I doubt most Americans remember James Gadsden. In 1840 this ex-army officer became president and primary shareholder in the South Carolina Rail Road Company. He had big dreams of a southern transcontinental railroad, beginning in Charleston and driving across Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, all the way to the Pacific Ocean. There were only three things that stood in his way. First, his railroad was only 135 miles long and stopped at the Georgia border. Second, it was over $3 million in debt (64 million in today's dollars). And third, in 1840 everything west of Texas belonged to Mexico. But Mr. Gadsden was not willing to admit defeat. And because he was not, James Addison Reavis would have a golden opportunity to become one of the richest men in America – call it another unforeseen consequence.
By 1848 there were two routes under consideration for the first transcontinental railroad. The central route, favored by the business interests in New York and Chicago, started in Missouri and followed the trail blazed by wagon trains already heading to the newly discovered California gold fields. The route favored by Mr, Gadsden and most southern politicians, began in the south. However, the southerners got into arguments over where to start the route, how to finance the work and who should control it. And Gadsden was too arrogant to be able to form a consensus. The only thing southerners could agree upon was that they did not want the central route. So as long as the south had a veto, the transcontinental railroad would remain a dream.
The Mexican War (1846-1848) had given America a vast empire north of the Rio Grande River (California, Arizona and New Mexico). But some how in that empire there was no acceptable route for the southern railroad. And the Compromise of 1850 made things even worse for Gadsden and the south. In that deal, in exchange for relieving Texas of its huge public debt, California was admitted as a “free” state. After that, no matter who built the transcontinental railroad, the slave states would now be riding into a “free state” future. Desperate to lure the Golden State back to the slave states, or perhaps even cut it in half, in 1851 Gadsden offered to supply 1,200 new settlers, if California would also admit “not less than two thousand of their African domestics” into southern California. The ploy fooled nobody, and the proposal never got out of committee in the California legislature Defeated again, Gadsden decided to salvage what part of the plan he still had some control over.
If he couldn't find a way around the Mexican border beyond Texas, Gadsden decided to move the border. With assistance from Mississippi's Jefferson Davis, who at the time was President Franklin Pierce's Secretary of War, Gadsden was appointed to buy his southern railroad route. Now, again, the one thing James Gadsden did not have were negotiating skills, and the minute he arrived in Mexico City, he offended the entire nation of Mexico. But for once Gadsden was in luck, because at the time (1853), the entire Mexican government consisted of one ego maniac, General Antonio Lopez de la Santa Ana.
This was Santa Anna's sixth go around as President-slash- dictator of Mexico. He is remembered in America for his capture of the Alamo, and killing “Davy” Crockett. But in Mexico he is remembered because he never seemed to learn from his mistakes, which constantly seems to have surprised Mexicans. They kept turning to him in a crises, and he kept looting the country and burning it down to destroy the evidence. Typically, in 1853, he was broke, and unable to pay his soldiers. And no matter how many ways James Gadsden insulted him, Santa Anna could never walk away from the negotiating table because Gadsden was offering cash money.
The Gadsden Purchase acquired 30,000 square miles of fertile farmland and valuable mineral deposits at the bargain basement price of $15 million – about thirty-three cents an acre. From the American point of view it was a great deal. From the Mexican point of view, it was rape. But really, nobody actually involved in the deal got what they wanted. The generals Santa Ana paid off with the cash were so offended by the deal, they overthrew Santa Anna and sent him into retirement for the sixth and final time. James Gadsden had so exhausted him self offending the Mexicans, he died the day after Christmas, 1858, and so missed the start of the Civil War. But when the south went into rebellion in 1861 the north was free to build the transcontinental railroad via the central route (finished in 1869). And when the southern transcontinental would finally be built (1881), it was by the same men who had built the original one, men like Huntington and Charles Crocker.
Crocker was a 49'er from Indiana, who made his first fortune selling shovels to miners in Sacramento. Then he went into banking, and he was one of Big Four who formed the Central Pacific Railroad. And Charles Crocker and Company was the prime contractor on the job. Of course the largest shareholders in Croker and Company were the same Big Four who had hired themselves to build the railroad – this is known as making money on a deal, coming and going. By 1877, the big Hoosier had so much money, he was running out of things to buy. And at that fortuitous moment, who should Croker meet but a slightly sleazy newspaper man named James Addison Reavis.
Reavis told Croker about the Peralta land grant. Crocker and other California investors were willing to fund more research into the claim. Did they believe in the validity of the grant? They would have smiled at that question, and regarded it as unimportant. The only thing that matters in the world of Capitalism, is what you can afford to prove in court. And James Reavis could now afford to research the heck out of the Peralta land grants. And this old forger figured he stood a pretty good chance of finding every single document he went looking for.
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