The Railroad Wars.

April 5, 1870


Virginia needs to be allowed to determine her own infrastructure, without the meddling hands of outside corporations.


The war of the railroads progresses with variations. Ae we have no other interests at heart than those of the State of Virginia, our views upon the situation have been more general than special. We would have shut off the whole consideration of railroads by the present session of the Legislature of Virginia. The reconstruction and restoration of Virginia to her place of equality with the other States in the Union was a matter of such vital importance and required such calmness and concentration of mental power that no matter foreign to it or not inseparable from it should have been allowed to enter either branch of the General Assembly; and we confess our surprise at the eagerness with which bill after bill has been brought for-ward-bills that might and should have waited until the State was fairly restored and ready to give her attention to her domestic affairs. We are satisfied that these bills and the activity of a "lobby members" have to some extent disconcerted the Legislature and caused delay in some matters relating to the re-establishment of the civil authority that has resulted disastrously. Fully impressed with this opinion, had we the power we should have summoned the lobbyists by the blast of a horn, and ordered them out of the city, with a command not to appear here again until the State was reestablished and all the departments of her Government in full operation. What is wanted for Virginia is time. This is not the day for inundating the Legislature with local concerns and railroad wars. The great deluge has not fairly subsided. What exact form the surface will present when the dove gracefully drops the olive branch we cannot foresee, and therefore we cannot now determine what policy will be proper. Could we wait till then we would be better protected from blunders, and Virginia herself would be better able to shield her true interests from injury. In her hour of chrysalis weakness, before her limbs are fairly formed, she is in great danger of becoming a victim to voracious enemies. Give her two years-nay, even one-and she will probably be safe and able to shape her policy with wisdom and success, so as to encourage domestic industry, protect her own commerce, and facilitate the building up of great cities within her own borders, giving her farmers such markets for all their products at home as will enable them to get promptly the reward of their labor, and thus rapidly to improve their lands and enhance immensely the revenues of the State. Oh, for this time-this time to revive and reinvigorate Virginia-this time to prepare for the shaping of her own policy and the efficient protection of her own interests. If the Legislature saw the present in this light it could soon rid itself of all annoyance, all diversion of its mind and labor from the only subjects which should now engage its attention. Those subjects, under their most favorable aspects, should be adjourned to a future day. But, presented as they are now, they are full of complications and dangers. We have studied them with some labor, and the more we consider them the more we are impressed with the impolicy of legislating upon them now. "We have considered them separately, and their relations to one another, and when endeavoring to combine two or more interests we have suddenly found a snake in the grass that threatened poison to the State. "With a medley of illdevised lines-built out of the State Trea-sury-located by those who did not pay for them-we have schemes for consolidating them and making them more powerful for injury. In all the State there are but three roads which promise any important addition to its wealth. They are the Richmond and Danville road, the Virginia and Tennessee road, and the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. The rest are merely local, or engaged in "putting things through" without leaving to the State more than the dust shaken from their wheels as they pass through staring crowds and dull towns, whose disappointment at not growing very great is but poorly consoled by the reflection that they have the chance of a ride and looking at the cars as they go by. The main North and South line is a mere passenger line. It was projected by a great man, who, had he built, as he might have done, a road to the Ohio, would have built to himself a monument that would have been as enduring as the State. The Orange and Alexandria line takes away from the State its life blood, transferring to a distance the market for the Virginia farmer who should have it at his door. Not even Alexandria thrives upon its freights. And we see our own citizens bending in supplication before a corporation out of the State begging help to make railroads, for which help they pledge the trade and the jewels of their State. What else is it? It may be said we borrow money to build railroads, and give to outside capitalists control of our highways. Ah, but the argument there is that the roads themselves are profitable--not that they will convey freights and trade for outside communities to the injury of our own. But when we apply to a great city legislature to subscribe on behalf of their people to a road, even on the southern border of Virginia, we inevitably back the appeal by the promise that the investment will richly reward the community on behalf of which the subscription is made, and honestly the petitioners bind themselves to carry out the promise, even to the detriment of their own fellow-citizens. With these facts before us, as Virginians we deplore the opening of these questions now. The State is in no condition to consider them. She is in no condition to part with property in railroad companies or of other description while the question of what proportion of the State debt is to be paid by West Virginia is under consideration. There are two consolidations pressed upon her. Of the two, of course we prefer one, and we do not hesitate to say we would prefer the Southside consolidation; but that is objectionable, for it has the dry rot at one end. It has a broken tail, and cannot well keep off the flies. But we would take it without a wry face in opposition to an adverse interest which has certainly displayed some strong signs of power and purpose. But we repeat, we deplore the present agitation. In time the whole matter of the interests of this State may be fairly and patiently, and we trust patriotically, considered. This State has interests of the greatest magnitude. She may become the greatest manufacturing State in the Union. She may have an immense western and southern commerce. But if she so goes to work to settle her policy in her hour of utter prostration, the peril is great-great beyond calculation-indeed, everything may be lost.
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Charles Simmonds




“The Railroad Wars.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed November 27, 2021,