Monday, May 04, 2015

The Railroads Won the Civil War

I have long puzzled over how the Republican Party, which was born as the progressive do-gooder party, became the party of corporate interests.  I had vaguely thought the shift might have happened with Taft.

The more I think about the origins of the party, though, the more I think the corporate interest was there from the beginning. And today it came to me:

The railroads won the Civil War.

Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.

Robert Todd Lincoln, business leader and Republican power broker, was general counsel, and later president, of the Pullman Palace Car Company.


Anonymous said...

Lincoln was characterized as a "railroad lawyer" by Democrats. He was, among other things, a very successful corporate lawyer who represented railroad interests. In spite of background and folksiness, it wasn't easy to represent him as a friend of the common man. My father has told me that when he was a child, elderly Democrats in his family still spoke dismissively of Lincoln as a "railroad lawyer". This was before everyone decided he was the American messiah, obviously.

Gruntled said...

True. But he was also devoted to preserving the union and (therefore) freeing the slaves, which a mere railroad lawyer would not have needed to embrace.

Anonymous said...

I think the goal of preserving the union was of a piece with the centralizing policies the Whigs and Republicans pursued; ie government support for large scale capital development and industrialization. I'm not saying Lincoln didn't have genuine moral committments. Just that the big money link to Republicans was notable from the beginning. Republican policy was a grab bag of often sometimes incoherent interests and values, then and now, just like Democrat policy.

dennistheeremite said...

Another Republican and Lincoln issue was the Homestead Act. It involved national developement, provision for education including colleges, new beginnings for the small farmer, and incentives to the railroads. This is a bit astray from your original subject, but it shows a certain breadth in the Whigs and early Republicans, and a philosophy that was not Democrat or Southern and another reason why the South was underdeveloped at the point of the Civil War.

Mac said...

Actually, Lincoln did not end slavery. His emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in any territories not under the control of the United States, i.e., within the Confederate States. Naturally, the CSA did not acknowledge that Proclamation, nor did they enforce it. To the extent that Lincoln had a view regarding slavery, he was concerned more about the potential for division of the Nation which rabid adherents of slavery and rabid opponents of slavery were fostering. The War became about slavery only for public relations when many of the Northern States began to question whether or not preservation of the Union was really worth the cost in blood and treasure. But, history is written by the victors, so, to quote a line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Vallance, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

On the other hand, the railroads did win the war militarily. One could argue that the Civil War was a proto-type of maneuver warfare. That many graduates of the Military Academy were civil engineers who left the Army in the 1850s to work on railroads should be no surprise to a student of the war. They then used their experience to make the railroad the Civil War’s equivalent to the airplane in Acts I and II of the World War of 1914-1945.

Finally, on a topic of modern argument, the post-Civil War amendments were affected by the railroads. The 13th Amendment abolishing slavery was not ratified by the requisite number of States until eight months after the War ended and Lincoln was assassinated. It was proposed and submitted to the States in February 1865 because Lincoln and the Congress recognized that the President had no constitutional authority to unilaterally abolish slavery, and that the Emancipation Proclamation was simply a matter of economic warfare and political persuasion aimed at keeping Great Britain from recognizing the CSA.

The most lasting effect of the 14th Amendment is this language from Section 1: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

And here is where the railroads come in. In order to promote construction of a trans-continental railroad, the United States had granted to the companies building such a road one square mile of the federal lands adjacent to the right-of-way, on alternating sides of the track. The western States went nuts, and passed laws effectively seizing those lands from the Companies. Look at the language quoted.

Toot, toot. Here comes the train. “:…[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Emphasis added.)

Note the change in language. As my Honors History prof once asked us in this regard, “Who is a person but not a citizen?” Are you ready? A corporation! A corporation is a jural person, and this language was inserted into the 14th Amendment to protect the railroad corporations from the depredations of the legislatures of the States. The 14th Amendment was not really about Mr. Miranda’s right to be advised of his right to remain silent or Mr. Gideon’s right to an attorney. Those were just camouflage discovered in the New Deal era. The 14th Amendment was for the benefit of the railroads.

Hey, sociology students. Make sure you take a couple of basic American History and Poli Sci courses, too. Here endeth the lesson.