Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

Columns

May 18, 2013

CANAL DISCOVERIES: Who will pay?

(Continued)

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The Canal Commission was indeed patriotic, but they were also practical. The question was asked at every meeting – who will pay for the canal? The federal government was the most logical choice. The entire country would benefit from a project of this magnitude. Others felt that the neighboring states should certainly contribute; as they too would reap the benefits the canal would offer.

But, the other states were emphatic in their refusal to assist. They offered polite encouragement and said it was a fine New York project that should be paid for by New Yorkers. Likewise, President Thomas Jefferson said that there was no basis in law for the federal government assisting an individual state with a canal project. He thought the canal was one hundred years ahead of its time, and even if the federal government had been able to fund the project, it surely would put the nation in bankruptcy. He dismissed the canal with a stinging rebuttal: β€œIt is little short of madness to think of it at this time!”

The War of 1812 put all thoughts of the Erie Canal on hold. Fighting a war, again so soon, with England, had tremendous financial consequences. There was no money to spend on internal improvements. There were no men to dig the canal, either.

However, by 1817 talks resumed, pro and con, for the construction of the Erie Canal. The War of 1812 demonstrated to citizens that they needed a transportation network that was free from any British influence, because many people felt our country would surely go to war again.

By 1816, the financial details were still far from decided and DeWitt Clinton tried to brace weary New Yorkers for the worst. He told them if a canal were to be dug in New York, then New York citizens would have to dig into their own pocketbooks first. Taxes would be needed - not just $5 million, but now $6 million was the estimate.

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