Unlike the Federalists who believed that the Constitution authorized a full-time standing army, the nation’s third president Thomas Jefferson signed into law the Military Peace Establishment Act (1802). The Act founded the U. S. Military Academy at West Point to train engineers skilled in surveying and planning military roads, inland waterways and constructing bridges, harbors, and lighthouses. But with one crucial caveat. The Constitution, Jefferson argued, prohibited the spending of federal tax money for internal improvements like bridges,, roads, and harbors. For decades the fight between Anti-Federalists like Jefferson and Federalists like Alexander Hamilton who took a broad view of the Constitution held up the construction of necessary internal improvements dependent on federal tax money.
One particular fight was especially interesting. While Congress finally decided that the construction of lighthouses was in the nation’s best interest, Congress would agree to fund the construction of a lighthouse in one of the thirteen original states only if that state agreed to provide the land, free and clear, to the federal government.
General Quincy Adams Gillmore graduated first in his class at West Point. Among his early assignments in tthe 1870s was the study of the Mississippi River and its annual flooding. Gillmore later became chief of the Florida engineers, superintending several inland waterways that would eventually become part of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. But the long-held view that internal improvements should be left to the States continued to hold up the federal funding of roads and inland waterways. Courtesy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.