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will not unsparingly distribute the epithets, absurd, ridiculous, chimerical, on the estimate of what it may produce. The commissioners must, nevertheless, have the hardihood to brave the sneers and sarcasms of men, who, with too much pride to study and too much wit to think, undervalue what they do not understand, and condemn what they can not comprehend.” The commissioners, imbued with the spirit of philosophic prophecy, add: “The life of an individual is short. The time is not distant when those who make this report will have passed away. But no term is fixed to the existence of a state; and the first wish of a patriot's heart is that his own may be immortal. But, whatever limit may have been assigned to the duration of New York, by those eternal decrees which established the heavens and the earth, it is hardly to be expected that she will be blotted from the list of political societies before the effects here stated shall have been sensibly felt. And even when, by the flow of that perpetual stream which bears all human institutions away, our constitution shall be dissolved and our laws be lost, still the descendants of our children's children will remain. The same mountains will stand, the same rivers run. New moral combinations will be formed on the old physical foundations; and through the extended line of remote posterity, after a lapse of two thousand years, and the ravage of repeated revolutions. when the records of history shall have been obliterated, and the tongue of tradition have converted (as in China) the shadowy remembrance of ancient events into childish tales of miracle, this national work shall remain, bearing testimony to the genius, the learning, the industry and intelligence of the present age.”
Passing the advantages which the state must derive from opening a scene so vast to the incessant activity of her citizens, the commissioners discussed and proved her fiscal ability to complete the enterprise. Impressed with the same expansive views which were exhibited in the first efforts of the legislature in 1792, the commissioners adverted to the proposed connection of Lake Champlain with the IIudson river, as one which would certainly tend to preserve brotherly affection in the great American family, and through the reciprocal advantages it would afford to New York and Vermont, would strengthen the bonds of our union with the eastern states.
On the 19th of June, 1812, a law was enacted, reappointing the commissioners, and authorizing them to borrow money and deposite it in the treasury, and to take cessions of land, but prohibiting any measures to construct the canals.
In the senate, James W. Wilkin, of Orange county, moved to reject the bill. The motion was lost, fifteen to eleven. The assembly divided on the first section, which contained the principle of the bill, and it was sustained by a vote of fifty-one to forty-two. On its return to the senate, with an amendment, Erastus Root, of Delaware, moved to postpone the consideration of the amendment until the next session, which would have been equivalent to rejecting the bill. This motion received thirteen votes, while sixteen were recorded against it.
From 1812 to 1815, the country snffered the calamities of war, and projects of internal improvement necessarily gave place to the patriotic efforts required to maintain the national security and honor. But those plans were not altogether forgotten, at least by those who distrusted their wisdom. Although there was much incredulity in regard to the Erie canal, during all the period which we have been considering, yet the design met little or no opposition, so long as it was supposed that the necessary expenditures would be made by the federal government. But a severe scrutiny was encountered, when it was avowed that the means for accomplishing so large a work must be derived from taxation, or from the use of the public credit. Erastus Root, in 1813, submitted a resolution, by which the commissioners were to be called upon for a further report of their proceedings. The commissioners, in their report of 1814, reaffirmed their confidence in the feasibility of the enterprise, and adverted to the facilities which would be found for extending the communication to the valleys watered by the Susquehannah and its branches, whence they inferred that Pennsylvania would, at a proper time, co-operate in the enterprise. The commissioners also announced that grants of land would be made by the Holland Company of 100,632 acres; by Le Roy Bayard and M‘Evers, of 2,500 acres; by the heirs of the Pulteney estate, a large tract; and by Gorernor Hornby, 3,500 acres. These cessions were ultimately realized, with a liberal donation from Gideon Granger.
Mr. Root introduced a bill into the senate, which two days afterward passed that body, repealing so much of the act then in force as authorized the commissioners to borrow five millions of dollars. This repeal was a virtual abandonment of the policy of internal improvements. The divisions in the assembly show a majority of eighteen in favor of the repeal; and in the senate the majority was eight. In 1816, at the close of the war, Daniel D. Tompkins, governor, in his annual speech, submitted, for the consideration of the legislature, the expediency of prosecuting the canals. Citizens in various parts of the state, and especially in New York, Albany, and Troy, and in the towns and counties situated in the vicinity of the proposed routes, now earnestly applied for vigorous measures to accomplish the objects so long delayed. Among these petitions was a memorial by inhabitants of the city of New York, from the pen of De Witt Clinton.
The memorialists declared, that since the object was connected with the essential interests of the country, and calculated in its commencement to reflect honor on the state, and in its completion to exalt it to an elevation of unparalleled prosperity, they were fully persuaded that centuries might pass away before a subject would be again presented so worthy of all the attention of the legislature, and so deserving of all its patronage and support; that the improvement of intercourse between different parts of the same country, had always been considered the first duty, and the most noble employment of government; that canals united cheapness, celerity, certainty, and safety, in the transportation of commodities; that they operated upon the general interests of society in the same way as machines for saving labor in manufactures; and, as to all the purposes of beneficial communication, they diminished the distances between places, and therefore encouraged the cultivation of the most remote parts of the country; that they created new sources of internal trade, and augmented the old channels, thus tending to enlarge old and erect new towns, increase individual and aggregate wealth, and extend foreign commerce. The memorialists attributed the prosperity of ancient Egypt and China to their inland navigation, and expressed the opinion that England and Holland, if deprived of their canals, would lose the most prolific sources of their prosperity and greatness. Inland navigation, they said, was to the same community what exterior navigation was to the great family of mankind; and that as the ocean connected the nations of the earth by the ties of commerce and the benefits of communication, so did lakes, rivers, and canals, operate upon the inhab
itants of the same country. Applying these general arguments in favor of inland navigation, they showed that a great chain of mountains passed through the territory of the United States, and divided it into eastern and western America; that the former, on account of the priority of its settlement, its vicinity to the ocean, and its favorable position for commerce, had many advantages, while the latter had a decided superiority in the fertility of its soil, the benignity of its climate, and the extent of its territory; that to connect those great sections by inland navigation, to unite our Mediterranean seas with the ocean, was evidently an object of the first importance to the general prosperity; that the Hudson river offered superior advantages for effecting this connection, because it afforded a tide navigation through the Blue ridge or eastern chain of mountains, and ascended above the eastern termination of the Catskill or great western chain, and that no mountains interposed between it and the great western lakes, while the tide in no other river or bay in the United States ascended higher than the Granite ridge, or within thirty miles of the Blue ridge. After showing the importance of the Hudson as a natural channel of trade, one hundred and seventy miles in length, the petitioners showed that the canal would be virtually an extension of that channel three hundred miles through a fertile country, embracing a great population, and abounding with all the productions of industry; and they asked, if this work was so important when viewed in relation to this state alone, how unspeakably beneficial must it appear when the contemplation should be extended to the great lakes, and the country that surrounded them; waters extending two thousand miles, and a country containing more territory than all Great Britain and Ireland, and at least as much as France. After demonstrating that New Orleans and Montreal were the only formidable rivals of New York for the great prize of the western trade, and showing the advantages in that competition which New York would derive from the proposed Erie canal, a glowing view of its prospective benefits was presented. Leaving to her rivals no inconsiderable portion of the western trade, New York, said the memorialists, would engross more than sufficient to render her the greatest commercial city in the world. The whole line of the canal would exhibit boats loaded with the various productions of our soil, and with merchandise from all parts of the world; great manufaeturing establishments would spring up; agriculture would establish its granaries, and commerce its warehouses, in all directions ; villages, towns, and cities, would line the banks of the canal and the shores of the Hudson from Erie to New York; the wilderness and the solitary place would become glad, and the desert would blossom as the rose.
The petitioners then presented the superior advantages of a continuous canal from the Hudson to Lake Erie, over one which would terminate at Lake Ontario, with a passage between that lake and Lake Erie around the falls of Niagara. They then showed that the work might be completed by the use of the credit of the state, provision being made to pay the interest on the money borrowed until the canal should become productive of revenue. They urged with earnestness the immediate commencement of the work. Delays, said they, are the refuge of weak minds; and to procrastinate on this occasion is to show a culpable inattention to the bounties of nature, a total insensibility to the blessings of Providence, and an inexcusable neglect of the interests of society. If, they added, it were intended to advance the views of individuals, or to foment the divisions of party; if the scheme promoted the interests of a few at the expense of the prosperity of many; if its benefits were limited as to place, or fugitive as to duration, then indeed it might be received with cold indifference, or treated with stern neglect; but the overflowing blessing from this great fountain of public good and national abundance, would be as extensive as oħr country, and as durable as time.
The petitioners enforced their eloquent appeal for an immediate commencement of the enterprise, by the considerations that it could not be prosecuted at any future time with less expense; that the longer it was delayed, the greater would be the difficulty in surmounting the interests which would rise up in opposition; that there was an urgent necessity for immediately diminishing the expense of transportation; that it would raise the value of the national domain, and thus cause the speedy extinguishment of the national debt and a diminution of taxes, leaving a considerable source of revenue to be expended in other works of improvement, in encouraging the arts and sciences, in patronizing the operations of industry, in fostering the inventions of genius, and in diffusing the blessings of knowledge;