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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
367. The Atlantic Telegraph Cable. These political events were not the only ones in which the country was interested. Professor Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, had predicted (§ 284) that the time would come when messages would be sent across the sea by electricity.
Cyrus W. Field of New York formed a company to accomplish this work by laying a wire cable on the bottom of the Atlantic between Great Britain and the United States. The company lost several millions of dollars in attempting to do this, though they succeeded in laying a cable (1858) by which messages were sent for a few weeks. Not to be discouraged, Mr. Field formed a new company, and raised more money for the work. This time (1866) he was entirely successful, and established a permanent telegraphic line beneath the sea, between the Old World and the New.
A number of additional electric cables have since been laid across the Atlantic. The result is that every important event which occurs in Europe or in the United States is printed in the papers of both countries on the same day and often at the same hour.
We shall see (§ 428) that many years later (1902) an American company laid a telegraphic cable across the Pacific.
368. Our Sixth Step in Expansion, -- Purchase of Alaska; Payment of the National Debt. The next year (1867), just after Nebraska entered the Union, we purchased from Russia the territory of Alaska, embracing more than 590,000 square miles. We paid a little over $7,000,000 for it, or less than what four days of war had sometimes cost us. This addition to our territory was the sixth step in our progress of national expansion (§ 294). It raised the total area of the United States then to about 3,600,000 square miles, thus making it nearly equal to that of all the countries of Europe united.
Secretary Seward persuaded Congress to make this purchase, in order to extend our power on the Pacific coast. Many Congressmen thought it was a waste of money, and one called Alaska "the refrigerator of the United States." But it has proved itself to be a very profitable "refrigerator." Its furs, forests, fish, and mineral deposits are of immense value; and many millions in gold have been taken from the Yukon and Klondike districts.
Besides buying this new territory the national government began to pay off the great Civil War debt, amounting to nearly $3,000,000,000,1 -- a sum so enormous that in the longest lifetime a person counting out the dollars one by one, at the rate of sixty a minute, could not get through even a third of it.
Before all the soldiers had been sent home we had paid off over $30,000,000. Since then we have paid nearly $1,200,000,000 more. Had we continued to reduce our debt at the same rate we should have wiped it out in about fourteen years. No country in Europe ever voluntarily settled such a debt. To-day our credit stands as high as that of any nation on the globe.
369. Summary. During President Johnson's administration six of the seceded states were readmitted to the Union; but Congress and the President did not agree, and Congress attempted by impeachment to remove the President from office.
Three amendments to the Constitution -- namely, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth - -were made during Mr. Johnson's presidency, though the last one was not ratified by the states until the incoming of the next administration. The first declared the negro free, the second made him a citizen, the third, a voter.
The other important events were: (1) the full pardon of all persons who had fought against the Union; (2) the beginning of the payment of the national debt; (3) the laying of the Atlantic cable; (4) the purchase of Alaska.
1 The actual national war debt was $2,750,000,000. This debt was greatly increased by our war with Spain (1898), so that at the close of 1907, notwithstanding all we had paid, it was nearly $2,500,000,000 and on June 30, 1915, it was $3,225,734,627.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
ULYSSES S. GRANT (REPUBLICAN)1
370. Grant's Administration (Eighteenth President, Two Terms, 1869-1877); Completion of the Pacific Railway; what Railways and Telegraphs have done for the Union. Before the great Civil War broke out the people of California resolved to have a direct overland mail to the East, instead of that by the slow and circuitous route through Arizona. Accordingly a pony express started (1860) to carry letters between Sacramento and St. Joseph, Missouri, by way of Salt Lake City. This was followed by a telegraph line (1861). Next, a daily line of stagecoaches for both passengers and letters was put on the same route (1861). When Indians attacked these coaches there was wild work. It was a race for life and a fight for life. But this means of communication was too slow, and a number of enterprising Eastern and Western men resolved to build a railway across the continent to the Pacific.
A little more than two months after General Grant became President, the last spike of the last rail of the new road was driven at Ogden, Utah (1869). The blows of the sledge hammer which drove that spike -- completing the greatest work of the kind then in the world -- were telegraphed, as they fell, throughout the Union.2
Congress granted a tract of land in alternate sections, twenty miles wide, extending from Omaha to San Francisco in aid of this national enterprise. During the previous thirty-five years the government gave to road, canal, and railway corporations public lands
1 General Ulysses S. Grant of Illinois (Schuyler Colfax of Indiana, Vice President) was elected President by the Republicans in 1868, over Governor Horatio Seymour of New York and Francis P. Blair of Missouri, the Democratic candidates. He was reélected in 1872 (Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, Vice President), over Horace Greeley of New York and B. Gratz Brown of Missouri, the candidates of the Liberal Republicans and the greater part of the Democrats united.
2 The Union Pacific Railway, begun during the Civil War, was built westward from Omaha on the Missouri to Ogden, Utah, a distance of 1000 miles; there it met and connected with the Central Pacific Railway, which was pushed through at the same time from San Francisco, a distance of 878 miles. The total distance from New York to San Francisco is 3322 miles. The Northern and the Southern Pacific, the Great Northern, the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe, the Milwaukee and Puget Sound, and the Rock Island, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific Railways have since been built, making seven transcontinental lines in the United States, but some of these have been consolidated.
COMPLETION OF THE PACIFIC RAILWAY
nearly equal in area to that of the thirteen original states as they now stand.
Between Omaha and San Francisco the railway crosses nine mountain ranges, including the Rockies and the Sierras, climbing, and then descending, over 8000 feet. In point of time, it is now no farther from New York to San Francisco than it was in the days of the Revolution from New York to Boston. Then it took our forefathers between five and six days to go by wagon somewhat less than 250 miles; now, in that time we can cross the entire continent.
THE FIRST PACIFIC RAILWAY
The result of this rapid means of travel is of the greatest importance to the republic. Once members of Congress laughed at the idea that California and Oregon would be added to the United States. They said that it would be practically impossible for such states, if added, to send representatives to the national capital, because it would take them the greater part of the year to get to Washington and back. For that reason they believed that the people who settled the Pacific coast would form a separate and independent republic. The railway and the telegraph have changed all that. They have connected the farthest extremities of the country so closely that they have made it possible for us to extend and maintain the Union from ocean to ocean.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
371. Effect of the Pacific Railway on Commerce with Asia, and on the Growth of the Far West; the Homestead Act. But this is not all. The building of the Pacific Railway entirely changed our relations with Asia. Teas, spices, and silks formerly reached us from China and from the East Indies by ships sailing round Cape Horn. Goods might be five or six months coming that immense distance. Now many of these goods come direct, by steamer, to San Francisco and Seattle, and are then sent, by rail, to the east. In a little over a month from the time a cargo of tea leaves China, it can be delivered in New York. The old navigators spent their lives in trying to find a direct, western route to Asia (§ 16); we have found it, though in a totally different way from what they expected.
Last of all, and most important as well as last, the Pacific Railway, and the lines since built, have opened not only the Central West, but the Far West, -- as the region west of the Rocky Mountains is called. Steam has enabled a peaceful army of thrifty emigrants to reach that section easily, quickly, and cheaply. The unexplored region that a little more than a generation ago was given up to wild beasts and savages is now rapidly filling with population.
The liberal land laws of the United States greatly encouraged this movement. From 1830 to 1862 actual settlers on the public lands had the first right to buy 160 acres at the very low price of $1.25 per acre. This power gave the farmer a great advantage, because it made him independent in large measure of speculators and other would-be purchasers.
Next (1862) Congress passed the Homestead Act. That measure made a present of 160 acres to every settler on government
CONGRESS IMPEACHES THE PRESIDENT
land on condition that he built himself a home and proceeded to cultivate and improve the soil. The Western emigrant's song declaring that "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm," then became a fact, though it cannot remain a fact much longer.1 It induced scores of thousands to cross the Mississippi. Their labor has transformed the country where they settled. Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and the newer states west and north of them, that were once treeless deserts or vast stretches of uncleared and uncultivated wilderness, are to-day covered with grain fields and fruit orchards.
Denver and many other prosperous cities and towns in neighboring states have sprung up in places where, when Grant became President, there were often, at the most, only a few rude cabins made of sods or logs, or a few "dugouts," excavated in the sides of the hills. Thus within the short period of about thirty years the railways of the West have entirely changed that part of the republic. They have converted what was once a broad extent of unoccupied territory -- sometimes seemingly barren and worthless -- into groups of rapidly growing commonwealths, rich in mines of precious metals, rich in farms, in ranches, and industries of every kind.
Some of these farms, in the Far West, exhibit stock raising and agriculture on a scale never seen before, for they embrace
1 The area of farming land which the government now holds for disposition under the Homestead Act is diminishing rapidly, and in a very short time "Uncle Sam" will have no more to give away. On the other hand, the National Irrigation Act of 1902 has enabled the government to fertilize millions of acres of desert land by irrigation. The expense of the improvement is met by the sale of public lands, and settlers can obtain irrigated farms on condition that they pay for the water used. Recently more than 10,000 families have taken such farms in the Far West and are raising highly profitable crops on soil that a little while ago was simply "dust and ashes."