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Conquering a Continent
Transcontinental Railroad 1869
• This massive project will link the country together, and in the
eyes of many Americans, complete the dream of Manifest
• This project could never have been built solely with private
money. It needed investors and Government help
• The Federal Government provides large amounts of money
and millions of acres of public land to companies in order to
induce them to build the project
• Central Pacific is the company building west from Sacramento
and over the Sierra Nevada, the Union Pacific is moving west
across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains
Transcontinental Railroad
• Who built it?
-Tens of thousands of Chinese immigrants on the Central Pacific
-Tens of thousands of mostly Irish immigrants on the Union Pacific
• What was in it for the investors?
• Land and Money. For every mile of track laid ,the companies were
paid between $12,000 and $24,000 depending on the geography.
• Companies were also given land for every mile of track they built.
4400 acres for every mile of track. This massive give away of public
land made these railroad companies the largest private landholders
in the country. The Southern Pacific (formerly the Central Pacific) still
owns more land in California than any other entity.
The Big Four
Nob Hill
Significance of the Transcontinental Railroad
• Immediate decline of the Plains Indians tribes
• Massive population shift as millions of Americans head
• Faster communication and travel time
• Ties the country together and we start to see a decline
in Sectionalism
• Time Zones created
• Economic growth on both coasts increases greatly
How else is the Government growing?
• It’s the 1870’s and there is still no federal income tax. One
way our government continues to generate money and
promote domestic (meaning in America) growth is through
• There are big tariffs from things like textiles, steel, sugar, and
• These protect new and American industries from foreign
competition and generates cash for the federal government
• These Tariffs also help pay off the massive debts of the Civil
Mineral Wealth
• The West has a ridiculous amount of mineral wealth. These
minerals mad men rich, built nuclear bombs, and got NASA into
• California Gold Rush – Provides huge amounts of wealth for the
federal government
• Comstock Lode – Incredibly large silver boom in Nevada. Similar to
the CA gold rush
• General Mining Act 1872 – States that those who discover minerals
on federal lands can claim them and keep the proceeds. Imagine
what this really means both for entrepreneurs and the
environment. Think about how it might be relevant to energy in
• Virginia City,
• Capitol of the
Comstock Lode
• Had a
population of
25,000 at it’s
Significance of Mineral Wealth
• The pursuit of mineral and timber wealth will have major impacts on the
• Numerous large corporations will be formed and will attempt to extract as
much wealth from the earth as possible, with little to no regulation by the
federal government (Munn v. Illinois)
• Huge sums of money will be made
• Thousands of unique frontier mining towns will spring up, having big
migration implications
• Helps continue a myth and narrative about the pursuit of wealth and glory
and finding precious resources
• The pursuit of oil shale and natural gas is currently threatening some of the
most beautiful places on earth (Mahoney’s Personal Opinion. Take it or
Leave it)
Conquering a Continent
• How does the Supreme Court protect these new business and
• Munn v. Illinois 1877 says that States (not the Federal Gov) could
regulate key businesses that are “clothed in the public interest” like
• Their logic says that no state can deprive a person of life, liberty, or
property without due process of law, so they apply this logic to
corporations and major industrial businesses and shield them from
excessive regulations that would cause them to go out of business
• What does this mean? It means that the climate for business and
industry is good. Few taxes and regulations are holding you back and
many new business will start and thrive. It also means that there is little
to no oversight and workers and the environment will suffer.
Conquering a Continent
• Homestead Act 1862- Anyone could obtain 160 acres of public land for
free as long as they improved the land after five years. This helped many
small families obtain their own homestead, but the law was also heavily
abused and big corporations, timber, and mineral companies used this
and similar laws to obtain vast tracts of land.
• The Transcontinental Railroad will deliver millions of Americans into the
arid and treeless Great Plains where land is now available for anyone. The
idea that “The rain follows the plow” is pushed hard and widely believed.
• The Homestead Act will push the population of the US further West into
“The Great American Desert”. It will be in effect until the law is done away
with in the 1970’s
• This is a major intersection of technology, politics, and migration
John Wesley Powell
One-armed Civil War Veteran and overall badass
The first man to run a boat the length of the Grand Canyon
Major player in the US Geological Survey
Understood the West and its Water better than anyone else of his
day. He knew that 160 acres was not enough in the arid West.
• His book, Report on the Lands of the Arid Regions of the United
States proposed irrigation systems and state boundaries based on
watershed areas to avoid disagreements between states
• He proposed a logical way to settle the West based on its water. No
one listened to him and instead Water will fought over even into
2017. Environmentalists like this guy a lot