*** American history Erie Canal

American History: The Erie Canal (1817-25)

Erie Canal
Figure 1.--The Erie Canal is one of the most important construction projects in American history. Boys were not involved to any extent in the heavy and often dangerous mannuel labor to build the Canal. They were involved in virtually every aspect of the Canal after itv was bulyt. They helped hanfle the mules that pulled the canal boats. They helping out on the boats, at the locktender's house, and other jobs. And of ciurse they were part of the families headed west as pasangers. This would be the easiest way of moving west.

The Erie Canal is one of the most important construction projects in American history. America is uniquely gifted with an inland water system second to none in the world. This was of central importance in the economic development of the United States. America had a huge problem. The population was bottled up along the Atlantic coast by the Appalachian Mountains. Since the dawn of civilization, transport was dominated by maritime shipping, rivers and seas. This was simple physics. The friction associated with land transport was vastly greater than maritime transport. This meant that much more energy had to be expended in land transport than than river transport, in commercial terms this meant that it was prohibitively expensive to move good from the Atlantic seaboard to the vast interior of North America as well as western farmers to move goods east. There were no riverine connections. The Hudson River went north into the interior, but not west across the Appalachians. This was a major impediment to westward expansion. The population was in the East, but the land and resources to be developed were in the West. (The West at the time was east of the Mississippi.) The Erie Canal solved that problem. at least in the North. It was a man-made waterway stretching 363 miles across western New York State connecting Albany on the Hudson River to Lake Erie at Buffalo. This meant a riverine connection from the Atlantic port of New York City to the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes were of coutse a waterway into the heart of North America. After Congress refused to fund it, the State of New York approved the needed funds. Construction began (1817). It was 40 feet wide, but only 4 feet deep, all that was needed to accommodate flat-bottom boats. There were 83 locks and 18 aqueducts along its route to reach over the Appalachians. Benjamin Wright and other engineers pioneered innovations in construction: cement, dredging, drilling, and blasting. It was all accomplished by hand labor, a large part of it by immigrant Irish labor. It was an extraordinary undertaking, testing the financial resources of the fledgling American Republic. It was finally completed (1825). This transformed trade and commerce. Before the Canal, the only way that western farmers could sell their grain was to convert it to whiskey which could be more easily transported. When the Federal Government tried to tax it, the result was the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania (1791). In response George Washington, whose Mount Vernon plantation operated the largest whiskey distillery in the country, took up arms again for the final time. He personally led a U.S. Army force across the Appalachian Mountains to confront the irate farmers. There was no battle, the farmers simply dispersed. After all, even moonshiners were not going to go to war against George Washington. With the Canal, freight rates fell 90 percent and Western farmers for the first time had access to eastern markets. It became economical for western farmers to ship the grain east. New York was transformed into the country's most important port and the country's financial center. New York became the Empire State. The Canal provided an easy path west for settlers and was a key step in populating and opening up the resources of the the Upper Midwest. The Erie Canal was an important part of Henry Clay's American System. And helped lay the foundation for the American Industrial Revolution and the rise of the United States as an industrial powerhouse. The Erie Canal would soon be largely replaced by the railroads, but the few decades before that happened was crucial in American history. The Erie Canal was central to the economic development of the the northern states, especially the Great Lake states. If that had not occurred when it did, the North would not have had the industrial power to overwheaklm the southern Confederacy in the Civil War.


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Created: 6:29 AM 5/31/2024
Last updated: 7:24 PM 5/31/2024