Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Volume 1.
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.

Open Letter on Springfield and Alton Railroad [1]

June 30, 1847

To the People of Sangamon County:

An effort is being made to build a Railroad from Springfield to Alton. A charter has been granted by the Legislature, and books are now open for subscriptions to the stock. The chief reliance for taking the stock must be on the Eastern capitalists; yet, as an inducement to them, we, here, must do something. We must stake something of our own in the enterprise, to convince them that we believe it will succeed, and to place ourselves between them and subsequent unfavorable legislation, which, it is supposed, they very much dread.

The whole is a matter of pecuniary interest; and the proper question for us is, whether, with reference to the present and the future, and to direct and indirect results, it is our interest to subscribe. If it can be shown that it is, we hope few will refuse.

The shares in the stock are one hundred dollars each. Whoever takes a share is required to advance five dollars on it, which will be returned to him, unless the whole stock is taken, so that the workPage  396 may certainly go on. If the whole shall be taken, the fund created by the five dollar advances will be used to begin the work; and as it progresses, additional calls will be made until it is finished. It is believed it can be completed in about three years. Up to its completion, the shareholders will have lost the use of their money, from the times of the respective advances. The questions occur, ``What will the road be worth when completed?'' ``How will it pay for the use of the money---how return the principal?'' Many who have already subscribed, and who therefore, if they deceive others also deceive themselves, are satisfied that the road can be built for something less than seven hundred thousand dollars. No actual survey has been made; but a good engineer, well acquainted with the route, and the subject, estimates it at this. Now, if the nett income shall be seven or eight---say eight---per cent per annum upon this sum, in the aggregate $56,000, the stock will be very good; and the shareholder who does not wish to have money out at eight per cent. interest, can readily sell at par, or above it, and so have a return of his principal.

But will the road nett $56,000 a year? Will it make repairs, bear expenses, and still leave this much? These are questions which no one can, beforehand, answer with precise accuracy. The more difficult it is to make a road at first, the more difficult it is to keep [it] in repair, and vice versa; so that the expenses and cost of repairs of railroads, have been found very nearly uniform at about ten per cent. per annum on the capital expended in building them. This, on our road, would be $70,000 a year. Now, if we can insure a gross income of the $56,000 and the $70,000 together; that is, $126,000---all is safe.

This gross income must, of course, depend upon the amount of business done upon the road. We suppose it is quite fair to assume that all the transportation now done, directly and indirectly, between Saint Louis and Springfield, together with its increase, will be done upon the road when completed. We learn it as an unquestionable fact, that the merchants of Springfield now pay, annually, for carrying goods from Saint Louis to Springfield, something more than $22,000. This being so, how much does the country produce, that pays for these goods, cost in carriage from Springfield to Saint Louis? Certainly more, in the same proportion as the produce weighs more than the goods. But what is this proportion? One of our largest dealers, who has, at our request, made an estimate, and has taken some pains to be accurate, assures us that the average of country produce is five times as heavy as the average of the articles in his business, in proportion to value. His business, too, is exclusivelyPage  397 of dry goods, between which and produce the difference in weight, in proportion to value, is still greater. Another merchant tells us that a barrel of flour is quite equal in weight to a hundred dollars' worth of average dry goods articles. We suppose, then, we are far within bounds, in estimating that the transportation of produce from here to St. Louis costs five times as much as the transportation of goods from there here. This gives us $132,000 as the present annual cost of transportation of goods and produce between St. Louis and Springfield. And this does not include the trade of the villages of the county, nor of the counties above and adjoining; nor of the intermediate country; nor anything for the mail, nor for passengers. These must, on a moderate estimate, double the amount, swelling it to $264,000! Assuming this as the gross income, and it makes repairs, pays expenses, and leaves a nett sum of $194,000; being nearly 28 per cent. on the capital. This sum, however, is arrived at as the assumption that transportation is to remain as dear as it now is; while the chief reason for desiring the road is that transportation may be cheapened. Reduce, then, the cost of carriage to one third its present rates, and it still leaves more than nine per cent. as the profits of the stockholders. This the distant holder will be abundantly satisfied with; while the resident will have the same, and more than as much additional, in the cheapening what he buys, enhancing what he sells, and greatly increasing the value of his real property.

Another important matter, already alluded to, is the certain and large increase of business which must occur on the line of the road; and this, whether the road shall or shall not be built; greater, however, if it shall. Increase of business would naturally follow, the building of a good road in any country; and this applies especially to this road, by the facts that the country of its line is unequalled in natural agricultural resources, is new, and only yet very partially brought into cultivation. Not one tenth of the land fitted for the plough has yet been subjected to it. Add the new fact, that the use of Indian corn has, at length, been successfully introduced into Europe, under circumstances that warrant the hope of its continuance, and the amount of means of transportation which the people of this country must need, is beyond calculation.

Again: at no distant day, a railroad, connecting the Eastern cities with some point on the Mississippi, will surely be built. If we lie by till this be done, it may pass us in such a way as to do us harm rather than good; while, if we complete, or even begin, our road first, it will attract the other, and so become, not merely a local improvement, but a link in one of a great national character, retainingPage  398 all its local benefits, and superadding many from its general connection.

In view of the foregoing considerations, briefly stated, is it not the interest of us all to act, and to act now; in this matter?

It is encouraging, in a double aspect, to know that near a hundred thousand dollars of the stock has already been taken, by some four hundred farmers, mechanics, merchants, and members of all classes, resident in the counties of Madison, Jersey, Macoupin, Morgan, and Sangamon. It is encouraging, in the amount taken, and also in the evidence of confidence in the success of the undertaking, entertained by so great a number of men, well acquainted with the country through which the road is to pass.

Committee:

A. Lincoln, John T. Stuart,

J. N. Brown, William Pickrell,

John Calhoun, J. Bunn,

B. C. Webster, John Williams,

P. P. Enos; S. B. Opdycke.

Springfield, June 30, 1847.

Annotation

[1]   Sangamo Journal, July 6, 1847. Construction work on the Alton and Sangamon was not begun until 1852, and the line was opened from Alton to Springfield the following year. A connection to Chicago was established in 1854.