina and three other slave states. By 1860, Illinois' railroad mileage had climbed to 2,868, and only Ohio in the United States could claim more track....The Illinois Central and other railroads opened markets for farmers and contributed immensely to the growth of towns and communities along their routes. During the 1850s, the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis Railroad, with short east-west rail connections, provided convenient access to Springfield for lawyers, politicians, and others with state and legal business to conduct, important contacts to be made, and political meetings to attend."199 Historian Stephen Ambrose noted that the rail construction "transformed the state's economic and social order and presented new challenges for the Illinois legal system."200
Lincoln was determined to be part of the economic transformation that railroads would make in the state. "As a lawyer who had to ride the circuit on horseback or in a buggy, he knew how great was the demand for passenger trains," wrote Stephen E. Ambrose.201 As a lawyer, Lincoln knew there were disputes needing resolution. Stewart Winger wrote: "Lincoln operated in an environment in which the modern business corporation was being created in law, and the Illinois Central retained him in part because of his political connections."202 As a Springfield attorney with strong connections in the legislature and State Supreme Court, Lincoln was well-positioned to do railroad work. Lincoln legal chronicler John Duff wrote: "The powers of the railroads under their charters had to be defined; the rights of individual landowners along the rights of way required determination, as did the rights and privileges of passengers and shippers and the corresponding duties and liabilities of the railroads. In the flood of new litigation which engulfed the courts - all part of the great romance of early railroading - it was given to Lincoln to contribute to the law of common carriers in the State of Illinois, and indirectly the law of the land, in a measure which is incalculable."203
Lincoln took railroad work wherever he could find it. Although Lincoln is often characterized as a railroad attorney, scholar James W. Ely, Jr. has noted: "Lincoln also regularly brought suit against railroads on behalf of individual clients. He instituted actions against carriers for nonpayment of supplies and for assessment of damages when land was taken by eminent domain. He also represented a landowner in opposition to a condemnation proceeding by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad to take land for depots and shops."204 Ely noted: "Railroading presented new challenges for the legal system and new opportunities for Lincoln's law practice. Lincoln played a major role in fashioning the emergent railroad law and gained recognition for his efforts."205 Lincoln understood that regardless of the issue, railroads were the clients who could provide for his financial future. And although the growth of railroads doomed the old traveling fraternity of Eighth Judicial District attorneys, Lincoln continued to make the rounds of county courts until he was nominated for president. Lincoln's reputation was another asset as he sought clients on railroad issues. Lincoln scholar Mark Steiner wrote: "The Illinois Central hired Lincoln to represent it because he was well known to, and trusted by, rural juries. But this fame and trust were founded on the perception that Lincoln stood for something besides the self-interest of any particular client."206
Illinois Central Railroad
The linchpin in the state's railroad networks was the north-south Illinois Central Railroad that would run the length of the state. The National Road that President Thomas Jefferson had launched westward from the nation's capital to the nation's heartland had made Illinois accessible in the early part of the 19th Century. Railroads had the potential to make the state more prosperous, but local political differences and competition for a charter stalled plans for a major north-south rail link. An early advocate of the north-south route was Sidney Breese, a long-time Democratic office-holder and judge, who claimed "to have first projected this great road in my letter of October, 1835." In 1836 Breese and nearly five dozen others signed the incorporation papers for the Central Railroad Company.207 Stephen A. Douglas at the time was just winning election to the state legislature. Both Douglas and Breese would win appointment to the State Supreme Court, but they became fierce rivals. In December 1842, Breese won election to the U.S. Senate over Douglas. In the Senate, Breese served on the critical Committee on Public Lands from which position he issued reports advocating the Illinois Central railroad. He was, however, unable to move legislation for federal land grands for Illinois railroads. Rather than working with each other, Breese and Douglas, who joined the Senate in 1847, competed for responsibility and credit in bringing the railroad to reality. Their personal interests were not always distinct from their political interests and public advocacy.
Railroad historian John F. Stover attributed Breese's failure to his "continued preference for the plans of Darius Holbrook [with whom he became associated in the 1830s]...More and more citizens of the state during the mid-1840s came to view Holbrook as a shrewd easterner who was promoting north-south railroad only because he thought it would help his investments in land down in Cairo. Also by the late forties much of the Illinois population was becoming disenchanted with the original Cairo-to-Galena route of the proposed railroad." That was particularly true in the growing northern section of the state whose residents economically looked east, not south. The senatorial rivalry stalled legislation since Breese and Douglas had competing visions and competing interests. Eventually, Douglas succeeded where Breese failed. Stover wrote that "in Congress Douglas never supported the preemption land grant proposed by Senator Breese. Douglas preferred a land grant donation to the State of Illinois rather than to a private corporation." Lincoln, however, sided with Breese. As Stover pointed out, Senator Douglas had personal financial motivations as well as political ones. Stover wrote: "Lincoln entered the House of Representatives in December 1847 on the same day that Douglas took his seat in the Senate. During his two years of service in the Thirtieth Congress the lanky Illinois lawmaker forwarded from his Illinois constituents numerous petitions that asked for a direct grant of land to the Central Railroad." John Stover wrote: "The first proposal of Douglas for a donation of land to the State of Illinois was reported upon favorably by the Committee on Public Lands in the spring of 1848, and was debated on the floor of the Senate early in May of that year. The passage through the upper house was quite easy, and the Senate on May 4, 1848, supported the Douglas measure by an affirmative vote of 24 to 11. Later, in the lower house the proposal was turned down by a vote of 79 to 73, despite the best efforts of Abraham Lincoln and other members of the Illinois delegation. In both the House and the Senate, Whigs gave the measure greater support than did the Democrats."208
Two years later, Breese was replaced in the Senate by State Auditor James Shields, who was much more inclined to work with Douglas on his railroad bill. Douglas became the prime mover in passage of the railroad land-grant of 1850, which passed Congress on September 20, 1850. Stover wrote: "Douglas also gained more local support when the new bill provided that a branch of the rail route be built up to Chicago. He agreed with the suggestion of Senator George Wallace Jones of Iowa that the northwestern terminal of the road should be extended past Galena up to Bunleith, just across the Mississippi from Dubuque, Iowa. The bill was made more attractive to politicians from the South when an amendment was added providing a land grant in Alabama and Mississippi for a road running from Mobile up to the mouth of the Ohio River, where it would connect with the Illinois road." Unlike most railroads of the time, the Illinois Central's north-south orientation fit Douglas's own political orientation. John F. Stover noted: "Most project railroads in the upper Mississippi Valley ran from east to west to capture the trade of the expanding frontier, and once well under way they frequently added the word 'Pacific' to the company name."209 This was actually the third incarnation of the Illinois Central Railroad, which originally had been conceived in the 1837 legislation to spur internal improvements. In the 1840s, the Great Western Railway was organized to do the same job. It went bankrupt by 1845.
The Senate debated the legislation in the spring of 1850. It gained support from both Senator Jefferson Davis and William Seward. It passed the Senate on May 3 by a 26-14 vote. The vote was closer in the House,101-75. Stronger support came from the South, but support also came from Eastern congressmen who had invested in Illinois infrastructure or bonds.210 Stover wrote: "The 1850 act gave public land to Illinois, Mississippi and Alabama through which the Great Lakes to Gulf railway would run."211 The Illinois Central's grant was for 2.5 million acres. It was, wrote Charles Leroy Brown "a landmark in American history" because it became the forerunner of much other federal railroad legislation, including the transcontinental railroad.212 To pass Congress, however, the Illinois Central grant was tied to a larger railroad scheme that would extend through Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. The South's preference for water over railroad transportation might have made short-term political sense but it hampered the South's regional commercial development.
Douglas found a way to overcome that reluctance. As Douglas recalled the early history of the line's creation: "As early as 1835 the Illinois Legislature granted to D. B. Holbrooke a charter for the Illinois Central Railroad, and also for the construction of a city at the mouth of the Ohio River, called Cairo, and various other charters for enterprises connected with his proposed improvements at Cairo. Before Mr. Holbrooke had taken any steps to construct the road, the Illinois Legislature, at the session of 1836 and 1837, commenced a system of internal improvements at the expense and under the control of the State, which system embraced the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad among other works, and they repealed the charter granted to Mr. Holbrooke for that road. After spending a large amount of money on these various works, including over a million of dollars upon the Illinois Central road, the credit of the State failed during the pecuniary revulsion in 1837, 1838, 1839, and 1840, and the works were all abandoned. Mr. Holbrooke again applied to the State for a charter to construct the road, which was granted to him and to his associates, together with all the work that had been already done, on condition that he would proceed and construct the road."213
Douglas arranged to get the senators of Alabama and Mississippi to vote for his bill - against their own will. Douglas recalled: "The bill, when first introduced, had been opposed by the Senators from Mississippi, Davis and Foote, on the ground of its unconstitutionality, and also by the Senators from Alabama, King and Clemens, and by the members of the House from those States. Immediately after its first defeat, I went to my children's plantation in Mississippi, and from there to Mobile, intending to see the president of the Mobile Railroad, then building, but which had been stopped, and failed for want of means. I inquired the way to his office, found it and himself, and fortunately all the directors, who had just had a meeting, and knew what to do. I proposed to him to procure a grant of lands, by making it part of my Illinois Central Railroad Bill, which they assented to. I then told them that their Senators and Representatives must vote for the bill. They said they would. "No!" I replied, "they have already voted against it. It is necessary to instruct them by the Legislatures of your States." One of the directors, Foote, was related to Senator Foote, of Mississippi, and said he would have this done, and that Foote should never be reelected to the Senate unless he did vote as was required. The others all thought they had sufficient influence to secure instructions from the Legislatures of Alabama and Mississippi. I told them it was necessary to keep quiet, and secret, as to my connection in the matter. They promised this, and we all returned to Montgomery. Alabama." After the bill triumphed in the Senate, Douglas worked with Springfield Congressman Thomas Harris, who had replaced Lincoln in 1849, to get the bill through the House of Representatives. Through laborious parliamentary maneuvers, they got the bill considered and passed by the narrowest of margins "during the excited times of slavery discussion and agitation in 1850," recalled Douglas. Douglas was so opposed to Holbrooke's involvement that he was force to sign a release of the Illinois charter that gave him right to build the Illinois Central. Douglas favored a plan backed by eastern financiers, led by Robert Rantoul. The Senate passed the legislation in early February 1850. Proudly, the Illinois senator boasted: "If any man ever passed a bill, I did that one. I did the whole work, and was devoted to it for two entire years. The people in Illinois are beginning to forget it. It is sometimes said, 'Douglas never made a speech upon it.' The Illinois Central Railroad Company hold their lands now by virtue of the release from Holbrooke, which I procured.214 Douglas stood to benefit as well. Stover noted that "Douglas had for some time owned land near Chicago and along the lakefront. By 1852 he had sold sixteen acres of this property, most of which was actually under water, to the Illinois Central for right-of-way. Douglas receives $21,320 for his land, a figure that gave him a considerable profit."215
Attention then shifted from Washington to Illinois, Having passed Congress, legislative action was necessary in Illinois to charter a company. There were three competing groups - with a group of eastern businessmen eventually prevailing. "All who have studied this subject believed that Lincoln took an active part in that legislative contest," wrote Charles Leroy Brown. "But the evidence is in hopeless conflict as to which side he was on."216 Both the federal and state tracks for development were now in place. John Stover wrote: "The substantial federal land grant held by the Illinois Central assisted in the fairly rapid completion of the road, since the directors were able to pay for much of the construction costs with bonds secured by the bulk of the grant...Since the railroad was assuring itself of an increasing traffic with every farm it sold, the Illinois Central was an early promoter of agriculture."217 The development of the agricultural economy of Illinois directly impacted the viability of the railroad in the state. Thomas Crump wrote that "the deep roots of the prairie grass made the soil difficult to plow - particularly in the years before 1837, the year in which John Deere invented his steel plow. At the same time the flatness of the land made it difficult to drain, while drinking water was in short supply. But then, if the prairie was broken, it was - after the introduction of the McCormick reaper during the 1830s - extremely productive, so that above all wheat could be harvested in quantities far beyond the consumption needs of a farming family. To achieve this, however, not only were better tools needed, but a better transport infrastructure."218
With the growth of the railroad came a growth in legal work for the railroad. Lincoln chronicler Roy Morris wrote: "The Central Illinois Railroad bill that Douglas had shepherded through Congress brought with it a golden shower of work for lawyers across the state, and Lincoln was not shy in seeking his share."219 Lincoln worked on a variety of cases for the Illinois Central, from the very small to the very consequential, from 1852 until he ran for president in 1860. Historian William D. Beard wrote: "Railroads presented new challenges for the Illinois legal system and Lincoln's law practice as well. Legislators and judges combined English precedents prior state and federal rulings, and their own conceptions of public policy, legislative prerogative, and judicial activism in order to create the first state railroad regulations."220
Whether he actually worked or not, Lincoln expected to get paid for being on one side or the other of railroad disputes. In the middle of his campaign against the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, Lincoln wrote the railroad's top lawyer, Mason Brayman, that he was billing the company for $100: "The reason I have taken this liberty is that since last fall, by your request, I have declined all new business against the road, and out of which I suppose I could have realized several hundred dollars. Have attended, both at DeWitt and here, to a great variety of little business for the Company, most of which, however, remains unfinished, and [I] have received nothing. I wish now to be charged with this sum, to be taken into account on settlement."221 According to historian Carlton J. Corliss, "The 'great variety of little business' to which Lincoln referred consisted of cases involving trespass, right-of-way, property damage, injury to livestock, freight claims, and so on."222
Lincoln's railroad work was not necessarily politically popular. Historian Ronald White wrote that "the Illinois Central quickly established a reputation as a large and unpopular bully. It was infamous for striking cows on the rails, setting barns on fire with stray sparks, and losing the freight of its customers."223 Lincoln's motivation in these cases was financial. Railroad work was lucrative whether he was working for a railroad or against it. Allen Guelzo wrote: "Between 1854 and 1859, Lincoln represented the Illinois Central's interests in over fifty cases (including eleven before the state supreme court), ranging from the eviction of squatters on lands granted by the federal government, to livestock owners who wanted the railroad held liable for inadequate fencing along rail lines and the loss of value their animals suffered during delays in market shipment." Guelzo wrote that Lincoln "became, by 1855, the Illinois Central's de facto agent on the Eighth Judicial Circuit, and the circuit's strategic sprawl across middle Illinois made Lincoln a key figure in the state's most ambitious internal improvements project. 'Much as we deprecated the avarice of great corporations,' Herndon chuckled, 'we both thanked the Lord for letting the Illinois Central Railroad fall into our hands.'" Guelzo wrote that "Lincoln, always willing to represent anyone able to pay fees, also took up suits against the railroads, as in a small suit for unpaid bills against the Sangamon & Morgan and the larger suits of big-time property owners whose land values were threatened by the encroachment of the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad."224
Sometimes, Lincoln's cases were bigger and longer in duration. In one important case, Lincoln first gave McLean County, rather than the Illinois Central, a chance to hire him. On September 12, 1853 he wrote: "On my arrival here to court, I find that McLean county has assessed the land and other property of the Central Railroad, for the purpose of county taxation. An effort is about to be made to get the question of the right to so tax the Co. before the court, & ultimately before the Supreme Court, and the Co. are offering to engage me for them. As this will be the same question I have had under consideration for you, I am somewhat trammelled by what has passed between you and me; feeling that you have the prior right to my services; if you choose to secure me a fee something near such as I can get from the other side. The question, in its magnitude, to the Co. on the one hand, and the counties in which the Co. has land, on the other, is the largest law question that can now be got up in the State; and therefore, in justice to myself, I can not afford, if I can help it, to miss a fee altogether. If you choose to release me; say so by return mail, and there an end. If you wish to retain me, you better get authority from your court, come directly over in the Stage, and make common cause with this county."225 When the McLean County authorities did not act, Lincoln wrote the Illinois Central's Mason Brayman on October 3: "Neither the county of McLean nor any one on it's behalf, has yet made any engagement with me in relation to it's suit with the Illinois Central Railroad, on the subject of taxation. I am now free to make an engagement for the Road; and if you think fit you may 'count me in.'"226
"Not until January 1856 (the year the [Illinois Central] was completed) did the Illinois Supreme Court deliver a decision that accepted Lincoln's argument that the railroad was exempt. Lincoln handed the IC a bill for $2,000," wrote historian Stephen E. Ambrose. "The railroad rejected it, claiming, 'This is as much as Daniel Webster himself would have charged.' Lincoln submitted a revised bill for $5,000. When the corporation refused to pay, he brought suit and won.'"227 Although Lincoln lost the payment case in the district court, he won it on appeal before the State Supreme Court in December 1855. But contrary to opinion at the time and since, argued Charles Leroy Brown, Lincoln did not really save the company money in this case. The Illinois Central paid Lincoln without challenging the 1857 lawsuit he brought for payment because the railroad needed his help in a forthcoming lawsuit with his friend, State Auditor Jesse Dubois. This lawsuit, argued Brown, had the prospect of bankrupting company in taxes owed not to counties but to the state - taxes that were so high that the company simply could not pay them. Thus, the railroad was paying to continue to use his services. Historian Stewart Winger wrote that "in The State of Illinois v. Illinois Central Railroad, Lincoln successfully lobbied the legislature to give the Illinois Supreme Court original jurisdiction in a tax assessment dispute where he knew the court would be friendly to the railroad. This pulled the Illinois Central from the brink of bankruptcy in the wake of the panic of 1857. On a bipartisan basis, the leadership of Illinois apparently deemed the railroad too big to fail."228 Lincoln earned his fees. Historian William C. Harris wrote of Lincoln: "At one point, when he was not on retainer, Lincoln concluded that he had saved the Illinois Central half a million dollars, earning him, according to his calculations, a fee of more than $5,000."229 James Ely wrote: "Lincoln appears to have handle[d] more than fifty cases for the Illinois Central. Many of these were resolved at the trial level, but he argued eleven appeals for the line before the Illinois Supreme Court."230 And Lincoln was on good terms with the judges on that tribunal.
In helping the railroad, Lincoln was helping develop the interior of the state. Historian Eric Foner noted: "The railroad transformed Chicago's agricultural hinterland, a vast are including northern and central Illinois and parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, into one of the world's preeminent centers of commercial agriculture." He noted that the state's "economy reoriented itself from south to east. Railroads shipped farm goods previously sent to New Orleans to the burgeoning cities of the Atlantic seaboard, weakening the state's ties to the slave South."231 William Harris noted that the new rail links were good for the state and good for Mr. Lincoln: "The Illinois Central and other railroads opened markets for farmers and contributed immensely to the growth of towns and communities along their routes. During the 1850s, the Chicago, Alton, and St. Louis Railroad, with short east-west rail connections, provided convenient access to Springfield for lawyers, politicians, and others with state and legal business to conduct, important contacts to be made, and political meetings to attend."232 The impact was particularly dramatic on Senator Douglas's hometown of Chicago. "Chicago, whose fortune was built on railroads, was already in 1850, with 30,000 residents, not only the largest city in Illinois, but also, with thirteen separate railroads planned to converge upon it," wrote Thomas Crump.233
Not every case Lincoln argued was popular so there was a potential downside to Lincoln's work. Biographer Michael Burlingame wrote: "In October , Douglas repeatedly accused Lincoln of favoring the interests of the unpopular Illinois Central Railroad over those of the people. Three months earlier, Henry C. Whitney had urged Lincoln to 'turn the hatred of the people to the I.C.R.Rd. against Douglas,' but Lincoln never did. The senator understood the advantage of making his opponent appear a tool of the Illinois Central, which the previous year had gone into receivership and then foreclosed on 4,000 mortgages, it was also asking to be relieved of its tax obligation to the state. After denying that he had ever worked as an attorney for the company or recommended that it be exempted from state taxation, Douglas suggested that his listeners pose questions to the challenger: 'Ask him whether he did not hire out to the Company, to make a good bargain for the Company, against the State; and ask him how much money he got for having induced the Legislature to reduce the per centage from fifteen to seven per cent; and then ask him whether he is not to-day in the pay of that Company, and whether he is not now living and getting his bread from that Company.' He implied that Lincoln favored eliminating the 7 percent tax; and denounced anyone who favored such a step 'as an enemy to the State of Illinois - as a traitor to her best interests.'"234
Douglas repeatedly tried to exploit Lincoln's links to the company for his own political gain. Burlingame wrote: "The Little Giant further declared that, in the late 1840s, he had persuaded the Senate to grant land to the state of Illinois, not directly to the Illinois central, for promoting the growth of the rail network. But the House of Representatives, in which Lincoln then sat, defeated the measure. 'We tried it over and again got beaten,' he recalled, 'and we never could pass that bill as long as Lincoln was there. Lincoln was then regarded as an abolitionist, making war upon the south, as a sectional man. He further implied that Lincoln was one of the lobbyists for the Illinois Central who managed to get the tax rate set at 7 percent, below what Douglas thought fair, and attacked Lincoln for receiving a $5,000 fee as payment for representing the company in the suit brought by McLean County, money that would be used 'toward defraying his campaign expenses.' Douglas added, 'notwithstanding the enormous fee that Lincoln was paid, he is still the agent and attorney of that company....I applied to the company not three weeks ago and ascertained that he is now in their employment.' Indignantly, he protested that 'Lincoln and his friends might as well charge me with a conspiracy to murder my own children as to deprive the state of that [seven percent tax] fund."235 Lincoln, of course, made his living as a lawyer. Douglas, on the other hand, made his money in real estate transactions - which the railroad made more profitable.
Furthermore, Douglas's charges were curious since he, not Lincoln, was the railroad's favorite candidate in the contest. The Illinois Central's vice president, George B. McClellan, overtly favored Douglas and provided him with a special train for his campaign travels. Hurt by reverses in his investments and the antipathy of Buchanan Democrats, Douglas needed any financial assistance he could get against Lincoln in 1858. Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted that "Douglas leased the Illinois Central Railroad directors' private passenger car; strung along the side of the baggage car was a banner announcing S. A. DOUGLAS, THE CHAMPION OF POPULAR SOVEREIGNTY, and attached to Douglas's car was a flatbed, with a baby brass howitzer and two gunners, in red militia shirts and 'wearing cavalry sabers,' to 'awaken the natives along route' to his arrival."236 In helping Douglas, McClellan was creating trouble for the railroad. Carlton J. Corliss, wrote that "the way McClellan looked after Douglas and let Lincoln tend for himself did not sit well with Lincoln's warm personal friend, [Jesse] DuBois. The state auditor regarded McClellan's action as reflecting the official attitude of the railroad, and he decided to even the score. How else can we account for the fact that the day after Douglas' victory over Lincoln at the polls, DuBois appeared before the State Supreme Court and filed his long-threatened suit against the Illinois Central for additional 1857 taxes which he claimed were due the state? Later, DuBois brought similar suits for taxes alleged to be due for 1858 and 1859."237
Ironically, this was the case which would preoccupy the Illinois Central and benefit the firm of Lincoln & Herndon - earning it the $5,000 fee. The railroad hired Lincoln to handle his friend DuBois in two ways - first, by passing state legislation in February 1858 that transferred responsibility for deciding the tax liability of the Illinois Central from Dubois to the State Supreme Court. Second, Lincoln secured Dubois' promise not to sue the railroad until 1859 and to accept its tax payment for 1858. Third, Lincoln handled the case for the Illinois Central when it came before the State Supreme Court - all three justices of which were friendly with Lincoln and relatively predisposed to help the Illinois Central. In particular, Lincoln had a friendly relationship with Justice Sidney Breese, the Douglas antagonist who had been the unofficial candidate of Buchanan Democrats for the U.S. Senate in 1858 in which Lincoln and Douglas had been the primary opponents. There was not much that Washington-based Douglas could do to help the Illinois Central in 1857-59. There was much that Springfield-based Lincoln could and did do, argued historian Charles Leroy Brown.238
Michael Burlingame wrote: "The court ruled that taxes should be levied on the actual, not prospective, value of the property. An Illinois Central official later said this 'was a case of considerable importance and it was largely due to the efforts of Mr. Lincoln that judgment was rendered in favor of the company.'"239 Lincoln, the Supreme Court justices and most other state leaders recognized that the interests of the state and the interests of the Illinois Central converged; no good purpose would be served by bankrupting the Illinois Central. Dubois's assessment did overtax the company compared to other railroads. But Lincoln's primary motives in this and many other railroad cases was primarily pecuniary. As Lincoln wrote in 1853 regarding the potential tax litigation between county governments and the railroad, "The question in its magnitude to the Co. on the one hand, and the counties in which the Co. has land on the other is the largest law question that can now be got up in the State, and therefore in justice to myself, I can not afford, if I can help it, to miss a fee altogether."240 The Illinois Central's interest had been met by putting Lincoln on retainer because they did not want Lincoln representing their opponents in state courts. James F. Joy, the company's general counsel, and Mayson Brayman, a Springfield attorney and stockholder in the Illinois Central, took the lead in bringing Lincoln into the company fold.241
The railroad company had little respect for Dubois and much hope for Lincoln, according a internal company letter in May 1857: "While Lincoln was prosecuting his lawsuit for fees, it was natural for him to expect a dismissal from the Company's service and being a politician aspiring to the Senate, to entertain plans of making an attack upon the company not only in a revengeful spirit, but as subservient to his future advancement. He had seen the obscurity of those sections of our charter relating to taxation" with serious economic consequences for the company. "He kept this to himself, but before our settlement with him, the Auditor, a vain, self-sufficient but weak man, approached him with a view to retain him for the State for consultation. Lincoln answered he was not free from his engagement to us, but expected a discharge. He therefore gave him no detailed opinion, but expressed his sense of the great magnitude which the Auditor was bound to protect. This had no other effect probably than to raise still higher the Auditor's opinion of himself." The company executive wrote: "Meanwhile we settled with Lincoln and fortunately took him out of the field, or rather engaged him in our interests."242
Although Lincoln represented many other railroads, noted historian Michael Burlingame: "The only corporation that gave him a regular retainer was the Illinois Central, which he represented in several dozen cases. Most of them involved simple questions and were tried in lower courts. As part of his retainer agreement, he pledged not to represent anyone suing the Illinois Central. In 1854, when a farmer asked him to bring suit against that railroad, Lincoln refused because, he explained to the corporation's general solicitor, 'as I had sold myself out to you, I turned him over to [former law partner John Todd] Stuart.'"243
Lincoln and his partners represented railroads in 71 cases and plaintiffs against the railroads in 62 cases.244 Oliver Frayssé wrote: "Lincoln was at the center of the whirlwind of changes brought on by the arrival of railroads. In 1852, he defended J. T. Stuart against a coalition of other investors so that his old friend might profit from the first sales of public land along the I.C.R....And he sized up the immense land speculation that was developing. Grain that could finally be exported and livestock that could be more easily transported were being produced at a dizzying rate. Towns mushroomed along the railroad lines. But progress was also moral and intellectual, as demonstrated by the crop of newspapers, literary clubs, and learned societies, or societies hoping to be so." Frayseé noted that Lincoln recognized that railroads were an important engine of state and railroad progress.245 But it was not just the Illinois Central which kept Lincoln busy. Lincoln scholar John Duff wrote: "All told, Lincoln argued eleven appeals for the Illinois Central in the State Supreme Court, ranging in scope from cases involving freight claims, in which but a few hundred dollars were at stake, to the tax case...which involved the construction to be placed upon the Illinois Central's charter, and upon the result of which case depended the roads's financial future."246 When he wasn't busy in state courts, the federal courts brought railroad business as well for Lincoln.
Rock Island Bridge Case
Litigation between river and railroad interests continued through the 1850s as they jockeyed to see what was permissible under federal law. Mr. Lincoln spent the first three weeks of September 1857, working on the Hurd vs. Rock Island Bridge Co. trial - one of the most important legal cases of his career and one which engaged East Coast railroad interests against Mississippi River steamboat interests. Lincoln spent considerable time researching the case for the federal court where it would be tried in Chicago. In mid-August, he wrote Iowa Governor James Grimes to decline a speaking engagement in Davenport: "I lost nearly all the working part of last year, giving my time to the canvass; and I am altogether too poor to lose two years together. I am engaged in a suit in the U.S. Court at Chicago, in which the Rock-Island Bridge Co. is a party[.] The trial is to commence the 8th. of September, and probably will last two or three weeks. During the trial it is not improbable that all hands may come over and take a look at the Bridge, & if it were possible to make it hit right, I could then speak at Davenport."247
The case involved the collision of the Effie Afton with the Rock Island Bridge while the riverboat was traveling north on the Mississippi River on May 6, 1856. The bridge had been opened only 15 days earlier on April 21, but its construction had been under consideration for 14 years and under construction for nearly three years. It was designed to link the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad in Illinois and the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad across the river in Davenport, Iowa. The bridge's construction had been fought by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, who apparently recognized that bridging the Mississippi upstream might contribute to a northern route for a transcontinental railroad, whereas he favored a southern route to California. Because the War Department once maintained a fort on Rock Island before abandoning it in 1845, Davis tried to reassert federal jurisdiction over the property in 1854. Failing to convince the contractors to cease construction, Davis took legal action, but Supreme Court Justice John McLean ruled against the War Department.
(During the Black Hawk War in 1832 when he was an army officer, Davis was ordered to escort Chief Black Hawk to St. Louis after Lieutenant Robert Anderson, whom had been assigned the task, fell ill with cholera. Davis did not take Black Hawk to Rock Island, where Davis and his army unit had been quartered before the war, because cholera was rampant at the fort.248 Nearly three decades later, Anderson commanded Fort Sumter, which Davis ordered bombarded on April 12, 1861. The surrender of Fort Sumter the next day triggered the Civil War. Neither Davis nor militia Captain Lincoln experienced any combat experience in the Black Hawk War; both men rather found distinction for the rare civility with which they treated Indian captives. Davis missed most of the short war because he was on leave in Mississippi where he was considering a possible job as an engineer for a small railroad then under consideration.)
The Rock Island Bridge encompassed two spans. The first was a short one from Illinois onto Rock Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. The second longer span was from the island, where the army had once had its fort, to Iowa. It was here through the western span that river traffic passed. Historian James W. Ely, Jr., wrote: "The approximately two hundred passengers and crew escaped, but the cargo of merchandise, machinery, and livestock was almost totally lost. All of the nearby vessels celebrated the bridge's burning by blowing whistles and ringing bells."249 The owner of the owner of the Effie Afton, John S. Hurd, sued the bridge owner despite the fact that the boat's collision with the bridge had also destroyed the bridge. By the end of 1856, the bridge had been rebuilt, but the litigation would take longer to complete. The Chicago Democratic Press reported: "The upper works of the boat struck against the bridge with so much violence as to knock all in pieces; smoke pipes, stoves and the like were thrown down. The boat was set on fire in two or three places. The hull of the boat was in the mean time pressed under the bridge by the force of the current. The deck stood nearly at an angle of forty-five degrees. Boat and bridge were locked together. All was confusion - and yet several attempts were made to extinguish the fires."250
There was grumbling that the collision might have been deliberate. Railroad historian John William Starr wrote: "The very idea of the Mississippi being 'obstructed ' by a bridge of any sort aroused the antagonism of powerful river interests. Leading river towns - St. Louis in particular - saw that with such innovations they ran the risk of losing the commercial advantages, amounting almost to a monopoly, which they had hitherto enjoyed. The rivermen on their part foresaw in the coming of the railroads a formidable rival in the field of transportation. The building of bridges across 'their' river was added fuel to the flame. They loudly insisted that such structures would interfere with the free transit of the stream."251 It was river versus railroad. It was St. Louis versus Chicago. The lawsuit was a battle for public opinion as well as for legal precedent. The trial was a classic confrontation between the interests of railroads and the interests of river transportation. Burlingame wrote: "The future of western railroads was jeopardized by the suit which might lead to the prohibition of all bridge construction over the Mississippi."252 Historian Brian Dirck wrote: "Holding a railroad liable in such circumstances could set a precedent that might cause other railroads to hesitate before pushing their lines deeper into the countryside, for fear of leaving themselves open to lawsuits for the damage, inadvertent or not, that their equipment might cause. On the other hand, there were a lot of angry people in St. Louis. However the case went, there would be hard feelings."253
The legal battle began outside the courtroom. Lincoln scholar Larry A. Riney wrote: "Hurd's supporters began a campaign to frame the trial as a legal action brought by a single, hard-working steamboat owner against a well-financed private company. But the Effie Afton case went beyond Hurd's private battle. To the river men and women, it was a good-versus-evil morality play."254 Brian Dirck wrote: "The wreck and lawsuit received extensive newspaper coverage in St. Louis and Chicago, partly because it had been a spectacular wreck, making for good copy."255 John Duff wrote: "The disaster touched off a prairie fire of protest on the part of the river group; local feeling in the towns and cities on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers ran high, as the press denounced the Bridge Company and its parent outfit, the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, for their avariciousness and callous disregard of human safety. The St. Louis Republican pontificated editorially: 'The Railroad Bridge at Rock Island is an intolerable nuisance....It is utterly impossible for any man not an idiot to note the disasters at Rock Island and honestly ascribe them to any other cause than the huge obstruction to navigation which the Bridge Company have built there and insist shall remain, even though lives by the score and property by the millions are destroyed every year....We have rarely seen such illustration of supercilious insolvence, as have been presented by advocates of the bridge.'"256
With its location on the Mississippi, St. Louis saw itself as a river town. One Chicago attorney recalled: "The people of St. Louis, Cincinnati, and other towns similarly situated believed that if the railroad companies were permitted to build bridges across the navigable rivers of the country they would lose the commercial advantages which they enjoyed from traffic upon the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers; and the owners of the steamboats, who for many years had enjoyed a monopoly of the transportation of freight from points west of the Mississippi, foresaw that if the railroads were to be allowed to transport freight from the vast territory west of that great artery of commerce across that river and through to the eastern seaboard without the expense of reloading on the banks of the streams over which it must pass to reach its destination, that monopoly would be destroyed."257
The trial was held in Chicago with U.S. Supreme Court Justice John McLean presiding. Michael Burlingame wrote: "Lincoln spent months in preparation, carefully inspecting the bridge site and relevant documents. (His job was made easier by his experience arguing an earlier case involving similar circumstances, Columbus Insurance Co. vs. Peoria Bridge Company, in which he represented insurers who had paid for damage sustained by a canal boat that had struck the pier of a bridge over the Illinois River. Unlike the Effie Afton case, he pleaded on behalf of the boat owners.)"258 Lincoln supposedly made a trip to Rock Island to investigate the situation personally, take measurements and review the river currents.259 From long experience, Lincoln knew rivers, their currents, and their importance to the transportation of commerce. That was one of the reasons that Norman Judd, the lead counsel for the case and a Republican state leader, urged the railroad owners to hire Lincoln as co-counsel. Lincoln legal chronicler Albert A. Woldman wrote: "The questions involved were extremely complicated, embracing mechanical engineering, bridge construction, river currents and their varying velocity, the size and navigation of vessels, and other highly technical problems."260 Victory by the owners of the Effie Afton could have had a severe chilling effect on railroad transportation across the Mississippi River. It would also chill's Chicago's growth as a railroad hub. Ronald C. White noted: "The Chicago Democratic Press devoted extra space to the trial because the case involved 'a fundamental national struggle' between 'the great natural channel of trade of the Mississippi Valley' and the railroad, 'the great artificial lines of travel and communication.'"261
Lincoln was one of three attorneys for the railroad defendant; the shipping plaintiff also was represented by three attorneys, including one named T.D. Lincoln. Attorney Frederick G. Saltonstall witnessed the trial scene: "The Court held its sessions in what was known as the Saloon Building on the southeast corner of Clark and Lake Streets. The room appropriated for its use was not more than forty feet square, with the usual division for the judge, clerks, and attorneys occupying perhaps twenty feet on the farther side, and provided with the usual furniture. The rest of the room contained long benches for the accommodation of the public. Near the door was a large stove of the 'box' pattern surmounted by a 'drum.'"262
Lincoln himself was a study in motion at the trial. "During a tedious examination by one of the opposing counsel, Mr. Lincoln rose from his chair, and walking wearily about - this seemed to be his habit - at last came down the aisle between the long benches toward the end of the room; and seeing a vacant space on the end of the bench which projected some distance beyond the stove, came over and sat down," observed Saltonstall. "Having entered the room an hour before, I sat on the end, but, as Mr. Lincoln approached, moved back to give him room. As he sat down he picked up a bit of wood, and began to chip it with his knife, seeming absorbed, however, in the testimony under consideration. Some time passed, when Lincoln suddenly arose, and walking rapidly toward the bar, energetically contested the testimony, and demanded the production of the original notes as to measurements, showing wide differences. Considerable stir was occasioned in the room by this incident, and it evidently made a deep impression as to his comprehension, vigilance, and remembrance of the details of the testimony."263 Testimony and presentations of depositions took three weeks. A railroad engineer who watched the proceedings recalled: "Mr. Lincoln's examination of the witnesses was very full and no point escaped his notice. I thought he carried it almost to prolixity, but when he came to his argument I changed my opinion."264
Concluding arguments in the trial started on Monday, September 21, and lasted until September 24.265 Although Lincoln had two co-counsels, he personally made the final address to the jury. Lincoln knew the river navigation. He knew the evidence. He knew the testimony. And Lincoln was very good at reading juries. Allen D. Spiegel noted: "Reading from the testimony of witnesses, Lincoln said it was undisputed that the Effie Afton 'did not move one inch ahead while she was moving thirty-one feet sideways...only explanation is that her power was not all used - that only one wheel was working.' After stopping, Lincoln told the jury: "Gentlemen, I have not exhausted my stock of information and there are more things I could suggest regarding the case, but as I have doubtless used up my time, I presume I had better close.'"266 As Albert Woldman wrote, Lincoln "talked long, but he knew when to stop."267
In his jury summation starting on September 22 and concluding on September 23, Lincoln charged that the Effie Afton pilot neither knew nor tried to understand the currents around the bridge. As historian David A. Pfeiffer wrote that "Lincoln, as a former riverman, showed that he understood the romance of the Mississippi River and its boat life."268 He presented a detailed presentation of the boat's speed, draw, and relationship with the bridge. Lincoln stressed that east-west travel via the bridge was as important as north-south travel via the river. "The plaintiffs have to establish that the bridge is a material obstruction and that they have managed their boat with reasonable care and skill. As to the last point high winds have nothing to do with it, for it was not a windy day. They must show due skill and care. Difficulties going down stream will not do for they were going up stream. Difficulties with barges in tow have nothing to do with the accident, for they had no barge."269
Lincoln reportedly earned about $500 for his professional services in Chicago. More important, he helped set the parameters of transportation law in the country. According to railroad historian Martin, "The Rock Island bridge case was a milestone in the vast changes in American law and jurisprudence that the railroads were bringing, and a triumph for a Springfield lawyer that would help propel him onto the national scene and to the White House."270 Attorney H. W. Blodget recalled: "I listened with much interest to his argument on this point, and while I was not impressed by it as a specially eloquent effort (as the word eloquent is generally understood), I have always considered it as one of the ablest efforts I ever heard from Mr. Lincoln at the bar. His illustrations were apt and forcible, his statements clear and logical, and his reasons in favor of the policy (and necessarily the right) to bridge the river, and thereby encourage the settlement and building up of the vast area of fertile country to the west of it, were broad and statesmanlike."
The pith of his argument was in his statement that one man had as good a right to cross a river as another had to sail up or down it; that these were equal and mutual rights which must be exercised so as not to interfere with each other, like the right to cross a street or highway and the right to pass along it. From this undeniable right to cross the river he then proceeded to discuss the means for crossing. Must it always be by canoe or ferryboat? Must the products of all the boundless fertile country lying west of the river for all time be compelled to stop on its western bank, be unloaded from the cars and loaded upon a boat, and after the transit across the river, be reloaded into cars on the other side, to continue on their journey east?
"In this connection he drew a vivid picture of the future of the great west lying beyond the river, and argued that the necessities of commerce demanded that the bridges across the river be a conceded right, which the steamboat interests ought not to be allowed to successfully resist, and thereby stay the progress of development and civilization in the region to the west.
"While I cannot recall a word or sentence of the argument, I well remember its effect on all who listened to it, and the decision of the court fully sustained the right to bridge so long as it did not unnecessarily obstruct navigation."
Lincoln's argument covered the channel of the river, its currents and their effect at the different stages of water at the bridge and up over the rapids. In illustrating his points, Lincoln used a very fine miniature steamboat.271
After the plaintiff's lead attorney finished his summation on September 24, Justice McLean sent the case to the jury. The jury deliberated for a few hours and deadlocked, 9-3, with the majority favoring Lincoln's clients, the defendants. Justice McLean dismissed the jurors in early evening. The deadlock, noted Carl Sandburg, "was generally taken as a victory for railroads, bridges, and Chicago, as against steamboats, rivers and St. Louis."272 Martin Albro noted: "The railroads being 'faceless corporations,' in the rhetoric of the times, needed someone like Lincoln to remind courts that they must take the broad view in weighing equitable rights."273 The trial's location in Chicago probably favored the railroad interests - just as a trial in St. Louis would probably have favored the river interests.
Historian Allen Nevins suggested that the Effie Afton case may have helped make Lincoln president. Writing of the May 1860 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Nevins observed that Lincoln's record helped convince the commerce-mined Pennsylvania delegation, whose favorite son was Simon Cameron, to switch to Lincoln: "The Rock Island bridge had been constructed by two Pennsylvanians, William L. Scott and his brother-in-law John F. Tracy, men associated in railway building, shipping, and coal mining. Tracy, in fact, had gone to Chicago in 1854, and taken over the extension of the Rock Island Railroad, then a few miles west of Chicago, across the Mississippi and into Iowa. Tracy employed as attorney for the railroad Norman B. Judd, and it was through Judd that Lincoln was made special counsel in the famous bridge case. As it happened, the Chicago convention found a partner of Scott's and Tracy's named Morrow B Lowry (who had charge of some of their Great Lakes shipping) a delegate from Pennsylvania. Lowry and Judd were good friends. Moreover, Lowry knew Lincoln, and had consulted with him in the bridge case. In after years, Lowry frequently boasted that he had been the active agent in bringing the Pennsylvania vote over to Lincoln. At any rate, about midnight, Davis came down the stairs of the Tremont House from the Cameron rooms and exultantly told Medill: 'Damned if we haven't got them!'"274
Despite the Effie Afton trial deadlock, the bridge issue did not die. Lincoln scholar Larry A. Riney wrote: "The river men and women, well-funded and well-organized by the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce, continued their myopic attack on the Rock Island bridge."275 Another suit was reopened with Hurd suing the Rock Island Rail Road Company. In May 1858 James Ward filed a new suit in Iowa against the Iowa-side railroad company, the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company. In this suit, the plaintiffs were successful in district court, but the suit was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which overturned the suit by a 5-3 margin. The Iowa lawyer, Samuel Miller, who had successfully argued the second case for the boat owners, was now on the U.S. Supreme Court and had to recuse himself.
As president, Lincoln's understanding of the importance of river traffic remained unabated by the conflict between railroads and river traffic. Despite the growing impact of railroads, Lincoln did not underestimate the continuing importance of the Mississippi River and the importance of its control by the Union during the Civil War. In a conversation with Illinois Senator Orville H. Browning in July 1862, Lincoln said: "I am determined to open it [the Mississippi River], and, if necessary will take all these negroes to open it, and keep it open."276 Writing in 1863 of the Union's success in opening the river after the capture of the Confederate fortress at Vicksburg, Mississippi, President Lincoln said that the "The Father of Waters again flows unvexed to the sea."277
The Effie Afton case set the stage for the transcontinental railroad, whose construction President Lincoln would set in motion. The case established the precedent that east-west train traffic should not stop at the Mississippi River edge but might continue unimpeded to the Pacific coast.
Lincoln's rise to political maturity coincided with the explosion of the North's rail network. "Lines of transportation...did more to divide the Lower South than to unify it," noted historian Marc Egnal. The transportation potential of most rivers did not provide reliable penetration very far from the southern coast. "Similarly, railroads failed to tie together the coast and northern reaches of the Lower South."278 Lincoln's election as president in 1860 came at a time where the North's transportation advantages over the South were accentuated and would help prove important in the Civil War. By the beginning of the Civil War, noted historian Allan Nevins, "The main East-West trunk-line railroads of the North...had just placed themselves...in a position where they could meet the requirements of internal commerce should the Mississippi be closed."279 That railroad network would prove vital the Union's victory - especially because the Mississippi was closed to most Union thru traffic until July 1863. Nevins noted that "events already proved that this would be the first great railway war of history, the Northern lines carrying armies and material to every invasion point. Economically and militarily, they knit the North into a compact whole."280
The network would also stimulate planning for a transcontinental railroad. Historian Stephen E. Ambrose wrote: "With the improvement of train technology plus the discover of gold in California, and because of the extreme difficulty of getting to California, there was an overwhelming demand for a transcontinental railroad."281 Proposals to build one dated to 1832, but proposals became mired in the political and sectional disputes of the period. Historian Yonathan Eyal wrote: "Throughout the 1840s, Congress appropriated sections of public land for the building of smaller railroads and began serious consideration of a transcontinental line to unite the country along an east-west axis during the 1850s."282 Nevertheless, noted Thomas Crump: "It was only in 1852 that the first line built west of the Mississippi - that of the Missouri Pacific Railroad linking St. Louis with the west of the state of Missouri - was opened, with much of its early traffic consisting of passengers brought to the start of the western wagon trails. It was another five years before the first railroad link from the east was completed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, reaching the Mississippi at East Saint Louis, Illinois, in 1857."283
During the 1850s, there were repeated attempts to devise a congressional agreement to build a transcontinental railroad and repeated attempts to block it. Historian Leonard P. Curry wrote: "In 1855 and in 1859 the Senate had passed bills providing for government aid in constructing three separate transcontinental railway simultaneously, but the House had refused to act on either measure."284 John Lauritz Larson wrote: "Between the constitutional scruples of some member and the bad experience of others with 'reckless expenditures' in the state, the 1850 House committee could see not 'the slightest chance of carrying a bill through Congress' to build a Pacific railroad 'by the government.' Congressmen took more pleasure in posturing for local or factional advantage than in seeking a genuine solution to the transcontinental question." Larson wrote: "In January 1853, Senator [William] Gwin [of California] offered a magnificent new bill as a substitute for Douglas' emigrant-route project. Gwin proposed a southern trunk from San Francisco southeastward through Albuquerque, when branches split off serving six different termini along the Middle Border....It was assailed, in part, for being much too expensive and ambitious."285
California remained undeterred. Historian Robert J. Chandler wrote: "Californians knew that under the limited constitutional construction by Gwin's southern cronies, it would never be [built]....The Republican revolution in the 1860 election -- bringing in a Republican president, a Republican-dominated Congress, and soon a Republican state governor and legislature -- brought life to California's railroad dreams.286 Thamar E. Dufwa and Stuart Bruchey noted that "southern Congressmen... were eager to secure a southern Pacific railroad, and were even willing to consent to a southern and a northern road to the Pacific, but they would not consent to give the north two Pacific roads to their one."287 Eliot Cohen wrote: "The railroad system of the United States had grown from less than 3,000 miles of track in 1840 to 10,000 miles in 1850, and to some 30,000 miles by the beginning of the Civil War; despite the destruction wrought by war, an additional 50,000 miles of track were brought into service by the war's end."288 By the time of the Civil War, noted historian Donald Stoker, "The Union had 22,085 miles of rails, the South only 8,541."289
Clearly, a transcontinental railroad was needed to tie the West Coast of the country to the Midwest and East - or at the South preferred, connect the West with the South. In the 1840s and 1850s, there were three ways to get across the country: a ship all the way around the tip of South America; a ship south to Central America and then a dangerous journey overland to wait for a ship north to California; and a rough overland trip across plain, desert and mountain. There was no easy way. Historian Walter A. McDougall wrote: "When the Pacific coast fell to the United States [in 1846] it became part of the national catechism that such a railroad must be rapidly built by private investors subsidized by federal land grants."290 While Senator Douglas favored a northern route commencing in Chicago, southerners preferred one from New Orleans across the Southwest. Historian Allen C. Guelzo noted that "Democratic reluctance to spend federal money on internal improvements, together with sectional rivalry over whether the railroad should follow a northern, southern, or central route westward through the territories, mired debate hopelessly."291
During the 1840s and 1850s, the influence of southerners in the Cabinet - such as Secretary of War Jefferson Davis - prejudiced the executive branch towards a southern route, but such a route could not win the approval of northerners in the House of Representatives. After the 1860 election, the prospect of fewer southern representatives in Congress eliminated "opposition in choosing a northern route," wrote Gillian Houghton. Congress "immediately began debating and drafting a bill to organize and finance the construction of a transcontinental railroad along the Platte Valley route."292 Shortly after Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, Iowa Congressman Samuel R. Curtis wrote Lincoln: "The War Department and the Department of the Interior have heretofore had controll [sic] of the development of the subject, and they the incumbents have been men selected from the south. Southern routes have been specially examined and arguments have been presented favoring extreme lines to the prejudice of a Central route. I hope we may, as far as convenient, have these appointments in the hands of men better acquainted with a Central route." The initiative was embodied in a bill introduced in December 1860 by Curtis. Historian Heather Cox Richardson noted that Republican "Party members found authority for the national government to promote a railroad in the government's early nineteenth-century sponsorship of the Cumberland, or National, Road, and in the clauses of the Constitution giving Congress power to establish post roads, to maintain the armed forces, to provide for the common defense, and to regulate commerce among the states."293
This was to be a project of unprecedented scope. "This road could never be constructed on terms applicable to ordinary roads," said an Indiana congressman. "It is to be constructed through almost impassable mountains, deep ravines, canyons, gorges, and over arid and sandy plains. The Government must come forward with a liberal hand, or the enterprise must be abandoned forever. The necessity is upon us. The question is whether we shall hold our Pacific possessions, and connect the nations on the Pacific with those on the Atlantic Coast, or whether we shall abandon our Pacific possessions."294
Lincoln recognized that the North's transportation advantage must be used to win the Civil War. Sarah Gordon noted that "On April 14, 1861, when Lincoln responded to the firing on Fort Sumter by calling for the recruitment of 75,000 into the army, he also took control of the railroads by requiring that trains on government business have priority over civilian passenger and freight traffic."295 John Stover noted that in 1861, "There were only four real connections between the rail system of the northern and the slave states." One of these was the Illinois Central terminus at Cairo, Illinois.296
Historian Matthew Josephson wrote: "The whole symbolism of this era attached itself to the construction of the transcontinental or Pacific railroads more than to any other of its multifarious activities. By spanning the continent between the two oceans, the nation was to be physically unified at last, its natural resources thoroughly absorbed, its Manifest Destiny achieved. Hence 'the winning of the West,' by means of the transcontinental railroads, represented the heart and soul of the national industrial plan which engaged the whole people between 1865 and 1873."297 Historian Ward McAfee noted: "Lincoln knew that the Far West wanted a federally sponsored transcontinental railroad more than any other public policy objective. California had been agitating for this end for over a decade. Some hotheads in the golden state had even occasionally threatened secession, hinting that only a transcontinental railroad could keep them loyal."298 Lincoln was already dealing with one secession threat. He did not need another.
President Lincoln recognized that a transcontinental railroad was necessary for both political and economic reasons. He had never lost his interest in transportation. Historian Gabor S. Boritt wrote: "The good Whig Lincoln saw commerce as a glue that bound the Union together. Throughout the war he showed much more leniency toward trade across hostile lines than did Congress, not to mention the military." Boritt noted: "A less mighty Civil War internal improvement plan that also greatly interested the President was the enlargement of the Illinois-Michigan Canal. His old friend, and later biographer, Isaac Arnold, acted as the chief legislative promoter of the measure."299 The Civil War had emphasized the importance of railroads - and the northern rail advantage over the South.
In addition to economic and military reasons for the project. The Civil War brought foreign policy reasons for supporting a transcontinental railroad, noted Richardson: "Frequent rumors of Pacific pirates and secessionist plots kept alive the issue of California's vulnerability. Worse, England was financing a railroad across Nicaragua and another across Canada, while France was building one across Mexico. Soon England and France would have closer contact with California than the Union's East coast did."300 Incoming president Lincoln himself had a longtime fascination with California - fueled by his close Illinois friends like Edward D. Baker and Anson G. Henry who had moved to the west coast.
The 1860 Republican Platform gave the party's full support to construction of a transcontinental railroad: "That a railroad to the Pacific Ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction." The Democrats took a more nuanced approach, pledging "to use every means to secure the passage of some bill, to the extent of the constitutional authority of Congress."301 Gabor Boritt wrote: "Lincoln himself, even before his election to the presidency, received from Francis E. Spinner, whom he later appointed the Treasurer of the United States, volumes of surveys for the road. In spite of his fascination with the subject, from the White House he tried to allow free hand to Congress. In the process, however, he had to make some weighty decisions, do some soul searching, and withstand considerable political pressure.302 Congress needed little prompting. Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote: "The reduction of Democratic opposition in Congress freed congressional Republicans to articulate their economic justification for the railroad. 'We were slandering out constituents when we said that we were paralyzed or restricted by their will from adopting the great and beneficent measures for improving the physical and moral condition of our country,' asserted California's Timothy G. Phelps in his speech favoring the road. National growth, argued supporters, depended on a Pacific railroad."303
The prosecution of the Civil War naturally took precedence over plans for the transcontinental railroad, but another factor may have affected Lincoln's attitude toward the project in 1861. The California leaders promoting it were connected with a group of California Republicans who visited the White House in late March 1861 to discuss patronage. This delegation was opposed to the influence of Oregon Senator Edward D. Baker, a close Lincoln friend who had lived in California until the opportunity to win the Oregon Senate election presented itself in 1860. When the California delegation directly attacked Baker, the President's irritation with them overflowed. Prior to the Civil War, the effectiveness of California's lobbying for the railroad was limited by the political sympathies of its representatives in Congress and the political feuds within the state. Now, it faced a further impediment in alienating a longtime Lincoln friend.
Nevertheless, the importance of tying together the country by transportation was heightened by the war. California's Republicans and Democrats united behind the project. California Senator James A. McDougall, another Lincoln friend from Illinois politics, got the legislative ball rolling in July when he introduced legislation for a transcontinental railroad.304 In November 1861, lobbying the president heated up in Washington. Republican California Governor Leland Stanford wrote a note to President Lincoln that Collis P. "Huntington; who visits the National Capital for the purpose of obtaining aid in the construction of the first and most difficult section of that work of National importance the 'Pacific Rail Road'. Mr Huntington is one of our wealthiest and most respected and influential Citizens. I need hardly add the entire State of California will feel a deep interest in the success of his mission."305 Also in Lincoln's papers is a marked-up, 13-page pamphlet on the Central Pacific Railroad dated November 1861.
A key factor in the railroad's development was the founding of the Central Pacific Railroad Co. in California. Theodore D. Judah, the chief engineer for siting the railroad's path across the Sierra Nevada mountains, was the driving force behind the new enterprise. He was dogged in pursuing both a route and investors. "Failing to interest bankers of San Francisco, he found some merchants of Sacramento to build it - Stanford, Huntington, Hopkins, the Crockers, James W. Bailey, and a few others. On May 20, 1861, articles of incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State of California" wrote Milton H. Shutes.306 "Crazy Judah" moved east in late 1861 and ultimately became secretary of both the House and Senate committees working on the railroad's authorization in Washington. David Haward Bain wrote that California was fortunate that freshman Congressman Aaron A. Sargent was named to chair a special railroad committee to choose among the alternative routes. Judah was named its clerk. Bain observed: "Later in the session he would also be appointed secretary of the full House committee and of the Senate' railroad committee. All of this, though hardly proper then or today, firmly put Judah and the Central Pacific into the center of things."307
Railroad chronicler Charles Frederick Carter wrote: "Judah...drew up a bill embodying substantially the plan upon which the road was finally built, and intrusted it to A. A. Sargent, newly elected Representative from California."308 In September 1862, Governor Stanford again wrote the president: "As the Central Pacific RRd Co of California are desirous to commence the immediate prosecution of their portion of the Pacific RRd[.] Will you please inform me what evidence you will require to fix the western base of Sierra Nevada Mountains as per section eleven of the Pacific Railroad Bill? [W]ill the evidence of the United States Surveyor General of the state of California or either of them be sufficient[.] Please answer by telegraph[.]"309
Secession made it easier to move ahead on selection of a route for the railroad because Republicans could safely ignore any southern opposition for a northern route to the Pacific. Choosing a route involved considerable lobbying and congressional jockeying David Haward Bain wrote that 'the field of players...narrowed to interests backing three routes: a northern route westward from Minnesota, a middle route from the western Iowa border, and a lower route from the border of Missouri." The middle route involved hooking up with the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad - which operated the Rockland Island line. The southern one was partly the brainchild of Thomas Ewing, Jr., foster brother of William T. Sherman.310
President Lincoln "especially wanted that railroad as a military accessory and as a means of protecting the coast against possible and quite imminent complications with England or France. And he wanted it in the interests of the agricultural as well as the mineral resources of that vast territory between the Missouri and the Sacramento Rivers."311 The threat of a British intervention in California was a weapon used by California's representatives to heighten the need for speed.312 In the House debate, California Congressman Aaron A. Sargent argued: "England desires California" and raised the specter of California becoming part of the British Empire.313 According to John Stover, "Since the Republicans wished to be true to their platform promises of 1860, the Pacific Railroad bill met with little opposition....In its deliberations Congress was aided by the facts and figures supplied by Judah, who had returned to Washington."314 According to historian Richard White, Judah was also aided by Central Pacific stock, which he distributed to secure support.315 McDougall, an old but obstreperous friend of the president, served as chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on the Pacific Railroad. As a congressman in 1854, he had introduced one of the early railroad bills. When McDougall had moved from Illinois to California, noted historian Heather Cox Richardson, he had "found the overland trip almost unbearable...he got lost, wandered at length in the mountains, barely escaped starvation, and, as a colleague later recalled 'finally reached San Francisco in rags, clothed party in skins, without money, and not having seen a barber or razor for months.'"316 Also strongly supportive of the legislation were Congressman James H. Campbell (Pennsylvania). Another powerful Pennsylvania congressman, Thaddeus Stevens, argued: "The Western soil is but a platform on which to lay the rails to transport the wealth of the furthest Indies to Philadelphia, Boston and Portland."317 Congress was sensitive to the need to bind California and the West to the rest of the nation - much as the Founders had been vigilant to the necessity to bind the transmontaine region west of the Appalachians to the rest of the country and were wary of the threat from Britain, France and Spain to break it off.
Location and route were key. Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote: "Three key railroad lobbies gathered in Washington in 1862. One, from the upper Northern states, wanted the road to follow a far northern route. Two other lobbies, one from Kansas and St. Louis, the other from Iowa and Chicago, battled over the exact location of a central route. Of the three groups, the Kansas Lobby most strongly affected wartime railroad legislation." But ultimately, they were frozen by congressional concerns about their competence and integrity as congressmen tried to agree on the bill's details. Richardson wrote that Congress wrestled with the nature of the corporation to be chartered to build the railroad, how its finances would be structured, and how federal assistance would be provided.318 The Kansas-St. Louis route was further hurt by the fact that it lay in the middle of territory that was still actively contested by the Confederates.319
The Illinois Central Railroad had set a precedent for railroad construction with federal assistance and land grants - a precedent that would be important for development of the transcontinental railroad. Thamar E. Dufwa and Stuart Bruchey wrote: "After 1835 Congress frequently granted to individual railroads to the free right-of-way through the public lands, and also land for depot sites and terminals. Later there was added the privilege of taking stone, timber and earth from adjacent public lands for construction and repair of roads. In 1852 Congress passed a general act granting the free right-of-way through public lands to railroads."320
Congress considered the legislation throughout the first half of 1862. Not all Republicans supported it. Lincoln's Illinois ally on most issues, Congressman Owen Lovejoy, opposed the legislation - doubting that the railroad could be built without more federal aid; he was right.321 Indeed, the President himself told congressmen "that his experience in the West was that every railroad that had been undertaken there had broken down before it was half completed....He had but one advice to us and that was to ask sufficient aid."322 The legislation was entitled: "An Act to aid in the construction of a railroad and telegraph line from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, and to secure to the government the use of the same for postal, military, and other purposes," had more trouble getting Republican support in the Senate where the Democrats were united behind the legislation but key Republicans like Maine's William P. Fessenden slowed it down.
Under the federal railroad charter, noted John Starr, Lincoln "was also authorized to fix the point of commencement in the territory of Nebraska; approve the route in Kansas; decide which were the three hundred miles most mountainous and difficult of construction (this having to do with the number of bonds issued to cover); determine the uniform width of track upon the entire line, including its branches; fix the point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa from which the road was to be constructed, and fix certain other points and junctions in connection with the Union Pacific and other roads mentioned and sponsored in the Act."323 The economic size and complexity of the project was obvious. John F. Stover noted that "the new company was to be capitalized at $100,000,000, and more than 150 commissioners were selected to solicit stock subscriptions....In addition, a thirty-year government loan in United States bonds was available to the two railroads. The size of the loan was to vary with the difficulty of the terrain: $16,000 of bonds were to be lent for each mile of railroad built on the plains, $32,000 for each mile built in hilly or desert regions, and $58,000 for each mile in the really difficult mountain regions."324 General John A. Dix, a respected New York businessman and former secretary of the Treasury, became president of the Union Pacific Railroad. Dix briefly brought the respectability lacked by many involved in the transcontinental railroad. Back in 1854, when Dix had reportedly said to Grenville M. Dodge: "Gentlemen, we may as well come to the point at once - we are on our way to the Pacific, and we intend to get there."325
The legislation granted valuable loans and right of ways to the railroad companies. An enormous federal land grant was necessary finance the railroad. Phillip S. Paludan wrote: "To pay for this enterprise the national government granted them a 400-foot right-of-way and ten alternate sections of land per mile, five sections on each side of the track. The resulting grant provided 6,4000 acres of public land for each miles of track built. This checkerboard reached across the entire length of the route and included 15.5 million acres of land. But even this vast contribution did not prove inducement enough to begin the building effort from the Missouri."326 On July 1, 1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, which provided for creation of the Central Pacific to build the portion from California and the Union Pacific to build the railroad from the Mississippi. The Union Pacific was first organized on September 2, 1862 when its commissioners convened in Chicago. The financial incentives in the 1862 act, however, were insufficient to attract investment, noted historian John Patterson Davis. "Something more seductive was necessary to induce the patriotic by wary capitalists and railway contracts to 'bite."327 It would take another two years for Congress to legislate the needed enticements for investors. Meanwhile, the Central Pacific broke ground on January 8, 1863 at Sacramento, California. Ground was finally broken for the Union Pacific at Omaha on December 2, 1863 and grading work was done during 1864. Laying rail started in 1865.
Financing was only one problem that needed to be solved in order to commence construction. Soon after the bill's signing, California Senator McDougall, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Congressman James H. Campbell, a Republican, pressed the president to set the railroad's gauge at five feet: "The undersigned beg leave to remind the President that the bill passed & approved this Session for the construction of of a Pacific Railroad requires the President to fix the guage. This is done that the guage may be uniform from the Missouri river to the Pacific, so that through cars may be run. The necessity exists that the guage [sic] be fixed at an early day as some of the companies named in the bill are desirous to contract for material and rolling stock forthwith, so as to press forward the work."328 Historian Richard White noted: "Like the Union itself, American railroads did not quite cohere. The railroads had grown as fast, and were as disarticulated, as the nation that contained them. The 31,286 miles of tracks united the country only on a map. Impressive in the aggregate, these lines could hardly be thought of as system or even a collection of systems. A major reason was that there was no single standard gauge for tracks."329 Historian Allan Nevins wrote that "Some regarded a uniform gauge to the Pacific of the utmost importance; but McDougall declared that it did not matter, for merchandise and passengers should be shifted to new trains every thousands miles, or less - 'Everybody knows that the engine, the locomotive, cannot run safely more than a thousand miles."330 There were already almost a dozen different gauges in use in the country.331 Lincoln yielded to the Californians' recommendation, but that proposal was at odds with the gauge used by most eastern railroads - 4 foot 8 ˝ inches. George Rogers Taylor and Irene D. Neu wrote: "The railroad interests of the East and Midwest, already largely committed to standard gauge, resolved not to accept the president's decision but to use the overwhelming power of their sections in Congress to set it aside." Iowa Senator James Harlan, whose daughter would marry Lincoln's oldest son, introduced the legislation at the beginning of 1863.332 Overruled by Congress, Lincoln signed the bill, thereby taking an important step toward standardization of rail transportation across the country.
The incentives granted the transcontinental project were impressive. The example of the Illinois Central provided the model for federal land grants.333 Ironically, the Illinois Central's original north-south orientation would be shifted by the Civil War - which deprived it of its connections to the South. But the precedent of congressional action held. The authors of a history of Nebraska argued: "Stephen A. Douglas, the father of organic Nebraska, exhibited great prescience and capacity for practical leadership in recognizing the importance, and instituting a method of protecting the rights of the public under the railway land grant system which he, probably more than any other statesman, was instrumental in establishing."334 But a flurry of Republican legislation during the Civil War provided the background for action. Historian Matthew Josephson wrote: "After the enactment of Lincoln's Homestead Act, it was but a logical step to the grant of lands for the railroad systems projected during the war, and further of all the stone and timber on the lands they traversed, and of huge subsidies in cash or bonds. In this way canal-building had been encouraged earlier by the federal and state governments; and when as in Illinois, by 1850, a railroad was favored instead of a canal, the land was donated to the railroad. Thus, for at least ten years before 1861, the railroads, especially in the West, were 'land companies' which acquired their principal raw material through pure grants in return for their promise to build, and whose directors, combined with friendly statesmen such as Douglas, did a rushing land business in farm lands and town sites at rising prices. The technique of railroad-building was thoroughly established by 1862, when the war government with great haste passed the Pacific Railroad."335
The eastern terminus was essentially determined on an 1859 trip that Lincoln had taken. When Lincoln visited to Council Bluffs, Iowa to view his property there, he met with railroad surveyor Grenville M. Dodge, a civil engineer who had worked on railroads in the area. Dodge had been an engineer on the construction of the Illinois Central in the 1850s, during which he had advised his father to speculate in land along the line. In 1853 at 22, Dodge had worked as an engineer on the Mississippi and Missouri when the railroad surveyed a route across the Nebraska. Historian John Hoyt Williams noted that many of those involved in the Union Pacific Railroad "had the common bond of the Illinois and Iowa experience. They had built railroads on the very edge of the Great American Desert and had surveyed deep into the void."336 Maury Klein wrote that "Dodge was among the first to grasp that the terminus of any road building across Iowa hinged on the decision of where to locate the Pacific road. The project soon grew into an obsession with him. It fascinated him as an engineer, beckoned to him as the rainbow leading to where his fortune would be found."337 Historian Richard White described Dodge as "a man who would always exaggerate his talents, but he was not without talent. Often nasty, occasionally ridiculous, he was also sporadically and surprisingly able."338 David Haward Bain wrote that Dodge had "twofold talent as a lobbyist as well as an engineer."339 But historian Stephen Ambrose noted that Dodge had another key talent - making acquaintance with powerful people who could be useful to him later in his career.340
As the Lincoln and Dodge sat on the porch of a local hotel in Council Bluffs, Lincoln grilled Dodge about alternative routes for the transcontinental railroad. It was a fortuitous meeting because Dodge would play a critical role in the construction of the transcontinental railroad. Dodge recalled that Lincoln said "there was nothing more important before the nation than the building of the railroad to the Pacific coast."341 Economic historian Olivier Frayssé noted that the purpose of Mr. Lincoln's trip was "to evaluate the possibilities of speculating on the passage through that locality of the Pacific Railroad, a proposal that the Republicans had included in the affair - on the advice of his friend Ozias M. Hatch - he did agree to renew and increase a loan of $2,500 made to [Norman B.] Judd in 1857 to finance this speculation and took a mortgage for $3,000 on seventeen plots in Council Bluffs and on ten acres along the route of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad. At 10 percent a year - the legal maximum and the practical minimum - 'the lending of money was not a rapid road to wealth, but it accorded far better with Lincoln's cautious temperament than the speculation in which he might have engaged."342
Not every scholar has been impressed by Dodge's version of events. Dee Alexander Brown argued: "Whether Lincoln was impressed by young Dodge's arguments for a Council Bluffs-Omaha terminus for a transcontinental railroad is difficult to determine. In later life Dodge proved himself to be such an accomplished twister of the truth that all his statements must be carefully examined. Years afterward, Dodge claimed that Lincoln summoned him to a meeting in the White House during the spring of 1863 and that their discussion led to a the President's using his authority to designate Council Bluffs as the starting point of the Union Pacific Railroad. The record shows, however, that Dodge was nowhere near Washington in the spring of 1863 and that Lincoln made his decision several months later, after meeting with Thomas Durant and Peter Dey. It is likewise difficult to determine what influence Dodge may have had upon Durant, or what significance there may be in the fact that both Dodge and Lincoln owned land in the Council Bluffs area."343 Dodge had met Durant, who was more of a railroad promoter than a railroad builder, when Dodge was an engineer on the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, a line that Durant had promoted to the connect to the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad and connect it to the Missouri River at Council Bluffs. Durant would prove better at manipulating stock and making money than building railroad track. Dodge allegedly helped Durant with his cotton contraband schemes during the Civil War.
Dodge placed himself at the center of Lincoln's deliberations. By the middle of the Civil War, Grenville Dodge was a highly regarded army engineer in charge of railroad construction and reconstruction in the Mississippi region. Dodge claimed he was ordered to Washington in 1863. General Dodge thought he might be in trouble for his aggressive recruitment of black soldiers. He "reported to the Adjutant General, and he informed me that the President wished to see me and he made an appointment with President Lincoln for me. I went in and met the President, who greeted me very cordially, and learned from him that I had been called there for the purpose of aiding him in determining the location on the Missouri River where the Union Pacific Railroad should have its initial point. When I heard this it was a great relief to me. I sat there with him and we discussed that question very fully, and I saw he was thoroughly posted on the sentiment of the country locally, as every town from Sioux City to Kansas City was contending for the location. The people interested at that time remember what a discussion there was in regard to where the initial point of the Union Pacific should be located. From an engineering point of view, I pointed out clearly to the President where the line should start and what our surveys had determined. He listened and discussed this question with me for a long time. I saw from his talk and his indication that his views coincided with mine, and I have no doubt he made his decision at that time, as recommended by me, and soon after made this order:."344
I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do hereby fix so much of the western boundary of the State of Iowa as lies between the north and south boundaries of the United township within which the city of Omaha is situated as the point from which the line of railroad and telegraph in that section mentioned shall be constructed.
Gabor Boritt noted that Lincoln became frustrated when construction did not quickly begin. Lincoln "demonstrated his own liberality by fixing the Western base of the Sierra Nevada so as to include the foothills with the mountain. This decision of the ex-Illinois surveyor, which overlooked a California Supreme Court verdict on the subject, increased the Central Pacific's federal subsidy by three quarters of a million dollars. Among those who claimed having helped him decide was California congressman Aaron A. Sargent who is supposed to have quipped later: 'Abraham's faith moved mountains.'"345
Lincoln's first executive order regarding the eastern terminus was not considered clear enough by the Union Pacific Railroad Company so on March 7, 1864, President Lincoln issued the second executive order: "I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, do upon the application of said company, designate and establish such first named point on the western boundary of the State of Iowa, east of and opposite to the east line of Section 10, in Township 15, south of Range 13, east of the sixth principal meridian in the Territory of Nebraska."346 The Council Bluffs terminus location defined by President Lincoln was, according to Dodge biographer J. R. Perkins, "near a tract of land to which he [Lincoln] held a quitclaim deed."347 In his 1863 conversation with Lincoln, General Dodge pressed the case for moving forward on the railroad's construction: "The law of 1862 had been passed but the promoters of the road had been unable to raise a single dollar to build it; they could not induce the capitalists to take hold of it, notwithstanding the fact that the United States had loaned its credit - it having the first lien on the property while the company's bonds were only second mortgage bonds. There was no one in the United States then who had enough confidence in the future of the Union Pacific Railroad to buy second mortgage bonds at any price. I discussed that question with him. I thought that the Government of the United States should build this road; it was too big a job for private enterprise. He said the Government of the United States had all it could care for then, but that he and the Government were willing to do anything they could to aid any company who would take this matter up in earnest and raise the money and go forward with the work. He intimated that he was perfectly willing to have the law changed so that the Government should take the second mortgage and the promoters of the road should take the first. From my visit with President Lincoln, I went to New York to see my friends who had organized the Union Pacific road, Mr. John A. Dix, Mr. Henry Farnam, T. C. Durant, Francis Train, and others, and I told them in a board meeting what President Lincoln had said and they were greatly encouraged, and made up their minds to take the matter up, and they went before Congress and in 1864 they passed the law which placed the mortgage bonds of the company ahead of the mortgage bonds of the Government, and with the Government's and other mortgage bonds they were enabled to start the road, and by 1865 they had built the road as far west as Fremont."348
Historian Richard White wrote that Congress 'assumed that the railroads would earn enough from land sales, government traffic, and freight to pay the semiannual interest on the bonds and that, as traffic increased, the railroads would establish sinking funds to pay off the principal at their maturity in the 1890s."349 Unfortunately, the corruption that would stain the railroad in following decades had already begun. Heather Cox Richardson noted that Lincoln's support for the remedial legislation might have been less important than that of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, "who might easily have refused any more strains on the public credit, vigorously supported the railroad. Chase backed the project in 1864 because the Treasury needed specie, because he worried that Pacific pirates would pillage seaborne gold shipments, and because California had just demonstrated its isolation from the rest of the Union by rejecting greenbacks in favor of gold circulation."350
On November 23, 1863 - four days after President Lincoln had delivered the Gettysburg address - General John A. Dix, the new president of the Union Pacific Railroad, pressed Lincoln for a message to be read at the ground-breaking at Omaha, across the Missouri River from Council Bluffs: "If the Engineers are ready, it is proposed to break ground on the Pacific Rail Road, on the 1st or 2nd day of next month, at some point in Nebraska, through which, under the Act of Congress, the line will pass. This inauguration of the work will be followed up by early measures to complete, as soon as possible, the grading of one hundred miles of road authorized by the Board of Directors to report under contract." Dix added: "In view of the vastness of the enterprise, and its probable influence upon the political and commercial prosperity of the country, it would be gratifying to receive a communication from you to be read on the occasion.351 President Lincoln was unable to send a message for the groundbreaking because he was confined to bed with a mild form of smallpox that killed one of his servants. Presidential aide John Hay replied for President Lincoln on December 1 that because of Lincoln's illness, he could not give "expression to the profound interest he feels in the success of a work so vast and so beneficent as that which you are about to inaugurate."352 Despite the official "groundbreaking" in December, 40 miles of the line had already been graded by November 19 - in just 45 days.353 Although Dix was the company president, the driving force behind the railroad was Vice President Thomas C. Durant, who tried to see Lincoln in Washington in mid-October regarding Union Pacific affairs. He had already used his own funds to pay for a preliminary survey for the railroad.354 Dix and Durant had worked together on an earlier railroad venture.355
The groundbreaking was held December 2, 1863. Among the directors of the Union Pacific elected in October were New York city Mayor George Opdyke, Democratic National Chairman August Belmont, and Assistant Secretary of the Treasury John Cisco as treasurer. The directors were elected from stockholders, but Durant had funded the purchases of some stockholders, who then were elected as directors - malleable ones whom Durant could control.356 On October 7, 1864, Lincoln appointed five government directors for the Union Pacific: Jesse L. Williams, George Ashmun, Charles T. Sherman, Springer Harbaugh and Timothy J. Carter.357
Work had started even quicker at the western terminus because the Union Pacific received a California state loan to begin work.358 On September 9, 1864, Frederick Low, chairman of the Central Pacific, wrote President Lincoln: "The rail road Commissioners have examined thirty one miles of Central Pacific rail road & have signed report that the same is completed according to law."359 Work stalled however on the Union Pacific in Nebraska in 1864 and didn't move forward effectively - in part because of squabbling over the route - until 1866 when Dodge was hired to run the operations as chief engineer.360 Dodge, meanwhile, was seriously wounded in battle int the fall of 1864 and out of active military service. Grant sent him to Washington where he visited President Lincoln and gave him his appraisal of Grant's chances of capturing Lincoln. Dodge was named to command the Department of Missouri. During the war, Dodge had helped Durant, who became vice president of the Union Pacific, with schemes to move contraband cotton.
Meanwhile, a second transcontinental railroad had been contemplated. Two years and a day after he signed the original Pacific Railroad Act, on July 2, 1864, Lincoln signed additional legislation which "chartered a new company, the Northern Pacific. This corporation had as its enormously ambitious objective the construction of a line 1,450 miles long that would run west from Lake Superior, possibly starting at Duluth, Minnesota, to the Pacific Ocean," wrote Charles Bracelen Flood.361
Historian John Davis Patterson noted that the legislation authorizing the transcontinental railroads was the culmination of a long debate in American politics - in which Lincoln had played an important part: "The legislation that constitutes the Union Pacific charter is...unique and significant in American history...Jackson held that the national government might expend its means on roads within the several states when they were of national importance, and the Maysville Road bill met his veto because he did not consider a road through a part of Kentucky a national necessity; but Lincoln was one of the most ardent promoters of legislation to grant land and loan bonds to Pacific railway companies in Kansas and California. Lewis Cass and his "old school" of Democrats denounced, in 1850, the creation of federal corporations for internal improvements within the states, but the Republican statesmen of the sixth decade did not hesitate to endow the Union Pacific with corporate power to extend its lines through Kansas and California. When DeWitt Clinton wanted federal aid in the construction of the Erie Canal, his presumption was derided. When Huntington and Durant wanted the credit of the federal government as a basis for the construction of the Pacific railway, the only serious question was as to the extent of the assistance to be given."362 The transcontinental railroad was also the culmination of Lincoln's long support for transportation improvements that would drive the nation's economy. Historian Gabor S. Boritt wrote that Lincoln's "devotion to developmental, right to rise economics remained essentially unchanged over a lifetime. It began with such things as the young state legislator's demand for building a bridge at New Salem on the Sangamon and ended with the federal legislation for building the Pacific Railroad."363
In his annual message to Congress in December 1864, Lincoln observed: "The great enterprise of connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific states by railways and telegraph lines has been entered upon with a vigor that gives assurance of success; notwithstanding the embarrassments arising from the prevailing high prices of materials and labor. The route of the main line of the road has been definitely located for one hundred miles westward from the initial point at Omaha City, Nebraska, and a preliminary location of the Pacific Railroad of California has been made from Sacramento, eastward to the great bend of Truckee River in Nevada.""364 The 1766 mile-long transcontinental railroad would be finished in 1869.
David Howard Bain concluded that Lincoln "was really the godfather of the Pacific railroad" and made it a "national priority" in the face of the many competing priorities of the Civil War.365 Bain wrote that in early 1865, Californian Collis Huntington went to Washington to lobby for passage of an amendment to the transcontinental legislation to float "bonds at the mileage rates pegged by law and actual terrain, up to one hundred miles ahead of the continuous, completed track." Lincoln signed the legislation into law in early March. Huntington also saw Secretary of War Stanton in order to get the explosive powder necessary for construction through the Sierra mountains. Stanton imperiously blocked the order so Huntington went to see Lincoln. Lincoln approved the shipment and wrote: "Mr. Stanton: Mr. Huntingon requests permission to send 5,000 kegs of powder from Boston to California. Unless you know of some good reason why this should not be done ,you will please give him the necessary permit." Without seeing Stanton again, Huntington had the powder shipped.366
The transcontinental railroad's political path, regrettably, was not any smoother or straighter that the Illinois internal improvements legislation of 1837. The two connecting railroads elicited additional financial assistance from Congress so that, in the words of historian Richard White, "The Central Pacific and the Union Pacific could...borrow and build with other people's money."367 Lincoln would not live to see the corruption in which many of his political contemporaries became involved. He once told members of Congress to "hurry it up so that when he retired from the presidency he could take a trip over it, it would be the proudest thing of his life that he had signed the bill in aid of its construction."368