Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States and is remembered as the savior of the Union and the Great Emancipator of the slaves. But in this story, Lincoln also figures as an important and very well-placed friend of the transcontinental railroad. An ardent and long-time political champion of the railroad as a means of progress, Lincoln did some of his reputation-building work as a lawyer on behalf of railroads. After his election to the presidency in 1860, Lincoln made his mark on railroad history.
With the election of Lincoln, the slave South made good on its threat of secession. In addition to precipitating the Civil War, secession brought an end to the political stalemate that had stalled Congressional action to support a Pacific railroad. With southern representatives no longer around to insist that the transcontinental route go through the South, Lincoln was free to sign, in July of 1862, the Pacific Railroad Bill that put the federal government behind the transcontinental project. Lincoln was also instrumental in bringing Congressman Oakes Ames aboard the Union Pacific, which had important consequences for that line's scandal-plagued future.
When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, the nation lost a great leader, and the transcontinental railroad—still four long years from completion—lost one of its most valuable partisans.