The first great east-west highway
in the United States was the Erie Canal
. It was completed in 1825. It was wholly within the State of New York and was paid for by the state. Taxes and lotteries raised the $7,000,000
it cost to make a 363 mile ditch 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide. It had 82 locks to raise boats a total of 571 feet between the Hudson River
. It was by far the most comfortable and the expediant way for passanger travel over such a distance. Costs for freight were cut as much as 90 per cent. Passenger fares were about a cent and a half a mile
. From New York City
was a five-day trip as the barges were pulled along the canal by horses on the tow paths.
A look at the map shows that the Mississippi River and its great tributaries from a splendid transportation system converging on New Orleans. It was apparently Mother Nature's inclination to draw commerce from the Great Lakes regions and the Ohio Valley southward. That was the direction of trade before the Erie Canal. But with the new route from Buffalo to Albany the traffic turned east-ward. The population was to the east, the best markets were to the east, and the best approach to Europe was to the east. The Erie Canalbound the West to the Northeast much more effectively than the Mississippi River tied the West to the South.
Before the Erie Canal the port of New Orleans held promise of being the busiest port in the United States. After the Erie Canal the city of New York was an easy winner. Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Charleston, and New Orleans all grew more slowly as a result of Governor Clinton's ditch. But the economic pull of the Erie Canal was not the whole story. Commerical ties form political ties. The politcal struggle bewteen the Northeast and the South for the support of the West in their increasingly bitter conlfict over commericial vs. agrarian interests, over increasing federal power vs. states rights, over interpretation of the Constitution, and finally over slavery were also part of the Erie Canal story. The Northeast and the West were brought closer together while the South was slipping into isolation.