PASSAGE TO UNION by Sarah H. Gordon


How the Railroads Transformed American Life, 1829-1929
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 As social historian Gordon (Quinnipiac Coll.) ably demonstrates, the creation of a national railroad was anything but an easy ride. Early proponents of an interstate rail network faced enormous troubles. There were Luddites, like Nathaniel Hawthorne, who objected to the noise and smell of progress; legal battles, such as the Supreme Court case in which a man named Beers was awarded damages when a train killed several of his oxen (the court found for the plaintiff because the train had been ``speeding'' at 20 m.p.h.); tensions between the rural and urban populations; and not least of all, the budding conflict between North and South, involving sectionalism and slavery, that would eventually explode into the Civil War. Railroads were so deeply associated with the industrial, urban North that they became a natural metaphor for emancipation. No wonder railroad ``union'' was almost as difficult to attain in that era as national union was. Gordon analyzes the various disputes that went into the making of the railroads, and she offers plenty of railroad lore along the way, citing liberally from James Fenimore Cooper, Walt Whitman, and Charles Dickens, among others, all of whom had much to say about the American railways. Of the casual rural stations, for example, Dickens noted wryly: ``The train calls at stations in the woods, where the wild impossibility of anybody having the smallest reason to get out is only to be equaled by the apparently desperate hopelessness of there being anybody to get in.'' And mores of railroad travel had more than one contemporary observer up in arms: ``To restore herself to her caste, let a lady move in select company at 5 miles an hour,'' declared one disgruntled gentleman. A solid, readable history of America's fledgling railroad system. (20 b&w illustrations, 2 maps)

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56663-138-6
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Ivan Dee/Rowman & Littlefield
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1996