Date of Graduation
Patterns of commerce and settlement in colonial America were shaped by watercourses and portages. Road building skills were primitive and boating represented the most effective means of moving bulk freight and passengers. Traders and frontiersmen leading the advance of European settlement into the Appalachian Mountains therefore adopted the shortest crossings between watersheds. Natural conditions in Pennsylvania did not promote an orderly advance westward and produced isolated clusters of settlement around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with small and widespread settlements in Northwest Pennsylvania. State leaders were hard pressed to define the limits of Pennsylvania until the end of the eighteenth century, and opening roads and canals was viewed as a tool for reinforcing state boundaries in subsequent years. Public policy in Pennsylvania during the early part of the nineteenth century was therefore shaped by concerns for joining these scattered populations into a commercial network under one government. This task was complicated by outside influences and sectional rivalries that reflected the fractured landscape of Pennsylvania. Promoting public improvements therefore became a matter of trading favors and making deals to promote internal improvements between the major settlement clusters in Pennsylvania. Settlements on the fringes of the state economy assumed a heightened role in government because every vote was needed to fund these major constructions. Businessmen and politicians who were trying to build a canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in 1825 were forced to add hundreds of miles of branch lines as a result. Northwest Pennsylvania was rewarded with a system covering that entire part of the state and joining navigation on the Ohio River with the Great Lakes. These commitments overwhelmed any real ability to pay for them. Work sputtered on the minor canals including the French Creek Division, Beaver Division and the Erie Extension Canal in Northwest Pennsylvania. The internal improvements movement in Northwest Pennsylvania therefore illustrates the conflicts and processes of Pennsylvania state government through the first half of the nineteenth century. Canal building is featured as the single largest expenditure of tax dollars in Northwest Pennsylvania during this period.
McCarthy, William David, "Building the Beaver and Lake Erie Canal: The politics of public improvements in Pennsylvania, 1783-1845." (2002). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 9380.