Deconstructing the Tower of Babel through a Railroad to the Pacific

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105. COLTON, Calvin. A Lecture on the Railroad to the Pacific. Delivered August 12, 1850, at the Smithsonian Institute, Washington. At the Request of Numerous Members of Both Houses of Congress. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 51 John Street, 1850. [1-3] 4-16 pp.8vo, new brown morocco over purple cloth. Other than minor browning, fine. Uncommon.

     First edition. Cowan 137. Sabin 14777. The author’s main thesis is that construction of a railroad to the Pacific will assist the spreading of the word of God, and he urges all clergymen to support the Pacific Railroad. The pamphlet came at a time when interest was high in the project, though usually the advocates were more interested in monetary returns. Randall V. Mills notes in “A History of Transportation in the Pacific Northwest” (Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 47, No. 3, September, 1946), p. 287:

Stage and freighting lines, and even the elegant steamboats came to be regarded as makeshifts once the railroad fever hit the country. No town with pretension or hope failed to dream that it would inevitably become the terminal of a trunk rail way, probably transcontinental—a dream, beginning in the 1840s, that was encouraged by the pamphlets and speeches of Asa Whitney and his followers. [In his footnote 16 on the same page, Mills cites the present pamphlet as one of the volleys in the paper and stump war advocating the transcontinental railway.]

     Pages 12 to 16 consist of Asa Whitney’s original “Plan of Railroad to the Pacific, as reported to both Houses of Congress.” For more on author Calvin Colton (1795-1857), see DAB, Vol. II, pp. 320-321, where he is described as journalist, political pamphleteer, theologian, and pastor. He sometimes wrote under the name “Junius” and is best known as the biographer of Henry Clay. DAB states on this work: “In A Lecture on the Railroad to the Pacific (1850), delivered at the Smithsonian Institution, he advocated a transcontinental railroad on the religious ground that through it the human family, dispersed at the Tower of Babel, might be reunited.”


Auction 23 Abstracts

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