New York Surveyor General Cadwallader Colden proposes a water connection the Hudson River and the Great Lakes.
General George Washington tours the the waterways of eastern New York. He describes the "vast inland navigation of these United States...Would to God we may have the wisdom enough" to improve it.
In a letter to a member of Congress Washington discusses a policy of internal improvement necessary for the nation. Includes extending the inland navigation of New York and opening the west. Hope to draw the trade of the west to the Potomac River and Virginia.
In a memorial to the New York State legislature, Native Irishman Christopher Colles urges improving the navigation of the Mohawk River and proposes "the speedy development of the west and unappropriated lands on the western frontier of New York." (Excerpt)
Bill introduced in New York State legislature proposing improvements in the navigation of the Mohawk and "extending the same, if practicable, to Lake Erie." Bill goes nowhere.
Acting on a report favorable to extending navigation of Mohawk River to Wood Creek and the Hudson to Lake Champlain, New York passes its first canal law, authorizing necessary exploration and land survey. Results in the incorporation the following year of two companies to serve this function.
Incorporation of Western Inland Lock Navigation Company and Northern Inland Lock Navigation Company. The former was to pursue a waterway from Albany to Lakes Seneca and Ontario, the latter was to improve waterways between Hudson River and Lake Champlain. General Philip Schuyler of Albany, "chief patron of internal improvements" in New York, would be president of both, and canal advocate Elkanah Watson would serve as director. Companies had success with small canals and locks (especially at Little Falls) but ran into shortages of labor and supplies; focus mainly on improving existing waterways and made little profit.
Statesman Governeur Morris makes first mention (after Colden's) of an interior canal route from the Hudson to Lake Erie. His notions would allegedly be passed along for the next few years from Surveyor General Simeon De Witt to Onondaga County judge and surveyor James Geddes, who, by his account, shared the idea with Jesse Hawley in February 1805 at Geneva.
Flour merchant Jesse Hawley, serving twenty months in a Canandaigua debtors prison, writes a series of fourteen essays describing an inland canal from Lake Erie to the Mohawk, as well as other internal improvements for the nation. Hawley's essays were signed Hercules and published in the Genesee Messenger in 1807 and 1808. Read Hawley's Essays
Thomas Jefferson in his message to Congress celebrates the final payment of the national debt and proposes that future surplus be directed toward internal improvements and developing a national infrastructure. Read an excerpt.
Assemblymen and canal advocates Joshua Forman of Onondaga County and Benjamin Wright of Oneida County propose a survey and exploration of the best route for a canal between the Hudson and Lake Erie, to be financed by Congress. State legislature appropriates $600.
Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin in his report to the Senate in April; points to the need for internal improvements including public roads and canals.
Joshua Forman follows up on Jefferson's call for internal improvements and meets with the president to ask for federal assistance in the construction of a canal to connect Lake Erie to the Hudson. Forman is rebuffed, but the prospect of future federal assistance is impetus to further study.
State Senator and candidate for governor Jonas Platt and Western Inland Lock Navigation Company treasurer Thomas Eddy approach prominent Democratic Republican De Witt Clinton asking the former New York mayor and rising Republican leader to back a canal proposal in the senate. The resolution called for a board of commissioners to examine and survey the interior route from the Hudson to Lake Erie and appropriated the project $3,000. Clinton would serve as a canal commissioner.
Canal commission reports, recommends inland route over Lake Ontario route; legislature follows up with a canal law reappointing canal board, appropriates $15,000, and authorizing them to seek financial aid from other states and Congress, receive land grants, seek out loans, and negotiate the purchase of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company.
Prospect of war and political tide forces conclusion that federal aid would not be offered.
Canal board publishes the Report of 1812, noting that the war makes the canal more imperative. Report also breaks from proposed "inclined plane" proposal and raises the projected cost to $6 million, which it believes can be recovered through tolls.
War of 1812; canal plans brought to a halt.
Canal prospects appear to bottom out.
In a memorial to the legislature signed by thousands throughout the state, Clinton advances the idea of an inland waterway "through the most fertile country in the universe" from the Hudson to Lake Erie that would, upon completion, "convey more riches on its waters than any other canal in the world." Read Clinton's Memorial
April 17, 1816
Canal Bill becomes law, only after being watered down. Final legislation only appropriated $20,000 and authorized canal commissioners to continue study of the project, further survey route options and seek funding sources. Clinton elected to serve as president of the canal commission.
Clinton begins public relations campaign, continuing his "ATTICUS" letters, which had first appeared in the New York Evening Post in 1811 to popularize the project. Anonymous author publishes pamphlet titled "A Serious Appeal..." and notes, among other things, that a barrel of flour going from Erie to Montreal costs $1.50 and could go to New York by canal for $0.55.; A ton of sugar to Montreal for $25 could travel to New York by canal for $5.50; estimates a surplus of 128 million bushels of wheat from the Great lakes region.
Calhoun's "Bonus Bill" that would set aside federal funds for internal improvements, specifically including a canal between the Great lakes and the Hudson, passes the national legislature but is vetoed by President Madison, who had "constitutional scruples." (Shaw, 67)
Canal commissioners report to New York legislature; recommend a canal 353 miles long from Albany to lake Erie, 40 feet wide at the top, 28 feet wide at the bottom, and four feet deep. Cost estimated at #13,800 per mile, or less than $5 million. Also suggests an additional canal connecting the Hudson to Lake Champlain at an expense of $871,000.
Joint committee on canals introduces a bill in the assembly that proposes beginning construction on a relatively level middle section of the Erie Canal, only 77 miles long and requiring but six locks, as well as immediate action on the Champlain Canal. Total appropriation not to exceed $1.5 million and regarded as "experimental."
Clinton nominated for governor at the Republican state convention.
In a vote that Martin Van Buren considered the "most important vote he had ever given," the canal bill passes the senate by a vote of 18-9.
Running unopposed, De Witt Clinton is elected Governor of the State of New York.
Clinton is takes oath of office.
Construction begins on the Erie Canal at a middle section connecting the Mohawk and Seneca Rivers.
Canal commissioners and 50 others board the Chief Engineer and 'sail' behind a single horse from Utica to Rome.
Debating whether to focus next on the eastern or western section, the legislature's Joint Committee on Canals recommends beginning western section.
Three years years after construction begins, the 94-mile middle section is completed. Opening of the "Canal Era."
Responding to a perceived "threat" of halting canal construction, Clinton, in his annual address to the legislature, touts its benefits and advocates completing the canal as soon as possible. Read an excerpt from Clinton's Speech
Overcoming opposition from the "Bucktail" faction of the Republican Party, Clinton is reelected governor.
In an act with extensive political implications, the senate passes a bill appropriating $1 million annually for two years and $600,000 each year for canal construction. Bill also authorized the appointment of an additional canal commissioner. It is speculated that the Bucktail faction included this as a way to wrest control of the commission for the Clitonians.
At the state constitutional convention, the Bucktails pass "The Two Million Bill," an appropriation and reform measure that ensures the canal will not pass out of state hands.
Fed by water from the Genesee River, the canal opens to Rochester, now navigable for the 180 miles east to Little Falls. At the Genesee River is constructed one of the canal's longest aqueducts (802 feet), to be completed in September 1823, at a cost of $83,000.
With his popularity at an all-time low, Clinton loses party's nomination for governor.
Canal opened from Brockport to Albany. Champlain Canal completed.
Clinton presides over celebration of the joining of the Erie Canal to the Hudson River.
The Regency, Martin an Buren's political machine, presents legislation intended to strip Clinton of his post as canal commissioner--the resolution passes the senate (24-3) and assembly (64-34); Clinton is removed from post as canal commissioner.
At convention for the People's Party, Clinton wins nomination for governor.
Clinton wins governorship by a landslide.
In the contested presidential election, the crucial support of the New York delegation allows the House of Representatives to vote John Quincy Adams into the White House.
After years of debate, legislating and political maneuvering the New York legislature chooses Buffalo over Black Rock to be the western terminus of the canal.
Construction on the Erie Canal is completed, connecting Lake Erie at Buffalo to the Hudson River at Albany.
At 10:00 a.m., the Seneca Chief enters the canal at Buffalo, heading east for Albany. Celebrations ensue along the canal route at major towns and cities.
Seneca Chief arrives at New York harbor at 7:00 a.m., followed by the Wedding of the Waters (Marriage of the Waters) ceremony, in which a keg of Lake Erie water is emptied into the Atlantic.
Cadwallader Colden publishes his Memoir, providing an account of the planning and construction of the canal.
Work begins on enlargement of the Erie Canal. Between 1836 and 1862 the canal would be enlarged to a depth of seven feet to handle increased traffic and allow the passage of heavier freight.
Total revenue when tolls abolished in 1882: $121,461,871