Pacific Railway Acts

Pacific Railway Acts

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The Pacific Railroad Acts were a series of acts of Congress that promoted the construction of the transcontinental railroad
Transcontinental railroad
A transcontinental railroad is a contiguous network of railroad trackage that crosses a continental land mass with terminals at different oceans or continental borders. Such networks can be via the tracks of either a single railroad, or over those owned or controlled by multiple railway companies...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 through authorizing the issuance of government bond
Government bond
A government bond is a bond issued by a national government denominated in the country's own currency. Bonds are debt investments whereby an investor loans a certain amount of money, for a certain amount of time, with a certain interest rate, to a company or country...

s and the grants of land
Land grant
A land grant is a gift of real estate – land or its privileges – made by a government or other authority as a reward for services to an individual, especially in return for military service...

 to railroad companies. The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 (12 Stat. 489) was the original act. Some of its provisions were subsequently modified, expanded, or repealed by four additional amending Acts: The Pacific Railroad Act of 1863 (12 Stat. 807), Pacific Railroad Act of 1864 (13 Stat. 356), Pacific Railroad Act of 1865 (13 Stat. 504), and Pacific Railroad Act of 1866 (14 Stat. 66)

1862 Act


The original Act's long title
Long title
The long title is the formal title appearing at the head of a statute or other legislative instrument...

 was 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. It was based largely on a proposed bill
Bill (proposed law)
A bill is a proposed law under consideration by a legislature. A bill does not become law until it is passed by the legislature and, in most cases, approved by the executive. Once a bill has been enacted into law, it is called an act or a statute....

 originally reported six years earlier on August 16, 1856, to the 34th Congress
34th United States Congress
The Thirty-fourth United States Congress was a meeting of the legislative branch of the United States federal government, consisting of the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives. It met in Washington, D.C. from March 4, 1855 to March 4, 1857, during the last two years...

 by the Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad and Telegraph. Signed into law by the President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 on July 1, 1862, the 1862 Act authorized extensive land grants in the Western United States
Western United States
.The Western United States, commonly referred to as the American West or simply "the West," traditionally refers to the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. Because the U.S. expanded westward after its founding, the meaning of the West has evolved over time...

 and the issuance of 30-year government bond
Government bond
A government bond is a bond issued by a national government denominated in the country's own currency. Bonds are debt investments whereby an investor loans a certain amount of money, for a certain amount of time, with a certain interest rate, to a company or country...

s (at 6 percent) to the Union Pacific Railroad
Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....

 and Central Pacific Railroad
Central Pacific Railroad
The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

 (later the Southern Pacific Railroad
Southern Pacific Railroad
The Southern Pacific Transportation Company , earlier Southern Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Company, and usually simply called the Southern Pacific or Espee, was an American railroad....

) companies in order to construct a transcontinental railroad
Transcontinental railroad
A transcontinental railroad is a contiguous network of railroad trackage that crosses a continental land mass with terminals at different oceans or continental borders. Such networks can be via the tracks of either a single railroad, or over those owned or controlled by multiple railway companies...

. Section 2 of the Act granted each Company contiguous rights of way for their rail lines as well as all public lands within 200 feet (61 m) on either side of the track.

Section 3 granted an additional 10 square miles (26 km²) of public land for every mile of grade except where railroads ran through cities or crossed rivers. The method of apportioning these additional land grants was specified in the Act as being in the form of "five alternate sections per mile on each side of said railroad, on the line thereof, and within the limits of ten miles on each side" which thus provided the companies with a total of 6400 acres (25.9 km²) for each mile of their railroad. (The interspersed non-granted area remained as public lands under the custody and control of the U.S. General Land Office
General Land Office
The General Land Office was an independent agency of the United States government responsible for public domain lands in the United States. It was created in 1812 to take over functions previously conducted by the United States Department of the Treasury...

.) The U.S. Government Pacific Railroad Bonds were authorized by Section 5 to be issued to the companies at the rate of $16,000 per mile of tracked grade completed west of the designated base of the Sierra Nevadas and east of the designated base of the Rocky Mountains
Rocky Mountains
The Rocky Mountains are a major mountain range in western North America. The Rocky Mountains stretch more than from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico, in the southwestern United States...

 (UPRR). Section 11 of the Act provided that the issuance of bonds "shall be treble the number per mile" (to $48,000) for tracked grade completed over and within the two mountain ranges (but limited to a total of 300 miles (482.8 km) at this rate), and doubled (to $32,000) per mile of completed grade laid between the two mountain ranges

The U.S. Government Bonds constituted a lien
Lien
In law, a lien is a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation...

 upon the railroads and all their fixtures, and all were repaid in full (and with interest
Interest
Interest is a fee paid by a borrower of assets to the owner as a form of compensation for the use of the assets. It is most commonly the price paid for the use of borrowed money, or money earned by deposited funds....

) by the companies as and when they became due. Section 10 of the 1864 amending Act (13 Statutes at Large, 356) additionally authorized the two companies to issue their own "First Mortgage Bonds" in total amounts up to (but not exceeding) that of the bonds issued by the United States, and that such company issued securities would have priority over the original Government Bonds.

From 1850-1871, the railroads received more than 175 million acres (708,000 km²) of public land - an area more than one tenth of the whole United States and larger in area than Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

.

Railroad expansion provided new avenues of migration into the American interior. The railroads sold portions of their land to arriving settlers at a handsome profit. Lands closest to the tracks drew the highest prices, because farmers and ranchers wanted to locate near railway stations.

1863 Act (To establish its gauge)


The act of March 3, 1863 (12 Sta. 807) was:
AN ACT to establish the gauge of the Pacific railroad and its branches.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the gauge of the Pacific railroad and its branches throughout their whole extent, from the Pacific coast to the Missouri river, shall be, and hereby is, established at four feet eight and one-half inches.


This act set the gauge
Rail gauge
Track gauge or rail gauge is the distance between the inner sides of the heads of the two load bearing rails that make up a single railway line. Sixty percent of the world's railways use a standard gauge of . Wider gauges are called broad gauge; smaller gauges, narrow gauge. Break-of-gauge refers...

 to be used by the railroads at four feet and eight and one-half inches, a gauge had previously been used by George Stephenson
George Stephenson
George Stephenson was an English civil engineer and mechanical engineer who built the first public railway line in the world to use steam locomotives...

 in England for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway
Liverpool and Manchester Railway
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the world's first inter-city passenger railway in which all the trains were timetabled and were hauled for most of the distance solely by steam locomotives. The line opened on 15 September 1830 and ran between the cities of Liverpool and Manchester in North...

 (1830) and was already popular with railroads in the Northeastern states
Northeastern United States
The Northeastern United States is a region of the United States as defined by the United States Census Bureau.-Composition:The region comprises nine states: the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; and the Mid-Atlantic states of New...

. Due in part to the 1863 Act the gauge would come to be widely (but not universally) adopted in the United States and is known as standard gauge
Standard gauge
The standard gauge is a widely-used track gauge . Approximately 60% of the world's existing railway lines are built to this gauge...

. A common gauge choice allowed easy transfer of cars between different railroad companies.

See also

  • First Transcontinental Railroad
    First Transcontinental Railroad
    The First Transcontinental Railroad was a railroad line built in the United States of America between 1863 and 1869 by the Central Pacific Railroad of California and the Union Pacific Railroad that connected its statutory Eastern terminus at Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska The First...

  • Central Pacific Railroad
    Central Pacific Railroad
    The Central Pacific Railroad is the former name of the railroad network built between California and Utah, USA that formed part of the "First Transcontinental Railroad" in North America. It is now part of the Union Pacific Railroad. Many 19th century national proposals to build a transcontinental...

  • Union Pacific Railroad
    Union Pacific Railroad
    The Union Pacific Railroad , headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska, is the largest railroad network in the United States. James R. Young is president, CEO and Chairman....


Related Primary Source Documents (External Links)