The Erie Canal at Lockport, New York (1817-1825)

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The construction of the wildly successful Erie Canal in the State of New York set off a new era of canal construction across America. For the first time, an inland waterway provided a connection between New York City on the Atlantic coast and cities along the shores of the Great Lakes like Chicago. The link allowed New York City to surpass Baltimore as the largest city in the United States.

A strict construction of the Constitution rooted in the Constitutional Convention. at Philadelphia limited Congress’s powers to construct “post-roads” and undertake specific tasks set forth with particularity. Federal financing of inland waterways was not one of them. In fact, a bill to engraft the power to build inland waterways failed to pass in Philadelphia. The restraint against federal financing left New Yorkers with little choice but to build the Erie Canal with state and local funding as well as private financing and the implementation of tolls as a means of maintaining the Canal.

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