Canals For A Nation: The Canal Era in the United States, 1790-1860 By Ronald E. Shaw
University Press of Kentucky | Pages: 304 | ISBN: 0813108152 | PDF | 1,5MB
The Canal Era was a major phase of America’s nineteenth century transportation revolution. Canals lowered transportation costs, carried a vast grain trade from western farms to eastern ports, and delivered Pennsylvania coal to New Jersey and New York. They created new towns and cities and contributed to American economic growth
My earlier study of the Erie Canal led me to undertake a survey of the history of American canals, which would reflect the economic studies that have emphasized the role of government and mixed enterprise in canal building, as well as the more recent emphasis on canals and the preservation of republicanism in the new American nation. In this synthesis my approach is comparative, showing the transfer of European technology to America, the remarkable success of the Erie Canal, and the competition for trunk-line routes linking eastern cities to the transAppalachian West.
I have found common themes in the work of engineers who carried their skills from state to state, the near-heroic figures who devoted their lives to canals; similar crises in canal financing; the need to create and sustain political support; the mixed enterprise underlying both publicly and privately-built canals; the presence almost everywhere of Irish laborers enduring brutal conditions of work; and the heady response to canal travel.
For me, American canals were audacious achievements of engineering and construction, often in nearly impossible terrain. They were incremental triumphs accomplished in spite of all the uncertainties of the political process. Localism and self-serving political logrolling were clearly evident, but I have attempted to describe American canals as a transportation network that was frequently justified or celebrated in expressions of nationalism. One aspect of this nationalism was the preservation of republicanism, to be strengthened by canals that would bind the union together. This is not a quantitative study, but it does reveal the great economic impact of American canals, whether or not they were directly profitable or were more developmental in influence. My background has been that of an academic historian, but I have also incorporated some of the work of the burgeoning canal societies, which should be recognized for their expertise in interpreting and preserving the physical remains of the canals.
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