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abraham lincolnEnlarge Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

As a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, Abraham Lincoln had many railroads as clients, and his largest fee-$5,000-came from the Illinois Central Railroad for his success in winning a court ruling against a county that wanted to tax the railroad. But Lincoln served the nation's railroad networks most memorably during his presidency. On July 1, 1862, seeing a transcontinental railroad as a means of keeping the Pacific coast loyal to the Union during the Civil War, he signed into law the Pacific Railroad Act calling for its construction. An undertaking of that magnitude, however, was unprecedented, and its projected costs rivaled those of the ongoing war itself. When private enterprise could not raise the capital for this endeavor, he endorsed a second railroad measure in 1864 that pledged federal assistance to the project. With that, the first attempt to link the East and the West by rail was begun, and in the spring of 1869 the transcontinental railroad was completed.

John Wesley Jarvis (1812-1868)
Oil on canvas, circa 1861
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Arpad