Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

Remarks of Rep. Volney E. Howard (D-TX) relating to the Benefits to National Defense, Mining, Internal Emigration, Asiatic and Mexican Trade, and Domestic and International Commerce of the Construction of a Pacific Railroad aided by Government Land Grants.
U.S. House of Representatives
July 6, 1852.


[Also see the photograph and biography of Representative Volney E. Howard of Texas, later the District Attorney of Los Angles.]

No one who has investigated the subject can doubt the national necessity of a railroad to the Pacific. Look at the reports or your officers, both of the Army and Navy, upon the subject of our national defenses, and they all tell you that they cannot be made complete without a railroad and the telegraph to the Pacific Ocean. In the event of a war with any naval power, the first demonstration would be upon California and our Pacific possessions; and in the present condition of things they would fall before you could afford them aid or relief. We would have no right to march an army through Mexico, by way of the Isthmus, even if the navigation of the Gulf should remain open, and the fate of the country would be decided before you could sail round the Cape or march an army overland through your own territory; but with a railroad, you could transport an army there in from four to six days. The enemy could not effect a landing before the country might be put in a complete state of defense, by means of troops transported on a railroad with wings of steam. If the road is not constructed, the Government will be compelled to line the Pacific coast with a system of forts which will cost more to build and man than the expense of a road, which will change the commerce of the world, and furnish ample defenses.

Consider, sir, the mighty effect of such a work upon national and international commerce. It would change into a new channel the commerce of Europe with Asia. The United States are situated in the center of the world's commerce and production. With a railroad to the Pacific, we must become the largest storehouse of the commerce of all nations, and the mart for the exchange of products. Through our dominions would pass the commerce between Europe and the Indies, as well as all Asia. To a great extent the Asiatic trade would fall into our hands. With the power over it which such a work would give, our own manufactures would enter China and other Asiatic countries under the most favorable auspices. Already this commerce has commenced between China and California, and bids fair to be a trade of great profit. No nation has ever possessed the commerce of the Indies without growing wealthy by its immense gains. It has created a race of Merchant princes for several European nations. This commerce is at our door, and we have only to stretch out our bonds and engross it.

I am in favor of devoting some portion of the public lands west of the Mississippi, in the vicinity of the road, to its construction. This may be effected either by granting it to States, or individuals, upon condition of building certain sections of the work. It is true that the Government has no public lands in Texas; but that State has already granted the right of way through her limits for a Pacific railway, and made a liberal donation of lands in aid of that object. I have no doubt that her Legislature will grant still more, if necessary, to carry out this great national improvement. She has a rich territory, more than five times as large as the State of New York, which will contribute a large commerce to the support of this great work. Possessing over a hundred millions of acres of public domain, it is her interest to be liberal to this vast national project.

The effect of a railroad to the Pacific in increasing the value of the public domain must be obvious to all. This Government owns west of the Mississippi more than a thousand millions of acres of public domain. Near six hundred millions of acres of this public land is in New Mexico, Utah, California, and Oregon. I have already presented my views in favor of the power in the Federal Government to grant sections of the public lands to aid in the construction of railroads, when the result is to enhance to an equal or greater amount in value the land along the road reserved to the Government, and shall not repeat them.

In New Mexico alone the Government has nearly 135,000,000 of acres of public lands, which will be almost valueless for half a century unless a railroad is constructed through that Territory. The Government would be a great gainer to give half this land for the construction of a railway from the Rio Grande to the junction of the Colorado and Gila. In an agricultural point of view, New Mexico is comparatively a poor country; but as a grazing country, it has great capabilities. It is well adapted for raising sheep, cattle, and horses. It is a region where wool can be grown with decided success, and the winter is such that beef could be packed there with safety for the Pacific and other markets. It is also the land of the vine and the grape. Its great power, however, lies in its mineral resources. It abounds in valuable metals. Gold has lately been discovered in quantities sufficient to invite the miner both upon the Gila and the Colorado. It is rich in silver, copper, iron, and coal. With a railroad the mining interest of New Mexico would soon become a source of vast wealth. Without such a work these mines will, in a great degree, be lost to the country for ages.

The same may be said of a large portion of California. The mineral products of that country cannot be fully developed without a road, which will afford rapid and cheap means of communication. How many thousands are there who would visit the mineral regions to labor temporarily if they could reach them in a few days at a moderate expense. Hereafter the business of mining is to be one of the most important interests in this country. The precious metals are already one of the largest items in our exports, and destined to have a still greater effect upon our foreign and domestic commerce. It is estimated that the California mines have yielded at least $200,000,000 up to this time. But the great branch of industry which would be promoted and benefited most extensively, taking the Atlantic and Pacific both into account, by such a road would be that of agriculture. Not only by means of opening new lands by furnishing transportation for the products of what would otherwise be remote regions, but in effecting exchanges of the products of the great valley of the Mississippi with the people of the Pacific side. It could not fail to open an extensive market for the agriculture and manufactures of the population of the Atlantic section of the continent.

But independently of all these considerations, it is for the interest of the United States, as a proprietor, to grant sufficient public domain to construct a road to the Pacific. How else is this Government ever to settle in a reasonable time the thousand million of acres which it owns on the other side of the mountains? No action which the Government could take would enhance the sale of the public lands to such an extent, because the road would carry population to settle and improve countries that would otherwise remain a waste wilderness for an indefinite period of time. To make these grants is not to waste, but to increase and enhance fourfold the land fund and the value of the land west of the Mississippi; for real estate, like all other property, has no test of value but its use. If it cannot be occupied for want of a market, it is without appreciation; and this is precisely the condition of four fifths of the country beyond the Rocky Mountains, exclusive of the gold diggings. Off from the shore and navigable waters of the Pacific, there are no means of transportation for products to induce settlements.

It is not my purpose to enter at any length into a comparison of the two routes, the northern and the southern. My own opinion is, that if both were constructed, the southern route would do the largest portion of the business, so far as it might be connected with the Pacific and Asiatic commerce. The southern road being through a better climate, could be used at all seasons of the year, without any interruption from snows.

Mr. [Asa] Whitney estimates the northern route at over two thousand miles; no one has ever supposed the southern route to be more than seventeen hundred miles from the Mississippi river; and in point of fact it will not exceed fifteen hundred, with all the detours, starting from any point south of the mouth of the Ohio. With a railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific it would be easy to reach China from London in thirty days. I am not opposed to any individual enterprise in the Tehuantepec route; but it cannot supply the great national want. The running distance from Tehuantepec, on the Pacific side, to San Diego or San Francisco, is as great as from the Mississippi river to either of those places by the running distance by railroad, while the time made on the railroad will be at least twenty miles per hour and that on the steamers about twelve.

From Tehuantepec by steamer to San Francisco is nearly 2,000 miles; to San Diego about 1,600. From the Mississippi to San Diego by a straight line about 1,380 miles; to San Francisco, about 1,500 miles; and the detours of the road on either route will not make the distance greater than the present running course by steamers from Tehuantepec to either of those places. And when the difference of speed and the obstructions from the weather are considered it will be seen that the journey from the Mississippi by railroad can be made in about half the time that it can from Tehuantepec. Even when you have reached the Pacific side, the time saved in going from New York to California by the railroad direct over that of Tehuantepec would be sufficient to secure the construction of the railroad. A ship canal through the Isthmus would not change the result, nor do away with the necessity of a railroad.

It has been urged that a railroad to the Pacific, if constructed, would not yield enough to pay interest on the investment, defray current expenses, and keep the work in good repair. It can be shown beyond controversy, that on the basis of the present trade and travel between the Atlantic and Pacific the road would not only be a good stock, but a profitable investment.

The present emigration to California is not likely to diminish for a number of years. It will continue so long as gold is found in its present abundance in that region; and there does not appear to be any limit to it. The mines, from all appearances, are as productive now as they ever have been since the discovery of the gold in California. The returns show that the commerce of the Pacific is steadily increasing. The tonnage to California for the fiscal year ending the 30th of June, 1851, foreign and from other portions of the United States, was upwards of 258,000 tons. Of this, the tonnage from the United States was upwards of 115,000 tons. It is known that vessels out always go with full freights.

Let us go more fully into details as to the means of sustaining a railroad to California. The length of the road from the Mississippi river to the Pacific, taking the largest estimate, one thousand seven hundred miles, with a cost of construction of $40,000 per mile would be $68,000,000. It is ascertained that in order to pay and defray expenses, a road should divide 12 per cent. which on the cost of the road would be $8,160,000

The next question is, from what sources is this amount to be derived? It is known that an ordinary trip around the Cape takes one hundred and fifty days. As much as $40 per ton freight on that voyage has been paid to the fast clippers. The steamers, according to their advertisements, charge seventy cents per cubic foot to Chagres, and $100 per ton from Panama to San Francisco. At $10 per ton from the Mississippi river, heavy freight would pay cost, charges, and repairs on the road. At this rate of freight the road would do nearly all the business, owing to the greater expedition and saving in insurance and interest on capital. By the Isthmus the steamers now make the trip in twenty-six days. It could by railway be made from New York to San Francisco in six.

The profits from travel would be so great as to warrant a very low rate of freights. It is estimated by Lieutenant Barnard, in his survey of the Isthmus, from official documents, that the average travel to California for the years 1849, 1850, and 1851, was 141,320, which, at $50 per passenger, less than one fourth the present average rate, would give the sum of $7,066,000. Then freights of 150,000 tons at $10 per ton would add $1,500,000. This would produce an annual profit of $8,566,000 which would be more than sufficient, without allowing for any increase of the present Pacific commerce.

It will be perceived that the foregoing estimate of resources for the support of a railroad is based almost exclusively upon the present domestic trade and travel between the Atlantic and the Pacific. To this must be added the commerce of China, and other portions of Asia:

The foreign trade with China in 1845 was $43,390,784.
In British ships: $16,073,682
In American ships, including specie: $2,909,669
All other countries: $1,417,433
Opium; smuggled: $23,000,000
Total: $43,390,784

Exports from China in 1845 were:
To British Empire: $26,697,321
To the United States: $8,261,702
To all other countries: $1,972,875
Total.: $36,931,898

Balance of trade in favor of England: $6,458,886

Balance of trade in favor of China, and against the United States, paid in bills on London: $5,325,033

China consumes in raw cotton: $7,000,000

Lieutenant Maury estimated in 1849, that in transporting oil on the railroad instead of sending it home by sea, there would be a saving to the whaling business of $2,000,000 a year, in avoiding loss of time, interest, and insurance, as well as the loss incident to the present character of ships, and that this freight would pay to the railroad $970,800 at $20 per ton. This trade would probably pay $500,000 a year on freight at $10 per ton.

There is still to be taken into account the way transportation and travel, which all must perceive will be immense, if we estimate only for the rich planting district between the Mississippi and the Rio Grande. That portion of the road, alone, will pay a good dividend as soon as it shall be constructed. There is also the country from the Rio Grande to the junction of the Gila and the Colorado, whose mineral wealth has already been alluded to. It is believed to be valuable for its gold. It is well known to be rich in copper and silver; and the working of these silver mines is a matter of great interest to the country, as demonstrated by the recent scarcity of silver for the ordinary purposes of circulation. Not only does New Mexico possess valuable silver mines, but they abound also in the three northern States of Mexico. If we had a railroad to the Pacific we could, by our commerce, command the produce of these mines, together with the Mexican trade generally. And let me assure you, sir, that this is a most important trade, which we have too long neglected. Mexico has a population of more than eight millions of people, and may be said to be a nation without manufactures. Merchandise has been taken overland from Texas, not only into the interior of Mexico, but to the capital itself. With a road to the Pacific, the United States could control this commerce; certainty in all except the southern States of Mexico. Now, suppose this population took of merchandise and goods, of all sorts, only five dollars per year for each person, which is a small estimate, it would amount to $40,000,000. This, of itself, would create a very large wayfreight and travel. It is well known that the wants of these people increase with the habit of consumption. It must be apparent and it is the opinion of commercial men, that our trade with Mexico can be made quite as important as our commerce with Asia; because, by proper exertions on the part of our Government, it may be nearly monopolized by the United States, and open a vast market for American manufactures. To effect this, a railroad is not only necessary to transport merchandise, but to enable us to furnish the heavy machinery, indispensable to the profitable working of the rich silver mines of Northern Mexico.

It is admitted that the efficiency of any road to the Pacific, as a medium of commerce, must depend greatly upon the rate of tolls charged for freight mile. It is ascertained that at one cent per ton per mile, a road will pay dividends and it will pay expenses and repairs at half a cent per mile. At these rates heavy freight can be transported. There is no doubt that the road would take the freight from the Mississippi to the Pacific at $10 per ton. This would be cheaper than it could be taken round the Cape or across the Isthmus by steamers and railroad. Calculating the distance at seventeen hundred miles, it would leave a profit of $1.50 per ton. At these rates, cotton, corn, flour, beef, and pork could be transported on the road for the Chinese market, from the valley of the Mississippi, and leave a fine profit. But they can be raised in great abundance east of the Rio Grande, within one thousand miles of the Pacific, and can therefore be transported there for $5 per ton. Such a rate of freight would enable us to supply the Chinese Empire with a large proportion of its food in exchange for Asiatic products, thus creating an extensive market for the agricultural products of the United States. This rate of freight will enable dealers to transport corn flour, and provisions from any portion of the valley of the Mississippi to the Asiatic market. It has been estimated that these articles can be transported from the Pacific to China for $14 per ton, which would make the freight on corn about fifty cents per bushel, and flour $2.25 per barrel, from the Mississippi to China. At these rates, such articles would bear transportation and yield a fair profit.

The route from the Mississippi through Texas has this great advantage over the northern route: it passes through a country which in its whole length can produce something valuable for export, and can, therefore create a large way trade; whereas the northern route will lay over more than a thousand miles of desert, which can add nothing to commerce. This single fact of itself should be conclusive in favor of the southern route, as well as the fact of its more immediate and direct connection with the great mineral trade of California and Northern Mexico. On the southern route there is no section of the road that would not pay from the time of its completion.

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

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