In the first chapter of “The Artificial River” by Carol Sheriff, Sheriff describes how The Founding Fathers came into a dispute over a canal being built that would run from the Hudson to Lake Erie. Although Sheriff does mention the negative ideas of the canal she turns it around by saying how the canal could help the nation at large. There were multiple ideas brought up about the canal in earlier years because they saw that the creation of Earth had mountains with canyons running through, hills that could be excavated down, and flat land that could benefit from the canal. Sheriff does bring up that the problem with past ideas of creating the canal is that America at the time did not have the technology to build this canal. In 1810 a joint resolution of the New York legislature appointed the first group of seven commissioners to oversee the states canal-building. The seven commissioners were all prominent and wealthy New Yorkers who had an eye toward representing each of the era’s political factions. At this point the two political factions were Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton, who supported a strong central government that would help sponsor commercial expansion, industrial and urban development, and international trade. The other would be considered Democratic-Republicans, like Jefferson and Madison, who favored placing powers in the hands of the states and limiting any role the federal government might play in commercial development. Whichever method of economic growth they preferred the first generation of national leaders recognized internal improvements. In 1817 DeWitt Clinton’s Canal Bill passed which was to fill its treasury from a variety of sources: loans, repaid toll venues, donations, lotteries, and taxes. Taxes were designed to ensure that those who benefited most from the canal would contribute the greatest amount of building and maintaining it. The Canal Bill divided the canal into three sections but only provided construction for the part between the Mohawk and the Seneca River.
The purpose of writing of writing this chapter was to inform the reader an introduction to the troubles that politicians and normal working class faced due to the idea of constructing the canal. Most people learned that the Erie Canal was suddenly built fast with no troubles or hard ships faced. It described where the money came from to build the canal, which would benefit greatly from the canal, and also starts to describe the environment that the canal would be built through. Sheriff described that the process of building the canal but wouldn’t be done without the support of people in the surrounding areas.
After our in class discussion I was able to get a better understanding on why the canal was able to start being built. A flour merchant named Jesse Hawley wrote fourteen essays outlining a system for waterways that by using Lake Erie’s Resources would transform New York’s landscape, settlement, and commerce. I learned that the people who benefit most out of this canal would be investors and politicians who invested into making the canal and traders that lived on the banks of the canal. The creation of the canal created an urban working class that worked for low wages and had poor living conditions. This working class would mostly consist of young single Irish or Welsh men. During the excavation of the canal tons of undocumented worker lives were lost.
The canal supports believed that the social decay associated with rapid market growth could be avoided all together in America’s interior and reformed in its ports because the US was destined for greatness. The canal would also cut the price of trading in the US interior by a great amount.