Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1809; his family eventually settled in Illinois. He had been able to attend school only sporadically, but he had a thirst for knowledge and quietly set out to become a lawyer.
Lincoln was elected to the Illinois General Assembly in 1834 and his political career continued to blossom along with his legal career. In New Salem, he partnered with John T. Stuart, which brought sustained and profitable contact with the railroad industry. In the 1850s, Lincoln successfully defended the Illinois Central Railroad in cases involving disputes of property taxes. In 1856 he defended the Rock Island Railroad in a precedent-setting case involving the right to build bridges across heavily traveled waterways.
Lincoln’s legal work for the railroads took a back seat to his political career in 1860 when he ran for the presidency. As president he signed the Pacific Railway Act into law, authorizing the federal government to assist two private corporations—the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific railroads—to build a line from Omaha, Nebraska to Sacramento, California.
Lincoln had traveled to Washington, DC, by train in February 1861 to assume the presidency, and his body returned to Springfield by the same mode of transportation after his assassination in April 1865. As the funeral train made its way slowly from the nation’s capital to Chicago, laborers on the Chicago and Alton were working feverishly to widen that line’s right of way between Chicago and Springfield to accommodate the Pullman car Mrs. Lincoln had requested for the last leg of her long journey. Abraham Lincoln’s final act in promoting the development of railroads was the unintentional one of publicizing the luxuries of Pullman cars, heralding a new era in train travel.
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