Southern Pacific Railroad History Center



The Pacific Railroad Acts

The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1862 were a series of acts of Congress that promoted the construction of a “transcontinental railroad” in the United States through authorizing the issuance of government bonds and the grants of land to railroad companies.  The War Department under then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was authorized by the Congress in 1853 to conduct surveys of five different potential transcontinental routes from the Mississippi ranging from north to south and out of that work  a massive twelve volume report  was submitted to Congress with the results in early 1855. However, no route or bill could be agreed upon and passed authorizing the Government’s financial support and land grants until the secession of the southern states in 1861 removed their opposition to a central route. 

The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 was the original act.  Some of its provisions were subsequently modified, expanded, or repealed by four additional amending Acts: the Pacific Railroad Act of 1863, the Pacific Railroad Act of 1864, the Pacific Railroad Act of 1865, and the Pacific Railroad Act of 1866 .

The Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 authorized the federal government to grant of lands directly to corporations; before that act, the land grants were made to the states, for the benefit of corporations.

The first and last pages of the original manuscript of the Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 signed by President Abraham Lincoln on July 1, 1862 (U.S. National Archives)
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