Ben Franklin, the Gulf Stream, and the 1868 Florida Constitution 

 Benjamin Franklin's map of the Gulf Stream

At least to this author’s mind, one of the greatest enigmas in all of Florida history is the insertion in the 1868 Florida constitution of the “Gulf Stream” as the eastern boundary of the Sunshine State. It is unique among the state constitutions of every state in the Union.  No other state uses an indefinite, amorphous and ever-changing geographical feature in describing at least one of its boundaries. Benjamin Franklin was the first to map this feature in 1760.  The stream runs as close as three miles and as distant as two hundred miles from the east coast. The feature changes so rapidly that in a single day, the Gulf Stream changes as much as ten or more miles in width.

Other states use boundaries such as rivers to separate states or the banks of lakes to define their boundaries. Still others, like the coastal states, use statute miles or leagues from the shoreline to define their coastal boundaries, contemplating matters like the distances a cannon ball could be fired from an enemy ship. It’s true that the boundaries of rivers change–over time. But, generally, changes in the courses of rivers depend upon erosion and other natural, predictable, slow-moving changes over time.

Second, the circumstances under which the “Gulf Stream” boundary was inserted remain a mystery subject to speculation.  At the conclusion of the Civil War, before a seceding state could be readmitted to the Union, such state would be required to submit to Congress an acceptable constitution.  In 1868, a duly constituted convention of delegates met in Tallahassee, at the Capitol, and adopted a conservative constitution. A group of radicals bolted the convention and met several miles away at the small town of Monticello. A new “radical” state constitution was adopted under guard behind closed doors.  No complete set of minutes of those meetings survives.  We only know that Congress accepted the “radical” constitution adopted at Monticello and readmitted the State of Florida back into the Union.  The insertion of the Gulf Stream in the 1868 constitution survives to this day.

Its usefulness is doubtful in light of federal law; but as a matter of state history, there it is. And it has never been changed.  Some speculate Florida simply wanted to “flex its muscles”; others believe that the expansion was a protection of important fishing rights in disputes with the Bahama Islands.  Nevertheless, it remains a conundrum without a resolution. Perhaps some day we may know the real reasons for the language.  But for the moment, it remains a mystery.

Hon. Joseph Hampton Moore, president of the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Ass’n

Hon. Joseph Hampton Moore, mayor of Philadelphia, congressman, and founder of the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association.
Hon. Joseph Hampton Moore, mayor of Philadelphia, congressman, and founder of the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association.

Unquestionably the ‘Father’ of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, in 1907 Congressman J. Hampton Moore sponsored a bill to direct the Corps of Engineers to survey the Delaware River in his district for much needed deepening.

Bills dealing with such questions were referred to as Rivers and Harbors bills and were passed, generally, every few years instead of every year.  These bills dealt with the rivers and harbors in a piece-meal fashion pitting one state or congressional district against another. Moore’s bill went down in flames, competing with bills from other states and districts with stronger congressional representation.  In his first term in Congress, Moore could not understand why his bill, which sought only a survey for deepening, went down in defeat.

Moore devised a plan to stop governmental bureaucracy from pitting one state against another when a continuous inland waterway from Maine to Florida was needed. Moore called a meeting in Philadelphia in 1907 to form the Atlantic Deeper Waterways Association. Every Governor, Senator, House member, and interested Mayor from Maine to Florida was invited. It would be an ‘all for one’, and ‘one for all’ proposition calling upon Congress to appropriate $50 million a year for ten years.

Attendees would elect Moore president of the the ADWA for forty straight years until the job was done. A continuous protected inland waterway under federal control from Florida to Norfolk, Va., would not be completed until 1935, along with the Cape Cod Canal and other Atlantic coast inland waterways although not necessarily continuously protected by sufficiently large barrier islands, as in Florida.

Moore’s job had been accomplished. The ‘all for one’ plan worked. For much of the distance the inland waterway was at least 125 feet wide and at least 10 feet deep. Joined in the work was John Humphrey Small, a Member of Congress and for a time Chairman of the Rivers and Harbors Committee.  More important, while Moore was a Philadelphia Republican, Small was a North Carolina Democrat. For years, the two formed an unbeatable combination in Congress on the question of an Intracoastal Waterway.

Author rowing on the Intracoastal, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The author rows a 21′ long ultra-lite Alden Star rowing shell the average person can lift and launch into the water. The oars are top-of-the-line oars hand carved from light wood in Vermont. A pair of oars will set you back about $400 but, in the opinion of the author, the cost is well worth it.

Author rows on the New River Sound (Intracoastal)
Author rows on the New River Sound (Intracoastal)

While more expensive than oars made from PVC, the slightly heavier weight lends more stability. And with experience, the combination of the ultra-lite shell propelled by the wooden oars create an experience that is just this side of heaven. The shell flat flies over water when the wind is down and the water flat.

Rowing on the New River Sound, or almost any tidally-influenced inland waterway, is a rough way to row.  While I have rowed as fast as 10 knots in ideal conditions, those instances are few and far between.  The best conditions are those found in flat water low or no wind such as lakes or closed non-tidally influenced water.

The New River Sound is a portion of the Intracoastal Waterway that runs from Lighthouse Point south through Fort Lauderdale to Hollywood, Fla.

The author took up rowing when age no longer accommodated running.  I enjoyed running. But after discovering rowing, I’d say that rowing is a better conditioning experience with less stress on the feet, ankles, and knees. One caveat: talk to your physician before undertaking any exercise regime and find the right one for you.

President Theodore Roosevelt operating a Dredge in the Culebra Cut of the Panama Canal

Pres. Theodore Roosevelt operating what appears to be a dipper elevator dredge in the Culebra Cut in 1906,
Pres. Theodore Roosevelt operating what appears to be an elevator dredge in the Culebra Cut in 1906.

The Culebra Cut was the most difficult of all the dredging operations in the digging of the Panama Canal.  Capt. David Gaillard, of French Hugenot ancestry, was chief of dredging operations at the Cut and a cousin of Henry Gaillard.  Henry had been one of the four original incorporators of the Florida canal company, the longest serving director, and a St. Augustine state senator.  Henry’s political importance in securing the million acres of state land promised for dredging what would become the Intracoastal Waterway cannot be overstated.  Without Henry’s political clout after the death of Dr. John Westcott, it is doubtful the company would have been successful.

The Culebra Cut was essentially a cut through a solid mountain.  So arduous was the work, including dynamiting and the building of a railway to remove the rock and debris, it left David a broken man.  David was hospitalized for the balance of the Panama Canal work.  He died before the opening ceremonies. Here, Roosevelt operates an elevator dredge, which required level ground and the laying of railway steel and wooden ties.  The Florida canal company used elevator dredges in the northern extension of the Florida waterway from St. Augustine to Jacksonville.  Courtesy, Library of Congress, American Memory.