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Erie Canal, the,

The greatest work of internal improvement constructed in the United States previous to the Pacific Railway. It connects the waters of the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean by way of the Hudson River. It was contemplated by General Schuyler and Elkanah Watson, but was first definitely proposed by Gouverneur Morris, at about the beginning of the nineteenth century. Various writers put forth essays upon the subject, among them De Witt Clinton, who became its most notable champion. The project took such shape that, in 1810, canal commissioners were appointed, with Gouverneur Morris at their head. In 1812 Clinton, with others, was appointed to lay the project before the national Congress, and solicit the aid of the national government. Fortunately the latter declined to extend its patronage to the great undertaking. The War of 1812-15 put the matter at rest for a while. That war made the transportation of merchandise along our sea-coasts perilous, and the commercial intercourse between seaboard cities was carried on in a larger degree by wheeled vehicles. For this purpose Conestoga wagons were used between New York and Philadelphia, and when one of these made the journey of 90 miles in three days, with passengers, it was called “the flying-machine.” It has been estimated that the amount of increased expense by this method of [253] transportation of merchandise for the coast region alone would have paid the cost of a system of internal navigation from Maine to Georgia.

The want of such a system was made clear to the public mind, especially to the

Locks on the Erie Canal.

population then gathering in the Western States. Then Mr. Clinton, more vigorously than ever, pressed upon the public attention the importance of constructing the projected canal. He devoted his wonderful energies to the subject, and in a memorial of the citizens of New York, prepared by him, he produced such a powerful argument in its favor that not only the people of his native State, but of other States, approved it. The national government would do nothing in the matter, and the State of New York resolved to construct the canal alone. Clinton was made governor in 1816, and used all his official and private influence in favor of the enterprise. He saw it begun during his first administration. The first excavation was made July 4, 1817, and it was completed and formally opened by him, as chief magistrate of the State, in 1825, when a grand aquatic procession from Albany proceeded to the sea, and the governor poured a keg of the water of Lake Erie into the Atlantic Ocean. The canal was constructed at a cost of $7, 602,000. Untold wealth has been won for the State and the city of New York by its [254] operations, directly and indirectly. Over its bosom have floated the products of the Northwestern States and Territories, valued at billions of dollars. Up to 1901 the canal had cost for construction, enlargement, other improvements, and maintenance $52,540,800.

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