“The conception is bold and great, and the accomplishment will be equally useful. The works of Europe in that line shrink into insignificance in comparison with these…but no probable degree of expence can transcend that of it’s utility. The prospect of the future face of America is magnificent indeed: but for the revolutionary generation it is to be enjoyed in contemplation only.“ — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to DeWitt Clinton on the idea of the Erie Canal (3); 1817
This website, dedicated to the Erie Canal, is part of Michigan State’s History 303: Union to Disunion course. Over the semester, we worked to cover United States’ History from 1790-1850, which is a very interesting segment of time. We studied the passionate formation of the country, followed by its diverse growth — which made the United States as a whole stronger but divided its people.
I believe this period of time is reflected perfectly in the story of the Erie Canal, which literally connected the United States by waterway, increasing trade, population and the country’s wealth, but further dividing it through human tensions.
The Erie Canal was completed in 1825 and was one of the United States’ most important steps toward becoming an industrialized nation. It would connect the Hudson River to Lake Erie in a 400-mile channel. Before the canal’s creation, the Early Industrial Revolution had begun around the 1790s with new technology that increased productivity of agricultural work. Goods started to become manufactured more quickly with the factory system. The Erie Canal was then proposed and created as an efficient transportation lane, lowering the cost of shipping and increasing trade, spreading machinery and manufactured goods, making the United States more economically independent and establishing some of the country’s most prominent cities.
The opinions and events that led to the proposal and creation of the Erie Canal also play an import role in the why the United States shifted from an agrarian society to an industrialized one. This sets off all sorts of explanations for the tension between the North and South and why some cities have been so historically important. Ultimately, these impacts of the Erie Canal swept us into the age of industrialization and a new kind of economy, as well as sparked future political challenges.
Please note, in-text citations are numbered, and the corresponding number can be found under the “References” page. All photo attributions can also be found on that page next to the title of the photo.
Thanks for stopping by — Stephanie McGavin