From Thomas Jefferson's papers, Monticello researchers have compiled the following primary source references to the Erie Canal.Anchor

Primary Source References

1807 December 10. (Jefferson to Joel Barlow). "[P]eople generally have more feeling for canals & roads than education. However I hope we can advance them with equal pace."[1]

1807 December 10. (Jefferson to Robert Fulton). "Th: Jefferson presents mr Fulton his thanks for the communication of his Memoir [on canals, etc.], which he has read with great satisfaction and now returns. there is nothing in it but what will contribute to the promotion of it's great object, and some of the calculations will have a very powerful effect."[2]

1817 April 14. (Jefferson to De Witt Clinton). "[T]he conception is bold and great, and the accomplishment will be equally useful. the works of Europe in that line shrink into insignificance in comparison with these. ... but no probable degree of expence can transcend that of it's utility. the prospect of the future face of America is magnificent indeed: but for the revolutionary generation it is to be enjoyed in contemplation only."[3]

1817 June 6. (Jefferson to Albert Gallatin). "[Y]ou will have learnt that an act for internal improvement, after passing both houses, was negatived by the President. the act was founded avowedly on the principle that the phrase in the constitution which authorises Congress 'to lay taxes to pay the debts and provide for the general welfare' was an extension of the powers specifically enumerated to whatever would promote the general welfare ... it was never meant they should provide for that welfare but by the exercise of the enumerated powers, so it could not have been meant they should raise money for purposes which the enumeration did not place under their action .... I think the passage and rejection of this bill a fortunate incident. ... [it] will settle for ever the meaning of this phrase, which by a mere grammatical quibble, has countenanced the General government in a claim of universal power."[4]

1817 June 13. (Jefferson to Baron Alexander von Humboldt). "[T]he most gigantic undertaking yet proposed is that of New York for drawing the waters of Lake Erie into the Hudson. the distance is 353. miles, and the height to be surmounted 691. feet. the expence will be great; but it's effect incalculably powerful in favor of the Atlantic states."[5]

1822 March 19. (Jefferson to De Witt Clinton). "I rejoice sincerely in the progress of your canal, and envy your location in a state wise enough to see that the common interest is individual interest, and rich enough to pursue it."[6]

1822 December 12. (Jefferson to De Witt Clinton). "I thank you, Dear Sir, for the little volume sent me on the Natural history and resources of N. York. it an instructive, interesting and agreeably written account of the riches of a country to which your great canal gives value and issue, and of the wealth which it creates from what without it would have had no value. Altho' I do not recollect the conversation with Judge Firman referred to in page 131. I have no doubt it is correct; for that I know was my early opinion, and many, I dare say still think with me that N. York has anticipated by a full century the ordinary progress of improvement."[7]

1826 June 8. (Jefferson to Messrs. Riker, Agnew, and Bolton, a committee of the Corporation of New York). "I recieve, Gentlemen, with great thankfulness the Medals you have been pleased to send me, commemorative of the completion of the Erie canal. this great work will immortalize the present authorities of New York, will bless their descendants with wealth and prosperity, and prove to mankind the superior wisdom of employing the resources of industry in works of improvement rather than of destruction."[8]


  1. ^ Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  2. ^ Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  3. ^ PTJ:RS, 11:259. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ PTJ:RS, 11:410-11. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  5. ^ PTJ:RS, 11:434-35. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  7. ^ Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  8. ^ John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, Colonial Williamsburg. Transcription available at Founders Online.