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Gallatin's Report on Roads, Canals, Harbors, and Rivers


GALLATIN'S REPORT ON ROADS, CANALS, HARBORS, AND RIVERS. At its beginning the United States was so deficient in avenues of transportation—with roads in some areas practically impassable several months of the year—that political disintegration was gravely feared. So insistent were the demands for improvement that, acting on a Senate resolution of 1807, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin prepared an analysis and program, presented in 1808. He urged the national government to build a series of canals along the Atlantic seaboard from Massachusetts to the Carolinas; build interior canals and roads; and establish communication between the Atlantic and midwestern rivers and with the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. He thought that all of the improvements could be made for $20 million, and as the Treasury was steadily accumulating a surplus, that the debt could be paid in ten years. This proposed indebtedness, the first suggestion of the sort in U.S. history, was bitterly denounced by many, and President Thomas Jefferson did not believe the idea constitutional. While the subject was being debated, the War of 1812 approached and soon stopped all thought of the projects. After the war they were brought up again, and four roads were built, but no canals. Gallatin's report was prophetic in that most of the works he advocated were later completed either by the federal government, as was the Intracoastal Waterway, or by the states, as was the Erie Canal. The subject of internal improvements became increasingly divisive during the antebellum period, pitting Whigs, who generally supported federal funds for transportation improvements, against Democrats, who did not.


Ewing, Frank E. America's Forgotten Statesman: Albert Gallatin. New York: Vantage Press, 1959.

Kuppenheimer, L. B. Albert Gallatin's Vision of Democratic Stability: An Interpretive Profile. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Walters, Ray. Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonian Financier and Diplomat. New York: Macmillan, 1957.

Alvin F.Harlow/a. g.

See alsoCanals ; River and Harbor Improvements .

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