OF the entire railway mileage of all countries, equivalent to four parallel tracks or lines around the globe, one fourth is in the United States ; but the rapid extension of our railway system has scarcely kept pace with the development of our country, whose productions and interests are as varied as the elements of our population and the influences of our climate. The great natural highways of commerce must also be made available ; and by improving our navigable rivers, and connecting them, by canals, with the seaports, we may immensely augment the commercial resources and productive wealth of the nation. Our domestic commerce not only demands larger, but cheaper transportation facilities than the railways can supply.
The recent Washington Treaty, which, besides enlarging the scope of our fisheries, also perpetually dedicates the St. Lawrence to commercial freedom, will open a new chapter in the history of American commerce; for, while the products of the West can and will reach the ocean fleets by the cool and deep-water navigation of the Lakes and St. Lawrence, cheaper and safer than by the heated and shallow water of the Mississippi, or by canal and rail, the merchandise of European countries can, in unbroken cargoes of five hundred tons, penetrate the heart of the American continent, and be delivered at the most distant points on the Western Lakes, as far as Chicago at the head of Lake Michigan, and Superior City and Duluth at the head of Lake Superior, at less cost than the same goods can be conveyed from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, or Baltimore, to the nearest of the Lake ports ; and at far less than the price exacted by railway monopolies, between our principal manufacturing centres at the East and the various markets of the West.
Appropriations on a profligate scale are spasmodically made by Congress and the State Legislatures to promote schemes of varied merit, redounding immediately to the benefit of the corporations that obtain these subsidies, grants, and aids, and indirectly to the people whose property may be contiguous to, or whose business is increased by the creation of new facilities for commercial intercourse ; but there is no well-devised and carefully adjusted system, on the part of the people and their government, in fostering and developing our domestic commerce, which, in magnitude and importance, already surpasses the foreign commerce of any five nations on the globe.
In the mean time the New England artisan finds that he can exchange a yard of calico for three loaves of bread in the Valley of the Mississippi ; but only one of them reaches the hungry mouths of his family, for the two other loaves have been given away to the freight monopolists, a large proportion of whom are capitalists and residents of other countries. The Western farmer who raised the wheat cannot get the full value of his labor, because he has to raise ten bushels of wheat per acre for the carriers, before he can get the European prices of food for the remainder of his crop.
Descending to dry facts for a correct exhibit of our commercial evils, we find that when millions of people, in the manufacturing districts of Europe and America, could not get food enough for their dependent families, corn was burned, as the cheapest available fuel, by farmers on our Western prairies, whose clothing was scant because they could not exchange food for raiment, on account of the cost of transportation. As recently as the last autumn, many millions of bushels of coal remained in flat-boats near the confluence of the Monongahela and Alleghany Rivers, during a prolonged drouth, while the manufacturing establishments and people of the States bordering on the Ohio River were facing a long and severe winter with a short supply of coal for business and household purposes.
The disparity in the valuations of natural products and manufactured articles between the various commercial centres of the Union, and the violent fluctuations in the market prices of all commodities of trade, unsettle the best devised plans, and render it difficult for any citizen, even with a fixed inincome or salary, to make accurate estimate of the results of the year before him, so long as the natural process of adjusting the valuations of those several commodities of commerce, on the basis of demand and supply, is thwarted by an arbitrary, expensive, and capricious system of exchanges, and by limited facilities of transportation, under the control of American and European monopolists, whose avarice is the measure of their consideration for the producers and consumers. The earnings of these are absorbed in supporting powerful corporations, now receiving the benefits that would accrue to the toiling millions of both continents if our internal lines of water communication were so developed as to supply cheaper, larger, and in every respect superior facilities for interchanging produce and merchandise between the points of production and consumption.
The Western States and Territories have attracted and continue to draw valuable brain and muscle from the older communities of the Eastern States and Northern Europe. There is no more impressive scene in the world’s great drama than that presented by the incoming multitudes from every nation and clime in Christendom, as they march, in formidable columns, into the newer, undeveloped, and more inviting fields of enterprise in the interior of the American Continent, and betake themselves to the work of organizing a society, which, in respect to its moral and material elements, as yet possesses more vigor than refinement, but which is rapidly consolidating into strength and symmetry. The West can raise its own food, and will soon manufacture its own cloth. The Western farmer is not so much alarmed at the few extra shillings he has to pay on a sack or barrel of salt, as he is at the more crushing fact that he is really farming on shares ; and that after paying for the soil, and doing all the work, he must divide his crops, and give the transportationsts and middle-men the greater portion of the products of his farm. There is a better appreciation of the needs and wants of the West among its settlers, as the area of cultivation enlarges, and the growth of Western commerce demands larger avenues for its movements; and the East should be true to its interests, and diligently co-operate in opening up every available line of internal water communication, in order to maintain a commercial intimacy with the industrious and productive millions in the Valley of the Mississippi.
Is it any wonder, that under the practical operation of such a system of effecting exchanges of products and merchandise, the necessity of encouraging manufactures in the West is becoming more apparent ? Are the manufacturers of New England, New York, and Pennsylvania, with expensive land transportation, justified in leaning upon a moderate tariff on imports, that is contingent upon the rapidity with which Congress may decide to extinguish the national debt, when that support is counteracted by the superior facilities possessed by European manufacturers for reaching the heart of the continent, by continuous deepwater navigation ? The South, too, is engaged in a more diversified agriculture than prevailed under its former system of slave labor, and will soon manufacture its great staple into fabrics, instead of submitting to double freights across the Atlantic or half a continent.
Can New England, which produces only eleven quarts of wheat to each inhabitant, and requires, annually, $ 50,000,000 worth of food from the West, afford to submit any longer to the expensive freight system on which our domestic commerce has been dependent ? Can New York and Pennsylvania consent to buy food in the West for the seven millions of people in those two States, and pay land freights, when they can save $ 25,000,000 annually by having available water lines of communication to and from the Mississippi Valley ; and also have additional advantage over foreign manufacturers, by direct and cheap water freights, between the Empire and Key Stone States of the Union and the vast agricultural regions of the West, whose rapidly increasing population needs cheaper access to the coal fields, iron mines, and manufactories of the old Central and Eastern States ?
The centre of the grain-growing region, which has, within a few years, been transferred from Ohio to Indiana, and again to Illinois, is now west of the Mississippi. The centre of demand for merchandise in the West is also constantly moving westward and more remote from former sources of supply. Western commerce must be supplied with cheaper and more abundant means of transportation than the rail affords ; or the industry of the West must be so diversified as to enable its population to effect exchanges of produce and merchandise without continuing the exhaustive and intolerable system of relying upon foreign trade, which involves expense of transit equivalent to half the circumference of the globe.
Winter railroad freights to the seaboard, when relieved of competition by navigation, cost over seventy per cent of the price of wheat, when sold at $ 1.00 per bushel in the West. During the autumn of 1869, when wheat ranged in price from forty to fifty cents per bushel in Minnesota and Iowa, and could not be sold for forty cents at some points within a hundred miles west of the Mississippi, wheat was selling in New York for $ 1.37 per bushel. Sudden and large advances in prices of breadstufffs in European and Eastern markets have often been appropriated to the exclusive benefit of the carrying monopolists, and could not redound to the advantage of the Western farmers; as the freights were so adjusted, with reference to bountiful or short supplies, and prices of transportation, that the monopolists were masters of the situation. It is a very easy matter for railway companies to delay the transportation of the Western crops until after the close of navigation, so as to secure a steady business for the winter months ; for the short time between harvest and frost calls into requisition larger facilities than are available for transit by rail.
The annual tonnage of our inland commerce amounts to over 25,000,000 tons ; of which about one fifth passes through the Erie Canal, and another fifth passes over competing trunk lines of railway between the St. Lawrence and Potomac Rivers. The annual products of this country are estimated at over $ 8,000,000,000, or about $ 200 for each inhabitant. It is safe to put one fourth of this vast sum under the head of grass ; which includes, not only the products of the dairy, amounting to over $ 500,000,000, but also cattle, sheep and horses ; for it is almost literally true that “ all flesh is grass.”
Our total imports amount, annually, to about $ 500,000,000 ; the greater portion of which should be produced in this country, from raw materials that might be enhanced in value by the application of American labor and skill. Our total exports are claimed to be of equal extent; but we have to export a million of dollars in gold and silver every week to adjust the balance of trade against us ; while our exports of breadstuff’s only equal our coin exports. We export in provisions and tallow about $ 30,000,000 ; in tobacco, $ 25,000,000; in oils and oil cake, $ 40,000,000; in wood, iron, steel, and manufactures thereof, including machinery, $ 27,000,000; in naval stores, $ 4,000,000; animals, $ 1,000,000; cotton manufactures, $ 6,000,000 ; and round up the exports by sending out of the country, to be manufactured in foreign countries, $ 175,000,000 of raw cotton, every pound of which should be increased fivefold in value through the process of manufacture by American mechanics, instead of sending it to Europe, to be manufactured and exported in valuable fabrics to this and other countries.
Authentic statistics, derived from traffic reports, show the relative average prices at which freight can be taken, per ton each mile, by rail, canal, river, lake, and ocean : at three cents by rail, at one cent by canal, including tolls; at three mills by river; at a quarter of a cent by lake ; and at one and a quarter mills by sea, or $ 3.75 per ton for 3,000 miles, which is less than the price paid for one hundred miles of ordinary railway transportation.
On the 25,000,000 tons of American productions, or domestic commerce, the total cost of transportation,
By rail would be per mile . . . $750,000
The same by canal per mile . . 250,000
“ by river per mile .... 75,000
“ by lake per mile .... 62,500
“ by ocean per mile .... 31,250
If the average distance these American commodities are transported is estimated at one half of the distance between the Mississippi and the Atlantic seaboard, the total amount saved by canal over rail would be $ 250,000,000. One appropriation of this amount judiciously expended during five years in perfecting our system of internal water communications would double the commercial capacity and productive wealth of the nation.
The Mississippi, Ohio, and Missouri Rivers, by an expenditure of less than $ 10,000,000, can be made available, during two thirds of the year, for safe navigation, between New Orleans, St. Paul, and Pittsburg, with steamers of two thousand tons’ capacity, and with steamers of one thousand tons’ capacity between the Mississippi and Fort Benton. The Tennessee River might also be made available for boats of a thousand tons’ capacity under this appropriation. By an expenditure of $ 40,000,000, — or about the cost of the Erie Canal, which has received tribute, chiefly on Western commerce, in tolls amounting to over $ 75,000,000,—we might have the completion of the great continuous Central Line of water communication. of an annual freighting capacity of 7,000,000 tons, between the Ohio River and Chesapeake Bay or Hampton Roads via the Kanawha and James Rivers and canal, according to the programme of its projectors and early friends, Among these were General Washington, then ex-President; Mr. Madison, afterwards President ; Mr. Tyler, father of President John Tyler ; Benjamin Harrison, father of President William H. Harrison ; Edmund Randolph, formerly a member of President Washington’s Cabinet ; and other distinguished citizens of Virginia.
The Virginia water-line of communication, on which about $ 10,000,000 have already been expended, has the hearty approval of such trustworthy civil and hydraulic engineers as Captain McNeil, of the United States Topographical Engineers, Messrs. Edward Lorraine, Benjamin H. Latrobe, Benjamin Wright, Edward H. Gill, Charles B. Fisk, and Judge Wright, all of whom concur in the feasibility of the line as projected, for the transit of boats of 280 tons’ capacity. This line extends from the capes of Virginia to the Ohio River, a distance of 636 miles, and consists of the James River from its mouth to the head of navigation, at the city of Richmond, a distance of 151 miles ; and by the James River and Kanawha improvement of 485 miles, of which about 277 miles will be canal and 208 miles river navigation. This should be a government work ; for its benefits would be of national dimensions. It is a line of water communication that would be available for nearly the entire year.
It would emancipate the commerce of one half of the States of the Union from burdens that render the industry of twenty millions of people measurably unproductive. It would regulate the railway freight tariffs between the Atlantic and the Mississippi. It would increase the value of the lands of the Western States five times its cost. It would enhance the value of Western products annually to an extent nearly or quite equal to the entire cost of the improvement. It would diffuse the commercial facilities of the nation among millions of people who have long been deprived of needed means of communication, and would also attract immigration to regions of country that have been neglected because they were inaccessible to markets.
In addition to the Southern waterline by the Mississippi, and the Central water-line by the Ohio, Kanawha, and James Rivers and canal, there is like necessity for the perfection of the Northern water-line between the Upper Mississippi and lakes via the Wisconsin and Fox Rivers, which run in opposite directions a mile apart from the centre of Wisconsin, with a lock canal between them, and only seven feet difference in elevation, — the Wisconsin emptying into the Mississippi, and the Fox into Green Bay and Lake Michigan, and both being navigable, by improvements costing less than $ 5,000,000, to steamers of five hundred tons’ capacity. The governors of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska have urged this measure upon the attention of Congress ; and General Warren, after careful examination, has reported favorably on the project. Over one million of dollars of private capital have been expended in the Fox River navigation improvements. Steamers of considerable capacity (over two hundred tons) have passed through these waters, between Lake Michigan or Green Bay and the Mississippi. To complete the great Northern water-line, the Erie Canal should be assumed as a government work, and so enlarged as to double its freighting capacity from five to ten millions of tons annually. These improvements have received the hearty recommendation of our national commercial conventions.
The Illinois River should also be improved ; and thus at either and both ends of Lake Michigan there would be communication with the Valley of the Mississippi at points which would enable freight from Minnesota and Iowa to reach lake navigation through two navigable channels across Wisconsin and Illinois, and add largely to the value of property in those Sates; while with the St. Lawrence as a competitor, at the north, there would be no more imposition upon Western commerce of illiberal canal tolls by the State of New York.
There should be a National Board of Commerce, composed of and auxiliary to, or controlled by, the Congressional Committees on Commerce, free from metropolitan or State control, and assisted by the most skilful of engineers in the service of the general government, to attend to the development of our domestic commerce by a system of improvements in our inland navigation. If New York can neutralize the acts of Congress by denying charters for canals that may not be tributary to her system of navigation, which has too long been operated in an illiberal spirit ; and if New Jersey can exact a head-tax of one dollar for every person who passes through that State to or from other States ; and if bridge obstructions are to be multiplied, to an unlimited extent, on our navigable rivers, — there can be no security to the larger interests of the nation ; for one State can legislate to the detriment of a dozen States. There should be, agreeably with the power vested in Congress, a national policy for all matters affecting the commercial interests of the entire country, as these several proposed water-lines of communication should be regarded as parts and parcels of one grand national system of navigation.
The Mississippi Valley, which conprises an area of about 2,600,000 square miles, is greater than that of all Europe, exclusive of Russia, Norway, and Sweden ; and has an inland navigation of 9,000 miles, of which over 2,000 miles are on the Mississippi River, between the Falls of St. Anthony and New Orleans. The Missouri, with 2,644 miles of navigation up to Fort Benton, and the Ohio, with 975 miles of navigation between Cairo and Pittsburg, are tributaries capable of bearing a commerce of enormous proportions. Other important tributaries of these streams should also be included in the great national system of internal navigation and improvements ; such as the Minnesota, with 300 miles of navigation ; the Wisconsin and Illinois, each with 150 miles of navigable water; the Tennessee, with 600 miles of navigation ; the Cumberland and tributaries, with slack-water improvements, having a navigation of 900 miles ; the Arkansas, with 600 miles ; the Red, with 330 miles in low water, and 820 miles in flood; the White, with 175 miles; the Yazoo, with 240 miles; and several rivers of smaller navigable capacity, that are available for commercial purposes. Nor should we neglect the 800 miles of navigation on the Columbia River ; which reduces the land transportation, between the Northern Atlantic and the Northern Pacific coasts to about 1,400 miles, from the navigable waters of that river to Lake Superior, this being, obviously, the highway of the nations. Some skilful engineer will yet demonstrate the feasibility, as commerce will assert the necessity, of a canal of large capacity on that route. With the great lakes at the North, auxiliary to the available river and canal navigation, this continent would be supplied by avenues of commerce, for the distribution of American products, in endless variety and unlimited quantity, to and from all portions of our common country. To bring these elements of national strength and wealth into harmonious and reciprocal relations, there should be inaugurated a system of internal improvements that will embrace the whole country for its field of operation.
It was with this object in view that the National Commercial Convention, which assembled in Baltimore last September, unanimously adopted the following resolution, which was proposed by Charles Seymour of Wisconsin, seconded by Charles S. Carrington of Virginia, and reported by the Committee on Internal WaterLine Communications, of which John H. Kennard, of Louisiana, was chairman : —
“ Resolved, That the first of the series of National Commercial Annual Conventions, now assembled at Baltimore, having for its chief object the consideration, recommendation, and encouragement of such measures of public importance and utility as tend to develop the resources, to augment the wealth, and to facilitate the commerce of the whole country, deems it proper to declare, at the outset of their career of usefulness and beneficence, that the great industrial, agricultural, and commercial interests of the nation demand, at the hands of the government of the United States, a wise, liberal, and vigorous policy, in promoting, improving, and developing the natural and artificial channels of water communication between the interior of the continent and the seaboard ; for the purpose of cheapening the cost of transportation of produce and merchandise between the various sections of our common country, as the most available and effectual means of promoting the general welfare, of achieving the greatest amount of public good, and of attaining commercial supremacy among the nations.”