James Madison Papers

From James Madison to Congress, 23 December 1811

To Congress

Washington December 23d 1811

I communicate to Congress copies of an Act of the Legislature of New York, relating to a canal from the Great Lakes to Hudsons river.1 In making the communication, I consult the respect due to that State; in whose behalf, the commissioners appointed by the Act, have placed it in my hands for the purpose.2

The utility of canal navigation is universally admitted.3 It is not less certain that scarcely any Country offers more extensive opportunities for that branch of improvements, than the United States; and none perhaps, inducements equally persuasive, to make the most of them. The particular undertaking contemplated by the State of New York, which marks an honorable spirit of enterprize, and comprizes objects of national as well as more limited importance, will recall the attention of Congress to the signal advantages to be derived to the United States, from a general system of internal communication and conveyance; and suggest to their consideration, whatever steps may be proper on their part, towards its introduction and accomplishment. As some of those advantages have an intimate connection with arrangements and exertions for the general security, it is at a period calling for these, that the merits of such a system will be seen in the strongest lights.4

James Madison

RC and enclosure (DNA: RG 46, Legislative Proceedings, 12A-E2); RC (DNA: RG 233, President’s Messages, 12A-D1). Both RCs in the hand of Edward Coles, signed by JM. For enclosure, see n. 1.

1The enclosure is a copy, in the hand of Edward Coles, of “An Act to provide for the Improvement of the Internal Navigation of [New York] State,” passed on 8 Apr. 1811 (3 pp.). Gouverneur Morris and DeWitt Clinton had earlier forwarded to JM an “Exemplified” copy of this act (see New York State Canal Commissioners to JM, 8 Oct. 1811, PJM-PS description begins Robert A. Rutland et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Presidential Series (4 vols. to date; Charlottesville, Va., 1984–). description ends , 3:480, 481 n. 1).

2Throughout December 1811 Gouverneur Morris and DeWitt Clinton were lobbying in the capital on behalf of the New York State Canal Commission, though canal construction was not the only item on their agenda. As Delaware senator James A. Bayard wrote, the “ostensible object” of the commissioners’ visit was “a canal from the lakes to the Hudson, which is to cost seven millions of dollars.” “A fine time for such an expenditure,” he added, “when we have not money eno’ in the Treasury to pay the bounties to the troops we propose to raise. The characters of the two men are pretty well known, and it is rather supposed that they mean to open a road to the presidency than a Canal from the lakes.” Dolley Madison confirmed Bayard’s observation when she informed her sister at the same time: “The Intrigu[e]s for P. & Vice P. go on but I expect it may terminate as the last did. The Clintons Smiths Snyders—Armstrongs are all in the field. I believe there will be War. Mr M see’s no end to our perplexities without it” (Bayard to Caesar A. Rodney, 22 Dec. 1811, “James Asheton Bayard Letters, 1802–1814,” Bulletin of the New York Public Library, 4 [1900]: 232–33; Dolley Madison to Anna Payne Cutts, 22 Dec. 1811 [owned by Mrs. George B. Cutts, Wellesley, Mass., 1982]).

3According to a report of the New York Inland Navigation Commissioners’ 21 Dec. 1811 meeting with JM, the president initially “expressed himself to be an enthusiast as to the advantage of interior navigation, by means of canals,” but he was “embarrassed by scruples derived from his interpretation of the constitution.” By the end of the commissioners’ meeting, however, the president was “in a better disposition,” as evidenced by this message to Congress (Report of the Commissioners, Appointed by an Act of the Legislature of the State of New-York, Entitled, “An Act to Provide for the Improvements of the Internal Navigation of the State” [Albany, 1812; Shaw and Shoemaker description begins R. R. Shaw and R. H. Shoemaker, comps., American Bibliography: A Preliminary Checklist for 1801–1819 (22 vols.; New York, 1958–66). description ends 26285], p. 28).

4The House of Representatives referred JM’s message to a committee, which, after consultations with treasury secretary Gallatin, reported back on 20 Feb. 1812 that “the state of the public finances and resources, and present embarrassed situation of the country, render it inexpedient for the Congress of the United States to make a donation in land or money, at the present time, for the purpose of effecting the objects contemplated” (Annals of Congress description begins Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States … (42 vols.; Washington, 1834–56). description ends , 12th Cong., 1st sess., 569, 1078–80).

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