Expansion & The Railroads
Before the prevalence of railroads in the United States, the nation's
identity was undiscovered; vast geographic distances were an obstacle
to unification. Isolated by waterways and mountains, each town,
unaware that each was a member of a transcontinental nation, lived for itself
or at most, its state. Railroads, one of the most influential
technologies in American history, not only challenged ordinary concepts
of time, distance, and travel, but also forever changed the American
culture and history. Although railroads initially spawned intense
conflicts at the local, state, and regional levels, railroads, allied with the federal government, allowed the North to win the Civil war, eventually unified the American people, fomented western migration, created a nation-wide market, planted modern metropolises, served as the foundation for modern litigation, and allowed America to become a global leader.
Before the early 1800s there were no railroads in America. People
typically lived and died in their small town surrounded by farmland.
People traveled by horse, foot, or boat; ladies seldom traveled alone. White people hardly mixed with black people. Towns dotted the waterways and the interior lands were sparsely populated. As fast as the first railroads raised the thresholds for speed and load, railroads and the conflicts they brought sprung up all over. As competitors, canal owners and stagecoaches were against the railroads. Many farmers, ranchers, and old-fashioned townspeople disliked the noise, danger, and technology of the railroad. Towns and cities that were poised on major waterways as commerce centers saw railroads as a threat to their economy. The railroad was a highly charged issue; people and institutions felt either passionately for it or against it.
From the start, the federal government wanted railroads to succeed. Many major government officials, from senators, to judges, to presidents saw the railroad as...