« PreviousContinue »
dollar and twenty-five cents per acre. Mr. Douglas, who was, as we have stated, a member of the House, was strongly opposed to this measure. He insisted that, if any grant was made, it should be made to the state of Illinois, and not to any private corporation. He had no faith in Holbrook or his associates, and had no idea that they would ever construct the road. He believed that the object of the operators was to obtain the pre-emption privilege, and then sell their charter with it in Europe, and thus get out of the matter. He urged that a failure to carry out in good faith the object in consideration of which the grant was made would have the effect to prevent a like application thereafter, would suspend the land sales for several years, would retard the settlement of the state, and give a very unjust impression abroad as to the prospects of Illinois as an improving and flourishing community. He urged that the scheme proposed should be abandoned, and that Congress should be asked for a direct grant of land to the state to aid it in constructing the proposed railroad. In these objections he was sustained generally by his colleagues in the House. The bill as introduced was persisted in, and passed the Senate, and no action was had upon it in the House. At the next session a bill was introduced into the Senate the same as that of last session, with the exception that the "State of Illinois" was named as the grantee of the right of pre-emption instead of the "Great Western Railway Company." That bill was never taken up. At the session of '45-'6 a bill was introduced into the Senate, granting "to the State of Illinois alternate sections of the public land to aid in the construction of the Northern Cross and Central Railroads in said state." This bill was never taken up during that session. At the session of 1846-27 a bill was introduced into the Senate granting the right of way and a pre-emption privilege, but containing no grant of land. This bill also was suffered to sleep, and no action was had upon
In the winter of 1846-27 Mr. Douglas was elected to the Senate. During the summer of 1847 he traveled over a large portion of the state, and, wherever he made speeches, he discussed the question of the Illinois Central Railroad. He took the position that whatever grant was obtained should be obtained for the state, and not for private individuals; that the state ought not to take a mere grant of pre-emption privilege
-a privilege of buying the government land for one dollar and a quarter per acre upon the condition of constructing a railroad through them; and told the people he would apply for a grant of alternate sections of land to be given to the state gratuitously on condition that the road was constructed. He expressed a confident hope that that measure would receive an undivided support in Illinois, in which case he had no doubt as to its ultimate success. He urged the propriety of holding public meetings and the signing of memorials having the obtaining of such a grant in view.
The old bills contemplated but one road-that upon the line of the one projected by the state in '36, having its northern terminus at Galena, and carefully avoiding Chicago and the country lying between that city and the Illinois River. He stated his determination to include in the measure a road connecting with the lakes, thus securing for it friends in the Northeastern and Middle States, who did not like a proposition having for its natural tendency the diversion of all trade and traffic from the upper Mississippi toward New Orleans instead of toward the Atlantic sea-board. By making an additional road to the lakes at Chicago, a direct route would be made from the Southwest through to Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York; would connect the lower Mississippi with the lakes, the lakes and the Eastern States with the Southwest, and give to the vast region north and west of Illinois a communication both east and south.
When Congress met in December, 1847, Mr. Douglas took his seat in the Senate. In a few weeks the old and familiar "Pre-emption” Bill was introduced and referred. In January Mr. Douglas introduced his bill granting alternate sections of the public land to the State of Illinois to aid in the construction of a railroad from Cairo to Galena, with a branch from some appropriate point on the road to Chicago. It also embraced a proposition for a road crossing the state from Indiana to the Mississippi River. Both bills were reported from the Senate Committee on public lands, of which the Hon. Sidney Breese of Illinois was chairman. The latter bill-the one proposed by Mr. Douglas-was subsequently taken up, and early in May was passed by the Senate. The other bill was not acted upon.
The representatives in the House from Illinois all gave to
the measure their cordial support. Toward the close of the session, however, it was laid on the table by a small majority. At the next session, '48-9, Mr. Douglas introduced his bill in the Senate again; but, before any action was had in that body, the Illinois representatives in the House had succeeded in having the bill of the last session restored to its place on the calendar, but Congress adjourned without any farther action on the bill by the House.
In December, 1849, Mr. Douglas, with his colleague, General Shields, who had succeeded Mr. Breese, and the Illinois delegation in the House, matured a bill having but one road in contemplation, and that the Illinois Central and its Chicago branch. That bill, in which all the Illinois members had a part in framing, was introduced into the Senate by Mr. Douglas in January, 1850. The Compromise Measures of that year, and the question of Slavery generally, engrossed nearly all the time and discussions of the Senate. That subject came up almost every morning, and frequently was considered several days in succession, to the exclusion of all other business. There was, however, another reason for delay. When it had become certain that the only act that would be seriously pressed by the Illinois representatives would be one making a grant of land to the State of Illinois, the parties interested in the Cairo Company saw at once an end to their schemes unless they could in some manner circumvent that policy. They therefore proceeded to the Legislature of Illinois, and after a siege, and by the most dexterous management, the Legislature was induced to pass a measure ceding to Holbrook and his associates all lands that might at any time be granted by Congress to the state for the purpose, or in aid of the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad. Here, then, was a new and dangerous pitfall prepared for the great measure. If Congress should grant land to the company, the state would be at the mercy of an irresponsible band of speculators; to prevent this the policy had been changed, so as to secure the grant directly to the state, leaving the latter full power and control over the entire matter, and free to act with whoever would offer the best terms. But Holbrook had effectually headed off this policy by the amendment which he had obtained to his charter. He came to Washington and importuned for the passage of the bill in the shape in which it had been introduced some
years before, or he would take the bill then pending. He proposed to be on intimate terms with Mr. Douglas, but the latter declined the association.
At length, when fully informed of all the facts, Mr. Douglas sent for Holbrook, and told him that no bill of any kind would be suffered to pass unless the grant was made directly to the state, and to be held and disposed of by the state freely, and unlimited by any previous charter either to Holbrook or any one else. If Holbrook persisted in the right obtained under his charter and the subsequent legislation of Illinois, he, Mr. Douglas, would expose and denounce the whole scheme as one intended to use the name of the state to obtain an immense property for irresponsible and dishonest men to speculate and grow rich upon. He refused to move in the matter in Congress unless Holbrook would first sign and execute a good and valid release of every right, claim, and demand to any lands that might be granted by Congress to the state for railroad or other purposes. If Holbrook would not sign such a release, and attempted to have any bill passed, Mr. Douglas notified him that he would denounce and expose the whole game. It was a serious matter to the state, and equally so to Holbrook. It was total loss to one or the other. If the law passed as matters then stood, Holbrook's company got all, the state nothing. If Holbrook's company surrendered, as demanded by Mr. Douglas, then the state got all, and the company nothing. If Holbrook refused to surrender, Douglas stood in his way of obtaining any grant of any kind. The alternatives were not inviting to Mr. Holbrook; but at length he yielded; he signed and delivered the demanded release to the state, which release was forwarded to Springfield, and filed in the archives of the State of Illinois. Thus was it that the grant was received by the state unfettered and unimpaired by any of the adroit schemes of the wily speculators upon the public welfare. Having relieved the state of the Holbrook Company's claim, Mr. Douglas at once undertook to get the bill considered. It was not until April 29 that he could induce the Senate to consider the bill, and then only after a most spirited and fervent appeal. Having once got the bill before the Senate, he pressed it day after day until the 2d of May, when, notwithstanding the covert hostility of some Western senators, the bill passed-yeas 26, nays 14.
The bill was taken to the House, and there, by the skill, good management, and unity of action of the representatives of the state, the House was eventually brought to a vote, and the act making the donation of public land to the State of Illinois, to aid in the construction of the Illinois Central Railroad and its branch to Chicago, became a law.
On his return to Illinois at the close of the session, Mr. Douglas and General Shields were tendered a public dinner by the citizens of Chicago, in consideration of their services in obtaining the passage of this act. The two senators, in declining the honor, took the occasion to award to their colleagues in the House the full measure of credit for the successful carrying of the bill through the intricate parliamentary mazes that surrounded its pathway to completion.
The great Central Railroad of Illinois, the beginning of a system of great works, is now completed. The benefits it has produced to the state can not be calculated. During the five years immediately following the passage of the bill the population of Illinois increased from 850,000 to over 1,300,000. Other railroads have been constructed, and to day the Illinois Central Railroad is but a trunk to which and from which the travel and transportation of the Valley of the Mississippi bend their way by roads from every quarter of the country. The people of Illinois and of the Northwest will never be indifferent to the great benefits resulting from the passage of the Illinois Central Railroad land grant, nor will the men who were instrumental in achieving the great work be forgotten by a grateful people.
Mr. Douglas has always supported and voted for the bills making grants for similar purposes to the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, aud perhaps other states.
THE PACIFIC RAILROAD.
Mr. Douglas has been a friend and supporter of what he has himself styled "the great measure of the age”—the construction of a railroad to the Pacific Ocean. He has repeatedly introduced bills for that end, and has as repeatedly been chosen on select committees having that subject in charge. By vote and by speech he has exhibited the sincerity of his interest in this great national work, and has suffered no occasion to pass