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Speech on the Union Pacific Railroad,
June 21, 1864, in Congress


   Mr. Stevens. Mr. Speaker, I have been much edified this evening by the excellently prepared and delivered dissertation of the gentleman from Illinois, (Mr. Washburne.) He touched on several subjects in reference to which useful lesson may be learned – political economy, frugality, and especially morality! It was well done, well-conceived, and well uttered. I listened with great pleasure to most of his abstract theories and his disquisitions on them. He was pretty much like an old friend of mine who talked very much about Coke and Littleton, and could make as good an argument on estates tail and contingent remainders as any man, but he never could try a cause, because he got up his law upon the supposition of a certain state of facts, and then it did not make a particle of difference whether the facts failed or not. He would give the law though the facts had no application to it. He once made a long argument on the law in reference to a lost bond, and I reminded him that he had forgotten the fact that it turned out the bond was not lost at all. He said he did not care anything about that; the law was right anyhow. (Laughter.) Just so with my friend here. A most excellent dissertation he has made upon saving money to aid this war against these tedious rebels. He said he had pursued the course, since he has been there, of not voting anything at all which was not directly for powder and ball, as I understood him. The country is to live without anything else, provided there is powder and ball enough. He does not care anything about what becomes of agriculture, or commerce, or navigation, or the intercourse of the country; all these must take care of themselves until after the rebels are put down; then if anybody survives they will be taken care of.

    Now, sir, all this denunciation of expenditures has not a fact to ground itself upon in the bill which we have here presented; for if the bill passes, as the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. Price) has said much better than I could say it, the Government is not one dollar poorer, at any rate until this war is ended, than it is now, for there is not a dollar called for within any time which we can conceive this war to last. There is not a single thing asked for which is not in the original bill except some little land; and as to that land, I ask the gentleman what he is going to do with it, how he is going to feed soldiers on it? It is all given away now in homesteads to anybody who chooses to take it, and every mile of railroad you make gives each odd section, for an emigrant to plant his home upon, worth twenty of those sections without any railroad. Where, then, is anything taken from the national Treasury – anything for which the House are to be rebuked for having robbed this nation? Where is there any ground for the gentleman’s indignation which has towered so high here? His speech he must have prepared before we prepared the bill, thinking we were going to steal something; and if we did not, why the law would be right anyhow. (Laughter.)

    Now, let me go over this bill with my friend as he did, just as if we were going over the Shorter Catechism together, and see how it applies to his speech. What does this bill propose? It does propose concessions of great value to the railroad company. It proposes to make a work much greater than if it were attempted through or over the Alps. It proposes great concessions for the road to work under, for under the old bill they could not work at all. I admit that the committee did know, and believe, and intend by this bill that the Government should aid this company somewhat more than by the old bill, or it would be idle for us to pass it. The original bill was passed here after a great struggle, and it was a piece of patchwork. I remember the struggle well. The bill, as passed, had many imperfections, and the company could not work under it. They could not take the right of way over anybody’s land under it, and the company properly declined to proceed far, even if they had money enough, until they knew whether they were to have such a bill as they could make the road under, and under which capitalists would invest their money.

    Hence it was after the two millions of subscription were taken by “mercenary” men, by enough men who grasped at the opportunity pf putting their ten and twenty thousand dollars into this “mine of gold,” which the gentleman thinks is such a great boon to them, hence it was that these men who, I think, from patriotic motives, formed this organization, and put their money into it at great peril, found it absolutely necessary to delay doing much work until they should get some extension to the working features of the bill. Hence it is that today, so far from having the road located through the whole route, they have only had surveys made through passes of the mountains. One of those surveys was made by a member of the company, who took $20,000 of the stock. I will not mention his name, for fear of exciting the ire of the gentleman from Illinois.

    Mr. Washburne, of Illinois. One of the gentleman’s directors, Brigham Young, I suppose.

    Mr. Stevens. That may be; but I venture to say that he never stole any man’s money. I know that he is a remarkable man, although I do not agree with him in his religious opinions. He is certainly a man of great physical power. (Laughter.) Certain it is upon the California side of the line they have gone into the work with excellent zeal. They have not only completed ten and twenty miles, but today there are fifty-two miles of the road made and in running order.

    Mr. Cole, of California. Eighty miles.

    Mr. Stevens. Well, a part of it runs up to San Jose, round the bay of San Francisco; but we may say that the company have completed eighty miles. The company have raised already upon that side of the mountains over fifteen million dollars. They have that money to expend, and they are expending it. They are building a road over the Sierra Nevada into the silver mining region, at a cost of over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars a mile. It was obvious to the committee that upon this side of the Rocky Mountains it would cost even more than that. I have no doubt that there are sections of country there where it will cost from three to five hundred thousand dollars a mile. It would be impossible, therefore, for the company, under the old concession, to make this road, and we felt that if it was to be made, something more ought to be done by the United States. The committee thought that nothing which we could carry through the House would be too much to aid in building this great thoroughfare between the eastern and western population of the country; to unite us with California, whose people, whatever they may have been at the start, are admitted now to be among the purest both in politics and morals of any in the United States. We thought it necessary, therefore, to do something to unite us with that people. What could we do? The company asked that we should double the number of bonds, and the Senate actually passed a bill guarantying the payment of interest for twenty years, in coin, on double the amount of bonds which the United States originally granted.

    Your committee came at once to the determination not to burden the nation at this time with any further liabilities or obligation. They said to the company, “take what land you choose; it is worth nothing to the Government; it is not held out for sale; it is worth nothing except as it becomes populated, and as you populate it you do us a benefit; do not ask us for more bonds; we will take off some of the restrictions and make the conditions lighter, so as to enable you to go on with the work.” What, then, did we do? We agreed to take off the first restriction, the one fourth, which we put into the last bill, until the whole road was finished. We thought that unreasonable. We agreed to release that one fourth of the concession for every mile until a section of forty miles was fully finished. That provision seemed to us to be unreasonable, and we have in this bill submitted to the House the question whether we are right or not. That is one of the flagrant enormities in which the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Washburne) has detected us!

    We agreed, also, to double the amount of lands. What lands? Why, the sections on each side of the road! The gentleman lives in the West, and knows all about this matter. He knows that after we get beyond the one hundredth degree of longitude the land is hardly worth holding. From there, for some five hundred miles to the Rocky Mountains, the concession of land, except upon some small streams, is merely of nominal value. When you get to the other side of the Rocky Mountains, to what is called the plains, you find a barren valley that bears nothing but sage of the bitterest kind, and that never can be made fertile for any use whatever. Then you come upon the Sierra Nevada, and when you pass over that range of mountains you find no land worth anything until you get into California, and there the lands have all been taken up long ago.

    It is also charged, Mr. Speaker that we allow this company to issue its own bonds and give a first mortgage. That is true; but that does not take a dollar from the Government now. It does not weaken the Administration in carrying on this war and defraying its expenses. The only doubt is whether will bear the two mortgages. It is very clear that unless the second mortgage is to be got in this way the road will never be finished and will never earn a dollar. I doubt not that when this road is finished and the vast travel between the two oceans sets in over it, when the business not only of this country but the commerce of the far East shall be brought across the continent to the population on this side of the Rocky Mountains and on its way to Europe, as it will be the only short thoroughfare, the road will be so productive as not only to pay all its liabilities but to make its stock very valuable.

    Suppose the road does cost $200,000,000. The amount of interest will be $12,000,000 a year. The Central road of Pennsylvania receives more than half that in tolls. Last year and the year before the railroad between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia received $7,000,000. The Erie canal of New York I believe receives some $6,000,000 of tolls annually, and I believe the New York Central railroad receives more.

    A Member. Ten million dollars a year.

    Mr. Stevens. Ten million dollars I am told. If these lines, on such short distances, have such receipts I imagine we can hardly figure up the amount that will be received on this great work.

    Mr. Higby. The freight now from San Francisco to the valley amounts to over five million dollars a year.

    Mr. Stevens. The gentleman from California states that the wagon freight now from San Francisco to the valley is over five million dollars a year. I do not mean to argue this. Everybody who looks over this vast continent and on the world at large must perceive that this work, when once completed, will not only be the most magnificent on earth but the most productive. Then, sir, I say that both these mortgages will be fairly paid, in time; and although the bonds of the Government may be postponed to the others, the Government will receive vast advantages from the very fact that the road is finished and pours the wealth of California into its coffers, besides keeping together the Union as it now is. That was the view that actuated the committee. It was not the motive of our friend, the detective, (laughter,) suspected. He has found out motives which never actuated the committee; which, so far as I know, no one ever dreamed of. But the committee did aspire to look at the question in a statesmanlike point of view.

    The gentleman from Illinois says he has discovered “a cat in the meal tub” – (laughter) – I do not know that he used that language exactly, but I am only paraphrasing it – when he found that this bill repealed the proviso of the fourth article of the charter with reference to the appointment of commissioners on the California side. That provides that when any section is finished that fact shall be certified under oath by the president of the company; and the President of the United States shall appoint a commission of three, who shall examine and report upon it, and who shall certify to him, and then he shall issue bonds for the amount, and so on in succession as fast as sections are finished. Now, the one commission is to be appointed to go through the same operation. It is obvious that on the California side it would take a long time to communicate with the President of the United States and to have all these certificates sent and filed. It would take almost long enough to let so much interest accrue as would help to pay some of the debt which my friend from Illinois is so much afraid of. We provide in this bill that instead of these numerous commissions for each section, the President of the United States shall appoint a set of commissioners so that they shall be ready to examine and give the certificates the same as before; and that in California, instead of waiting till all the papers are filed in the Department of the Interior here, they may be filed in the public land office of the nation in California; and then the commissioners may go on and make their examination. Is there anything in that that looks like murder, or arson, or robbery? (Laughter.) The gentleman from Illinois intended no slight censure when he accused the committee of such a monstrous scheme of robbery as that.

    Now, the gentleman from Iowa (Mr. Price) has very properly called the special attention of the House right here to that part of the bill which allows a portion of the bonds to be furnished to the company before they get the rails laid down – allowing them for two thirds the value of the work. As my friend from Iowa says, there is no man who has been a railroad man, who has been an original stockholder in a railroad, who will care again to invest his money in that way, and especially who would care to undertake the construction of a road through these vast mountains, without compensation until the entire work has been completed. He has properly said that it will delay the completion of the work for years, unless they are allowed to commence the tunneling and excavation of these rocks before the entire work has been constructed up to the mountains, and the committee did not think there was anything unjust or improper in allowing the company to go forward with these tunnels while they were grading the road and laying track from the Missouri River in that direction. It is well known that in order to cross these mountains there must be excavations of hundreds of feet of solid rock, and I see no objection, when the work has been done, ready to lay the rails, and the rails themselves have not been laid because it was impossible to transport them there, in allowing the company to receive two thirds the amount to which they are entitled in the construction of that part of the road, thus enabling the company to go on more rapidly and bring the entire work more speedily to its completion.

    Mr. Speaker, I do not know that I ought to detain the House any longer. I have touched upon the main points covered by the bill. If this road is to be built there must be some advantage given. The committee have not had an opportunity to report the Senate bill, and I do not think, as I understand the feeling of the committee, they would have reported it. The Senate bill pledged the Government to guaranty the interest in coin upon bonds to twice the amount to which the company is entitled under existing law. Our committee have avoided that throughout.

     Now, sir, these gentlemen have subscribed the $2,000,000 required by the law. They have paid $200,000, and, as the report before us shows, have expended $800,000. They cannot, under the present arrangement, go on with the work. They have not put any of it in running order, although many miles of an auxiliary road have been completed, and the question is now whether they shall be allowed to go on or stop. I think under the circumstances, we have done about as little as we could do if anything at all was to be done to enable them to make this road. I have no hesitancy in saying that the whole question whether the work is to stop altogether depends upon the action of the House upon this bill. It does not provide what the company want, it is not the kind of bill they asked from the committee, or which has been sent us from the Senate. I repeat that the committee were not willing to go to the extent of the Senate bill. They were not willing to burden the Government at present guarantying payment of the interest in coin as was proposed by the Senate, but they are willing to grant facilities as far as possible without placing the interests of the Government in jeopardy, such as will enable them to proceed with the work.

    The gentleman from Illinois complains of the men who compose this company, and mentions the name of some gentleman with whom he seems to be acquainted better than I am. There are some gentlemen whose names appear of whom I have not heard. I have heard of General Dix, who takes a strong interest in this road. I learn that his reputation is probably as good as that of most of the persons the gentleman from Illinois would have belong to the company. I learn from the gentleman that he is a man of talent and is probably president of the company. I believe the company is composed of pure men. I will not say about the committee in that respect. I confess I have some little apprehension about my friend from Iowa (Mr. Price) because he makes so loud professions, (laughter,) but I believe this road is managed by pure men.

     The gentleman from Illinois has forgotten one thing. He says the directors are in for three years. The gentleman will do the committee the credit, I am sure, of saying they have attempted to avoid that. The section to which the amendment of the gentleman from Indiana is an amendment provides that in the middle of October next a new election shall be held, and thenceforward they shall be elected annually; that there shall be fifteen directors instead of thirty, and that ten instead of two of them shall be appointed by the Government. I think, therefore, we have done all we could to guard the interests of the Government in that respect. We have directed that the books shall be kept open for subscriptions up to the day of election, so that every man who wishes to participate in the management of the corporation may take part until the entire subscription of $100,000,000 has been made.

     I call for the previous question on the pending amendments, which must be disposed of before any other amendments can be submitted to the bill. I do not propose to call for the previous question on the bill, but to leave it open for amendment.


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