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Remarks on Ship Canals and Finances,
June 30, 1862, in Congress


    Mr. Stevens. I offer the following as an additional section to the original bill.

(The bill referred to is one that would have approved the construction of a ship canal between the Mississippi River and Lake Michigan)

    Sec, -- And be it further enacted, That there be appropriated $100,000,000 to slack water the Susquehanna River from its mouth to its source, in New York, and then for constructing a ship canal to Lake Erie at or near Buffalo.

    I offer that amendment for the purpose of showing that we are not selfish, that we are willing to take our full share of the many millions which these internal improvements will cost. But, sir, to say nothing of that, I believe this is the most feasible scheme that has been offered. The Susquehanna River has water in it, whereas the Illinois Rivers has sometimes only, and I have great fears that if you open a communication to it from the lake to furnish water for the river, you will drain the lake and find nothing but dry land. (Laughter.)

    But if you slack water the Susquehanna a few hundred miles up into New York, and then build a canal to Lake Erie, you will have navigation for your gunboats all the year road, except a short time in the winter when it will be frozen over. To be sure the cost may be considerable, but in a matter of this kind, $200,000,000 is nothing. At any rate, I should judge so from the number of gentlemen who have gravely discussed this question as if they were in earnest. I did not at first suppose it would be possible to get as many votes for this project as we have had speeches for it today; but, sir, recollecting that an election is close at hand, and that such a measure would be very useful in navigating the shoals that may lie in the channels of some of these gentlemen, I am very glad they have gone to work to clear them out.

    Now, Mr. Speaker, look at the absurdity of the statements you have heard on this floor today. In the first place gentlemen are to have a war with Great Britain in sixty and at furthest ninety days. We are sure there will be war, because Great Britain has taken up the cause of the light women of New Orleans. (Laughter.) I remember to have read some time since that woman was causa belli ante Helenam, but I had no idea that those females were going to be the cause of the war. (Renewed Laughter.) I think all this is done as an embellishment to the canals which these gentlemen are so industriously digging through this House.

    Now, sir, in these sixty days, or ninety days at furthest, you will have war with Great Britain, and these gunboats will be needed on the northern lakes. Well, my friend from New York (Mr. Olin) says it will take five years to construct this Illinois and Michigan canal. My friend (from Illinois) thinks it will take four years and a half instead of five; and we are to go to work and dig this canal instead of building them on the lake shore, or buying them and fitting them up, which can be done at any time on sixty days’ notice.

    Mr. Arnold of Illinois. I suppose it is the policy of the gentleman to misrepresent what is said. If it is not, I beg to say the gentleman does not report me correctly.

    Mr. Stevens. I shall be very glad to give the gentleman an opportunity of correcting himself.

    Mr. Arnold. I said nothing about its taking four years and a half to construct the Illinois and Michigan canal.

    Mr. Stevens. The gentleman from New York said it would take five years to complete it. The gentleman from Illinois replied that it would not take quite that.

    Mr. Arnold. I said it would take less time than that.

    Mr. Stevens. The gentleman said it would take less time, and as four years and a half was a little less time, I thought it was perhaps that period which the gentleman intended to indicate, (Laughter,) and until the gentleman names some other period, I shall suppose my statement was correct.

    Mr. Fouke, of Illinois. I ask the gentleman to give way to permit me to offer an amendment in connection with his, which he may have the benefit of in his comments on the bill.

    Mr. Stevens. When I have finished what I have to say, the gentleman may offer it. If the gentleman’s amendment, however, is offered as a speech, I will give him a chance to make a speech.

    Mr. Fouke. Not at all.

    Mr. Stevens. The great argument in favor of this bill in favor of constructing these canals, is to get the gunboats into the lakes because Great Britain is about to declare war. If Great Britain is to wait four years and a half for this Michigan and Illinois canal to be finished, her heat about these New Orleans women will be cooled off, (laughter,) and the gunboats may not be wanted after all.

    But suppose Great Britain does declare war; I admit she might send her gunboats in about sixty days into the lakes through the Welland canal. But, in the meantime, ten thousand of the men we are now wasting and destroying could go there and blow up and destroy the Welland canal so that England’s gunboats could no more get round the falls than we could. There would be an end to that argument.

    Now, then, if you want to send a flotilla of gunboats from New York or Boston to the lakes – and there is the place to bring them – I admit that the enlargement of the Erie Canal is the proper means of accomplishing it. Let me suggest, however, that when you have reached Rochester you are within nine miles of Lake Ontario. You may then enlarge the Erie Canal to Rochester, and by digging a canal to Lake Erie, float your gunboats into Lake Ontario, which is below the falls; then complete the enlargement to Buffalo, and you may float them into Lake Erie, which is above the falls. You will then have access to both lakes at once. But when you bring your gunboats into the lakes at Chicago, you will have no way of getting them into Lake Ontario except to run the falls, which is said to be a little perilous in the spring of the year. (Laughter.) Another argument in favor of this scheme, if you are to accomplish this purpose at all, is that upon the Erie Canal you have only to enlarge the locks and nine miles of a new canal to dig, against the long distance of new canal in Illinois.

    Mr. Olin. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman from Pennsylvania were a little better acquainted with the geography of New York than he seems to be, he would see that a canal from Rochester to Lake Ontario, and from Rochester to Buffalo, would not avail for the purpose which we have in view; for neither of these places would give us a suitable outlet to the ocean.

    Mr. Stevens. I proposed that if they would enlarge their water communications from New York up to that point, it would be a better plan. That by itself would have something in it, and would answer all the purposes which both these impracticable projects propose. I admit that I am not so well acquainted with New York as the gentleman. Perhaps it would be cheaper to enlarge the canal already made; but I do not know how far, in these times, I should be disposed to favor it.

    But the other is a project which it will take years to finish, and which will cost millions upon millions of dollars. It is much easier to go up the Susquehanna according to my plan than to go three thousand miles up the Mississippi river, then up the lake, and then to make a river to the upper lakes. I am aware that my project is not sufficiently appreciated by the House at this time; that it will require three or four months to have it printed and properly digested; and I move, therefore, that the further consideration of this subject be postponed until the first Monday in January next, and on that motion I demand the previous question.


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