Ghost of the Gateway

In western New York State, near the village of Lyons, the seat of Wayne County some twenty miles south of Lake Ontario and east of Rochester, lies a shallow waterway.  Threading its way from a rural crossroads known as Pilgrimport, around drumlins and across farmland to Canal Street, what remains is barely a hint of a once-famous gateway to the west.

This neglected and long-abandoned original route of "Clinton's Ditch" is now nearly filled in and overgrown with willows and silver maples.  Not many know, and fewer care, about an obscure backcountry towpath.  But it enabled the sweeping destiny of American industry and the means to this nation's economic ascendancy.

The Erie Canal, finished in 1825, was first championed by the relentless entrepreneur Jesse Howley, who wrote several persuasive tracts advocating such a venture from debtor's prison in western New York.  President Monroe showed little enthusiasm for the federal government sponsoring such an epic project, as he believed that the feds had no constitutional authority to pay for it.  But Monroe didn't try to block it; indeed, its construction commenced during his first term.

Instead, the Erie Canal became the hobbyhorse of Governor DeWitt Clinton.  Underwritten to the tune of $7 million by the New York State Legislature, the Canal traversed the only geologically navigable break through the Appalachian mountain chain from the eastern seaboard to the west.  It opened the upper Great Lakes to cost-efficient commerce -- dropping transportation costs instantly by 90% -- and established New York City as Gotham of North America.

The Canal brought thousands of immigrants and settlers to Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, unifying the frontier lands of the upper Midwest with the established Mid-Atlantic and New England states.  The Erie Canal was the stimulus for American industry in the decades preceding the Civil War, without which the Union states could never have defeated the Confederacy -- and, by the way, ended slavery.  If the Erie Canal were proposed today, it could never be built.  Not a chance.

Not a single shovel of earth would have been lifted, prevented by decades of  hopeless delays and diversions from environmental impact studies along with Clean Water Act and Wetlands Protection Act litigation.  Environmentalists would have obstructed the Erie Canal, and all of the subsequent railroads following its Water Level route, later consolidated  into the New York Central Railroad.  Cornelius Vanderbilt's would-be fortune would have been soaked up by lawyers fighting court injunctions.

At least Vanderbilt would've had nothing to fear from competitors.  The excavation, blasting, and streambed re-channeling through the Alleghenies, necessary to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, would have been equally stymied. 

Coalfields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia along with the north/south railroads necessary to carry coal to Great Lakes steel furnaces from Buffalo to Chicago would remain untouchable.  Permits to dig iron ore from the open pit deposits in Minnesota's Mesabi Range would be denied.

The perfected vision of today's liberal elites, the virgin undisturbed garden, would have been America's destiny.  And the agrarian southern states would have been able to keep slavery alive perhaps through the beginning of the 20th century.

Government-enabled infrastructure projects for over 150 years -- spanning the Erie Canal, lighthouses, railroads, hydroelectric power, and the interstate highway system -- all had three common features: they reduced costs, invited more industry and commerce, and opened new markets, while advancing the socio-economic fortunes of all Americans. 

When is the last time a new interstate highway was constructed? How about an interstate high voltage power transmission line?  How about an oil and gas pipeline?  Witness the obstacles thrown in the path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Houston and Port Arthur.  Or the assault on coal production, sanctions against deep-water oil and gas drilling, and the hysteria over new natural gas extraction methods in New York and Pennsylvania.

The economic domination of the United States can be tracked along the three pillars of technology: 1) transportation (canals and  railroads), 2) energy (coal to fuel locomotives, mining equipment, steelmaking and meta-forging, and later oil for piston-driven engines and petrochemicals), and 3) steelmaking. 

For all their jabberwocky about jobs and economic growth, captive to that liberal progressive fantasy where capital is both unnecessary and evil, and now intimidated by the relentless environmental lobby, Democrats have declared war on industry.  The central campaign in the war on industry, run from the Obama White House, has been the assault on cheap, abundant, and reliable energy production, a requirement for any kind of economic resiliency and growth. 

Instead, taxpayer subsidies are siphoned for green energy boondoggles.  Billions of dollars are now diverted to electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels -- none of  which have any broad based application.  None of these have the breadth of reliability or reach to have any economic impact.  All of them carry increased costs to users and crowd out dwindling public resources for legitimate projects.  And all of them have vacuumed some tens of billions of dollars from thinning taxpayers' wallets, rewarding Obama campaign contributors and rent-seeking leeches.

Environmental roadblocks aside, the real reason why this administration would have blocked the Erie Canal is its ideology of cap-and-distribute wealth -- a socio-political philosophy of redistribution and liquidation.

The early 19th-century locomotive of economic expansion and liberty was Manifest Destiny, subtly but cleverly launched by Thomas Jefferson in his grand bargain with Napoleon.  James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and James Polk would all continue a relentless pattern of territorial acquisition and expansion with exploding economic development (albeit pockmarked by several recessions).  The emergence of this nation as a bastion of industrial potential and democratic ideals, unprecedented in world history, would reach its meridian in Abraham Lincoln's pleading that "government of the people, for the people, and by the people shall not perish from the earth."

The Erie Canal -- a pedestrian ditch, four feet deep, floating mule-drawn flatboats -- still inspired that American romantic imagination as the garden of human invention and prosperity, the gateway to freedom from tyranny.

Yet it is not that Wealth now enriches the scene
Where treasures of Art and of Nature convene;
'Tis not that this Union our coffers may fill:
O! no it is something more exquisite still.
Tis that Genius had triumphed and Science prevailed
Tho' Prejudice flouted, and envy assail'd
It is, that the vassels of Europe may see
The progress of mind in a land that is free.

-from "The Meeting of the Waters of Hudson and Erie," by Samuel Woodworth, 1825

Contrast this early 19th-century athleticism of a strapping young nation, full speed ahead, with today's frail, cowering, apologetic, arthritic, housebound ward of a nation dependent on previous wealth-creating generations.  And all the while, liberal elites label grotesque and repugnant those wealth-creators from whom the economic waterfall makes possible the spectacle of luxuriating laziness, vagrancy, and aimless vandalism on display from today's Occupy Wall Street adolescents.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democratic Party leaders are content to empty the nation's treasury in perfecting their utopia of social justice and economic equality, having no intention of enabling economic growth or relaxing government's stranglehold on ordinary Americans.

The willows, silver maples, and collapsed earthen berms filling in and concealing "Clinton's Ditch" in western New York are real enough.  The sustained economic wretchedness and the eroding foundations of liberty are also real enough -- the legacy from Obama and the Democrats, so distant from the nostalgic "Fifteen Miles On The Erie Canal."

In western New York State, near the village of Lyons, the seat of Wayne County some twenty miles south of Lake Ontario and east of Rochester, lies a shallow waterway.  Threading its way from a rural crossroads known as Pilgrimport, around drumlins and across farmland to Canal Street, what remains is barely a hint of a once-famous gateway to the west.

This neglected and long-abandoned original route of "Clinton's Ditch" is now nearly filled in and overgrown with willows and silver maples.  Not many know, and fewer care, about an obscure backcountry towpath.  But it enabled the sweeping destiny of American industry and the means to this nation's economic ascendancy.

The Erie Canal, finished in 1825, was first championed by the relentless entrepreneur Jesse Howley, who wrote several persuasive tracts advocating such a venture from debtor's prison in western New York.  President Monroe showed little enthusiasm for the federal government sponsoring such an epic project, as he believed that the feds had no constitutional authority to pay for it.  But Monroe didn't try to block it; indeed, its construction commenced during his first term.

Instead, the Erie Canal became the hobbyhorse of Governor DeWitt Clinton.  Underwritten to the tune of $7 million by the New York State Legislature, the Canal traversed the only geologically navigable break through the Appalachian mountain chain from the eastern seaboard to the west.  It opened the upper Great Lakes to cost-efficient commerce -- dropping transportation costs instantly by 90% -- and established New York City as Gotham of North America.

The Canal brought thousands of immigrants and settlers to Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, unifying the frontier lands of the upper Midwest with the established Mid-Atlantic and New England states.  The Erie Canal was the stimulus for American industry in the decades preceding the Civil War, without which the Union states could never have defeated the Confederacy -- and, by the way, ended slavery.  If the Erie Canal were proposed today, it could never be built.  Not a chance.

Not a single shovel of earth would have been lifted, prevented by decades of  hopeless delays and diversions from environmental impact studies along with Clean Water Act and Wetlands Protection Act litigation.  Environmentalists would have obstructed the Erie Canal, and all of the subsequent railroads following its Water Level route, later consolidated  into the New York Central Railroad.  Cornelius Vanderbilt's would-be fortune would have been soaked up by lawyers fighting court injunctions.

At least Vanderbilt would've had nothing to fear from competitors.  The excavation, blasting, and streambed re-channeling through the Alleghenies, necessary to build the Pennsylvania Railroad, would have been equally stymied. 

Coalfields in Pennsylvania and West Virginia along with the north/south railroads necessary to carry coal to Great Lakes steel furnaces from Buffalo to Chicago would remain untouchable.  Permits to dig iron ore from the open pit deposits in Minnesota's Mesabi Range would be denied.

The perfected vision of today's liberal elites, the virgin undisturbed garden, would have been America's destiny.  And the agrarian southern states would have been able to keep slavery alive perhaps through the beginning of the 20th century.

Government-enabled infrastructure projects for over 150 years -- spanning the Erie Canal, lighthouses, railroads, hydroelectric power, and the interstate highway system -- all had three common features: they reduced costs, invited more industry and commerce, and opened new markets, while advancing the socio-economic fortunes of all Americans. 

When is the last time a new interstate highway was constructed? How about an interstate high voltage power transmission line?  How about an oil and gas pipeline?  Witness the obstacles thrown in the path of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Houston and Port Arthur.  Or the assault on coal production, sanctions against deep-water oil and gas drilling, and the hysteria over new natural gas extraction methods in New York and Pennsylvania.

The economic domination of the United States can be tracked along the three pillars of technology: 1) transportation (canals and  railroads), 2) energy (coal to fuel locomotives, mining equipment, steelmaking and meta-forging, and later oil for piston-driven engines and petrochemicals), and 3) steelmaking. 

For all their jabberwocky about jobs and economic growth, captive to that liberal progressive fantasy where capital is both unnecessary and evil, and now intimidated by the relentless environmental lobby, Democrats have declared war on industry.  The central campaign in the war on industry, run from the Obama White House, has been the assault on cheap, abundant, and reliable energy production, a requirement for any kind of economic resiliency and growth. 

Instead, taxpayer subsidies are siphoned for green energy boondoggles.  Billions of dollars are now diverted to electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels -- none of  which have any broad based application.  None of these have the breadth of reliability or reach to have any economic impact.  All of them carry increased costs to users and crowd out dwindling public resources for legitimate projects.  And all of them have vacuumed some tens of billions of dollars from thinning taxpayers' wallets, rewarding Obama campaign contributors and rent-seeking leeches.

Environmental roadblocks aside, the real reason why this administration would have blocked the Erie Canal is its ideology of cap-and-distribute wealth -- a socio-political philosophy of redistribution and liquidation.

The early 19th-century locomotive of economic expansion and liberty was Manifest Destiny, subtly but cleverly launched by Thomas Jefferson in his grand bargain with Napoleon.  James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and James Polk would all continue a relentless pattern of territorial acquisition and expansion with exploding economic development (albeit pockmarked by several recessions).  The emergence of this nation as a bastion of industrial potential and democratic ideals, unprecedented in world history, would reach its meridian in Abraham Lincoln's pleading that "government of the people, for the people, and by the people shall not perish from the earth."

The Erie Canal -- a pedestrian ditch, four feet deep, floating mule-drawn flatboats -- still inspired that American romantic imagination as the garden of human invention and prosperity, the gateway to freedom from tyranny.

Yet it is not that Wealth now enriches the scene
Where treasures of Art and of Nature convene;
'Tis not that this Union our coffers may fill:
O! no it is something more exquisite still.
Tis that Genius had triumphed and Science prevailed
Tho' Prejudice flouted, and envy assail'd
It is, that the vassels of Europe may see
The progress of mind in a land that is free.

-from "The Meeting of the Waters of Hudson and Erie," by Samuel Woodworth, 1825

Contrast this early 19th-century athleticism of a strapping young nation, full speed ahead, with today's frail, cowering, apologetic, arthritic, housebound ward of a nation dependent on previous wealth-creating generations.  And all the while, liberal elites label grotesque and repugnant those wealth-creators from whom the economic waterfall makes possible the spectacle of luxuriating laziness, vagrancy, and aimless vandalism on display from today's Occupy Wall Street adolescents.

Meanwhile, Obama and the Democratic Party leaders are content to empty the nation's treasury in perfecting their utopia of social justice and economic equality, having no intention of enabling economic growth or relaxing government's stranglehold on ordinary Americans.

The willows, silver maples, and collapsed earthen berms filling in and concealing "Clinton's Ditch" in western New York are real enough.  The sustained economic wretchedness and the eroding foundations of liberty are also real enough -- the legacy from Obama and the Democrats, so distant from the nostalgic "Fifteen Miles On The Erie Canal."