NP, NODC 3/23/1861

From the New Orleans Daily Crescent
March 23, 1861
The Convention and our Railroads
   An ordinance is before the Convention, which has for its object to empower the State Legislature to authorize the issue of State bonds at the rate of $6000 per mile for each mile of graded roadway ready for the track, on which the track is not laid, in behalf of those roads only in which the State is now a stockholder: provided, however, that no more than the unpaid balances of her present subscription to the capital stock of said roads shall be thus paid by the State. The object of this ordinance seems to be the suspension -- in behalf of the three railroads now in progress, in which the State is now a stockholder, viz: the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Texas Railroad, the Grosse Tete Railroad {Baton Rouge, Grosse Tete & Opelousas RR}, and the Opelousas Railroad -- of a constitutional provision, which prohibits the payment of the State's subscription, except in proportion to the total amount of capital stock of each company paid in by all other parties.
   The capital stock of the New Orleans, Opelousas & Great Western Railroad Company was fixed at $6,000,000, and the State's subscription of one-fifth is $1,200,000, or 18,000 shares of $25 each. On this the State has issued to date $650,000 in bonds, equal to 26,000 shares: leaving $550,000, or 22,000 shares unpaid.
   Since the State subscription to the stock of this Company, the Company have received from the late United States a grant of land amounting to about 700,000 acres. It is clear that if the road can be built for less than the six millions of stock, the sales of land furnishing the means instead of stock subscriptions, the road, when finished, will be much more valuable to the stockholders. If, therefore, this Company obtain money on bonds to build their road, and afterwards pay off the bonds by the proceeds of their land sales, as will be done, then the road will be unencumbered, and represented by only three and a half to four millions of stock in place of six millions. Would it not be wiser to aid the Company by paying up the State subscription in full, as the city of New Orleans did with her $1,500,000 subscription, than to compel the Company to issue $6,000,000 of stock and then pay up, as the State would have to do by existing laws? In the one case the $1,200,000 subscribed by the State would give her the ownership on one-third of the road and its earnings, when completed, which, in the other, the same amount would give her but one-fifth.
   On the first one hundred and twenty-five miles of their line this Company have but a limited quantity of land, the largest portion lying beyond Opelousas. On reaching Opelousas the sales of land will ensure the rapid extension and completion of the road to the Sabine river, or eastern boundary of Texas. The object now is to reach Opelousas at the earliest possible period, and the aid of the State, as provided for in the ordinance before the Convention, would accomplish this object. By July next about seventy-five miles of roadway will be graded and ready for the track, and the whole eighty-five miles, extending from Berwick's Bay to Opelousas, can be graded by October or November next. The balance of the State's subscription would furnish the rails for this eighty-five miles of road, and leave the Opelousas Company in a condition to complete their road to Texas without embarrassment or loss of time.
   The State now owns 1,400,000 acres of land within the limits of the Opelousas Railroad grant, or twice the amount belonging to the Railway Company. Fully 1,000,000 acres of this is within the "six mile limits," and if sold at a minimum of $2.50 per acre, the price fixed on the same by the late United States, after the building of the railroad, would realize to the State $2,500,000; add the remaining 400,000 acres at $1.25, and the total is $3,000,000. Nearly the whole of this land is at present unsaleable, and will be so till the railroad is finished; then it will sell rapidly.
   The extension of the Opelousas road ensures also the completion of the Louisiana division of the Texas & New Orleans Railroad, extending from Houston, Texas, to a junction with the Opelousas road. The Legislature have just passed a bill to aid the Texas & New Orleans Railroad by a grant of land. Within the limits of that road our State owns about 700,000 acres of land, and between both roads she owns 1,500,000 acres, or a total in all, within the grants of both roads and between both, of 3,600,000 acres, all of which would be made valuable and saleable by the completion of these railroads. As a great landed proprietor, then, the State should have the power, through her Legislature, to encourage the early completion of the Opelousas Railroad, if she deems it wise to give this encouragement. The ordinance, as I understand it, only empowers the Legislature to act.
   Is it not sound State policy to encourage the settlement and development of the sparsely settled portions of the parishes of Calcasieu, Rapides, St. Landry, and Vermillion, and thus to diminish the ration of taxation by distributing the burthen among a greater number? Do not all the other States foster and aid their railways? The wisdom of so doing is fully exemplified in the case of Georgia.
   The Opelousas Railroad will be 258 miles in length, and will have connection with the Red river valley, South-western Louisiana, Northern and North-western Texas, and all Southern and Middle Texas. With its small capital of three and a half to four millions, it must pay heavy dividends. The State, by completing her subscription, will make her stock a profitable investment, and secure what she has already paid against the possibility of loss, besides developing her territory and making her 3,600,000 acres of land saleable.
   In a military point of view this road is a necessity, for without it Texas might as well be at the Rocky Mountains, if troops have to march 500 miles overland in case of war. The rapid concentration of troops, at any point in the Confederate States, is of the greatest importance.
   Commercially, this railway connection with Texas is a necessity to New Orleans and to Louisiana, if we are to maintain New Orleans as the great center of trade of the Southwest -- the exporting and importing depot of the Southern States.
   Why should not the State, like the city of New Orleans, pay up her subscription in full, in view of the immense importance, at this juncture, of the immediate completion of the railway connection with Texas? View the question in any light whatever, and the State will be vastly benefited, without the possibility of losing in any way. In any event, the Convention would simply authorize the Legislature to do a certain thing, nothing more. Our great railroads are no longer an experiment; their standing is well known, their importance generally appreciated.