MEMORIAL AGAINST MR. ASA WHITNEY'S RAILROAD SCHEME. ... [caption title]. [Washington, D. C.]: Buell & Blanchard, Printers, . Octavo, pp.  2-48, modern binding of quarter crushed morocco and marbled boards, spine panel lettered in gold. First edition. A copy of the "regular" issue, without the map "issued in only a few copies" (Howes). In January 1845 Asa Whitney, a New York merchant active in the China trade and obsessed with the idea of a railroad to the Pacific, petitioned Congress for a charter and grant of a sixty-mile strip through the public domain to help finance construction. Whitney's plan culminated in his 112-page A PROJECT FOR A RAILROAD TO THE PACIFIC (1849). Following the 1846 Oregon Treaty, the western terminus for a railroad to Pacific coast would be in Oregon or Washington, but after new territories, including California, were ceded to the United States by Mexico in 1848 and gold was discovered in California in 1849, the favored terminus for a transcontinental railroad was the Golden State, admitted into the Union as a free state in 1850. The intent of John Plumbe's February 1851 petition, on behalf of "the Settlers and Miners of the City and County of Sacramento," is to discredit Whitney's "monopolistic" scheme and promote a transcontinental railroad route through the Sierra Nevada to San Francisco. In 1851, perhaps as a result of Plumbe's scurrilous attack, Whitney ceased his campaign for a transcontinental railroad. "Whitney’s importance in the history of the railroads lies less in his scheme and more in how he thought the railroad would shape the republic. In 1845 the interior West did not bulk large in his mind. China was the object of his desire. The West was an empty space at best and a dangerous wilderness at worst. Like the creators of the first Northwest Passage, who saw America as a barrier to penetrate, Whitney considered the West an unpleasant geographic annoyance. Eventually, Whitney reconsidered his ideas. If the West was not Thomas Jefferson’s Garden of the World, perhaps railroad iron could make it so. Whitney came to believe that the railroad could 'change the wilderness waste to cities, villages, and richly cultivated fields.' Whitney’s railroad might also bind east and west into a single nation. Long-standing fears of disunion resurfaced with the territorial acquisitions of the 1840s. What would it mean for the future of the United States if California became an independent republic? What if what is now Washington and Oregon became a sovereign nation with close ties to Canada and the British Empire? Whitney and others were convinced a transcontinental line might be 'the iron band' holding the nation together." - Washington State Historical Society. Cowan (1933), p. 495. Howes P425. Sabin 63443. A fine copy. An important piece of early history of the Sierra Nevada. (#164487).
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