To the casual observer he might have seemed an interesting choice.
Slow to speak, a deliberate thinker, Stanford was characterized
by a plodding nature that repeatedly vexed his railroad partners.
However he relished public life, and it was in this capacity
that he best served the Central Pacific. As the board of directors
took form in 1860, Stanford headed east to lobby for the venture
and gain partisan support for his gubernatorial bid. Among Stanford's
contacts was president-elect and fellow Republican Abraham Lincoln.
Upon Stanford's return to Sacramento in summer 1861, the directors
met to name officers. Stanford appointed Theodore Judah and
Doc Strong as nominating committee, and, perhaps swayed by his
political gravity, they in turn named Stanford president. It
was a slight to company mastermind Huntington, who had to settle
for vice president -- and the beginning of bad blood that estranged
him from Stanford and drove Judah away from the Central Pacific.
On January 8, 1863, Governor Stanford broke ground to inaugurate
the Central Pacific's construction. Crowds cheered him that
day, but bad choices cost Stanford his governor's office by
the end of his first term. Characteristic was his May decision
to appoint business partner E. B. Crocker to the California
Supreme Court. It was a temporary appointment containing no
real conflict of interest, but it looked bad, and caused the
governor to lose ground among supporters. Political position
had allowed him to funnel state money to the railroad; free
from the responsibilities of office, Stanford turned his full
attention to railroad duties. However, the president seemed
to have trouble motivating himself, leaving the exhausting tasks
to his compatriots. When he made decisions on their behalf,
the results often sent the Associates scrambling. In 1868 he
signed a million-dollar draft without their consultation, making
the company captive to the Bank of California. It sent Hopkins
into a tailspin. "If it didn't suit Governor Stanford's
lazy way as a good fellow doing a large business with clever
fellows in a clever manner, it would please me very much better,"
he complained to Huntington.
to the Mormons
Stanford proved of use to the company in the Utah, where he
acted as emissary to the Mormons and kept an eye on the competing
Union Pacific. In early 1868, as the Central Pacific pushed
out of the mountains, the Associates feared they had made a
mistake by not keeping a delegate in the camp of Brigham Young.
Stanford, the diplomat among them, seemed the person to send.
By August of that year he had reached an agreement with Young
providing Mormon laborers for Central Pacific grading work.
Stanford's characteristic silence and reticent pace repeatedly
tried his partners' patience. "We have not heard from Stanford
in ten days," Charles Crocker fumed to Huntington. "Don't
know what he is doing. I guess nothing -- in fact I never knew
him to do much himself -- he is awful lazy & never attends
to details -- wants somebody to come along afterward & stop
the leaks & do the work." What reconnaissance he did
report further harried them. His correspondence contained hare-brained
schemes for piercing the canyons and ever-changing speculations
of the line's potential location that frustrated the Associates'
land-grabbing designs. However, Stanford's partners were sometimes
too quick to anger at his work. Stanford's appraisal of Union
Pacific's rapid progress, though frustrating, was accurate,
as he later by proved to Huntington by escorting him across
Utah Territory to see for himself.
To his colleagues, Stanford's partnership was a source of constant
consternation; to Huntington, his role as figurehead a plain
insult. Tensions continued to mount after the successes of 1869,
as Stanford repeatedly dipped into company holdings to fund
construction of palatial homes and the chartering of a private
institution. Huntington derided the latter project as "the
circus." But Leland Stanford Junior University, named in
honor of the cherished son Stanford lost to typhoid in 1884,
ensured the most famous of the Big Five a legacy that long outlasted
those of his Associates.