CHAPTER XVII. INTERNAL IMPROVEMENTS AND FOREIGN TRADE

(1825-1829)

What Adams had nearest at heart in his administration was the construction of a great system of roads and canals, irrespective of local interests, for the nation as a whole. [Footnote: Wheeler, Hist. of Cong., II., 154; Adams, Memoirs, VII., 59, VIII., 444; cf. chap, xiii., above.] To "exalt the valleys and lay low the mountains and the hills" appealed to his imagination. He hoped that the increased price of the public lands, arising from the improved means of communication, would in turn furnish a large and steadily increasing fund for national turnpikes and canals. But the American people were not anxious for a system of scientific administration, either of the public domain or of internal improvements. Although Benton could not secure sufficient support to carry his measure for graduating the price of the public lands and donating those which found no purchasers at fifty cents an acre, [Footnote: Meigs, Benton, 165-172.] he voiced, nevertheless, a very general antagonism to the management of the domain by the methods of the counting- house. Nor was the president able to control legislation on internal improvements. The report of the engineers appointed under the general survey act of 1824 provided for the development of the routes of national importance. [Footnote: State Papers, 18 Cong., 2 Sess., V., Doc. 83 (February 14, 1825); cf. ibid., 19 Cong., 2 Sess., II., Ex. Doc. No. 10 (December 7, 1826).] But local interests and the pressure of corporations eager to receive federal subscriptions to their stock quickly broke down the unity of the system.

The Senate declined to take action on a resolution introduced December 20, 1825, by Senator Van Buren, of New York, which denied Congress the power to make roads and canals within the respective states, and proposed a constitutional amendment for the grant of the power under limitations. [Footnote: Register of Debates, 19 Cong., 1 Sess., II., pt. i., 20; Ames, Amendments of the Fed. Const. (Am. Hist. Assoc., Report 1896), 71, 261.] Provision had been made in 1825 for extending the Cumberland Road from Wheeling to Zanesville, Ohio, and for surveys through the other states of the northwest to Missouri, and appropriations were annually made for the road, until by 1833 it was completed as far as Columbus, Ohio. Nevertheless, that highway was rapidly going to destruction, and a counter project, ultimately successful, was already initiated for relinquishing the road to the states through which it passed. [Footnote: Young, Cumberland Road, chap. vii.; Hulbert, Historic Highways, X.]

Over two and a third million dollars was appropriated for roads and harbors during the administration of John Quincy Adams, as against about one million during the administrations of all of his predecessors combined. Acting on the line of least constitutional resistance opened by Monroe, when he admitted the right of appropriation for internal improvements, though not the right of construction or jurisdiction, extensive appropriations were made for roads and canals and for harbors on the Great Lakes and the Atlantic. Far from accepting Adams's ideal of a scientific general system irrespective of local or party interests, districts combined with one another for local favors, corporations eagerly sought subscriptions for their canal stock, and the rival political parties bid against each other for the support of states which asked federal aid for their roads and canals.

By the middle of this administration the popularity of internal improvement appropriations seemed irresistible, although southern states raised their voices against it and complained bitterly that they were neglected. The example of the Erie Canal, which was open by 1825, seemed to furnish proof of the success that awaited state canal construction. States were learning that English capital was ready for investment in such undertakings and that Congress could donate lands and subscribe for stock.

By acts of 1825 and 1826, Pennsylvania initiated its extensive state system of roads and canals to reach the Ohio, the central part of New York, and the Great Lakes. [Footnote: Hulbert, Historic Highways, XIII., chap, iv.; Worthington, Finances of Pennsylvania, 22.] The trunk line of this system united Philadelphia with Pittsburgh by a horse railway to Columbia on the Susquehanna, thence by a canal along that river and its tributary, the Juniata, to Hollidaysburg, where stationary engines carried the freight over a series of inclined planes across the thirty-six miles of mountains, to reach the western section of the canal at Johnstown on the Conemaugh, and so by the Allegheny to Pittsburgh. Sectional jealousies delayed the work, and piled up a debt incurred partly for branch canals in various parts of the state; but by 1830 over four hundred miles of canal had been built in Pennsylvania and five hundred more projected. Not until 1835 was the trunk line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh fully in operation, however, and in the decade after 1822 the total expenditure for internal improvements in the state amounted to nearly twenty-six million dollars, of which over ten millions was contributed by individual subscription. But the steam railroad proved too strong a competitor, the state was plunged too deeply in debt, and it was not many years before the public works were sold, and the era of the corporation opened.