Brief comments on President Lincoln and the Transcontinental Railroad


Excerpt from President Obama’s Speech September 9, 2011:


“We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. But in the middle of a Civil War, he was also a leader who looked to the future — a Republican president who mobilized government to build the transcontinental railroad; launch the National Academy of Sciences; and set up the first land grant colleges. And leaders of both parties have followed the example he set.”


President Obama’s reference to Lincoln’s part in developing the transcontinental railroad may have been a surprise to some folks. I’m finding that many are just plain ignorant of history, and often-It’s just basic history. At any rate, it is a fact that the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S.  was built in the 1860s, which served to join the East coast of America to California. The main line was officially finished  May 10, 1869 (four years after Lincoln’s death).

Completing the railroad was a priority for President Abraham Lincoln, despite the ongoing Civil War during his administration. The Pacific Railway Act of 1862, was signed into law by Lincoln and “got the ball rolling” (or should I say “got the train rolling?”) for the construction of the railroad. There were subsequent railway acts during Lincoln’s Presidency and beyond. One important reason for the linking of East to West was for the war effort.  It would serve to tie California to the Union.  It worked! Of course, the railway also greatly enhanced travel from Point A to Point B. The days of the stagecoach were numbered afterward forever.  Does anyone regret that?

I found the pictured model train engine above in an antique store. It’s quite heavy and made of wood and metal. The store owner informed me that it was actually a children’s toy from the 1930’s. It reminded me so much of the Civil War era trains that I had to purchase it!

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2 Responses to “Brief comments on President Lincoln and the Transcontinental Railroad”

  1. B. Nash says:

    Wow Chris! Thanks for the great information. You’re right-these things about Lincoln are not generally known.

  2. Chris says:

    Another thing is the Transcontinental Railroad was the largest public works project in history (at that time). Pretty much every state university system can be traced back to land grant colleges (including the U of I – the place where many of the technologies that make the Internet what it is today were developed). The Homestead Act encouraged the settlement and development of the poor Western states. Lincoln also supported schools for freed blacks and the Freedmen’s Bureau – the newly freed slaves needed an economic leg up so they could participate in society. He wanted everyone to “have an equal chance in life” and economic development was part of that.

    I think we could learn a lot about economic development policies from Lincoln – much of what he did is still with us today – his policies really did work. I think his economic policies are often overlooked in favor of his two main achievements (freeing the slaves and saving the Union), so many people don’t know about them! However, given the current economic climate they could not be more relevant – I’d love to see a high-speed “Interstate Railway System” built to link our cities for the 21st century and reduce our dependence on car transportation.

    I could probably make a whole blog post on this topic.

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