Friday, June 30, 2017
News flash! Clinton Street wasn't named for Hillary Clinton
July 1 is an important date in American history.
And no, not because, barring a miracle, that date will mark the beginning of the third year Illinois has gone without a budget.
As if that grim anniversary were not bad enough, this July 1 history taps us on the shoulder and reminds us who we used to be.
Two hundred years ago Saturday, DeWitt Clinton was inaugurated as governor of New York.
Who was DeWitt Clinton? He was a politician who wanted to dig a canal across New York State. That way, Atlantic Ocean commerce could pass through the port of New York, move 150 miles down the Hudson River, meet the proposed canal at Albany, float west 350 miles, then enter Lake Erie at Buffalo.
A project of this magnitude seemed to demand national effort. Clinton first tried to get the budding federal government to foot the bill. Thomas Jefferson dismissed the canal as "little short of madness."
But just as states now are picking up balls dropped by our paralyzed federal government, so Clinton brought the battle home. He ran for governor vowing to build the canal if elected.
Clinton won, and was inaugurated July 1, 1817. Construction of the canal began ... wait for it ... three days later, on July 4, just outside Rome, New York. The heart breaks.
The canal — 40 feet wide, four feet deep and 363 miles long — was dug by hand, with shovels and picks, with the occasional black powder explosion. It required 83 locks to surmount 675 feet of elevation. and aqueducts to cross streams. Before the canal, it cost $100 to move a ton of freight from New York City to Buffalo. After the canal opened in 1825, the same shipment cost $10 and got there in a third of the time. Tolls repaid the cost to dig the canal within a decade.
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