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The National Old Trails Road

Part 1: The Quest for a National Road

Section 5 of 7

The Lincoln Highway

Resolution No. 4 stated:

That we recognize with sincere appreciation the great business movement of a great and rapidly expanding industry, in process of promotion by Carl G. Fisher, of Indianapolis, whereby the money is being rapidly raised with which to construct at least one transcontinental road of the highest type known to modern engineering ability. Not an exclusive "Automobile Road," but a great national free thoroughfare, for the accommodation of all sorts of transportation. We commend the enterprise, and endorse with heartiest approval, this effort as being the greatest business and philanthropic scheme ever conceived by the mind of men; and when consummated it should, and we have no doubt will be taken over by the Government and maintained as a National Highway for all time to come.

In 1912, automobile entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher of Indianapolis had conceived the idea of enlisting his friends in the automobile industry to build what he initially called a coast-to-coast rock highway from New York City to San Francisco. He estimated it would cost $10 million, but could be completed in time for the 1915 exposition in San Francisco. In September 1912, Fisher met with other automobile industry leaders to ask them to pay for the proposed road. "Let's build it," he told the group, "before we're too old to enjoy it!" Publicity about this idea, renamed the Lincoln Highway, had prompted the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Needles National Highway Association to think about sending a delegation to Indianapolis to try to secure some of the funds.

The Lincoln Highway Association was incorporated in Detroit in July 1, 1913, on the same day Fisher led a caravan of vehicles out of Indianapolis on a pathfinding tour to the West Coast. On September 14, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association announced its route, which followed a more direct route to San Francisco than would have been possible if an alignment had been chosen through the Southwest.

The Lincoln Highway Association soon realized that Fisher's cost estimate was too low. Moreover, expecting private businesses, even automobile companies, to build the road was unrealistic. The road would have to be built by State and local governments (with Federal-aid after 1916). Private contributions were practical only in a few unusual cases. Nevertheless, the Lincoln Highway Association was the most powerful of the named trail associations, and t he Lincoln Highway was the most famous American road of its day . For more information, see: www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/lincoln.cfm

Additional Resolutions

Resolution No. 5 adopted the view Judge Lowe had expressed during his testimony before the Joint Committee. The delegates called on Congress to finance construction and maintenance of the National Old Trails Road, but "stand equally and earnestly" in favor of a general system of National highways to be built and maintained by a national authority. To this end, Resolution No. 6 explained that Federal-aid was "obnoxious in principle and vicious in application." It would revive the "'pork barrel' system of legislation, and tends to corrupt Congress and the whole body politic as well."

The delegates, in Resolution No. 7, endorsed the idea that any permanently improved road taken over as a national highway "should be valued and paid for by the government." Resolution No. 8 cited the experience with the Cumberland Road as evidence that furnishing "aid" to States or local bodies in expectation that they would reciprocate or cooperate would be a "waste of money."

Resolution No. 9 pledged "our heartiest cooperation and affiliation with all organized efforts to aid and assist" in improving the common roads of the country. The universal effort to improve roads was "the most far reaching in its influence, the greatest factor in material development and in moral and educational advancement the world has ever known." In this regard, the delegates adopted Resolution No. 10, which heartily endorsed "the wisdom of the Act of Congress creating the office of Public Roads in the Agriculture Department." The Office, according to the resolution, had conducted itself in a "very able and efficient manner."

Although the delegates favored Federal road construction, they adopted Resolution No. 11 in favor of State and local activities in building State and local highways, "which should be so systematized as to connect with and supplement a system of national highways." They also endorsed Charles Henry Davis' bill for establishing a National Highways Commission, stating that it "should have full charge and authority" over construction of national highways.

The delegates endorsed a bill introduced by Representative R. L. Henry of Texas to establish a Committee of Roads (Resolution No. 13)

Judge Lowe introduced Resolution No. 14 expressing the support of the delegates for restoring the tobacco tax to 1879 levels to pay for the building and maintenance of national highways. When the resolution was introduced, Representative Shackleford spoke up. He did not object to the tax portion of the resolution. "I move to amend this by saying it shall be set apart as a sacred fund to be used in the construction and maintenance of such roads as Congress shall determine to give aid to by Congressional legislation." The Committee on Resolutions rejected the Congressman's change. The committee then voted to adopt Judge Lowe's resolution.

Resolution No. 15 recommended that the equipment used to build the Panama Canal "should be brought home to help in construction of national highways."

Confirming the Route Change

The Eye, in its edition of May 30, 1913, informed readers that Judge Lowe had confirmed the change in the western end of the National Old Trails Road:

A circular issued by President J. M. Lowe, of the Old Trails National Road, for the purpose of setting at rest all question of the route chosen by the members of that association in convention at Kansas City May 1, speaks of the right of the delegates to choose the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Needles National Highway as the route to the coast, and concludes as follows:

They (the western delegates) were a live, wide-awake bunch, absolutely frank and fair in their demeanor, and won their contention in fair and open contest. They are entitled to the highest respect for the manly manner in which they presented their claims, and from information received since the convention adjourned, we are much inclined to the opinion that no mistake was made in thus definitely locating the western end of this road.

It is settled, definitely and for all time, and it but remains that we shall now unite and stand as one man in favor of the entire integrity of the road as adopted at this convention.

While reporting this good news, the Eye summarized a story that had appeared in The Los Angeles Examiner on May 29 about hardship and danger on the Borderland/Ocean-to-Ocean route:

H. W. Hall and bride, of Long Beach, on their honeymoon, accompanied by his parents and sister, in two machines arrived in Phoenix after many days of fighting their way through drifting sand on the road through Yuma and Mexico.

By contrast, the Eye pointed out that, "The tourist has no nightmares" on the Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Needles National Highway.

The routing change was further confirmed in correspondence between Judge Lowe and Governor W. C. McDonald of New Mexico. After receiving Judge Lowe's circular letter, The Governor wrote on May 29 to confirm that the routing change "must govern whether or no for all time to come." He had not known the convention was taking place and wanted to know who represented New Mexico's interests. He wanted "to know all about it so that the state highway commission may have full knowledge before deciding upon what course to pursue in regard to highway construction through New Mexico."

Judge Lowe replied on May 31, explaining that the association had been "at sea" on the routing west of Santa Fe:

Every other route which had been discussed was tentative as no one having authority had ever taken any action locating that end of the road. We notified the people of New Mexico, Arizona and California along the different routes which had been suggested to be here prepared to take such action as they thought best. At the convention the delegates from each of these States were assigned to a room and each set of delegates by majority vote located the road through each State. When this was done it was reported back to the convention as a whole and upon motion, the action of such delegates was approved by the convention. Thereupon the constitution of our association was amended adopting the line as suggested from Santa Fe via Albuquerque, Holbrook, Flagstaff, Needles, etc. Therefore so far as this organization is concerned it stands for the Old Trails Road as defined in its constitution as it now exists, as running practically from the tide-water of the Atlantic to the tide-water of the Pacific over the line as above suggested.

The letter pointed out the association's affiliation with the National Highways Association, which had adopted the National Old Trails Road "as pre-eminently the back-bone and Central Factor in a Great System of National Highways." He added that the national highway system proposed by the association included "extension of the Camino Real and thence via Borderland Route to Phoenix, etc."

He concluded with a warning about the Lincoln Highway:

These differences as to location are natural but greatly to be regretted. Instead of effecting any good they often drive away the possibility of anybody's being benefited. As illustrating what I mean, there is active and tremendous force behind the proposition to extend a central road through Denver, Salt Lake, etc., to San Francisco. The Southwest will be to blame if by their quarrels among themselves they drive a great trans-continental highway entirely out of New Mexico and Arizona.

On June 3, Governor McDonald thanked Judge Lowe for his reply, adding:

You may depend upon me to do what I can to get this road through New Mexico. The important thing is to have it. The state highway commission will assist in every way possible to accomplish this end.

Lt. Edward F. Beale's Wagon Road

Miss Gentry and the D.A.R. had primarily been interested in the Old Trails Road for its historic associations. Although Judge Lowe made history a regular part of his publicity for the route, it had lost some of its historic associations, including the link to the Oregon Trail, beginning with the organizing convention in April 1912. Now, as a result of the second convention, the Old Trails Road appeared to lose another part, namely "Kearny's route," as shown on Miss Gentry's early map of the historic trails road. As noted earlier, the D.A.R.'s claim that General Kearney marched through Flagstaff on his way to California was incorrect. Nevertheless, the Grand Canyon Route had a long history of its own.

A pamphlet called The Old Santa Fe Trail Across Arizona discussed some of the history. It began by commenting on the title of the booklet:

For the benefit of the reader who may feel somewhat surprised by the title of the present booklet, I beg to state that the Old Santa Fe Trail Across Arizona takes him back many years past the time of the triumphant march of General Stephen W. Kearney . . . in the year 1846 . . .

Father Cypriano, the Arizona representative of the National Old Trails Road Association, wrote the foreward. He traced the route in Arizona to such early Spanish explorers as Hernando de Alarcon (1540) and Melchior Diaz (1541), but especially to Don Juan De Onate, Governor of New Mexico (1604), and two Franciscan friars, Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante and Father Francisco Garces (1776). Governor Onate, having established the forerunner of El Camino Real in 1598, explored northern Arizona, looking for what he thought would be the South Sea and a trade route to the Orient.

In 1776, Spain's viceroy in Mexico City dispatched Fathers Escalante and Francisco Dominguez to find a trail to connect Santa Fe with the missions Father Junipero Serra was establishing in California. They pursued a route through Utah, north of the Grand Canyon, that became part of the traders' route known as the Old Spanish Trail. Father Garces, on a similar mission that same year, explored the route across northern Arizona that was the predecessor of the National Old Trails Road across Arizona.

The Epilogue described the point of the booklet:

The OCEAN-TO-OCEAN HIGHWAY is in the air. The great and latest mode of transportation had to become almost a necessity before the crying need of good roads in this country was noticed. Now the movement for a good automobile road from the Atlantic to the Pacific is fairly launched, and it will never stop till its object has been fully secured . . . .

To decide wisely and prudently the vital question of locating [the] route across Arizona [the highway-man] has to bear in mind the reasons that have brought about the success of similar undertakings in other parts of the world.

It must be granted, in the first place, that this highway is not going to be a freight traffic road, and, in the second place, that the mere feat of motoring from the Atlantic seaboard to the surf-splashed beach of the Pacific Coast, regardless of the intervening country, is not going to be sufficient to render the road popular with the sight-seeing tourist. What is, therefore, the wisest solution to this problem?

. . . Now, the tourist does not leave his home to go and see alfalfa, potato, beet, corn and wheat fields, profitable though they be to their owners. That point is well known to the people of Europe. Hence, their touring highways are all laid out across historical and scenic fields . . . . If, therefore, you wish to establish a popular highway across Arizona, you will by all means locate it as close as possible to and over the dust-covered tracks of the Spanish Conquistador's steed and the venerable trail worn across Northern Arizona years ago by the sandal and the staff of the Franciscan Friar. Add to those historical associations, the wonderful scenery with which they are encompassed as with a frame and you will readily concede that the Old Santa Fe Trail across Arizona described in this booklet is the logical and natural forerunner of the coming Transcontinental Highway.

The route that became the National Old Trails Road across New Mexico and Arizona can be traced back to early Spanish explorers, but their exact routes are in dispute. Moreover, the path of the National Old Trails Roads did not become a major travel route until the mid-19th Century. Its prominence dates to the effort to construct a transcontinental railroad. The Federal Government dispatched surveying crews to explore possible routes, including a crew under Captain Amiel W. Whipple of the Army Topographical Corps in 1 853. Beginning July 15, 1853, Whipple led a wagon train of about 70 men along the 35th parallel from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Los Angeles, generally following a route traveled by Captain Randolph B. Marcy in 1849. It went through Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and the Texas Panhandle to Albuquerque. After crossing the Rio Grande River, the expedition struggled for 3 months across New Mexico and Arizona to the Colorado River. The survey crew reached Los Angeles on March 21, 1854.

When sectional disputes stopped Congress from authorizing a transcontinental railroad, it instead authorized construction of several wagon roads to meet the demand, temporarily, for better communications with the West Coast. The Army selected Lieutenant Edward F. Beale to establish a wagon road along the 35th parallel from Fort Defiance on the modern New Mexico/Arizona border to the Colorado River.

Using Whipple's report as a guide, Beale worked on the road from 1857 to 1859, diverging from Whipple's route in many cases. The work on Beale's Road cost $200,000. During the work, Beale tested the usefulness, endurance, and economy of a herd of camels. The test was part of an experiment to see if camels could help meet transportation needs in the southwestern deserts. In Beale's opinion, the experiment was a success, but the U.S. Army did not pursue it.

At first, Beale's Road was criticized, particularly by northern California interests. They feared that Beale's Road and another wagon road further south would divert traffic from their part of the State. They had consistently criticized any transportation plan, such as the early overland mail routes, that used a southern entrance to the State, even though the Sierra Nevada passes in their part of the State were closed by snow throughout the winter. At one point, even The Los Angeles Star turned against the road. Gerald Thompson, in Edward F. Beale and the American West (University of New Mexico Press, 1983), cited the newspaper's issue of October 1, 1859:

The paper quoted the Missouri Republican, which stated that many wagon trains departing from Texas and Arkansas over Beale's Road had been forced to turn back with great losses--and then took the southern route through El Paso, Tucson, Yuma, to Los Angeles. According to many emigrants, "the Beale route is worse than a humbug--it is a swindle."

Nevertheless, Beale's Road soon proved its value, as a wagon road and a location for the Santa Fe Railroad in the 19th Century and a main travel corridor in the 20th Century. "In opening this highway," according to Thompson, "Beale joined the small group of explorers who left an enduring mark on the American West during the nineteenth century."

West of Needles, the road also can be traced to Father Garces. Early in 1776, he traveled north along the Colorado River to a point near Needles. Turning west, Father Garces reached the San Gabriel mission near today's Los Angeles on March 24. He had ". . . followed the approximate route over which the Santa Fe Railroad was built through the Mohave Desert to Los Angeles a century later," according to Jay J. Wagoner's Early Arizona (The University of Arizona Press, 1975). The National Old Trails Road followed this route to the vicinity of Barstow and Victorville, before turning toward Cajon Pass. After this pathfinding mission, Father Garces returned to the Mojave Indian villages near Needles for his trip across northern Arizona that same year.

The Spanish discovered Cajon Pass in 1772 when Pedro Fages, military Governor of California, was tracking a group of deserters from San Diego. Father Garces' 1776 route, with a variation through Cajon Pass, became the route of the mountain men, the fur traders, and the pack trains. In February 1831, William Wolfskill, a Kentucky trapper, traveled from the Mojave Indian villages near Needles through Cajon Pass into the San Bernardino Valley and on to Los Angeles. Alice Fisher Simpson, writing in the Centennial issue of California Highways and Public Works (September 1950), explained the importance of his trip:

Wolfskill's trip was a noteworthy one, since his course over the mountains is clearly defined. From Santa Fe to California, his route approximated more closely the trail later followed by the New Mexican caravans than did that of [earlier traders]. It might therefore be said that it was William Wolfskill who established the famous pack-train route known as the "Old Spanish Trail," used by the Santa Fe - Los Angeles caravans for nearly two decades. The Old Spanish Trail bypassed most of northern Arizona, passing through Utah instead, as had Fathers Escalante and Dominguez in 1776.

Once each year, pack trains accompanied by a heavy (sic) armed guard, made the round trip over the trail. California bound, the caravans carried blankets, Mexican woolen goods, silver and all sorts of American-made wares from St. Louis. On the return trip, the traders brought back mainly Chinese goods, silks and the like, obtained from trading vessels on the California coast. They also drove back horses and mules.

As this background suggests, the National Old Trails Road retained the concept of linking historic trails, if not the glamour of the names involved in the abandoned original routing.

On The Cumberland Road

Judge Lowe's promotion of the National Old Trails Road took him to Zanesville, Ohio, one of the cities along the route, on July 21, 1913, to deliver a speech on the history of the National Road. His purpose was to demonstrate that the Federal Government had a continuing obligation to improve the historic highway established by legislation in 1806.

He began by quoting the 1805 committee report on the bill. The report noted that rivers tend to unite the interests and promote the friendships of those along its banks, while mountains tend "to disunion and estrangement." On this basis, the report made clear the purpose of the National Road:

In the present case, to make the crooked ways straight, and the rough ways smooth will, in effect, remove the intervening mountains, and by facilitating the intercourse of our western brethren with those of the Atlantic, substantially unite them in interest, which, the committee believe, is the most effectual cement of union applicable to the human race.

In an era when river travel was more efficient than overland travel, the National Road met this goal by providing a land bridge from the Potomac River at Cumberland, Maryland, to the Ohio River at Wheeling. Given the sensitivity to the issue of States rights, the 1806 Act authorized construction of the road by the Federal Government only with the consent of the States through which it passed.

The construction authorized in the 1806 Act was financed with revenue from the sale of public land in Ohio. When Ohio was admitted as a State in 1802, a reserve fund was established consisting of 5 percent of the revenues received by the Federal Government from the sale of public lands in the State. Of the 5 percent, the government set aside 2 percent for roads leading to the State, while the remaining 3 percent was for roads in Ohio. In May 1820, a new act authorized a similar arrangement to generate revenues for extension of the road through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, where Congress intended for the road to reach the east bank of the Mississippi River.

Again in March 1825, legislation used the reserve fund method of financing a survey to extend the road through the State capitals to Jefferson City, the capital of the new State of Missouri. The road, however, stopped at Vandalia. While communities seeking to be the Mississippi River link debated the routing question, the Federal Government lost interest in the road because of the emergence of the railroad as the best means of land travel.

One alternative was to install toll booths to raise revenue for upkeep and construction, but the Federal right to collect tolls on State property was unclear. Therefore, the question was turned over to the States. In 1831 and 1832, Pennsylvania and Maryland agreed to take over the road, but only after the Federal Government put it in good repair and furnished funds for toll houses and gates. These two States had the oldest section of the National Road, dating to 1813, and it was in poor shape. Ohio and Virginia (West Virginia was part of Virginia until the Civil War) also agreed to conversion, but did not require Federal repair of the road as a condition of State takeover. Congress, by law enacted on July 3, 1832, assented to the conditions imposed by Pennsylvania and Maryland, declaring that the assent would "remain in force during the pleasure of Congress." Similar assent was given for Ohio and Virginia in March 1833. The reserve fund was again the revenue source.

Judge Lowe argued that Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri never consented to accept their portions of the road and that Congress never passed legislation turning the road over to them. Moreover, those States received only limited benefits from the reserve funds raised in their boundaries and used for the road, and Missouri received nothing more than a survey. Therefore, he said, legislation declaring it a "national highway" was not necessary in view of the prior legislation declaring it as such. Congress need only appropriate funds to rebuild, repair, and maintain the road. Under a similar concept of reserve funds, moreover, the road could be extended to the Pacific Ocean.

After discussing later legislation during the 19th century, Judge Lowe turned to proposals to provide "aid" to the States. "Congress may pile dollars heaven high, and turn it over to the States or the congressional districts," he said, and it would still not fulfill the Federal commitments under the earlier legislation:

The political reason for building national roads may not be as acute now as it was in the beginning of our great governmental experiment, but who shall say what dangers await us in the future? Who will deny the prophetic wisdom of the sages who planned this road? Who will deny the cohesive power of cementing the States by a great system of national highways? And who will lightly value the sacred promises solemnly made by the original thirteen States to induce the new territories to join the Union? Ohio has kept the faith, and for thirteen years her national road funds was appropriated beyond the borders of the State. Then she was joined in a similar compact by Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, and unitedly they built and maintained this road out of their own national road fund and thus saved the Union. They too, "kept the faith." Can the Government-can any government long survive which keeps only "Punic Faith" with its own people.

("Punic," referring to the ancient Phoenician colony in Carthage, means faithless or treacherous.)

Following publication of his speech in Better Roads, Judge Lowe informed members of the National Old Trails Road Association that "what we ask and all we ask is that the Government shall comply with and keep this agreement . . . . If the Government may refuse to build this road, then it may equally refuse the application of the money arising from the sales of the land provided for the school fund, or she may refuse any other obligation assumed, and turn any State back to its original territorial condition."

In short, he believed the government should build the national highway across the States (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri) where commitments in the 19th century legislation had not been fulfilled.

American Road Congress in Detroit

From September 29, to October 4, 1913, highway interests gathered in Detroit for the Third American Road Congress under the auspices of the American Highway Association and AAA. Better Roads described the Congress as "an epoch-making meeting in the history of good roads." The magazine added:

It was conceded on all hands that it was the greatest ever held, on this or any other continent. Greatest in attendance-more than 4,000 delegates registered-greatest in subjects discussed, and in expert intelligence displayed in their discussion-greatest in breadth and depth of patriotic endeavor to get together in an unselfish spirit of cooperative achievement.

President Wilson sent a letter regretting he could not attend "to express, at least, the very deep interest which I feel in the whole matter of adequate road building in the United States." Wilson, a dedicated motorist who enjoyed regular jaunts around the Washington area, said, "Every man who wishes to see this great country made the most of must sympathize with the efforts now being made to weave its parts together by good roads."

Charles B. Warren, representing Detroit's Board of Commerce, greeted the delegates enthusiastically. One reason, he said, for the city's interest in the American Road Congress was that Detroit's "progress and development is now largely bound up in the prosperity of the motor car industry, and these two-good highways and good motor cars-move along side by side." The city had another interest:

And Detroit is interested in this other movement-in the Lincoln Memorial Highway. It appeals to our imagination, this idea of connected, improved highway from the Atlantic to the Pacific, binding many States of the Union closer together. It appeals to our sense of patriotism that this highway should be known as the "Lincoln Highway," for the spirit and the blessed memory of that man binds this Country together as the spirit and memory of no other American who ever lived.

Logan Page told the delegates:

A mighty wave of sentiment for better roads is sweeping over the country, and already the American people have entered upon a road building era which has no parallel in all history-not even the splendid era when Rome knit together, with massive military roads, the farflung outposts of her empire, nor the century of constructive work begun by Napoleon, which has given to France the most superb system of highways in the world.

After discussing the history and benefits of road building, he explained the purpose he hoped the gathering would serve:

I wish to express the hope that the American Road Congress may become more and more an annual clearinghouse, where the best thought and practice of good roads people throughout the United States and Canada may be exchanged, and started on an endless chain-so to speak-so that we may all benefit by the progress that each is making, and by avoiding the duplication of effort, so that the costly mistakes which have marked our course in road matters for over a century may not be made again and again.

Page was followed by A. G. Batchelder, Chairman of the Executive Board of AAA. He recalled that "automobilists, once upon a time, used to half apologize for our participation in the road question." Then, they "awakened to the fact that we were the men who were using the roads more than anyone else." Next came the public complaint that the automobilists were wearing out the roads, to which Batchelder pleaded guilty:

So we said that if we use the road more than anyone else and if we wear out the roads, it is up to us to get into this road movement good and hard with our work and energy; and, furthermore, as long as we are paying a road tax to use the roads, we might as well wade in and swim in the open and struggle along with the rest of the people.

After discussing concerns about the rights of counties and States, he summarized AAA's position:

I think that the average man is willing that the State shall relieve the counties of roads that are really interstate in their use, and we simply advance another point when we say that the States themselves are going to look to the general government for a certain amount of cooperation and support in those roads that go from State to State.

Referring to Logan Page, Batchelder concluded his short address by saying that, "when we can get the representatives of our national government to participate with us on this occasion, there cannot be any other than a mighty good result."

The next speaker was Judge Lowe. The proceedings of the American Road Congress summarized his speech, which covered the history of the Cumberland Road and the National Old Trails Road Association. Then, in "a very forceful manner," he presented an argument in support of Federal involvement in road building from a constitutional standpoint by drawing attention to the "parallel question" of the tracts of land set aside by the Federal Government for railroads and the funds appropriated for the Panama Canal. According to the summary:

He then made a stirring plea for the building of great national highways by the federal government. He said, however, that he was not absolutely committed to this plan and might be converted to the plan providing that the State, county, and township, should contribute an equal amount, dollar for dollar, with the government. His reason for opposing the latter plan was the idea of retaxing the people before they would be permitted to have the benefit of the money that they had already been taxed for, contending that they should be appropriated at first hand by the federal government for the best interests of the people, the more important of which he believed to be the building of good roads.

Judge Lowe further said, "I cannot for the life of me conceive of any great difference in taking the money to build roads out of the national treasury, or out of the State treasury, or out of the county treasury, except that Uncle Sam's pocket is the deepest and biggest and the government has the power of taxation that the States and counties have not. He can replete his pocketbook very readily, the State cannot, neither can the county. Now that's the biggest pocketbook and this is our money, all the time, and I am in favor of building roads out of it . . . . If anything is written in the Book of Fate more clearly than any other it is that this government has now reached a point where it is going to take a hand and a large hand in building a system of national highways. It is sure to win, and in my judgment, to win during the life time of the next Congress, not next year, not the year after, not after we old gray-haired fellows have gotten off the stage forever, but it is going to happen in my lifetime and in yours, and we will ride in our splendid automobiles, and will travel around all over this country over a splendid system of national highways.

The general session began that afternoon, with Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston addressing "this sturdy band of highwaymen." He explained the experimental post road program Congress had approved in 1912 on a Federal-aid concept as a potential model for permanent Federal road legislation. He considered the options for meeting road needs. He began with the model favored by AAA and Judge Lowe, among many others:

The suggestion of great national transcontinental roads appeals to my imagination, as does the suggestion of interstate roads connecting capitals or cities of commercial importance to my logical faculty and to the sense of pleasure that I experience in riding about the country in my friends' automobiles.

The "essential thing," however, was to provide good roads that get products from the community farms to the railroads and "make rural life more profitable, comfortable, and pleasurable."

He recognized that the idea of Federal aid "raises grave questions and involves possible dangers." He noted that "complex problems" would have to be resolved before many States and communities could handle road building funds efficiently:

There are proposals before the public mind which would bankrupt the federal treasury and suggest possible abuses before which those of the worst pork-barrel bills of the past would pale into insignificance.

He believed that from a practical standpoint, States would be the "smallest unit with which the federal government might deal." Aside from the inefficiency of some States in road building, he recognized another concern:

The cry of centralization-that the federal government aims unduly to extend its powers, may again be raised. Yet, in a field of common interest and of inseparable activities, what could be more natural than cooperation and mutual assistance?

Still, he said, "as a practical program, I believe that this matter is one in which haste can best be slowly made." Accordingly, he praised Congress for establishing a special committee to look into the role of the Federal Government in road building. "This indicates a wholesome desire to know the facts as well as generous interest."

On September 30, the morning session was devoted to the prospect of Federal legislation. The first speaker was Congressman Shackleford. He was now Chairman of the Committee on Roads, which the House had established in July 1913. Shackleford acknowledged that the constitutional authority of the Federal Government to participate in road building was no longer in dispute. Moreover, he acknowledged that "the overwhelming majority of the people want Federal road legislation." Unfortunately, he said, "they radically differ in opinion as to what such legislation should provide."

He saw two camps, which he designated as the "touring-roads" class and the "business-roads" class. He thought that most people favored business-class roads, "but they are not here today." He explained:

They are at home sowing wheat for a harvest from which all of us must get our bread. They have neither the time nor the money to travel across the continent to attend road congresses.

Advocates of the business-class roads were marshaling their forces "under a flag which bears the legend: 'Cheaper transportation and lower cost of living.'"

Advocates of the "touring-roads" class roads were "marching under a banner upon which is inscribed in letters of gold: 'See America first.'" They were "rich automobile owners, who desire to spend a part of their leisure in touring the country." They are supported, he said, by manufacturers of road machinery and materials ". . . who regard Uncle Sam as 'good pay,' a liberal buyer, and one who would be a valuable customer if only he would embark in the business of building 'national roads.'"

He was concerned about accusations that he was "being antagonistic to automobiles and automobile interests." He denied the charge. "I am an automobilist myself and a member of an automobile club."

I do not want to see the number of automobiles in use diminish, but rapidly increase. I want to see the whole country supplied with a general system of average good roads and every farmer replace his horse and buggy with an automobile.

Nevertheless, he devoted most of his speech to a denunciation of advocates of "touring roads," who favored Federal construction of national roads. Failing that, their second choice was Federal and State cooperation in construction of cross country roads. The chief sponsors of such plans were AAA and the National Highways Association. Both organizations were dominated by men "of the highest character and ability, while the National Highways Association was dominated by "gentlemen who are, or have been, connected with the manufacture of road machinery and road materials." The leaders of both groups "have abundant leisure and unlimited resources." With their abundant resources, that have "found the fountains of publicity."

They have even been powerful enough to place before the country in an unfavorable light those who have opposed their plans. Yet, Mr. President, at the hazard of being called a "knight of the dirt roads," or a "pork-barrel Congressman," I will avail myself of this opportunity to reason with these "touring roads" advocates.

He then launched into a lengthy critique of the proposals of Charles Henry Davis and his National Highways Association, whose members included the National Old Trails Road Association and other named trail associations. "I hold in my hand a map of the United States showing the tentative location of these proposed 50,000 miles of 'national roads.'" Aside from criticizing the location of "national roads" in several States, he pointed out that Davis estimated they would cost $20,000 a mile. Shackleford explained that in a country of 2,250,000 miles of public roads, devoting large amounts of funding to 50,000 miles of "national roads" would leave 2,200,000 miles of roads unprovided for. He pointed out that the people along these "unprovided-for roads" would be taxed to build the "national roads." Using the estimate of $20,000 a mile, he estimated that the entire road system of 2,250,000 miles would cost $45 billion:

The human mind is paralyzed in contemplation of such an enormous sum. All the nations of the world could scarcely raise it.

Just building the 50,000 miles of "national roads" advocated by Davis would cost $1 billion. Considering that the Federal Government would not likely authorize more than $25 million a year, Shackleford explained that "it would require 40 years to complete the proposed 50,000 miles." By then, he said, "most of us will have died and gone to judgment. What we want is roads while we live." He considered the whole concept of "national roads" to be "a dismal delusion."

He objected to the bill pending in Congress that would establish a public highway commissioner in Washington to determine the location and method of construction and maintenance to be employed in "national road" building. One of the fundamental errors of the "aristocratic classes" is that "there is no official wisdom and capacity except in federal officers." By keeping the commissioner's office in Washington, Shackleford said the bill would ensure "he may not be influenced nor even impressed by the yearnings of the people among whom the roads should radiate."

The Congressman realized "that I am not in entire harmony with the dominant spirit of this great roads congress." He summarized the difference:

You want 50,000 miles of expensive "touring roads" to be built in forty years. I want 1,000,000 miles of "business and post roads" to be built in five years.

He appealed to them to "withdraw your opposition to a plain people's plan." His "modest" bill had passed the House, but failed in the Senate, with AAA claiming credit for the defeat ("How that was accomplished has not been revealed"). He called on the delegates to let his plan go forward:

It will not be expensive, and a vast majority of the people favor it. Get out of the way and let us try it out. If it fails, then we can take up one of your more ambitious schemes.

He concluded: Won't you "come over and help us?"

Convention chairman George Diehl, chairman of AAA's Good Roads Bureau, responded in some detail to Congressman Shackleford, beginning:

I know to us motorists, especially the poor ones, like myself, it is very pleasing to be put in the plutocratic class . . . . I love to close my eyes as he talks and see myself swimming in millions and reveling in luxury and splendor.
Congressman William Borland.  Click for larger version of photo.
Congressman William Borland
Click on image for larger version

When the turn came for Congressman Borland to address the delegates, he said it was fortunate that he did so because "it may clear away from your minds some misapprehension that we have only one idea of roads out there in Missouri, and that is Judge Shackleford's idea." Borland explained that he did not own an automobile "and therefore I am not in this plutocratic class," but that in his district, more automobiles are owned by farmers than any other class of citizens. If he agreed with Shackleford that road building is "purely a local enterprise," he would not be at the convention:

If this be purely a local enterprise and amply and thoroughly handled by local initiative, then there is no justification for federal aid in any form. If the uniformity, efficiency, economy, scientific perfection, utilization of advanced ideas of construction and maintenance, if, in other words, the reduction of things to a business basis, is not necessary, then there is no justification for our acting in larger bodies.

Borland stressed that each part of the country is dependent on the other. He had heard people from New York City complain, "Why should the nation lay its hands upon the wealth accumulated in the City of New York and build roads in Missouri and Montana?" Borland explained:

And I tell them that the principle is precisely the same, that they lay hands upon the wealth of Buffalo and New York City to build roads in the interior counties of New York. The wealth that is centered in the great, glittering metropolis of this wealthy nation of ours, was not produced upon the barren streets and squares of the metropolis; it came from the rural sections, and the more of it that comes from the rural sections, the greater will New York be.

The experimental Federal-aid post road program, he said, illustrated the difficulty. It required the State to contribute two-thirds of the cost, he said, and in the end, only a few States were able to participate. (In Missouri, he said, the Governor "had the nerve to go contrary to someone's opinion," and chose a section of the cross-State highway, but neither the State nor Jefferson County was able to match the Federal funds, so the money was withdrawn.)

He spoke of the expertise gathered by Logan Page and the U.S. Office of Public Roads "at public expense to put into the hands of the people." He added:

But if you want to build a Chinese wall around your road district, let your little road boss find out for himself what are the scientific requirements for maintaining permanently and efficiently good roads in your neighborhood. We want better roads and the only way to get them is to get economy and efficiency in the management.

The American Road Congress, he said, was a meeting of business men. "If you believed that your road district was solving the problem, you would not be here, not a man of you." If, instead, delegates believe wealth accumulating in the cities should be used for "the development of the country," then one day, "you will find that the old Stars and Stripes will wave from ocean to ocean, over the grandest, best civilization that the world has ever seen."

Judge Lowe addressed the convention again on October 2, during the morning Road Users Session. He expressed concern about wearing out his welcome, since he had addressed the delegates during the first day and was scheduled to speak again the following day. He restated his view that if the Federal Government can support railroads and rivers and harbor bills, it could, and should, build roads. He acknowledged that some Members of Congress take offense at being called "pork barrel statesmen." But he contrasted the idea of how much mileage could be built by the Federal Government versus putting the same amount of money "into the pockets of a lot of road officials for political purposes."

Now that is it exactly, brother. I am a conservative of the conservatives, yet they talk about me being a radical, every once in a while. Mr. Shackleford says that in five years he proposes to build a million miles of road with the national revenues. What does that mean? At $10,000 a mile, that means an appropriation of $10,000,000,000 in five years, $2,000,000,000 annually. That means, if it means anything, absolute national bankruptcy. Why, there is not a government on earth that could stand such a scheme. Now, that is enough to say about that; I dismiss him and dismiss his idea and consign him, together with the Congressmen who stand by him-and I know most of them-to that oblivion which he has so richly merited.

He told the delegates that he had stopped using the term national aid or Federal aid because it was "the most wretchedly misleading proposition under the shining sun." He explained:

Now let us stop talking about national aid and let us go to the government and say, "Build a system of national highways and maintain such system." That is the correct doctrine.

The following day, during the final session of the American Road Congress, Judge Lowe was called on for a few final remarks. It was a brief talk, in which he said, in part:

I do not know when I first began attending road conventions, but I have never attended a road convention that impressed me with its intelligence, its deep and abiding earnestness and its all round intelligence as this convention has done. I believe it is the greatest road convention ever held in this country. I will except Europe and the foreign countries because I have not had the pleasure . . . of attending conventions in those countries, but this convention has certainly set the pace, and I cannot, for the life of me, imagine how it is going to be possible for the next Congress to avoid taking a definite position on the question of national roads.

The American Road Congress adopted several resolutions, including the following:

That the American Road Congress earnestly favors the creation of a national department of public works, directed by a secretary, who should be a member of the President's cabinet.

That the American Road Congress favors State highway commissions and State aid for the construction and maintenance of the main roads of the several States.

That the American Road Congress favors the establishment of a national road system, and favors the construction by the States, counties, and towns of the lateral and connecting market highways.

That the American Road Congress commends the Lincoln Highway Association for its efforts in seeking the establishment by popular subscription of a transcontinental highway as an enduring and useful memorial to Abraham Lincoln, and further commends the National Old Trails Association for its splendid work in the rebuilding of the Cumberland Road and the Santa Fe Trail.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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