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Canal Building Before 1840 Essay, Research Paper

Canal Building before 1840: Essay

Throughout history, there has been a need for better mode of transportation in

order to keep up with economical growth. Canals have been around since the Ancient

Roman Civilizations and still exist today. Canals have been so important because they

allow people to travel from one place to another and back by way of water. They require

very little energy and maintenance but help trade flow more efficiently. This can be

proved by observing the United States economy in the early 19th century.

The canal Era was a major influence in American History. Canal building was

spurred by the transportation revolution, which was from about 1815 to 1860. The

transportation revolution greatly affected the economy. It enabled us to expand West

since agriculture would become profitable, and it increased trade in the New England

states too since shipping was faster and a lot cheaper. One of the most important canals of

the time was Erie Canal. It was the first financially successful canal in America and set

an example for the many more canals that would be built.

The Erie Canal was supported by De Witt Clinton, who became the canal’s

commissioner due to his promotion. The canal was planned to connect Lake Erie with the

Hudson River. The completion of this canal would be an engineering feat since it was

363 miles long and had to overcome almost 600 feet of change in elevation. After a bill

was passed by the New York Congress in 1817, construction had began. Aid was offered

by merchants and bankers whom would benefit from it. The canal was opened in 1825,

and from the start, it was obvious that it would be a success. It had paid off its seven-

million dollar debt by 1836. It made New York the biggest trade center in the United

States. Canal construction was being planned in every state east of the Mississippi River.

I have found a couple major interpretations of my subject. One of them is a book

titled The Transportation Frontier. This book contains everything there is to know about

the Canal Era. It also talks about how our major mode of transportation went from

turnpikes to canals, and later, canals to steamboats and railroads. One thing that this

source talks about that very few do is the other canals that were built after the Erie Canal

as a result of its success. These canals include the Champlain canal, the Union Canal, the

Ohio Canal, the Pennsylvania Canal, and many more.

I feel that my topic was fine as far as restrictions go. I do think though that it

should have been limited to the Erie Canal only because that was by far the most

important canal of the era. All of the sources I found have contained the Erie Canal. One

thing wrong with my topic is that it is limited to canals before 1840. It should have been

canal building before 1860 since that is about when the Canal Era ended. Another topic

should have been the transportation revolution from 1815 to 1860. This would include all

of the canals built and it would also contain how road and bridge building would move

onto canal building. And it would contain the demise of the Canal Era and the rise of

steamboats and railroad systems.

The general hypothesis that I would form is that Canal building before 1840 had a

positive effect on our nation’s economy since it increased trade in the Northeast. After I

have done further research, I concluded that canal building has had the great effect on our

nation because it made commercial trading in the West profitable and it boosted our faith

in new modes of transportation. My frame of reference doesn’t have any affect on my

hypothesis because the canals from the 19th century have no affect on my life. I also live

in an area where no canals were built. People living in New York today might think of

the Canal Era differently since it has contributed to make it one of the largest trade

centers in the world.

In researching my topic, I haven’t encountered many problems. A small problem

that I faced was that there are few very primary sources available from before 1840. The

microfilm in the San Jose State University Library only goes down to the 1860’s and the

topics are not listed in a periodical. The only place where I could find some primary

sources are on the Internet where they found some letters and speeches from magazines

and other articles from the 1830’s. Another small problem was that I could not find very

many sources on my topic in the Leland Library because of the small selection and

because some of the books I needed were missing. But overall, I don’t think that I had

any problems that were big enough to affect the outcome of this project. I was satisfied

with the topic I picked and the only thing I would have changed if I were to do this

project again would be to start finding sources earlier.

The Canal Era has had great result on our economy and will always be

remembered as one of one the most influential revolutions in transportation. I have

picked up a lot of knowledge on the Canals of the 19th century as well as many other

important economic aspects of the time. Specifically, I was exposed to a lot of detail

about the Erie Canal and how it was the spark that lit this revolution. Today, canals like

the Panama are still being used by many countries. Canals have risen and declined, but

they will always be found and remembered.


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