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general government with slavery as it existed and as it still ex
ists in the States. And then, looking to the operation of these
new acquisitions, which have in this great degree had the effect
of strengthening that interest in the South by the addition of
these five States, I feel that there is nothing unjust, nothing of
which any honest man can complain, if he is intelligent, and I
feel that there is nothing with which the civilized world, if they
take notice of so humble a person as myself, will reproach me,


when I say, as I said the other day, that I have made up my
mind, for one, that under no circumstances will I consent to the
further extension of the area of slavery in the United States,
or to the further increase of slave representation in the House
of Representatives.


I SHOULD regret, Sir, that a measure which I regard as ex
ceedingly important should be disposed of by indefinite post
ponement. I had hoped that the measure might be allowed to
proceed until its details were arranged so that they might be
satisfactory to the Senate, and I rise merely to express my opin
ion in favor of the measure, generally, concurring in it especially
for the reasons assigned by the honorable Senator from Mis
souri.! I think the circumstances of the country call for the
adoption of this particular measure. I do not mean to say, Sir,
that there may not be several modes of establishing a communi
cation with the Pacific coast that are equally desirable. I am
willing to say, on the other hand, that I have regarded the
subject of a communication from the Atlantic to the Pacific,
by way of Tehuantepec, as preferable, on account of its being
nearer to our ports on the Gulf; and I will add, that, if the prop
osition for a railroad were now before us, connecting the two
oceans by that route, and the project had advanced so far that
we could pronounce it to be practicable, I should give it my
most hearty support. I do not think the view which has been
adopted by the Senator from Connecticut J is entirely correct,
that the present exigency for a channel of communication
will be a very short one. I do not apprehend that there will
cease to be an occasion for a great deal of intercourse between
the Atlantic and Pacific, and between our own territories on

* Remarks in the Senate, on the 31st of January, 1849, on the Motion submitted
by Mr. Allen, of Ohio, to postpone indefinitely the Bill making an appropriation
for the transportation of the United States Mails by Railroad across the Isthmus
of Panama.

f Mr. Benton. } Mr. Niles,

VOL. v. 27


either side of the continent. I think the progress of things is
onward ; and, let the speculations and operations in the gold
mines go forward more or less rapidly, I think an intercourse
is now to be opened for general purposes of trade and com
merce between the Atlantic and Pacific.

I have not devoted my attention to the particular provisions
or details of this measure. I am not in possession of such esti
mates as enable me to say whether the limitations so called in
the bill now on your table, or the limitation which will be in the
same bill if the motion of the Senator from Connecticut prevail,
is the best. The bill proposes to authorize the Secretary of the
Navy to contract for the transportation of goods and merchan
dise, munitions of war, and troops, across the isthmus, and to
pay for this transportation an annual sum. The bjll limits that
sum at two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The Senator
from Connecticut moves to substitute one hundred and fifty
thousand. Without more information than I have upon this
point, I cannot say which would be the proper sum. I under
stand that the parties who have undertaken the construction of
the road estimate its cost at four or five millions of dollars ; and
they have founded their opinion upon the cost commonly attend
ing the construction of roads in the United States, economically
conducted, making, of course, proper allowance for the necessa
rily augmented expense of a work to be done so far from the
resources which are to supply the means. It is known, too, Sir,
that a very great reduction for wear and tear is made from the
receipts of all railroads, so that the general estimates of income,
by reference to any ordinary rule of computation, not allowing
for the wear of the road, would be very inadequate to represent
the actual state of things that will arise when this road has been

Now, it is evident, Sir, that this proposed road will shorten
the distance between the ports of the United States on the At
lantic and the ports of the United States on the Pacific. It is
a nearer route probably by not less than ten thousand miles,
certainly not less than nine thousand. It will shorten the com
munication in point of time more than one half, and whatever
shortens the time diminishes the cost. If troops are to be con
veyed, they are under pay while at sea ; if munitions of war
or merchandise are to be transported, they ought to reach their


destination within as short a time as possible; and in every
point of view in which we can make an estimate of this matter,
we must all, I think, see that a great, a very great, I am not pre
pared to say how great a saving, will inure to the United States
by adopting the shorter route.

I will state, Sir, that, with respect to other modes of convey
ance, I have no doubt that we shall ere long have them across
the continent from our own frontier territory on one side to that
on the other. I entertain as little doubt that there will be a
communication established over the other route through Tehuan-
tepec. I entertain no doubt at all about this ; but I do think
that there is an exigency, a present want of conveyance, and
that this is the readiest, and the only ready, mode of obtaining it.
I think there is a prospect, if this project be favored by the gov
ernment of the United States, from the known enterprise of the
respectable gentlemen who have undertaken it, that it will be
as sure to be accomplished as any work can possibly be. My
honorable friend from Ohio * says that it will be time enough to
make this contract when the work is done. In ordinary cases
this would be very true ; but it must be remembered that this is
a very great work, requiring an expenditure of four or five mil
lions of dollars, and it is but reasonable that those who embark
their fortunes in it should have some assurance that they will re
ceive the patronage of the government.

Now, in respect to the amount of money to be paid, no man
knows less what would be the proper sum to be paid than I do.
If it be the pleasure of the . Senate and the other branch of
Congress, that matter may be left more in the discretion and
within the control of Congress hereafter. I do not look upon
this as a matter by which a speculation is to be made, on the
part of the contractors, out of the treasury of the United States.

Upon the whole, I think the work ought to be commenced as
early as practicable, and that it ought to be speedily completed,
for the reasons stated by the Senator from Missouri. This plan
appears practicable ; I think the object is attainable, and I think
it is attainable at a reasonable expense, and therefore I am decid
edly in favor of the amendment. At the same time, I shall con
cur in any amendment or alteration, either with the view of re-

* Mr. Allen.


ducing the expense, or limiting still further the Navy Department
with respect to the extent to which it will pledge the credit of the
United States. I think, as I said before, that the circumstances
of the country call for the road, and there is nothing in these cir
cumstances that is likely to make it so short-lived or temporary
as some Senators seem to imagine ; that there is no probability
that this work will not be necessary for a number of years.
And I repeat again, if there were a proposition now before us
for the other route, and if that proposition were in as advanced
a state as this, and if we were to have but one, I would give the
preference to the route by Tehuantepec ; but I still think that,
as this work is practicable, and as a channel of communication
is necessary for us, we ought not to hesitate to adopt the one
proposed, in order that we may avail ourselves of the advantages
which it will furnish, until we shall be able to construct a road
through our own territory.

On the 6th of February, the same subject being under debate, Mr.
Webster spoke as follows :

Mr. President, in my opinion, unless this bill shall pass, we shall
find ourselves a year hence in exactly the same condition with
regard to communication with the western shore of this conti
nent that we now are. And whether we should adopt this bill
or not depends upon the general view which we entertain of the
necessity, or high utility and expediency, of proceeding as soon
as may be to open a communication across the continent some
where between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. I have no
idea, that, without the assistance in advance, so far as any thing
is pledged in advance by this bill, this communication will ever
be made. I am sure it will not. It requires a very great sum
of money. It requires heavy capital, and much credit to raise it.
It has to be expended a good way from home, under agencies,
some of them sent from this country ; some of them found, as
well as they may be found, there.

Now let us look at the general aspect of the case, and see
whether it be necessary or expedient on the part of the govern
ment to encourage and set forward the making of this commu
nication ; and then, in the next place, whether the terms pro
posed in the memorial upon which this bill is founded, or in the
amendment proposed, are reasonable.


The basis of the whole, Sir, is our treaty with New Granada,
which was ratified by this body, and proclaimed in June, 1848.
Looking to the security of a mode of communication across the
continent at this isthmus, this government took great pains to
obtain the right from the government of New Granada, and by
the treaty it is stipulated that whatsoever communication should
be made across the isthmus should be open to the government
of the United States and citizens of the United States upon as
good terms as to the citizens of New Granada itself. This gov
ernment, looking upon this stipulation as a benefit obtained, a
boon conceded by the government of New Granada, as an equiv
alent for this consideration, entered, on its part, into an engage
ment to protect, and guaranty, and defend the neutrality of this
whole isthmus. This will be seen by reference to the thirty-fifth
article of the treaty, which will be found in the volume of the
laws of the last session. It is there very distinctly stated.
There is no question about it. We are under treaty obligations
to maintain the neutrality of this isthmus, and the authority of
the government of New Granada over it.

Now, it so happens, that some time before, two or three years
previous, the government of New Granada had made a grant to
certain citizens of France and England, enabling them to make
this railroad and hold an exclusive property in it. One of the
terms and conditions of that grant was, that something should
be done, or a certain deposit should be made, within a certain
period. I believe six hundred thousand francs, or some such
large sum, was to be deposited within a certain period. Prog
ress was not made by that company in getting ready the deposit
in money, but the charter of the French company had not quite
run out when this government ratified the treaty with New
Granada. It expired soon afterwards, however, so that no em
barrassment arose from that circumstance. The charter revert
ed to the government of New Granada, because the French
company had not made good their deposit. Under these cir
cumstances, Sir, a new contract was entered into by the per
sons whose names are attached to this memorial. They are
not assignees of any French company, as the Senator from
Kentucky * suggested, but stand in the place of original gran-

* Mr. Underwood.


tees from the government of New Grenada, and by the terms
contained in the grant they have now the privilege of making
this railroad across the isthmus, having eight years to do it in.

The honorable Senator from Kentucky thinks that it would
have been better if the government of the United States had
appeared earlier, and taken upon itself to make this railroad,
according to our old-fashioned way of internal improvements.
Well, suppose that were so, how does it bear upon the question
now before us ? We have not the grant. We cannot obtain
the grant. It is in the hands of others, and, in my opinion,
much better for our purpose than in the possession of the gov
ernment. At any rate, the only question now before us is the
propriety or the expediency, or the impropriety or the inexpe
diency, of helping forward the making of this road under the
grant, the purport of which is exhibited in the memorial now
before us. That is the whole question. It was put upon that
ground by the honorable Senator from Missouri,* and the only
practical question is, Is it worth our while, at this expense and
for this purpose, to encourage the making of this road ?

Now, Sir, there are two considerations which present them
selves. One of them is properly stated in the bill itself. One
inducement to government is to provide for the transportation
of its own troops, munitions of war, naval stores, and the mails.
But it is obvious at once that that is not the only object. Does
the government look to nothing but the transportation of its own
materials, mails, and troops? Does it not look, as in other
extensive undertakings, to a general public accommodation, an
accommodation of the people, and convenience to the commerce
of the country, not likely to be obtained without this aid ? That
larger and more general consideration, that consideration of
benefit to the trade and commerce of the country, is certainly,
if not the greatest, equally great, in my judgment, with any
that results from the mere saving of expense in the transporta
tion of troops, munitions of war, and the mails. Well, then, if
we have guarantied the neutrality of the isthmus ; if we main
tain a communication by steamships from the Atlantic ports to
this end of the road, at a great expense ; if we maintain a com
munication in like manner from the ports of the Pacific to the

* Mr. Benton.


other end of the road at Panama, at a great expense ; the ques
tion is one of practical good sense and expediency, whether we
shall connect these two lines of water communication by land
communication, and whether the terms of the contract now be
fore us are reasonable.

Certainly, it must strike every body, it seems to me, that it is
desirable that there should be this passage across the isthmus,
since we have expended so much money to get to the isthmus,
both on the one side and on the other.

Well, then, what are the terms of the contract ? Are they
reasonable or unreasonable ? I do not intend to say more in
this respect than to present to the Senate some few general
estimates and statements, which every man s experience will
enable him to judge of, and in regard to the correctness of
which there can, I think, be very little doubt. The estimated
cost of the road, according to Colonel Abert, is five millions
of dollars, or thereabouts ; that is to say, Colonel Abert begins
by stating the average cost of railroads in the New England
States at forty-nine or fifty thousand dollars per mile. He al
lows fifty per cent, additional cost for the nature of the country,
the distance of the place, and other causes naturally augmenting
the cost of constructing the road. Taking the distance to be
fifty-two miles, the result is a cost for one track of $ 3,815,000 ;
another track is half a million more; so that, together, they
make 4,315,000. Well, then, it is certainly a very low esti
mate to suppose that the difference between that sum and five
millions may be necessary for breakwaters, piers, and improve
ments in harbors, to render both sides accessible and safe.
Then, again, there is the expense for warehouses, a very impor
tant item, to be included within this residuum. Taking, then,
the aggregate to be not less than five millions of dollars, the
question is, whether it is not reasonable to expect this gov
ernment to contribute such a sum as the proposed substitute
contemplates towards the opening of this communication be
tween the two oceans.

Now, Sir, I do not see, I confess, any foundation for such
supposed large profits as the honorable member from Kentucky
thinks likely to accrue. Here are certain rates of passage and
certain rates of freight fixed in this bill. The rates of passage
are eight dollars per man or passenger for the first five years ;


afterwards a low rate is stipulated. Now, upon any estimate
we may make from these rates, what will be the amount of in
come from passengers a year? As far as we can now judge,
how many people per day would be likely to travel over this
road ? Why, I can well imagine that, at some seasons of the
year, there would be a great many passengers ; but I suppose
that at other seasons, although it would be necessary for the
company to keep up the same equipment, and to incur the same
expense, there would be very few passengers.

But does any one suppose that, for the next ten years, it will
not be a high estimate to calculate that a hundred passengers a
day will pass over the road ? That would be to suppose that
vessels would arrive there with a hundred passengers a day. I
have no idea that that number would be conveyed. And as to
goods or freights, the Senator from Kentucky supposes that the
amount to be conveyed will be about ten thousand tons a year.
But suppose the passengers to be a hundred a day, there is
eight hundred dollars. Suppose the goods will amount to one
hundred tons a day (three times as much in a year as the
Senator estimates), that makes another eight hundred dollars,
and in the aggregate sixteen hundred dollars a day. Then, if
you allow three hundred working days for the year, the amount
of the gross receipts will be four hundred and eighty thousand
dollars. Well, if this were all clear income, it would be very well ;
but it will be subject to a very great reduction for the expenses
of keeping the road in operation, as in the case of all other rail
roads. Colonel Abert s estimates make the expenses and re
pairs equal to one half of the gross receipts; consequently,
equal to two hundred and forty thousand dollars a year. The
whole amount of clear receipts, then, two hundred and forty
thousand dollars, will be less than five per cent, on the capital
to be invested.

To take another view of it. Suppose that seventy-five per
sons a day and seventy-five tons of goods, which is quite as
much, perhaps, as may be expected, pass over the road ; upon a
like estimate, allowing three hundred working days to the year,
the result will be an income amounting to a little over three per
cent, on the capital. Of course, if you suppose that the pas
sengers will not exceed fifty, it reduces the sum still more, and
renders the dividend on the capital not quite two and a half per


cent. We cannot, judging from experience, expect that the cost
of the road per mile will be less than the sum named. We have
built roads over the United States, North and South, at various
degrees of cost. The Harlem Railroad, I believe, cost four mil
lions of dollars, being fifty thousand dollars a mile for eighty
miles. The Hudson River Railroad, it is said, has cost about
fifty thousand dollars a mile.

And now, when we look at the income of this proposed road,
we are to take with us one very important consideration. Here
is one terminus of the road on the Atlantic, the other on the
Pacific; the distance between the two extremities is fifty-two
miles, and there is no intermediate trade or traffic. I do not
know any road in the country that could sustain itself without
some intermediate traffic. It is generally supposed that no
railroad in New England could now be sustained upon the
through travel alone. It is stated on good authority, that on the
road from Worcester to Albany, for the years 1841, 1842, and
1843, the receipts from way-passengers, for one of those years,
were greater than the entire receipts from through-passengers
for the whole three years. And it is those receipts from way-
passengers, this intermediate travel and traffic, which enable the
road to maintain itself and make a dividend. Now, no one
supposes that, for a great length of time, there can be any thing
like any way-travel upon this road. There is no town of any
importance at the ends, and no adjacent inhabitants. Those
who disembark at one extremity of the road will pass over it,
and embark at the other extremity of it, and this is all the travel
the road will obtain. This is a very important consideration
attached to all railroads and canals everywhere. It is a remark
that is true of the Erie Canal, in its early history, that the re
ceipts for the business between Albany and Buffalo both ways,
for three years, amounted only to two and a half per cent, of the
entire receipts for tolls. There is no dispute about this, and the
enlarged receipts of the canal have been created, in a great de
gree, by the growth of the country, and the extension of traffic
along the line. The traffic on the Panama route is yet to be
created. It is to be produced by the growth and extension of
commerce on the coast, and between the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans. Its business is to become profitable, if ever, by the
course of trade taking that direction in consequence of the crea*
tion of the railroad itself.


Now, Sir, I agree entirely with what has been suggested, that
many of these expectations in regard to changing the course of
trade, by the establishment of this road, will not be realized.
I agree entirely, that for the present there will be much less use
for the road than many men of ardent imaginations suppose. I
know it is the opinion of gentlemen engaged in the whale-fish
ery, that their cargoes will not bear the expense of transshipment,
and that it will be found cheaper for them to follow the old
track around the Cape. Not only is this so, but while they are
at sea they are always looking out for the object of their voyage.
I remember to have perused, some years ago, an extract from
the journal of Commodore Biddle. He was returning from a
cruise in the Pacific, and, after having got within the Gulf-
stream, he met a " whaler " from Nantucket, outward bound,
on a three years voyage. The man at the masthead of the
whaler hailed the Commodore to know if he had seen any fish.
From the time of their leaving port until they return to it, they
keep constantly looking out for their prey ; and I am told that
this is especially the case on the coast of Brazil, where they
meet with the species of the whale called the black whale, and
after turning the Cape they look out for sperm whales. So
that, besides the expense of transshipment, there is the other
consideration, that during all the while they are at sea they are
continually in pursuit of the object of their enterprise.

We may reasonably conclude, then, that this railroad will
not be used for the transit of the cargoes of whale ships. Ex
perienced merchants do not credit the suggestion that the Chi
na trade will ever use the projected railroad. So that, on the
whole, it is by no means clear that it is prudent to undertake
the making of this road, as a mere speculation. But is there
not a higher object, in which the interest of this country is
deeply concerned, for which the work should be undertaken
and completed ? Senators may answer this question on gen
eral grounds. For my own part, I have no hesitation, from
the consideration of what has already been done, and what
may be done. I think it a great object to connect the two
oceans, and I myself think the price to be paid is little enough.
I think it is by no means too high, and my fears are whether,
after all, they will be able to make the road without still further
encouragement. Considering, however, the character of the


petitioners, we have reason to believe that, with the assurance

Online LibraryDaniel WebsterThe works of Daniel Webster (Volume 05) → online text (page 31 of 53)