The Haulover Canal at Titusville (not Baker’s Haulover in Miami-Dade County)

First dredged in 1852, the Haulover Canal connected the Mosquito Lagoon and the Indiian River.
First dredged in 1852, the Haulover Canal connected the Mosquito Lagoon and the Indiian River.

In 1852, Lieutenant Horatio Governeur Wright led the the Corps of Engineers in the second inland waterway Renaissance.  Wright supervised the construction of the first Haulover Canal lined with wood, two feet deep and twelve feet wide at a cost established by Congress at $1,200. Although the amount seems minuscule today, it represented a breakthrough in Congressional thinking about the expenditure of federal funds for internal improvements. For a half a century, Congress authorized funds for surveying projects only but none for construction.

The Haulover Canal, however, represented an exception. The U.S. Army had fought two costly wars against the Seminoles. Men, materiel, and munitions shipped on the Indian River had to be hauled by carts over this spit of land between two bodies of water. For the next 150 years, the “common defense” exception authorized numerous projects that at first seemed disqualified for construction funding. Congress also devised numerous ingenuous schemes to circumvent restraints such as when Congress authorized the purchase of stock in railroad companies to aid internal improvements.

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.