When Douglas had moved to the Senate in early 1847, the IC project was a relatively straightforward issue of internal improvement that was, for the most part, unanimously supported by Chicago’s leaders as well as by the MC. That was, however, before Bliss and the MS entered the scene and bought the Northern Indiana in October 1849, changing the unanimity (or monopoly, depending on one’s viewpoint) within Chicago’s railroad community with the specter of a competing group of investors. By the time the IC bill had become law in the fall of 1850, new allegiances among former associates (including Ogden) had formed or were in the process of evolving that were realigning the political groups that were now pursuing the IC charter and its landgrant. Once signed into law, Douglas’ IC bill had delegated to the Illinois legislature the responsibility to award the landgrant to the group of investors that it thought was best suited for the project from among those who would apply for the company’s charter, so the scene of debate had shifted from Washington to Springfield. The upcoming state election in November 1850 became quite heated between the various factions jockeying for influence in the final decision.
Although Sidney Breese had been defeated by Douglas’ man in his Senatorial reelection bid during the previous year, the former Judge and Senator still had many powerful friends in Springfield who backed the claims that Breese continued to make in representing a group of downstate Illinois investors led by Darius Holbrook, known as the “Cairo City and Canal Company” who still held the majority of the original chartered company’s bonds and, therefore, argued that they should be given control of the landgrant. However, a group of Chicago investors led by Julius Wadsworth, then the State of Illinois’ Financial Agent in New York City, and his brother Elisha, the President and one of the major investors of the Aurora Branch (that had connections with the MC through Brooks) that if they won, could use the new IC tracks to enter Chicago (as might the MC), thereby freeing it from its dependence upon Ogden’s G&CU’s tracks), had entered the contest with its own group of vocal supporters. This was the climate in which the newly-elected Illinois legislature convened in January 1851, into which had also spilled the battle into Chicago between the MS and MC.
For as of January 1, 1851, as Farnam was laying the MS’s tracks across northern Indiana toward Chicago while the MC sat helplessly at the Michigan/Indiana border, neither company had yet succeeded in making arrangements with an Illinois company chartered to lay tracks within the state. The proposed IC would be so chartered, hence, the stakes in the Illinois legislature’s decision to award the contract to build the road were, quite simply, enormous. Supporters of both railroads tried every conceivable means to curry favor with the public, Common Council, and the state legislature, to keep each other from being granted the IC contract. John Wentworth championed the MC’s proposal in the pages of the Daily Democrat, while Alfred Dutch did likewise for the MS in the Commercial Advertiser. The battle logically spilled over into the state legislature when it convened in January 1851, and again both sides managed to fight each other to a standstill with Rep. Thomas Dyer, one of Wadsworth’s partners and one of the Galena’s directors arguing for the MC, and State Sen. Norman Judd, representing those who had already made speculative purchases of real estate along the Southern’s planned entrance into town, pleading the MS’s case. (To clarify the sides here, you may remember that all of these men were on the same, i.e., original G&CU team when Ogden first started construction. However, once the Bostonians of the MC had shown their true colors, Ogden had quietly, at first, switched his allegiance to the MS. Judd was one of his followers, Dyer and Wadsworth, both owners of the Aurora Branch, had continued to work with the MC.)
The temptation of 2.5 million acres of “free” land, however, did not go unnoticed in the East by “speculators,” including some in the U.S. Congress, who previously had not been at all interested in Illinois but could smell a deal almost too good to be true. Following the 1850 election, a proposal pertaining to the control of the IC and its landgrant was presented to the Illinois legislature on December 28, 1850, by Boston attorney Robert Rantoul, Jr., who represented a group of investors, primarily from New York City and Boston, headed by none other than Joseph Sheffield’s nemesis, Robert Schuyler, then the president of both the NY&NH and the Harlem. Rantoul had just been elected to the U. S. House of Representatives and seemed to be a well-placed spokesman for the new group trying to influence the decision. In Rantoul’s IC proposal, Schuyler’s name was accompanied by those of George Griswold and David A. Neal, two of the MC’s major investors. By this time, it was fairly well known that the MC was using its political and financial resources both in Congress and in the Illinois legislature to support the Schuyler group’s bid to gain control of the IC, with the hope that an arrangement between the two Central railroads could eventually be fashioned through the auspices of Griswold and Neal that would at least gain access into Illinois and to Chicago for the MC’s trains.
Andreas, Alfred T. History of Chicago. 3 vols. Chicago, 1884-1886. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.
Brownson, Howard Gray. History of the Illinois Central Railroad to 1870. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1915.
Johannsen, Robert W. Stephen A. Douglas, New York: Oxford, 1973.
Johnson, Arthur and Barry E. Supple. Boston Capitalists and the Western Railroads. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Lueckenhoff, Sandra K., “A. Lincoln, a Corporate Attorney and the Illinois Central Railroad,” Missouri Law Review, Vol. 61, Issue 2 Spring 1996, pp. 411-2.
Milton, George Fort. The Eve of Conflict: Stephen A. Douglas and the Needless War. New York: Octagon, 1969.
Pierce, Bessie Louis. A History of Chicago– 2. New York: Knopf. 1940.
Stover, John F. History of the Illinois Central Railroad. New York: Macmillan, 1975.
(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: email@example.com)