Petition of John Chatham and Others to U.S. Congress, [December 1847]1
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Dear SirPlease obtain all the signatures in your power to this memorial, and enclose it to the Hon. Senator Breese or Douglass, or the member from your district, at Washington, at least fifteen days before the next meeting of Congress.
To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:
The memorial of the citizens of Illinois respectfully showeth: That in January, 1836, the Legislature of the State of Illinois incorporated a company by the name and style of the “Illinois Central Railroad Company,” authorized to lay out and construct a railroad commencing at or near the mouth of the Ohio river, and thence north to a point on the Illinois river at or near the termination of the Illinois and Michigan canal, with authority to extend said road from the latter point to Galena on the Mississippi river.
At the succeeding session of Congress, the said company, to aid them in their arduous undertaking, petitioned that honorable body to make them a donation of lands, and also to secure to them a pre-emption right to all or a part of the vacant lands lying on the route of said road.2
Their petition was favourably received in the House of Representatives, and the committee on Public Lands introduced a bill in compliance with its prayer.3 In the mean time, however, the State of Illinois had projected her grand scheme of internal improvements, embracing the road which that company had been incorporated to make; in consequence of which, her representatives in Congress opposed the further progress of this bill, and it was abandoned. The State of Illinois commenced operations upon this road and other internal improvements, and, having exhausted her means and credit, and involved herself hopelessly in debt, was obliged to abandon the entire system.4
The important interests connected with the Central railroad now revived the plan of constructing it by a private company, as the only hope left to them; and, on the 6th of March last, an act was passed by the Legislature of Illinois, incorporating the Great Western Railway Company for that purpose.5 This act provides for an estimate of the value of all work done on the road by the State; also, of lands, materials, and rights of way, owned by her, to be paid for by the company in the bonds or other indebtedness of the State, and after the company shall have refunded all moneys borrowed to construct the road, and extinguished all their indebtedness, then they are required to pay into the treasury one-fourth part of the whole nett income annually received from the road.
1. Its importance to the interests of the individual citizen.
From the mouth of the Ohio to the Illinois river the road is to run nearly in the centre of the State and through a region distant from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers on the west, and the Ohio and Wabash rivers on the east. A new outlet to market will thus be opened to an extensive agricultural region, now filling up with a hardy and industrious population. Moreover, the navigation of the rivers, above the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi, is more or less obstructed every year by low water and by ice, in consequence of which the upper country is shut out during a portion of the summer and winter from the Southern markets; whereas this road, commencing at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, where they are never frozen over, will afford to an extensive region of country uninterrupted access to perpetual steamboat navigation. The scope of its usefulness in that respect will be greatly enlarged by the extension of the road to the mineral region in the northern part of the State and in Wisconsin, and by finishing the cross road already partially constructed from the Illinois river, through Jacksonville, Springfield, Decatur and Danville, to connect with the Wabash and Erie canal in the valley of the Wabash. In this connexion it will afford, while the navigation of the lakes is unobstructed, a choice of markets to almost the entire State of Illinois, the way being open, as well by the Illinois and Michigan canal and upper lakes, as the Wabash and Erie canal, Lake Erie, the New York canals, the Hudson river, and the Western railway, to New York and Boston, and the numerous intermediate cities and towns.
In the same degree will this improvement facilitate the importation of foreign and domestic goods into the interior of Illinois from New Orleans on the south, and New York and Boston on the east—thus reducing the prices to the people, while it increases their means of payment.
To the travel as well as the trade of the country, this railroad is destined to be of the utmost consequence. To its termiration, at the mouth of the Ohio, the navigation from New Orleans, in the largest and most commodious steamboats, is always open. On the north, it is destined not only to reach the Territory of Wisconsin, but, connecting with the Illinois and Michigan canal on the one hand, and the Wabash and the Erie canal on the other, it will form, with existing improvements, a connected route for the travel, in steamboats, railroad cars, and canal boats, between New Orleans, New York, aud Boston, and the innumerable points with which they are connected by similar improvements. From desire of change, many travellers will at all times take this route from and to the mouth of the Ohio; and when the navigation of the rivers above the mouth becomes uncertain, from low water in summer, all the through-going as well as the local travel will take this route, as will also the local travel when the rivers are obstructed by ice. Already does a large portin of the travel from the Southwestern section of the Union to the cities and watering places of the North go by way of the lakes; and the completion of this improvement increasing its comfort and lessening the [time?] occupied, will greatly increase the proportion of those who, for comfort, health, and pleasure will prefer a northern route. Nor is the [time distant?] whe[n] those who now seek relief from the discomforts [?] southwest will divide their attention between the existing watering pl[ac]es of New York and Virginia, and new establishments to spring up on the waters of the great lakes and the upper Mississippi, to which this road will, at the proper season, afford the only direct, certain, and comfortable means of access. In fine, although it will not prevent trade and travel upon the rivers at all convenient seasons, it will form the only connecting link in the North for uninterrupted trade and travel between vast regions, embracing half the present population of our Republic. By the construction of branch roads to Alton, St. Louis, and other points on the Mississippi, its advantages will be still further extended; and, should Michigan push her railroads across the isthmus and around the south end of Lake Michigan, a connection will undoubtedly be formed with those improvements, to the mutual advantage of both parties.
2. The importance of this improvement to the State of Illinois.
A glance at the map, and the route of this road running through the centre of this State nearly its whole length from south to north, must convince even the unreasoning of its vast importance to the people as a local improvement. It may be compared to a new river opened through the State, superior to the Mississippi and Illinois, or the Ohio and Wabash, because always navigable, and free from the malaria, so fatal to human life, which their waters sometimes engender. It will give to a long range of high prairie country more than the advantages of river bottom lands, without their unhealthiness. It will immediately add to the value of real property within reach of the road to many times the amount of its cost, and, in the permanent market afforded for the products of the soil, open an inexhaustible mine of wealth to the citizen and the State. It was the estimate of the land office in 1836, that, of 1,861,613 acres of land within five miles of the route of this road between the mouth of the Ohio and the Illinois river only 340,253 acres had been entered, leaving 1,521,360 still unsold; and that, of 704,000 on the route from that point to Galena, only 42,880 had been entered, leaving 661,120 unsold. These lands, in general, are among the best farming lands in the world, and they remain vacant only because of their distance from navigable waters, and their being, in a measure, destitute of fuel and timber. The railroad will at the same time open a market to them, and bring them timber for building and fencing from the forests on the lower part of the line, and coal for fuel from the inexhaustible beds in the same region. The effect will be not only to bring these lands into market, and promote their settlement, but to triple or quadruple the value both of the located and those now unlocated, adding immensely to the wealth of the State and to her means of raising a revenue. And the same effect will be produced upon the routes of all branch roads which may be constructed to the right and left, whether to Alton and other points on the Mississippi, or to Shawneetown, Terre Haute, Covington, or other points on the Ohio and the Wabash. In this manner the revenue of the State will be increased without an increase of taxes, aiding her to retrieve her credit and relieve herself from debt.
If the company shall be enabled to proceed with this improvement, the State of Illinois will be enabled to extinguish a portion of her debt by selling to them the property and improvements already made upon the line, under the provisions of the late charter. Now, all the work done on the line, and most of the property, is practically a dead loss, while the interest on her bonds is accumulating. It is therefore her interest as soon as possible, to exchange these improvements and property for State bonds, as the charter proposes.
Finally, the State is ultimately to receive one-fourth of the nett income of the road. This, if the company are not mistaken in their estimates, will, soon, after the road is completed, afford the State an important addition to her revenue, and one thenceforward perpetually increasing.
3. The importance of this improvement to the United States.
Every thing which benefits the people of any State redounds to the advantage of the great community of which they form a part, increasing its population, its wealth, and its power. All that is stated under the two preceding heads is therefore applicable to this head also. Yet, there are sundry particulars in which the construction of this road would be peculiarly advantageous to the United States.
The General Government now own, perhaps, two millions of acres of land within five miles of the route of this road, some of which has been subject to entry for thirty years, and the whole, it is presumed, on an average, over ten years. Nor is there the least probability, that without some improvement of this sort, most of it will not be sold for fifty years to come. But let it be seen that this railroad is making its way through the prairies, backed by a power which will certainly bring it to a speedy completion, and scarcely a quarter section would remain unsold for two years, and the whole range, right and left, would soon be covered with thriving farms. The making of this road, therefore, would put money into the Treasury of the United States, and, at the same time, cover a beautiful country with a dense population.
Its advantages for the transportation of the mails are not to be overlooked. The Western rivers generally are, and always must be, in a great measure unavailable as mail lines, in consequence of the irregularities and uncertainties of their navigation. The Mississippi river, from New Orleans to the mouth of the Ohio, is an exception, inasmuch as its navigation is never obstructed. As soon as the road is made, there will be regular lines of steamboats from that point to New Orleans; and, connecting them with regular t[ra]ins of cars upon this road, the Government may obtain a most rapid, certain, and cheap conveyance of the mails, from the great South-western emporium to the lakes and all the intermediate country.
But the most important light in which this road ought to be viewed by the General Government is in its relation to the national defence. It commences at a point which must, sooner or later, become the depot of arms and munitions of war for the valley of the Mississippi. It is far enough from the sea on the south, from Mexico on the west, and from Canada on the north, to be perfectly secure from the attacks of a foreign enemy. See how those great navigable streams, the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi, of which the Missouri is a branch, concentrate their waters at that point. The thousand tens of thousands which, in some future war, will come pouring down them for the defence of New Orleans, will receive their arms and supplies at the mouth of Ohio; and the brave Kentuckians, will not again be obliged to remain inactive behind their lines while the battle rages, because the arms which ought to be in their hands are at Pittsburg or Newport.6 And if arms and munitions of war are wanted on the lakes, how quickly can they be sent by this road and the Illinois and Michigan canal to Lake Michigan, and the Wabash and Erie canal to Lake Erie. Nor will the facilities for the transportation of the men be less important. How rapidly at all seasons can regular troops be transferred from New Orleans to the lakes, or from the lakes to New Orleans! How soon could any requisite militia force be [?] South or North! And if, in consequence of low water or ice, the levies in Kentucky, [?], [Ohio] or Missouri, could not reach New Orleans in time to repel an invading foe, this railroad would enab[l]e Illinois to supply the deficiency, and be first on the field of duty and glory.
Without going further into detail, this improvement is confidently presented to Congress as one of the most important, in a military point of view, of which our country is susceptible.
Notwithstanding the importance of this road to the United States, the State of Illinois, and the people in general, your memorialists do not, as they well might, ask any appropriation of money or donation of lands to aid in its construction. They content themselves with asking that only a small portion of the [a]dditional value which the road, when made, will give to the public lands on its route, may be made available to pay for its construction, at least in part. In other words, they ask that the company incorporated by the State of Illinois to make the road may have the privilege of pre emption to two sections for each mile of the road, to be selected by them from the vacant lands in the region of country through which it is to pass, to be paid for, and patents to be issued, at any time within ten years.
These lands, as well as all others acquired by the company, must according to the terms of the charter, be sold within five years after the completion of the road, and the proceeds thereof be applied to extinguishing the indebtedness of the company, and “for no other purpose whatsoever.”
Your memorialists are prepared to say, that, with such moderate and reasonable aid from the General Government, this important improvement will be immediately commenced and speedily completed, [ot]herwise it cannot. And when it is considered that the company asks nothing beyond a small portion of that increased value to the lands along the line of their road which they themselves expect to [crea]te, your memorialists cannot doubt that their prayer will be granted.
1 John Chatham 59 F Linch
60 Wm Hull
2 John H Lisk 61 Tho Hull
3 John Thisnells 62 Thomas Cougher
4 J F Sampson 63 William East
5 Thomas Zan 64 Anderson Wares
6 Jonathan Harrel 65 Abraham Clark
7 Isaac Funk 66 Walter Smith
8 Daniel W Winsor 67 J. Whitmore
9 John Zollars 68 E H Theasde
10 Isham. S. Atchison 69 J. S Gates
11 Nathaniel, Harris 70 Wm Bolin
12 Elijah W Swearingen 71 David Montgomery
72 L Graves
13 Samuel. C. Richards 73 Wm R Robb
74 Harrison Maltby
14 John Q Lewis 75 Willam Jeffrey
15 Wm Crow 76 Levi Cantrall
16 John Lewis 77 Thomas Hays
78 E. F Edwards
17 Samuel P Glenn Jun 79 J. N Branson
18 Joel Gray 80 J E Cantril
19 Joseph Slatten
20 Hudson Lanaham 81 Elihu Robb
[?] Wm [Richards?]
21 Samuel Laurence 83 [?] [?][Harrods?]
23 Spencer Turner 84 John Slatten
24 John Turner 85 James R Robb
25 William Burton 86 A. Johnston
26 Joel Phares 87 C. H. Ormsby
27 Frederick Morford 88 Peter Crum
28 Jacob Johnson 89 Elihu Lane
29 John W. Anderson 90 Isam Harrold
30 Amos Nichols 91 M Scott
31 John S Strange 92 John Humphreys
32 Mathew McElhiney 93 Wm Cantrall
94 Nathan Lundy
33 E G Laurance 95 Joseph Vannaly
34 J. C. Cantrall 96 A. N. Dills
35 Moses G Williams 97 Jefferson Howser
36 Eli Cantrall 98 Daniel H Draystrong
37 Absalom Hamilton 99 F. S. Troxel
38 Francis Jeffrey
39 William H Jones 100 C. Lambert
40 Francis M Brock 101 [?] S. Dean
41 Benjamin Brock
42 Franklin T King 102 Samuel B Foster
43 C. W. Slinker 103 John Gard
44 L. A. Sampson
45 John Robb 104 David Edwards
46 F [?] Harrison 105 F S Harrison
47 John. M. Cantril 106 Russell. E. Lost
48 J. W. Jones
49 Wiatt Cantril
50 V. N. Sampson
51 Junius M. Sampson
52 R S Doolittle
53 A C Robbins
54 A. B. Lewis
55 [?] F Robbins
56 Oliver Graves
57 David Alington
58 Frederick Barnard

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Memorial of citizens of Illinois, asking a pre-emption right to certain lands, to aid in the construction of the Central Rail Road, in the State of Illinois–7
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Refer to Com on Public Lands.8
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December 22. 1847 Referred to the Committee on Public Lands
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1On December 22, 1847, Abraham Lincoln presented this petition it in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House referred the petition to the Committee on Public Lands.
U.S. House Journal. 1847. 30th Cong., 1st sess., 147.
2On March 21, 1836, James Reynolds presented this petition in the U.S. House of Representatives. The House referred it to the Committee on Public Lands.
U.S. House Journal. 1836. 24th Cong., 1st sess., 538.
3On March 31, 1836, the Committee on Public Lands reported back the petition with a report, accompanied by H.R. 519, which authorized the company to construct the railroad on public land.
U.S. House Journal. 1836. 24th Cong., 1st sess., 603; In Favor of a Grant of Land to Aid in the Construction of the Illinois Central Railroad, 31 March 1836, American State Papers: Public Lands 8:593-95; H.R. 519, 24th Cong. (1836).
4The Panic of 1837 and its aftermath forced Illinois to abandon its internal improvement system.
5“An Act to Incorporate the Great Western Railway Company,” 6 March 1843, Laws of Illinois (1843), 199-203.
6As the British prepared to attack New Orleans during the War of 1812, Kentucky militia rushed to reinforce General Andrew Jackson and his forces, but when they arrived only a quarter of the force had weapons, as their arms had been delayed in transit by boat from Pittsburgh.
Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Kentucky, Military History of Kentucky: Chronologically Arranged (Frankfort, KY: State Journal, 1939), 96.
7Lincoln wrote this docketing.
8Lincoln wrote this docketing.
9Lincoln signed his name.

Printed Document Signed, 3 page(s), RG 233, Entry 367: Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Thirtieth Congress, 1847-1849, Records of Legislative Proceedings, Petitions and Memorials, Resolutions of State Legislatures, and Related Documents Which Were Referred to Committees, 1847-1849, NAB.