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   Chapter 17 INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS AND FOREIGN TRADE

Rise of the New West, 1819-1829 By Frederick Jackson Turner Characters: 17988

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


(1825-1829)

What Adams had nearest at heart in his administration was the construction of a great system of roads and canals, irrespective of local interests, for the nation as a whole. [Footnote: Wheeler, Hist. of Cong., II., 154; Adams, Memoirs, VII., 59, VIII., 444; cf. chap, xiii., above.] To "exalt the valleys and lay low the mountains and the hills" appealed to his imagination. He hoped that the increased price of the public lands, arising from the improved means of communication, would in turn furnish a large and steadily increasing fund for national turnpikes and canals. But the American people were not anxious for a system of scientific administration, either of the public domain or of internal improvements. Although Benton could not secure sufficient support to carry his measure for graduating the price of the public lands and donating those which found no purchasers at fifty cents an acre, [Footnote: Meigs, Benton, 165-172.] he voiced, nevertheless, a very general antagonism to the management of the domain by the methods of the counting- house. Nor was the president able to control legislation on internal improvements. The report of the engineers appointed under the general survey act of 1824 provided for the development of the routes of national importance. [Footnote: State Papers, 18 Cong., 2 Sess., V., Doc. 83 (February 14, 1825); cf. ibid., 19 Cong., 2 Sess., II., Ex. Doc. No. 10 (December 7, 1826).] But local interests and the pressure of corporations eager to receive federal subscriptions to their stock quickly broke down the unity of the system.

The Senate declined to take action on a resolution introduced December 20, 1825, by Senator Van Buren, of New York, which denied Congress the power to make roads and canals within the respective states, and proposed a constitutional amendment for the grant of the power under limitations. [Footnote: Register of Debates, 19 Cong., 1 Sess., II., pt. i., 20; Ames, Amendments of the Fed. Const. (Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1896), 71, 261.] Provision had been made in 1825 for extending the Cumberland Road from Wheeling to Zanesville, Ohio, and for surveys through the other states of the northwest to Missouri, and appropriations were annually made for the road, until by 1833 it was completed as far as Columbus, Ohio. Nevertheless, that highway was rapidly going to destruction, and a counter project, ultimately successful, was already initiated for relinquishing the road to the states through which it passed. [Footnote: Young, Cumberland Road, chap. vii.; Hulbert, Historic Highways, X.]

Over two and a third million dollars was appropriated for roads and harbors during the administration of John Quincy Adams, as against about one million during the administrations of all of his predecessors combined. Acting on the line of least constitutional resistance opened by Monroe, when he admitted the right of appropriation for internal improvements, though not the right of construction or jurisdiction, extensive appropriations were made for roads and canals and for harbors on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. Far from accepting Adams's ideal of a scientific general system irrespective of local or party interests, districts combined with one another for local favors, corporations eagerly sought subscriptions for their canal stock, and the rival political parties bid against each other for the support of states which asked federal aid for their roads and canals.

By the middle of this administration the popularity of internal improvement appropriations seemed irresistible, although southern states raised their voices against it and complained bitterly that they were neglected. The example of the Erie Canal, which was open by 1825, seemed to furnish proof of the success that awaited state canal construction. States were learning that English capital was ready for investment in such undertakings and that Congress could donate lands and subscribe for stock.

By acts of 1825 and 1826, Pennsylvania initiated its extensive state system of roads and canals to reach the Ohio, the central part of New York, and the Great Lakes. [Footnote: Hulbert, Historic Highways, XIII., chap, iv.; Worthington, Finances of Pennsylvania, 22.] The trunk line of this system united Philadelphia with Pittsburgh by a horse railway to Columbia on the Susquehanna, thence by a canal along that river and its tributary, the Juniata, to Hollidaysburg, where stationary engines carried the freight over a series of inclined planes across the thirty-six miles of mountains, to reach the western section of the canal at Johnstown on the Conemaugh, and so by the Allegheny to Pittsburgh. Sectional jealousies delayed the work, and piled up a debt incurred partly for branch canals in various parts of the state; but by 1830 over four hundred miles of canal had been built in Pennsylvania and five hundred more projected. Not until 1835 was the trunk line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh fully in operation, however, and in the decade after 1822 the total expenditure for internal improvements in the state amounted to nearly twenty-six million dollars, of which over ten millions was contributed by individual subscription. But the steam railroad proved too strong a competitor, the state was plunged too deeply in debt, and it was not many years before the public works were sold, and the era of the corporation opened.

Meanwhile the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal project [Footnote: Hulbert, Historic Highways, XIII., chap, iii.; Ward, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Johns Hopkins Univ. Studies, XVII.)] had gained great impetus under the efforts of those who wished to turn the tide of western commerce to the Potomac River. The innate difficulties of the task, even more than the opposition of Baltimore, rendered abortive the efforts of the Potomac Company to make the river navigable above tide-water. But in 1823 public interest in Virginia and Maryland was aroused by the plan of a great canal to run alongside of the Potomac to its upper streams, and thence to connect with the Monongahela or Youghiogheny in order to reach the Ohio. At a convention which met in Washington in the fall of 1823, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia were largely represented by delegates enthusiastic over this new highway to the west. Even Baltimore acquiesced in the undertaking after a provision giving the right to tap the canal by a branch to that city, so that her western trade should not be diverted to the Potomac cities.

By 1826 the company was duly chartered by Virginia and Maryland; Pennsylvania's consent was also obtained; and the financiering of the enterprise seemed feasible by joint subscription to the stock by Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the federal government. Under the general survey act of 1824, the route was surveyed, including an extension to Lake Erie by way of a canal from the Ohio. But when, in 1826, the board of engineers published its estimate of the cost of the canal, it was seen that the larger plans were doomed, for the total cost was placed at over twenty-two million dollars. This was practically prohibitive, for the whole capital stock of the Chesapeake and Ohio Company was only six millions. Congress made a million-dollar subscription to the stock of the company, but only the eastern section of the canal could be begun; the completion of navigation between the coal-fields on the upper Ohio and Cumberland on the Potomac must be postponed.

Baltimore's interest in the grand design of canal communication between that city and Pittsburgh quickly disappeared. Nearer to the Ohio Valley than any other seaport, she had built turnpikes to connect with the national road, and thus shared with Philadelphia the western trade. But now New York and Pennsylvania were undertaking canal systems which were certain in the long run to destroy the advantages of Baltimore. In desperation, her far-sighted and courageous merchants inaugurated the plan of a railroad across the mountains to the Ohio, grasping the idea that as the canal had shown its superiority over the turnpike, so this new device would win the day over the canal. In 1827 and 1828 charters for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were granted by Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

At Washington, on July 4, 1828, President Adams stripped off his coat, amid the cheers of the crowd, and thrust the spade into the ground in signal of the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal; but on the same day a rival celebration was in progress at Baltimore, where the venerable signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, placed the foundation- stone to commemorate the commencement of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, first of the iron bonds between the east and the west. When Adams thus won the plaudits of the people for his evidence of ability to break the conventions of polite society and use a laborer's tool, it was perhaps the only tim

e that he and democracy came into sympathetic touch. But he was aiding in a losing cause, for, though Carroll was a man of the past, destiny was working on the side of the movement which he represented. In the field of transportation, the initiative of individuals and of corporations during the next two generations proved superior to that of state or nation.

In the mean time, Ohio, eager to take advantage of the competition of these rival routes from New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, and wishing to develop the central region of the state, undertook in 1825 a state system of canals connecting the Ohio with Lake Erie. [Footnote: Morris, Internal Improvement in Ohio (Am. Hist. Assoc., Papers, III.), 107; see also McClelland and Huntington, Ohio Canals.] The Ohio Canal began at Portsmouth and followed the valleys of the Scioto and the Cuyahoga to Cleveland, while another canal extended from Cincinnati along the Miami to Dayton. By branches connecting with the Pennsylvania system, this net-work of water-ways was intended to give alternative outlets for the rapidly growing surplus of the state. Wheat which sold for from twenty-five to thirty-seven cents per bushel in central Ohio in 1825 brought double the amount in 1832 when the canal began to be effective; and it sold for a higher price a hundred miles west of Pittsburgh than it did sixty miles to the east of that city, where water transportation was lacking. [Footnote: Quar. Jour. of Econ., XVII., 15; Dial, in Ohio Archaeological and Hist. Soc., Publications, XIII., 479.] An example of the rivalry of the followers of Adams and of Jackson in conciliating western interests is furnished in the case of Ohio, just prior to the campaign of 1828, when each party in Congress persisted in supporting its own bill donating lands for the canals of that state. Owing to the fear of each that the other party would gain the credit of the measure, both bills were passed, and Ohio received double the amount originally asked. [Footnote: Benton, Abridgment, X., 197 n.] It was small wonder that Indiana, Illinois, and other western states memorialized Congress for aid in their own plans for canals.

The activity of the states, no longer waiting for the federal government to construct a national system; the rapidly growing demand for the relinquishment of the national road to the states within which it lay; and the activity of corporations, all pointed to a new era in internal improvements. The states were ready to receive appropriations, but they preferred to build their own roads and dig their own canals. The state and the corporation were replacing the national government as the controlling power in internal improvements, and Adams's conception of a national system of turnpikes and canals had failed.

Nor was President Adams successful in carrying out a system of complete maritime reciprocity. After the War of 1812, Great Britain and the United States agreed upon the abolition of discriminating duties on ships or products engaged in the trade between the two countries; [Footnote: Cf. Babcock, Am. Nationality (Am. Nation, XIII.), chap. xvi.] but England reserved her right to exempt her American possessions from this reciprocity. By excluding the ships of the United States from the trade with the English West Indies, England denied a profitable avocation to American ship-owners; while, at the same time, the liberal arrangements of the United States permitted her vessels freely to enter the ports of this country with their cargoes of English manufactures, and to carry thence to the West Indies lumber, flour, and provisions to exchange for the molasses and sugar of the islands.

This ability to make a triangular voyage, with profits on each transaction, gave such advantage to British ships that they were able to carry on the trade between the United States and England at a rate below that which American vessels could afford. Driven to seek some remedy, the Yankee merchants and skippers turned to the Orient. The trade with China and the East Indies developed rapidly, and our tonnage registered for foreign trade increased from 583,000 tons in 1820 to 758,000 in 1828. [Footnote: Marvin, American Merchant Marine, chap. ix.] Ninety per cent. of our foreign commerce was carried in our own vessels, and, from this point of view, American shipping enjoyed one of the most prosperous periods in its history. [Footnote: Pitkin, Statistical View (ed. of 1835), 363; Soley, "Maritime Industries," in Shaler (ed. of 1894), United States, I., 538.] Smuggling was extensively carried on in the West Indies, and a war of retaliatory legislation in regard to shipping characterized the whole decade.

In 1825 Parliament passed a somewhat obscure act which opened the ports on a more liberal system of reciprocity. To nations without colonies she offered the same shipping rights in her colonies which such nations gave to England and her possessions. The act provided that it must be accepted within a year by nations who desired to avail themselves of its provisions. President Adams preferred to deal with the question by diplomacy, and Congress neglected to pass the legislation necessary to accept the offer. When Gallatin, who had been sent to England to treat of this matter, opened his negotiations in 1826, he was informed that it was too late. The stipulated time having elapsed, American vessels were definitely excluded from the West Indies in 1826 by orders in council. [Footnote: Adams, Gallatin, 615-620; cf. MacDonald, Jacksonian Democracy (Am. Nation, XV.), 201.] In the campaign of 1828 Adams was blamed for the failure to seize this opportunity, but the generally prosperous condition of our shipping not only moderated the discontent, but even led to a law (May 24, 1828) intended to place American vessels in complete control of our foreign commerce by providing for the abolition, by proclamation of the president, of all discriminating duties against such nations as should free ships of the United States from corresponding discriminations. In the long run, this reciprocity act proved a mistake; the end of Adams's administration marked the beginning of a decline in the prosperity of the merchant marine. [Footnote: Soley, in Shaler, United States, I., 540.]

American commerce during this period by no means kept pace with the growing wealth and population of the country. [Footnote 2: Sterns, Foreign Trade of the United States, 1820-1840, in Jour. Pol. Econ., VIII., 34, 452.] As we have seen, the staple states produced the lion's share of the domestic exports, and the internal exchange favored by the protective tariffs restrained the foreign importations. Aside from the depression in 1821, following the panic of 1819, and the extraordinary rise in 1825, the exports in general exhibited no marked increase or decline between 1820 and 1829. Imports showed a value of nearly seventy-four and one-half million dollars in 1820, ninety millions in 1825, and sixty-seven millions in 1829. [Footnote 3: Soley, in Shaler, United States, I., 538; cf. Pitkin, Statistical View (ed. of 1835), 177; W. C. Ford, in Depew, One Hundred Years of Am. Commerce, I., 23.] During the whole of Adams's administration, New York preserved its easy lead in domestic exports, although, as the west leaped up to power, New Orleans rose rapidly to a close second in exports of domestic origin. The southern cities retained merely the same proportion of the exports of domestic origin which they had in 1820, in spite of the great increase of cotton production. New York and New Orleans gained a large fraction of this trade, and Massachusetts changed its proportion of domestic exports only slightly during the whole decade. Over three-fourths of the cotton went to the British Isles, while almost all the pork and beef, and two-thirds of the flour, went to the West Indies, South America, and Great Britain's American colonies. [Footnote: Pitkin, Statistical View, 121-137.]

The statistics of commerce repeat the same story of increasing national self-dependence which was told by the development of manufactures, internal trade, and transportation, and even by the diplomatic policy of the United States. The nation was building an empire of its own, with sections which took the place of kingdoms. The west was already becoming the granary of the whole country. But in the development of this "American system," the navigating portions of New England and the staple states of the south and southwest found themselves at a disadvantage. Their interest lay in a free exchange across the ocean.

Although many minor treaties of commerce and navigation were negotiated by Clay during this administration, all his other diplomatic efforts met with failure, among them attempts to purchase Texas and to procure a treaty with England for the rendition of fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada-strange evidences of the political concessions of the northern president.

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