Canal -- Lake Michigan to Illinois River. -- March 30, 1826.
The Committee of Roads and Canals, to whom was referred the memorial of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois concerning a canal to connect Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, beg leave to report a bill, similar in its provisions to one reported by a select committee, at the last session of Congress, with the following report:
That the memorial represents what the committee find to be true; that, in 1820, a law was passed by Congress, authorizing the said State to open a canal through the public lands to effect this communication, which is required to be done within a given period. It further represents, that the General Assembly has already proceeded so far as to appoint commissioners to explore the route, and prepare the necessary surveys and estimates preparatory to its execution. It further represents that the State is unable, out of its own resources, to defray the expense of the undertaking; and, therefore, prays Congress to make the State a grant of public land, or such other assistance as may be thought most proper to enable the State to proceed with the work.
In examining this subject, the attention of the committee has been drawn to several points which seem naturally to bear upon it; and first, as to the practicability of making the proposed connection of those waters. On this branch of their inquiries, the committee can see no room to doubt. Although the report of the State Commissioners and Engineers, had not been made to the General Assembly at the time of adopting the memorial that has been referred to the committee, the Legislature of that State entertained no doubt on that point. Such, indeed, is the concurrence of scientific observation and actual experience in relation to that fact, that, in order to establish it, the report was not necessary. The experience to which the committee refers, is that of many years, and which is matter of historical notoriety. It is that of repeated passages having been made, by uninterrupted navigation, from the river into the lake. With respect to the scientific observations that have been made, the committee refer to the report of Major Long to the Secretary of War, in 1817, and which was printed by order of Congress. In this report (see vol. 2, No. 17, of the Reports of the session of the — Congress) it is
2stated that "the Illinois River is about 300 miles in length, and is of variable width, from 70 yards to 1 mile. It has a very moderate current, and a depth of water sufficient to render it navigable, at all times, for boats of considerable burden, about 230 miles from its mouth." In speaking of the proposed canal, Major Long observes, "a canal uniting the waters of Illinois River with those of Lake Michigan, may be considered the first in importance of any in this quarter of the country, and at the same time, the construction of it would be attended with very little expense compared with the magnitude of the object. By a reference to the document before referred to, it will also be seen that another report was made on the same subject by Richard Graham Esq. and the late Chief Justice Philips, of the State of Illinois. Without quoting particularly from their intelligent report, it will be sufficient to observe, that they coincide substantially with Maj. Long. They present, however, the further fact, that it is perfectly practicable so to employ the water of the lake, as to furnish a full supply of water for the canal.
The committee do not deem it necessary to refer to other authorities or facts to establish the question of practicability; numerous as they are, they deem these sufficient.
In considering, secondly, the "importance of this communication," the committee have deemed it proper to present, somewhat detail, the considerations which render it so. In doing this, it is thought not unworthy of remark, that Mr. Calhoun, the Secretary of War, as far back as 1819, recommended, in a report to Congress, the attention of the Government to this point, as being important in a military point of view, (see vol. 4, Pub. Doc. 2 Ses. 15th Congress.) The readiness with which men and arms could be brought to bear on the savages of that quarter, by means of this canal, from the State of Illinois and Missouri, as well the British, or any other enemy on the lakes and its borders, would seem at once to prove the correctness of the views of the Secretary of War in making this recommendation; and the committee will, therefore, proceed to examine the subject with reference to its commercial importance.
The memorial of the General Assembly of Illinois, represents that, during a great part of each year, the inclemency of the climate of New Orleans, (at present the great outlet of the Western country,) is such, as to endanger, not only the soundness of the property, but the lives of those who venture thither with it in pursuit of a market; and suggests that these evils would be remedied by throwing open to them, through this communication, the markets of the North. When it is considered that the great line of canal from New York to Buffalo, will very soon be completed, the views of the Legislature, it is believed, must be admitted to be correct. Between the proposed communication in Illinois and Buffalo, steamboats of four hundred and fifty tons burthen, have already passed with a cargo of that amount. The whole of the intervening navigation, indeed, is on the lakes, except the passage through the strait, between lakes Michigan and Huron, of ten miles; the strait between Huron and St.
3Clair, of thirty-five miles, and the strait between St. Clair and Erie, of twenty-eight miles; making, in the whole, seventy-three miles. Through each of these straits, however, there is sufficient depth of water for sloops and steamboats of the description just mentioned.
Its effects on the cost of transportation from the Atlantic cities to a large portion of the Western country, the committee conceive to be worthy of consideration. At present, (and it is believed it will always be the case, as well from natural as artificial causes,) the consumption of manufactured articles, whether of foreign or domestic production, in the West, must be mainly supplied from the Eastern and Northern States and cities. With a navigation now open, during the major part of each year, from that country to New Orleans, it is a fact not to be denied, that most of those supplies are now brought from the Northern and Eastern Atlantic cities. As the population of the West increases, this consumption will increase; and whatever plan can be adopted to lessen the expense, and facilitate the transportation of those supplies, to any considerable portion of that country, seems to be worthy of the patronage of Congress.
At present, the cost of transporting a ton of merchandise from New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, to St. Louis, may be estimated at about $90. This is as low an average as the experience of the last three or four years will warrant the committee in assuming; and the time necessary for this transportation may be estimated at from 20 to 22 days; and the distance from Philadelphia, the intermediate point, is about 1500 miles. The cost of transporting a ton of the same commodities from New York to St. Louis, through the lakes, according to estimates founded on the probable expense, as calculated in New York, of a passage through her canal, and the experience of those engaged in the lake navigation, would be from $63 to $65; the distance being about the same as on the route before referred to, and the time necessary for the voyage being from 12 to 15 days. Making a saving, therefore, in the cost of the transportation of a single ton, in favor of the lake route, of from 25 to $27, and a saving of time in performing the trip of from 6 to 8 days. This saving, it must be obvious, would be felt as well by the consumer as the trader. But its importance is not to be confined alone to that view of the subject. At present, owing to the effect of the Southern climate, which prevents the extensive use of the lower Mississippi, during the summer and fall months, and to the interruption of the navigation of the Ohio during the same period, the whole, or very nearly the whole of the supplies imported into a large portion of the Western country, for each year, are brought in about the same time, and thus larger supplies are required to be kept on hand for a longer period, than the existing demand requires. This would be avoided by opening a Northern communication, and consequently reduce the price of those commodities which are now required to be kept so long on hand before their sale is effected.
While all these advantages would result from this facility to the importation of articles into the section of the country, advantages no
4less important, would result from it, as a facility to their export trade. From the rich lands of Illinois and Missouri, adapted as they are to the production of hemp, flax, flour, beef, pork, hides, whiskey, tobacco, and wool, and abounding as they do with lead and iron ore, the enterprising citizens of those States may expect to send out large quantities of those articles; and, for the vast quantities of furs and peltries that are collected at St. Louis, from the extensive regions West of that place, a Northern outlet will be no less important. So important has it been conceived to be to the interests of Missouri, as well as to Illinois, that the Legislature of Missouri, at the time of making application for admission into the Union, prayed Congress to set apart a fund to arise from the sales of the public lands within that sate, for the execution of this specific object.
In a political point of view, which is the third and last respect in which the Committee propose to present it, its importance will be found not less imposing than in either of those in which it has already been viewed. In uniting and drawing together the interests of the remote extremities of the Eastern, the Southern, and the Western sections of our Union, no work of the same magnitude, it is believed, can be more effectual. The geographical position of Illinois and Missouri, the two States peculiarly interested in it, is such, that they will, under the advantages of this communication, have a common, and almost an equal interest in preserving their connection with the North and the South. Their trade will alternately flow through the lakes and the Mississippi; and the advantages of a choice of markets will be so important to them, that they must ever be unwilling to surrender it. By a reference to the map of our country, it will be seen that these States will have it in their power, at all times, in the event, should it unfortunately ever occur, of any internal commotions, to command the waters of the Ohio and Mississippi. From their commanding position, therefore, as well as from their capacity to sustain a dense, and it must mainly be a free population, they will always hold the balance of power, in deciding every effort that may be made to separate the West from either, or both, of the great geographical divisions of the Union; and, if from no other cause, their interest will direct the exertion of that power in favor of the Union.
Nor is the interest of these States in preserving a free outlet for their commerce, both through the Lakes and the Mississippi — the latter of which opens to them the New-Orleans, the West India, and South America markets, and, in fact, all foreign markets — stronger than must be that of North and South, in being united with them. Their capacity to supply the single article of lead, so indispensable in military operations in time of war, will, of itself, be sufficient to render them important to either division of the Union. But their capacity to cripple the operation of both sections, by their command over the supplies of the Southwest, and their ready means of co-operation with the enemies of the North on the Lakes, constitutes a corresponding interest no less strong on their part, to remain in alliance with them.
And these two States, embracing as they do, upwards of 100,000 square miles of territory, cannot fail, in process of time, to be equal in point of physical power to the preservation of their geographical importance in relation to the Union. But the political effects of this communication do not end here. By opening it, when taken in connection with others that must, and will be, opened in Ohio and Indiana, the rapid settlement of our most vulnerable frontier, that bordering on Canada, would be induced. The numerous hordes of savages in that quarter, from whom we suffered so much during the late war, would be held in check, and the necessary increase of our civil marine on the Lakes, would constitute a strong safeguard against the depredations of both them and the British, in the event of a future war. It would, also, by that increase of commerce which it would produce on the Lakes, afford an additional nursery for our seamen — an effect, to which this, as a commercial nation, ought not to be indifferent.
As to the expense of this work, the committee have no certain data from which to deduce any very accurate conclusion. Taking Major Long's report to be substantially correct, the length of the canal will not exceed seventy miles. The presumption is, it will be less. But assuming that as the whole length, considering the almost entirely level face of the country through which it will pass, it cannot cost more than $500,000. For the purpose of raising this sum, the committee are of opinion that no appropriation of money out of the Treasury is necessary. If, as the committee beg leave to recommend, a strip of land, of the width of two miles on each side of the canal, shall be granted to the Legislature of Illinois, it is believed the State would be able to raise a sum sufficient to complete the work. The quantity of land thus proposed, to be granted, would amount to seven townships, and three quarters of a township, which, if sold at the minimum price of the public lands, would yield only the sum of $244,000. But, owing to the additional value that this work would impart to it, the committee believe, the State would, under a prudent management, be able to raise double that sum. In recommending this measure, the committee feel satisfied, that, eventually, the Treasury would sustain no diminution of its revenue. The increased value, not only of the immediately adjacent public lands, but of those throughout the major part of the lands, both in Illinois and Missouri, would not only reimburse the Treasury, but would much more than do it.
In Illinois and Missouri, there remains to be sold, not less than 70,000,000 acres of public land. The nation, as yet, therefore is the great proprietor in both of those States; and while it will, by adopting the measure proposed, be advancing the local interests of the People of those States, as well as the general interest of the People of a large division of the Union, it will, in a still greater degree, be advancing its own.
The lands through which the whole of this canal will pass, are already surveyed and prepared for market. The location of the canal is also already made, and the means thus proposed to be put into the hands of the State, could, therefore, be immediately employed; and the committee, therefore, report a bill making the grant suggested.