Train of Thought

Although social paradigm dictates that the transcontinental railroad was a marvelous innovation and signifier of the American manifest destiny, it is truly a representation of immorality by the wealthy and politically elite of the time. Howard Zinn asserts this accusation by stating, “The first transcontinental railroad was built with blood, sweat, politics and thievery, out of the meeting of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads.” (235).

With such a big project, fraud was almost inevitable. Millions of dollars in bonds and bribes were paid to politicians and companies in order to build the railroads. Overpayment became the norm and politicians were given shares at dirt low prices to allow this ‘thievery’ and to prevent investigation. Massachusetts Congressman Oakes Ames avows, “There is no difficulty in getting men to look after their own property.” (235). To make matters worse, thousand of immigrant and black labor was used to create the railroad. Making one to two dollars a day doing backbreaking labor, the workers risked their lives and died by the hundreds from all the risks they were exposed to. Some railroad workers even went on to join the populist workers having similar complaints to those of the farmers.

Zinn rebukes the mistreatment of the workers and the unethical practices of the railroad company/politicians, but doesn’t belittle the all the beneficial and practical uses this new system had. The chapter states that the steel company was inadvertently effected by the building of the railroads, as well as making it easier for people to travel, and allowing goods to be transported long distances (most notably meat products).