COMMUNICATION FROM ROBERT FULTON
from the September 1994 and March 2000 issues of Towpath Topics
a publication of the Middlesex Canal Association, Inc.
contributed by Howard B. Winkler
The MIT Science Library has available for circulation a photocopy of a text in its rare book collection
A TREATISE ON INTERNAL NAVIGATION, Explaining The Principles By Which Canals And Their Appendages Are Laid Out, Constructed And Kept In Repair, Together With Other interesting And Useful Matters Connected With The Subject; Compiled [by Joshua A. Secor,] From The Latest And Most Approved Authorities: To Which Is Annexed The Report of Albert Gallatin on Roads And Canal. Ballston Spa: Printed by U. F. Doubleday. 1817.
The Treatise, 152 pages in length, is followed by a
Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, on the Subject of Public Roads and Canal: made in pursuance of a resolution of Senate, of March 2d, 1807.
which is 116 pages in length. Pages 100 to 116 of the Report contain a communication from Robert Fulton to Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, dated December 8, 1807.
Because of the poor quality of the MIT circulation copy, it was not possible to provide a legible facsimile of the original. What follows is a retyped copy of the original with a best attempt to reproduce the style and spelling. The copy that follows was proof read, twice. Any remaining mistakes are the fault of the contributor.
Mr. Fulton's Communication.
By your letter of the 29th of July I am happy to find that the attention of congress is directing itself towards the opening of communications through the United States by means of roads and canals; and it would give me particular pleasure to aid you with useful information on such works, as I have long been contemplating their importance in many points of view.
But a year has not yet elapsed since I returned to America, and my private concerns have occupied so much of my time that as yet I have acquired but very little local information on the several canals which have been commenced.
Such information, however, is perhaps at present not the most important branch of the subject, particularly as it can be obtained in a few months at a small expense, whenever the public mind shall be impressed with a sense of the vast advantages of a general system of cheap conveyance.
I hope, indeed, that every intelligent American will, in a few years, be fully convinced of the necessity of such works to promote the national wealth and his individual interest. Such conviction must arise from that habit of reflection which accompanies the republican principle, and points out their true interest, on the subjects of political economy. From such reflections arise their love of agriculture and the useful arts, knowing them to augment the riches and happiness of the nation ; hence also their dislike to standing armies and military navies as being the means of increasing the proportion of non-productive individuals whose labour is not only lost, but who must be supported out of the produce of the industrious inhabitants, and diminish their enjoyments.
Such right thinking does great honour to our nation, and leads forward to the highest possible state of civilization by directing the powers of man from useless and destructive occupations to pursuits which multiply the productions of useful labour and create abundance.
Though such principles actuate our citizens, they are not yet in every instance aware of their best interests, nor can it be expected that they should perceive at once the advantages of those plans of improvement which are still new in this country. Hence the most useful works have sometimes been opposed; and we are not without examples of men being elected into the State legislatures for the express purpose of preventing roads, canals, and bridges being constructed. But in such errors of judgment our countrymen have not been singular. When a bill was brought into the British Parliament 50 years ago, to establish turnpike roads throughout the kingdom, the inhabitants for forty miles round London, petitioned against such roads. Their arguments were, that good roads would enable the farmers of the interior country to bring their produce to the London market cheaper than they who lived nearer the city and paid higher rents - that the market would be overstocked, the prices diminished, and they unable to pay their rents or obtain a living. The good sense of parliament however prevailed - the roads were made, the population and commerce of London increased, the demand for produce increased, and he who lived nearest London still had a superior advantage in the market.
In like manner I hope the good sense of our legislature will prevail over the ignorance and prejudice which may still exist against canals. And here an important question occurs which it may be proper to examine with some attention in this early stage of our public improvements, whether, as a system, we should prefer canals to turnpike roads? Our habits are in favor of roads; and few of us have conceived any better method of opening communications to the various parts of the States. But in China and Holland canals are more numerous than roads; in these countries the inhabitants are accustomed to see all their productions carried either on natural or artificial canals; and they would be as much at a loss to know how we, as a civilized people, could do without such means of conveyance as we are surprised at their perseverance and ingenuity in making them.1 England, France, and the principal states of Europe, commenced their improvements with roads ; but as the science of the engineer improved and civilization advanced, canals were introduced, and England and France are now making every exertion to get the whole of their heavy productions water borne, for they have become sensible of the vast superiority of canals over roads.
Our system perhaps ought to embrace them both - canals for the long carriage of the whole materials of agriculture and manufactures, and roads for travelling and the more numerous communications of the country. With these two modes in contemplation, when public money is to be expended with a view to the greatest good, we should now consider which object is entitled to our first attention. Shall we begin with canals, which will carry the farmer's produce cheap to market and return him merchandise at reduced prices? or shall we first make roads to accommodate travellers and let the produce of our farms, mines and forests, labour under such heavy expenses that they cannot come to market?
To throw some light on this interesting question, I will base my calculations on the Lancaster turnpike road. There the fair experiment has been made to penetrate from Philadelphia to the interior country, and the mode of calculation here given will serve for drawing comparisons on the utility of roads and canals for all the great leading communications of America.
From Philadelphia to the Susquehannah, at Columbia is 74 miles. That road, if I am rightly informed, cost on an average 6,000 dollars a mile, or 444,000 dollars for the whole. On it, from Columbia to Philadelphia, a barrel of flour, say 200 weight, pays one dollar carriage. A broad wheeled wagon carries 30 barrels or 3 tons, and pays for turnpike 3 dollars. Thus for each ton carried, the turnpike company receives only one dollar.
I will now suppose a canal to have been cut from Philadelphia to Columbia, and with its windings to make 100 miles, at 15,0002 dollars a mile, or for the whole, 1,500,000 dollars. On such canal, one man, one boy, an horse, would convey 25 tons 20 miles a day3, on which the following would be the expenses:
|One man,||$ 1 00|
|One horse,||1 00|
|One boy,||0 50|
|Tolls for repairing the canal,||1 00|
|Tolls for passing locks, inclined planes, tunnels, and aqueducts,||1 00|
|Interest on the wear of the boat,||0 50|
|Total,||$ 5 00|
This is equal to 20 cents a ton for 20 miles, and no more than one dollar a ton for 100 miles, instead of 10 dollars paid by the road. Consequently, for each ton carried from Columbia to Philadelphia, on the canal, the company might take a toll of six dollars instead of one, which is now got by the road; and then the flour would arrive at Philadelphia for 7 dollars a ton, instead of ten, which it now pays. The merchandise would also arrive at Columbia from Philadelphia, for 3 dollars a ton less than is now paid, which cheap carriage both ways would not only benefit the farmer and merchant, but would draw more commerce on the canal then now moves on the road, and hereby add to the profits of the company.
But to proceed with my calculations, I will suppose that exactly the same number of tons would move on the canal that are now transported by the road. Again, let it be supposed that at one dollar a ton the turnpike company gains five per cent per annum on their capital of 444,000 dollars, or 22,200 dollars, consequently 22,200 tons must be carried, which at six dollars a ton to the canal company would have given 133,200 dollars a year, or eight and a half per cent for their capital of 1,500,000 dollars.
The reason of this vast difference in the expense of carriage by roads or canals will be obvious to anyone who will take the trouble to reflect, that on a road of the best kind four horses, and sometimes five, are necessary to transport only three tons. On a canal one horse will draw 25 tons, and thus perform the work of 40 horses; the saving, therefore, is in the value of the horses, their feeding, shoeing, geer, wagons, and attendance. These facts should induce companies to consider well their interest when contemplating an enterprise of this sort; and what would be their profits not only in interest for their capital, but the benefit which their lands would receive by the cheap carriage of manure and of their productions.
In considering the profits to accrue to a company from a canal instead of roads there is another important calculation to be made, and for that purpose I will proceed with the Lancaster Turnpike: supposing it to extend to Pittsburgh, 320 miles, on which, the carriage being at the rate now paid from Columbia to Philadelphia, (that is, 10 dollars a ton for 74 miles) the ton from Pittsburgh would amount to 42 dollars; at which price a barrel of flour would cost four dollars in carriage, an expense which excludes it from market. Thus grain, the most important and abundant production of our interior country, and which should give vigour to our manufactures, is shut up in the districts most favorable to its culture; or to render it portable and convert it into cash, it must be distilled, to brutalize and poison society. In like manner, all heavy articles of little moneyed value can only move within the narrow limits of 100 miles; but were a canal made the whole distance, and by one or more companies they might arrange the tolls in the following manner, so as to favor the long carriage of heavy articles.
The expense of man, boy, and horse, as before stated, would cost only three dollars to boat one ton of flour 300 miles. This is 30 cents a barrel; suppose then that the company received 70 cents a barrel, or seven dollars a ton, flour could then come from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia for one dollar a barrel, the sum which is now paid from Columbia; thus the canal company would gain seven dollars a ton by a trade which could never move through a road of equal length. Here we see that on canals the tolls may be arranged so as to draw to them articles of little moneyed value; and it would be the interest of the company or companies to make such regulations. But on turnpike roads no such accommodation of charges in proportion to distance can be effected, because of the number of horses which cannot be dispensed with.4 Even were the roads made at the public expense and toll free, still the carriage of one ton for 300 miles would cost at least 35 dollars. But were canals made at the public expense, and no other toll demanded than should be sufficient to keep them in repair, a ton in boating and tolls would only cost three dollars for 300 miles; and for 35 dollars, the sum which must be paid to carry one ton 300 miles on the best of roads, it could be boated three thousand five hundred miles, and draw resources from the centre of this vast continent.
But striking as this comparison is, I will still extend it. The merchandise which can bear the expense of carriage on our present roads to Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Tennessee, or any other distance of 300 miles, and which, for that distance, pays 100 a ton, could be boated on canals ten thousand miles for that sum.
As these calculations are founded on facts which will not be denied by any one aquatinted with the advantages of canals, it is the interest of every man of landed property, and particularly of the farmers of the back countries, that canals should be immediately constructed, and rendered as numerous as the funds of the nation will permit, and the present population requires; and as inhabitants multiply most towards the interior, and must extend westward, still moving more distant from the sea-coast and the market for their produce, it is good policy, and right that canals should follow them. In 25 years our population will amount to 14 millions; two thirds of whom will spread over the western countries. Suppose then that 3,500,000 dollars were annually appropriated to canals, such a sum would pay for 300 miles of canal each year, and in 20 years we should have 6,000 miles circulating through and penetrating into the interior of the different States; such sums though seemingly large, and such works, though apparently stupendous, are not more than sufficient to keep pace with the rapid increase of our population, to open a market and carry to every district such foreign articles we near the coast enjoy. With this view of the subject, arises a political question of the utmost magnitude to these States - which is:
That as our national debt diminishes, and the treasury increases in surplus revenue, will it not be the best interest of the people to continue the present duties on imports, and expend the products in national improvements?
To illustrate this question, I will state some examples of duties and the expense of carriage to prove that by keeping on the duties, and making canals with the revenue, goods, in a great number of instances, will be cheaper to the consumer, than by taking off the duties, and leaving the transport to roads.
|Brown sugar pays in duty 2 1-2 cents a pound, or for 100 pounds,||$2 50|
|It pays for wagoning 300 miles,||5 00|
By the canal it would cost in boating 15 cents for 300 miles, consequently the boating and duty would amount to $2 65, therefore by keeping on the duty, and making the canals, sugar would arrive at the interior, 300 miles, for $2 35 the hundred weight cheaper than if duties were taken off and the transport left to roads.
|One bushel of salt, weighing 56 pounds, paid in duty,||$0 20|
|To carry it 300 miles, by roads, the expense is,||2 50|
By the canal it would cost for boating 300 miles, 7 1-2 cents. By keeping the duties and making the canals, it would arrive to the interior consumer $2 32 1-2 cents the bushel cheaper than were the duties taken off and transport left to roads.
|Molasses pays 5 cents a gallon duty; this is for 100 pounds,||$0 75|
|It pays for wagoning 300 miles||5 00|
By the canal the carriage would cost 15 cents, and it would arrive at the interior at $4 10 cents the hundred weight or 27 cents a gallon cheaper than were the duties taken off and the transport left to roads.
Numerous other articles might be stated to show that the real mode of rendering them cheap to the interior consumer, is to keep on the duties and facilitate the carriage with the funds so raised. These however may be considered as partial benefits, and not sufficiently general to warrant keeping on the duties. But there is a point of view in which I hope it will appear that the advantages are general, and will be felt without every part of the States. It is by reducing the expense of all kinds of carriage, and thus economize to each individual more than he now pays in duty on foreign articles he consumes.
Wood for fuel is an article of the first necessity. It cannot be the expense of transport 20 miles on roads. At that distance it is shut out of the market, and the price of fuel is consequently raised to the amount of the carriage. Were a cord of wood carried 20 miles on the roads, it would pay for wagoning at least 3 dollars. On a canal it would pay 20 cents. Thus on only one cord of wood there is an economy of $2 80 cents. Which economy would pay the duty.
|On 14 lbs. of tea, at 20 cents the lb duty, or|
|140 lbs. of sugar, at 2 cents the lb duty, or|
|56 lbs. of coffee, at 5 cents the lb duty, or|
|14 bushels of salt, at 20 cts the bushel duty, or|
|56 gallons of molasses, at 5 cents the gallon duty.|
I will now suppose a city of 50,000 inhabitants, who, for their household and other uses, will consume 50,000 cords a year, on which there would be an economy of $140 000, a sum in all probability equal to the duties paid by the inhabitants; for the duties divided on the whole of the American people are but $2 28 cents to each individual. Here I have estimated each person to pay $2 80 cents, yet this estimate is made on one cord of wood to each inhabitant of a city. Were I to calculate the economy on the carriage of building timber, lime, sand, bricks, stone, iron, flour, corn, provisions, and materials of all kinds which enter or go out of a city, it would be five times this sum; and thus the towns and cities are to be benefitted. The farmer, or miller who lives 20 miles from a market, pays at least 22 cents to wagon a barrel of flour that distance. By the canal it would cost two cents: the economy would be 20 cts.; at least 100 miles the economy would be 100 cents, and at 150 miles it would be 150 cents. Beyond this distance flour cannot come to market by roads, yet at this distance the economy of 150 cents in the carriage of one barrel of flour would pay the duty on
|7 1-2 pounds of tea;|
|or 75 pounds of sugar;|
|or 30 pounds of coffee;|
|or 7 1-2 bushels of salt;|
|or 30 gallons of molasses.|
Thus it is that the benefits arising from a good system of canals are general and mutual. Therefore should peace, and the reduction of the national debt, give an overflowing treasury, I hope you, and the majority of Americans, will think with me, that the duties should not be taken off nor diminished; for such an act, instead of relieving the people, would really oppress them, by destroying the means of reducing the expense of transports, and of opening to them a cheap mode of arriving at good markets.
To proceed with these demonstrations, let us look at the rich productions of our interior country:
|Wheat, flour, oats, barley, grains, and pulse of every description;|
|Cider, apples, and fruits of all kinds;|
|Salt, salted beef, pork, and other kinds of meats5;|
|Hides, tallow, bees-wax;|
|Cast and forged iron;|
|Pot and pearl ashes, tanner's bark;|
|Tar, pitch, rosin, and turpentine;|
|Hemp, flax, and wool;|
|Plaster of Paris, so necessary to our agriculture;|
|Coals and potter's earth for our manufactures;|
|Marble, lime, and timber for our buildings.|
All of these articles are of the first necessity, but few of them can bear the expense of 5 dollars the hundred weight to be transported 300 miles on roads. Yet on canals they would cost, in boating, only 15 cents the 100 weight for that distance.
There is another great advantage to individuals and the nation arising from canals, which roads can never give. It is that when a canal runs through a long line of mountainous country, such as the greater part of the interior of America, all the grounds below, for half a mile or more, may be watered and converted into meadow and other profitable culture. How much these conveniences of irrigation will add to the produce of agriculture, and the beauties of nature, I leave to experienced farmers and agricultural societies to calculate.
In Italy and Spain it is the practice to sell water out of the canals, for watering meadows and other lands. In such cases tubes are put into the canal, under the pressure of a certain head of water, and suffered to run a given time for a fixed price; the moneys thus gained added much to the emoluments of the canal companies.
But with all of these immense advantages which canals give, it may be a question with many individuals, whether they can be constructed in great leading lines from our sea-coast and navigable rivers to the frontiers of the several states, or passes our mountains and penetrate to the remotest parts of our interior country. Should doubts arise on this part of the plan, I beg leave to assure you, that there is no difficulty in carrying canals over our highest mountains, even where nature has denied us water. For water is always to be found in the valleys; and the canal can be constructed to the foot of the mountain, carrying the water to that situation. Should there be no water on the mountain or its sides, there will be wood or coals; either or both of which can be brought cheap to the works by means of the canal. Then with steam engines the upper ponds of canal can be filled from the lower levels, and with the engines the boats can, on inclined planes, be drawn from the lower to the upper canal. For this mode of operating it is necessary to have small boats of six tons each. As the steam engines are drawn up and let down the boats on inclined planes, no water is drawn from the upper level of the canal, as when locks are used. Consequently, when the upper ponds have been once filled, it is only necessary that the engine should supply leakage and evaporation. There is another mode of supplying the leakage and evaporation of the higher levels: On the tops and sides of mountains there are hollows or ravines which can be banked at the lower extremity, thus forming a reservoir to catch the rain or melted snow. From such reservoirs the ponds of canal can be replenished in the dry months of summer. This mode of reserving water is in practice in England for canals, and in Spain for irrigation. In this manner I will suppose it necessary to pass mountain 800 feet high; then four inclined planes, each of 200 feet rise, would gain the summit, and four would descend on the other side - total, 8 inclined planes, and 8 steam engines. Each steam engine of 12 horse power would cost about ten thousand dollars, in all 80,000 dollars; each would burn about 12 bushels of coal in 12 hours, or 96 bushels for the 8 engines for one day's work.
|The coals in such situations may be estimated at 12 cts. a bushel, or||$ 11 52|
|At each engine and inclined plane there must be 5 men - total, 40 men, at one dollar each,||40 00|
|Total,||$ 51 52|
|For this sum they could pass 500 tons in one day over the 8 inclined planes, which for each ton is only||10 cents|
|Suppose the mountain to be 20 miles wide, boating for each ton would cost||20|
a ton for passing over the mountain, which will be more or less, according to circumstances. These calculations being only intended to remove any doubts which may arise on the practicability of passing our mountains.
Having thus in some degree considered the advantages which canals will produce in point of wealth to individuals and the nation, I will now consider their importance to the Union, and their political consequences.
First, their effect on raising the value of the public lands, and thereby augmenting the revenue.
In all cases where the canals shall pass through the lands of the United States, and open a cheap communication to a good market, such lands will rise in value for 20 miles on each side of the canal. The farmer who will reside 20 miles from the canal can in one day carry a load of produce to its borders; and where he lands 600 miles from one of our seaport towns his barrel of flour, in weight 200 lb., could be carried that distance for 60 cents, the price which is now paid to carry a barrel 50 miles on the Lancaster turnpike. Consequently, as related to cheapness of carriage and easy access to market, the new lands which lie 600 miles from the seaports would be of equal value with lands of equal fertility which are 50 miles from the sea-ports. But not to insist on their being of so great a value until population is a great, it is evident that they must rise in value in a three or four fold degree. Every lineal mile of canal would accommodate 25,600 acres. The land sold by the United States in 1806, averaged about 2 dollars an acre, and certainly every acre accommodated with a canal would produce 6 dollars; thus only 20 miles of canal each year running through national lands would raise the value of 512,000 acres at least 4 dollars an acre, giving 2 048 000 dollars to the treasury; a sum sufficient to make 136 miles of canal. Had an individual such a property and funds to construct canals to its centre, he certainly would do it for his own interest. The nation has the property, and the nation possesses ample funds for such undertakings.
Secondly, on their effect in cementing the Union and extending the principles of confederated republican government. Numerous have been the speculations on the duration of our Union, and intrigues have been practised to sever the western from the eastern States. The opinion endeavored to be inculcated was that the inhabitants behind the mountains were cut off from the market of the Atlantic States; that consequently they had a separate interest, and should use their resources to open a communication to a market of their own; that remote from the seat of government, they could not enjoy their portion of advantages arising from the Union, and that sooner or later they must separate and govern for themselves.
Others, by drawing their examples from European governments, and the monarchies which have grown out of the feudal habits of nations of warriors, whose minds were bent to the absolute power of the few, and the servile obedience of the many, have conceived these States of too great an extent to continue united under a republican form of government, and the time is not distant when they will divide into little kingdoms, retrograding from common sense to ignorance, adopting all the follies and barbarities which are every day practised in the kingdoms and petty states of Europe. But those who have reasoned in this way have not reflected that men are the creatures of habit, and that their habits as well as their interests may be so combined as to make it impossible to separate them without falling back into a state of barbarism. Although, in ancient times, some specks of civilization have been effaced by hordes of uncultivated men, yet it is remarkable that since the invention of printing and the general diffusion of knowledge no nation has retrograded in science or improvements; nor is it reasonable to suppose that the Americans, who have as much if not more information in general than any other people, will ever abandon an advantage which they have once gained. England, which at one time was seven petty kingdoms, has by habit, long been united into one. Scotland, by succession, became united to England, and is now bound to her by habit, by turnpike roads, canal, and reciprocal interests. In like manner all the counties of England, or departments of France, are bound to each other; and when the United States shall be bound together by canals, by cheap and easy access to market in all directions, by a sense of mutual interests arising from mutual intercourse and mingled commerce, it will be no more possible to split them into independent and separate governments, each lining its frontiers with fortifications and troops, to shackle their own exports and imports to and from the neighboring States, then it is now possible for the government of England to divide and form again into seven kingdoms.
But it is necessary to bind the States together by the people's interests, one of which is to enable every man to sell the produce of his labor at the best market and purchase at the cheapest. This accords with the idea of Hume, "That the government of a wise people would be little more than a system of civil police; for the best interest of man is industry, and a free exchange of the produce of his labor for the things which he may require."
On this humane principle, what stronger bonds of union can be invented than those which enable each individual to transport the produce of his industry 1,200 miles for 60 cents the hundred weight? Here then is a certain method of securing the union of the States, and of rendering it as lasting as the continent we inhabit.
It is now eleven years that I have had this plan in contemplation for the good of our country. At the conclusion of my work on small canals there is a letter to Thomas Mifflin, then governor of the State of Pennsylvania, on a system of canals for America. In it I contemplated the time when "canals should pass through every vale, wind round each hill, and bind the whole country together in the bonds of social intercourse;" and I am now happy to find, that, through the good management of a wise administration, a period has arrived when an overflowing treasury exhibits abundant resources and points the mind to works of such immense importance. Hoping speedily to see them become favorite objects with the whole American people.
I have the honor to be,
Your most obedient,
To Albert Gallatin, Esq.
Secretary of the Treasury.
Washington, December the 8th, 1807.