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1864 Petition to Congress Circulated by Edgar Conkling Urging "Prompt and Liberal Aid" by the Government for Construction of the Northern Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads.

In January, 1864, Edgar Conkling, a prominent Republican activist from Cincinnati, Ohio, began circulating a Petition (image and text below) to be sent to the Congress urging that the Government should offer "prompt and liberal aid" for the construction of the Northern Pacific and the Central Pacific Railroads in order "to give value and salability" to the Government owned mineral lands in the Pacific states.  In a pamphlet* he published about the same time, Conkling stated the results that he hoped would be achieved by the adoption of this policy by the Congress to be as follows:

"1st.  It would materially increase our population from Europe, and thus strengthen us against internal and external foes, and with that increased wealth, they should bring with them, to mine and to do business with.

"2d. The revenue from importations would be correspondingly greater from the above considerations and from the increased wealth arising from the greater productiveness of the mines.

"3d. The sales from the mineral lands would produce many millions of dollars in money, the interest of which and the taxes on the lands would be more than equal to the cost to the Government of the maintenance of the Territories.

"4th. It would do away with the costly military Protection against Mormons and Indians, in our attempts to settle the Rocky Mountain country, preserve to us our Pacific States, and their increased commerce; neutralize the political power of the Mormons, who it may cost us fifty millions od dollars to subdue; strengthen our white settlements against the Indians, resisting the gradual encroachments from all directions upon their sections; create the necessity for Pacific Railroads, and materially hasten their construction, itself worth millions annually to the Government; lessen the aid Government will otherwise have to furnish to the Pacific railroads; and, in addition to all, give much greater value to the Government lands generally.

"5th. It would stimulate interest of the country, giving greater value and salability to property; and by increasing the basis of taxation, it would render our war debt and its taxation light, lessen exchange and interest, sustain Government securities at par, and if needed to an extent equal to the debt of England, prevent financial crisis and induce a greater foreign immigration into the North, to compensate for the migration that must take place from Northern to the Southern States as we gain possession of the States now in the Rebellion."

As stated in his pamphlet, Conkling advocated this policy in the furtherance of that which had been long promoted by the then late U.S. Senator from Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), of selling and developing the Government's mineral lands and of encouraging the construction of a Pacific Railroad with the Government and private enterprise working together to help ensure America's fulfillment of her "manifest destiny."  -BCC


Conkling's Pacific Railroad Petition, 1864

To the Honorable the Senate, And House of Representatives

The undersigned citizens of the United States and residents of _____ would most respectfully represent that the National finances, and industrial interests of the whole country, demand the most enlightened and vigorous policy in the development of our Internal Resources.

That the value of Government securities, Bank issues, and property in general, depends much on the production of a sufficient amount of the precious metals, now locked up for the want of such a policy to warrant a speedy return to specie payments.

Hugh McCulloch, Esq., Comptroller of our National Banks, in a recent article in reference to banks, says: "Recollect especially at the present time, that it should be the object of all honorable bankers to expedite, as far as possible, rather than to pospone a return to specie payments.While the exigencies of the nation have required that the issues of the Government should be a legal tender, it must never be forgotten that the business of the country rests upon an unsound basis, or rather is without a proper basis, as the Government and the banks are not meeting their obligations in coin."

Mr. Chase says: "It will be impossible to raise large sums by loans much longer, unless large sums are also raised by taxation. In the report submitted to Congress at the commencement of the session I ventured to say: "It is hardly too much -- perhaps hardly enough -- to say that every dollar raised for extraordinary expenditures or reduction of debt, is worth two in the increased value of national securities and increased facilities for the negotiation of indispensable loans." Reflection and observation since have satisfied me that under our present circumstances the remark is an understatement of the truth."

That to tax an over-burthened people many millions of dollars, that may be speedily derived from the sale of rich mineral lands, and that may, when sold, be made productive of stimulating every interest of the country, is unjust and oppressive, as well as avoiding the wholesome advice of the Comptroller of the National Banks, in adopting measures for a speedy return to a sound basis of specie payments.

Mr. Benton says: "Without a freehold in the soil, the experience of all countries proves that the riches of the mineral kingdom can never be discovered or brought it into action."   *    *    *    *    *
"But change the tenure, create a fee simple in the soil, and what may not be found.
"The example of England presents itself to us. In the early ages her base metals were considered as too precious for the people, and were reserved as crown property. Her mines were leased out; and the great tin mines of Cornwall brought the imposing sum of one hundred marks per annum, and the rest in proportion. In the reign of Philip and Mary this policy was changed. The mineral kingdom, by an act of Parliament, ceased to be a monopoly in the hands of the crown. It was given up to the skill, and capital, and industry of individuals, and the result has been that the iron, lead, copper, tin, coal, and salt of England have carried the wealth and power of the British Empire to a height to which the mines of Peru and Mexico can never exalt her. And let us follow her example. Not the example of her dark ages, but of that enlightened period which has made of a small island in the sea one of the richest and most powerful empires upon the face of the globe."

That our unsettled territory is sufficiently endowed with the precious metals to supply the wants of the commercial world simply needing the adoption of the same policy of selling the mineral lands of the Rocky Mountain country, in fee-simple, that obtains in the older States, and to which we are indebted for our national prosperity.

That to give value and salability to those lands, and to invite millions of foreigners there to mine, as well as to develope [sic] and preserve our Pacific States, and their commerce, prompt and liberal aid should be offered for the construction of the Northern and Central Pacific Rail Roads.

Your Petitioners most earnestly and respectfully petition your Honorable Body to speedily adopt the policy thus presented for your serious consideration.

* * * * *

Those getting this Petition will please secure signers, and forward to Congress soon. The Press will please aid it.

Cincinnati, O.   Jan. 25 [1864]

Courtesy of the Bruce C. Cooper Collection.

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