To Build a Pacific Railroad: Congress, Texas, and
the Charleston Convention of 1854
JERE W. ROBERSON*
FOR THOSE WHO ENCOURAGED THE CONSTRUCTION OF A SOUTHERN
transcontinental railroad, 1854 was a momentous year. Within the
first six months Congress debated two issues which had a profound effect
on national politics in general and the southern Pacific railroad specifically
-the Kansas-Nebraska bill and the Gadsden Purchase. During these de-
liberations, a southern commercial convention was held in Charleston to
consider and promote state and federal legislation favorable to the southern
Pacific. After this meeting southerners turned their attention first to Con-
gress, then to Texas. Since Texans had made so many promises to launch
the western section of the road,' what happened there was crucial.
Although a basic plan for the Kansas-Nebraska bill-the first and most
perplexing of these issues before Congress-had been presented in 1844, it
was not given primary consideration until 1853-1854.- As congressional
*Jere W. Roberson is an associate professor of history at Central State University in
'By 1854 there were at least five railroad companies chartered in Texas with plans to
connect with a Pacific railroad. They were the Texas and Louisiana Railroad Company,
the Vicksburg and El Paso Railroad Company (also known as the Texas Western), the
Texas Western Railroad Company (to run from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande), the
New Orleans, Texas and Pacific Railway Company (to extend the New Orleans and
Opelousas Railway through Texas from the Sabine River and also known as the Texas
Western), and the Memphis and El Paso and Pacific Railroad Company (to run from
the Red River to El Paso). See Andrew Forest Muir, "The Thirty-Second Parallel
Pacific Railroad in Texas to 1872" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, Austin,
2Proposals to secure American claim to Oregon and protect settlers headed there had
helped foster the scheme. See "Message from the President of the United States .. .,"
House Executive Documents, 28th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Serial 463), Doc. No. 2, pp. I23-
125; Congressional Globe, 28th Cong., 2nd Sess. (Serial X85), 21, 41; ibid., Appendix,
44. The Congressional Globe serial numbers are cited according to the Checklist of United
States Public Documents, 1789-1909 (reprint; New York, 1962), 1466-1467.
For background to the railroad aspects of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, see Robert R.
Russell, Improvement of Communication with the Pacific Coast as an Issue in American
Politics, 1783-1864 (Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1948), 150-161.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 78, July 1974 - April, 1975. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117149/. Accessed July 29, 2014.