Pacific Railroad Acts: Launching the Central Transcontinental railroad

As early as 1845, the notion of a transcontinental railroad had been put forward. In January of that year, Asa Whitney, a New York merchant, proposed that the United States grant him a corridor sixty miles wide extending from Lake Michigan to the Pacific Ocean, in return for which he would construct a railroad. A committee of the Senate deemed the project worthy but the House rejected it.

Later efforts to promote the railroad ran into sectional differences. Not until the Civil War gave the Republican Party unquestioned control did the project gain ultimate approval. Congress in 1862 passed the Pacific Railroads Act, which set the framework for the construction of a central transcontinental route. A companion piece of legislation was passed two years later, which created the following format:

  • The Union Pacific Railroad was to begin construction in Omaha and build westward
  • The Central Pacific Railroad was to commence operations in Sacramento and build eastward
  • A right of way 200 feet wide was granted to the builders by the government
  • The builders were to be rewarded with sections of land, distributed in a checkerboard fashion, along the right of way for each mile completed
  • The government provided low interest loans to assist with construction.

The large land grants extended to the railroads were intended to be sold to settlers, which provided a means to pay for construction and repay the loans.

It was unusual, to say the least, to undertake a massive internal improvement project in the middle of a civil war. The fact that this was done indicated how strongly Lincoln and the Congress felt about linking the West Coast to the East.

- - - Books You May Like Include: ----

Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-69 by Stephen E. Ambrose.
By the 1860s, there were a few powerful men who decided they wanted to see the railroad built and wanted to make a killing in the process. As Congress...
Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America by Richard White.
The transcontinental railroads of the late nineteenth century were the first corporate behemoths. Their attempts to generate profits from proliferatin...
Empire Express: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad by David Haward Bain.
On the morning of May 10, 1869, a gang of Irish immigrants met a party of Chinese laborers on a windy bluff northwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Tired t...
The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War by Leonard L. Richards.
It has always been understood that the 1848 discovery of gold in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada influenced the battle over the admission of Califo...
Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow: The Epic Story of the Transcontinental Railroads by Dee Brown.
Before this extraordinary undertaking was over more than 155 million acres were given away to the railroad magnates, Indian tribes were decimated, the...

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