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Trials and Troubles Incident to its Construction

The importance of a canal connecting the waters of Lake Michigan and those of the Illinois river, and thence by other navigable streams hundreds miles in extent to the Gulf of Mexico, was at a very early time appreciated, and its consummation fondly cherished. The French traders and voyageurs in their explorations of the west, between one and two centuries since, passed with their boats from Lake Michigan into the Des Plaines at some seasons of the year, via the Calumet river and lake. The portage between the south branch of the Chicago river and the Des Plaines was only some five or six miles. Until the artificial connection between the waters of Lake Michigan and the Illinois river was practically essayer, it was regarded as of easy accomplishment; but the facts have shown the contrary. The canal, which in 1825 and prior was estimated at $640,000, has first and last, including the Chicago deepening for sanitary purposes, cost near twenty times that sum.

During the war of 1812, with the massacre at the mouth of the Chicago, and the retreat of the savages westward, national attention was first directed to the importance of this work, and the president in his message in 1814 brought the subject to the atten. of congress, and a select committee reported it as "the great work of the age," for both military and commercial purposes. In 1816,” says Gov. Edwards, who was one of the commissioners, “ a tract of land bounded on Lake Michigan, including Chicago and extending to the Illinois river, was obtained from the Indians, for the purpose of opening a canal communication between the lake and the river.

I personally know that the Indians were induced to believe that the opening of the canal would be very advantageous to them, and that, under authorized expectations that this would be done, they ceded the land for a trifle.'* In 1817, Major Long made a report to congress that “a canal, uniting the waters of the Illinois river with those of Lake Michigan, may be considered the first in importance of any in this quarter of the country, and the construction would be attended with very little expense compared with the magnitude of the object." Another report favorable to the canal was at that time made by Richard Graham and Chief Justice Phillips, of this State.f In 1819, Mr. Calhoun, secretary of war, directed the attention of congress to the canal on account of its importance for military purposes.* In 1822 congress authorized this State to construct the canal through the public lands, granting for the purpose a strip of ground 90 feet in width on both sides of it, and reserving the lands through which it might pass from sale until further direction. It was to be commenced within three and completed within twelve years. To the State was given the privilege of taking from the government land, material for its construction. Upon this slender beginning congress subsequently enlarged considerably.

*Edwar is' Life of Edwards. Ibid

Iu 1818, Gov. Bond, in his message, strongly recommended the construction of the canal; Governor Coles, four years later, did the same, and every governor of the State espoused its cause. No sectional question was made of it for many years. The legislature, at the session of 1822–3, appointed a board of caual commissoners "to make or cause to be made, estimates, etc., for completing said canal," and report to the next general assembly. Emanuel J. West, Erastus Brown, Theopilus W. Smith, Thomas Sloe, jr., and Samuel Alexander were appointed commissioners. The board employed Rene Paul, of St. Lous, and Justine Post, as engineers to survey the route and make out the estimates. They reported the route highly practicable and estimated the cost of the work at from $610,000 to not exceeding $716,110.71, which has proven to be very wide of the inark. The examination was superficial and no idea was formed of the amount of rock excavation which afterwards provod so formidable. These preliminary steps cost the State $10,589.87.1

By act of Jan. 19, 1825, the “Illinois and Michigan Canal Association," with a capital of $1,000,000 was incorporated. The company was to build and complete the canal within 10 year's time; to receive for its own use and benefit all the public lands which the United States, States, or individuals might donate in aid of the undertaking, and the tolls for 50 years after its completion; at the expiration of which time the canal and all its unsold lands were to be turned over to the State and the total sum expended in its construction, with 6 per cent interest, was to be paid.

The act, after its passage, incurred the strenuous opposition of the Hon. Daniel P. Cook, our only member in congress. A grant of land for the construction of the canal, upon the ground of its national character, was then with some degree of confidence looked forward to during the administration of Mr. Adams. The House committee, through Mr. Cook, had made a favorable report upon it. But the act of the legislature, by which any bonus to aid the work, was in advance turned over to a corporation of private individuals, would probably defeat the measure in congress. Mr. Cook published a long address to his constituents, under date of Oct. 28, 1825, forcibly attacking the canal policy of the State; urging the legislature to resume its possession and repeal the charter before any work was commenced, and the claim of vested rights should be set up. He demanded that the rich harvest which it was destined to yield, should go into the treasure of the State;" and declared “that in less than 30 years it would relieve the people from the payment of taxes, and even leave a surplus to be applied to other works of public utility."

Vol. 4 Pub. Doc. 15 Congress, 2d session.
+See Report of George Forquer, Senate Journal, session 1834-5.

These hopeful predictions have not been fulfilled. So sanguine was he, that to raise capital to build the canal, he was ready to sell or pledge a million acres of the school lands to carry forward the work. But no stock was ever subscribed by the “canal association;" the incorporators voluntarily surrendered their charter and the act was repealed.

This obstacle out of the way, the legislature, at the special session of January, 1826, called by acting Gov. Hubbard, transmitted to congress a very able memorial, drafted by Mr. Russell, of Bond, praying aid for the canal. We quote two sentences: “The construction of the canal, uniting the waters of Lake Michigan with the Illinois river, will form an important addition to the great connecting links in the chain of internal navagation, which will effectually secure the indissoluble union of the confederate members of this great and powerful republie. By the completion of this great and valuable work, the connection between the north and south, the east and west, would be strengthened by the ties of commercial intercourse and social peighborhood, and the union of States bid defiance to internal commotion, sectional jealousy, and foreign invasion."

The memorial, together with the efforts of our delegation in congress, Cook in the house,) and Kane and Thomas (in the senate), but notably the first named, whose genial influence and untiring labors in this behalf have placed the State, and particulary Chicago, under lasting obligation to his memory, produced a favorable effect, and congress by act of March 2d, 1827, granted to the State of Illinois "for the purpose of aiding her in opening a canal to connect the waters of the Illinois river with those of Lake Michigan,” the alternate sections of the public lands on either side of the canal for five miles, along its entire route, which when set apart by the president were found to contain 224,322 acres. The lands were subject to the disposal of the legis. lature "for the purposes aforesaid, and no other.” The canal was regarded as of national utility; it was to be commenced within 5 years thereafter and completed within 20; and if not so completed, the State was to pay the general government for all lands sold up to that time, and the remainder were to revert. This grant was the beginning of those enormous landed subsidies to western railroads which have become so frequent of late, but it will be noticed that this and the next, also in Illinois, for the construction of the Central railroad, were made to the State, whereas latterly the grants are to private corporations directly. It is a curious fact that the largely democratic State of Illinois obtainen both these grants, by which she was more materially benefited than all else ever done for her, from whig administrations.

In 1829 the legislature organized a new board of canal commis. sioners, “ to explore, examine, fix and determine the route of the canal,” dispose by sale of the lands and lots and commence the work. Governor Edwards appointed Charles Dunn, afterwards U. S. judge of Wisconsin Territory, Dr. Gersham Jayne and Ed. mond Roberts, both of Springfield, as commissioners. For lack of funds little or nothing was done; times were rather baru, owing to the financial embarrassments caused by the old State bank of 1821. Feb. 15, 1831, an act amendatory of that of 1829, was passed. Under the provisions of these two acts, the board

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laid out the towns of Chicago and Ottawa, the map of the former, prepared by James Thompson, who made the surveys, bearing date August 4, 1830. When Thompson begau his surveys of Chicago, in 1830, only 7 families lived outside of Fort Dearborn. Town lots and canal lands were sold to the amount of $18,924,83, and a re-examination and re-survey of the entire route of the canal were made, the engineer this time being Mr. Bucklin, whose estimate ran the work into millions instead of hundreds of thousands. The question of building a railroad over the route, instead of the caval was also considered. The commissioners reported their estimate to the legislature at the session of 1833, the cost of the canal at $4,043,386,50—still too low by about half-and the cost of a railroad at $1,052,488,19. The expenses of these examinations and surveys was $16,974,83. The board of canal commiszioners, by act of March 1, 1833, was abolished. The incumbents were required to pay over all moneys, and deliver up all papers, vouchers, &c., of their transactions, to the State treasurer, and if upon examination any of the officers aforesaid had not faithfully and fairly accounted for all moneys &c., suit was directed to be commenced upon their official bonds,” for which purpose, jurisdiction was given to the Fayette circuit court, its process running to any county in the State.

Meanwhile there were various projects of turning the construction of the canal and all its property gifts over to a company, and · of building a railroad instead between Chicago and Peru. The distance was about 100 miles and the cost of a railroad was estimated at about $10,000 per mile. At the time, considering the expedition with which railroads are built, and the delay which has attended the completion of the canal, the former would doubtless have served the country more acceptably. A railroad would have been fully adequate to all the wants of the country and for passenger travel it is far preferable, while for the transportation of freight it offers the advantage of carrying in winter as well as summer. The consent of congress to divert so much of the avails of the canal lands as might be needed for this object was readily obtained. By act of March 20, 1833, the State was authorized to use the lands granted for the canal, in building either a railroad or canal, as the legislature might elect; and the time for commencing either was extended five years.

In 1835 the governor was authorized to negotiate a loan not exceeding $500,000, “solely on the pledge of the canal lands and tolls," for the construction of the canal. The stock was to be called “ Illinois and Michigan canal stock," and in no case to be sold for less than par. Governor Duncan told the legislature such was the universal estimate of the importance of the canal by all men of intelligence, that he bad no hesitation in believing ample funds could be procured for its speedy completion. But the effort to obtain the loan proved a failure. Ex-Gov. Coles, residing at Philadelphia, was deputed to negotiate the loan for the full sum authorized. Under date of April 28, 1835, he wrote that capital. ists were unwilling to take it because the bonds were not based upon the faith of the State. Nor were any funds for the payment of either principal or interest provided, except such as might arise from the lands and net revenues of the canal.

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To meet these objections, the act of Jan. 9, 1836, was passed, which repealed the former act and authorized the same loan of $500,000 on the credit and faith of the State, irrevocably pledged for the payment of the canal stock and its accruing interest. James M. Strode, a senator then representing all the country north of and including Peoria, introduced this bill, which served as an entering wedge to the State treasury, and became the model for subsequent like legislation. The money borrowed, premiums on sales of stock, the proceeds of the canal lands and lots, and all other moneys arising from the canal, were to constitute a fund sacred to the canal till it was completed, except to pay interest on the stocks. The board of canal comunissioners was constituted a body politic and corporate, subject to the control of the governor, one was to be the acting commissioner and general superinten. dent of the work, who was to report to the board. They were to hold till January following, when commissioners were made elective biennially. The salary of the acting commissioner was $1,200, and the compensation of the other two $3 per day when employed. Moneys from sale of stock or other sources were to be deposited in the State banks, to be thence drawn as needed by warrants on the treasurer. Immediate steps were to be taken for the construction of the canal, the contracts to be let to the lowest bidder. Materials for the canal were exempted from execution. Town sites were to be located and lots sold at auction. A sale of Ottawa lots, and the fractional section No. 15, adjoining Chicago, was made June 20, 1846; the latter under the extraordinary mania of speculation then rife regarding Chicago,* is said to have brought $1,503,495. The dimensious of the canal were to be not less than 45 feet at the surface, 35 at the base, and a navigable depth of at least 4 feet of water. Quarterly reports were to be made to the governor. The commissioners appointed by Gor. Duncan were William F. Thornton (acting commissioner), Gurdon S. Hubbard and William B. Archer, all whigs. The canal was to extend from Chicago to the mouth of the Little Vermilion, work to be begun at its northern terminus. Of the loan now authorized, Governor Duncan negotiated $100,000 in New York at a premium of 5 per cent., which he deemed too low and declined a larger amount at that rate. Subsequent experience showed that he should have taken more. The survey and estimate made at this time by chief engineer Goodwin, was $8,694,33.51—a hundred per cent higher than that of Bucklin-$86,000 per mile, being 4 times the cost of the Erie canal. The estimate was based upon a surface width of 60 feet, 40 at the bottom, and depth of water (to flow from the lake) of 6 feet. These dimensions were larger than the Erie, and would have made it one of the most splendid works of internal improvement anywhere to be found. But for such a work the estimate was yet too low. Contracts were let, and on the 4th of July, 1836, ground was first broken for the canal. The occasion was publicly celebrated at Chicago, by reading the Declaration of Independence, and the delivery of an able and appropriate address by Dr. Egan, picturing in glowing colors the future of Chicago and of the State of Illinois. Those glowing colors have been already dimmed by the reality.

See Brown's History Illinois, p. 417. Note-Evidently a mistake.

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