Monday, February 13, 2023

A significant economic development project....

     Abraham Lincoln, his best friend Joshua Speed later recalled, said that his highest ambition at the time "was to become the DeWitt Clinton of Illinois."  Clinton, the sixth governor of New York, was the driving force behind the first great American infrastructure project, perhaps the most consequential until the Interstate Highway System - the Erie Canal.  Clinton saw this project as a means of preventing states in the West from detaching themselves from the Union.  The canal would "bind the union together by indissoluble ties" because the people would be "habituated to frequent intercourse and beneficial inter-communication," and all Americans would be "bound together by the golden ties of commerce and the adamantine chains of interest."  The canal, also, and inadvertently, helped to bring down the old order in Europe.  By bringing cheap wheat from America's Great Plains, the canal struck at the roots of Europe's landed aristocracy.  Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York chauvinist, delighted in saying that the canal did more than Europe's socialist movements did to upend Europe's class structure.  Such are the unanticipated caroms of economic forces when they are allowed the freedom to flow.

- George F. Will, The Conservative Sensibility

Editor's note:   Calling Will (or DeWitt Clinton) on some bullshit here.  For all his high-minded talk, one suspects Clinton's real motive was to move goods from Ohio, via the canal and the linked waterways, through the Port of New York.  Prior to the canal, Philadelphia was the leading port and economic driver.  After the canal, that title moved to New York City.

On a related note, the Age of the Canal was very brief - maybe thirty years,  The coming of the railroads, a far more important and consequential "infrastructure project," put the canals out of business fairly quickly.  

No comments:

Post a Comment