The Artificial River The Erie Canal and the Paradox of ProgressCarol Sheriff6/12/2006The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress On October 26, 1825, the largest American-made canal was finished. Stretching 363 miles, 40 feet wide and only four feet deep, the Erie Canal allowed citizens to populate places that some never dreamed of. By connected the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Coast, settlers now had a way to transport goods, services, and themselves in a timely manner that at the time seemed impossible. Carol Sheriffâ€™s book â€?The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress,â€™ discusses the history and creation of the Erie Canal, but in a different way. She explores the impact that the development of the Erie Canal had on middle class Americans.
Also explained is the significant evolution (both environmental and economical) that took place around the canal before, during, and after it became Americaâ€™s foremost mode of transportation between the east coast and the western core. The first chapter of the book titled â€œVisions of Progressâ€ brings us to early New York, where prominent leaders discuss their visions of the canal and its obvious potential. Governor DeWitt Clinton leads the group and emphasizes on a more reliable and efficient transportation source, while at the same time developing culture along the way. The ground is broken on July 4th 1817 by Judge John Richardson who proclaimed â€œBy this great highway, unborn millions will easily transport their surplus productions to the shores of the Atlantic, procure their supplies, and hold a useful and profitable intercourse with all the marine nations of the worldâ€ (pg. 09). Construction on the canal had now begun. â€œThe Triumph of Art over Natureâ€ is the title of the second chapter. The chapter is a little more political than the rest of the book but in my opinion is actually the most interesting.
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Upstate New Yorkers took pride in the construction of the canal and toted that the development was being conducted by â€œRepublican Free Menâ€ (pg. 35). Western New Yorkers disagreed; they recognized that the builders of the canal had no likeness to the republicans.
In fact, shortly after construction on the canal began, free workers were phased out and poor Irish workers were brought in. Middle Class Americans were appalled by the lower class workers taking over their town, but took relief in knowing that they would only be there a short while. In the meantime, canal supporters turned a blind eye to the laborers and instead gave credit to the political sponsors and officials. Chapter three â€œReducing Distance and Timeâ€ discusses (as the title would suggest) the canal traveler and their link to new and distant areas throughout the nation. People were now beginning to see the canal as part of the natural landscape and complaints about difficult travels and ugly scenery soon developed. There were, however, supporters on both sides, the western New Yorkers were persistently supporting the economical advancement that the canal had brought them. Although it was true that the people could travel faster, safer, and more economically, a new innovation was slowly catching on.
The railroad was originally believed to be a compliment the canal but the advantages to this mode of transportation were soon realized. Travelers that complained about the canal now had a new way to travel and supporters of the canal had a new enemy. â€œPolitics of Land and Waterâ€ talks about early American property rights and introduces the Canal Board, which was a state-appointed committee that oversaw the canal and any issues that arose from it. Citizens were beginning to complain that the state had not compensated them for land and resources that had been taken from them. The committee argued that the canal was built for the common good and disregarded the negative statements that were quickly piling up. People were beginning to agree that the canal was created not for them but for commercialization and the high class individuals that were expected to travel on it.The.