Spurred by the success of eastern railroads in linking towns from the North to the South and the continuing settlement of the western frontier, the notion of building a transcontinental railroad was a prevalent issue throughout the 1800s. In 1853, Congress tasked the Army Topographic Corps, under the direction of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, to survey possible routes for an east-west railroad. Despite identification of four possible routes, sectional in-fighting within Congress stalled any movement on the issue.
The citizens of Tennessee petitioned Congress to consider construction of a Pacific Railroad, the reasons for which “are of the strongest possible kind,—National, Commercial, and Political,—connected with the safety, unity, and prosperity of the country.” A bill (H.R. 14) was subsequently reported by the Select Committee on the Pacific Railroad and Telegraph in August 1856, but was never signed into law. Based largely on the earlier measure, the first successful bill to establish a transcontinental railroad—The Pacific Railroad Act—was passed by Congress in 1862. Four amending bills followed in each of the years from 1863 to 1866, with completion of coast-to-coast rail realized on May 10, 1869.