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A British Railway From the Atlantic to the Pacific

The Illustrated London News, vol. 38, no. 1075, p. 136.

February 16, 1861


. . . . In the United States the project of a railway to the Pacific to cross the Rocky Mountains has ebbed and flowed in public opinion, and has been made the battle-cry of parties for years past, but nothing has been done. Such a project, in order to answer its purpose, requires something more than a practicable surface or convenient mountain passes. Fine harbours on both oceans, facilities for colonisation on the route, and the authority of one single Power over the whole of the wild regions traversed, are all essential to success. As regards the United States these conditions are wanting. While there are harbours enough on the Atlantic, though none equal to Halifax, there is no available harbour, at all fit for the great Pacific trade, from Acapulco to our harbour of Esquimalt on Vancouver's Island, except San Francisco-and that is in the wrong place, and is, in many states of the wind, unsafe and inconvenient. The country north-west of the Missouri is found to be sterile, and at least one-third of the whole United States' territory, and situated in this region, is now known as "the Great American Desert." Again, the conflicting interests of separate and Sovereign States present an almost insuperable bar to agreement as to route, or as to future "operations" or control. It is true that Mr. Seward, possibly as the exponent of the policy of the new President, promises to support two Pacific railways—one for the South, another for the North. But these promises are little better than political baits, and were they carried out into acts of Congress financial disturbance would delay, if not prevent, their final realisation; and even if realised they would not serve the great wants of the East and the West, still less would they satisfy England and Europe. We, therefore, cannot look for the execution of this gigantic work at the hands of the United States.

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