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The idea of the Erie Canal was not originally proposed by Clinton, but the fact of its building is in large measure due to his untiring efforts and far-sighted vision. It appears to have been first advocated by Jesse Hawley in 1807, in a series of essays or letters written to different New York newspapers. The legislature promptly appointed a commission (of which Clinton was a member) to make a survey, and it reported in 1811, favoring the construction of an artificial canal instead of improving existing natural waterways. Application was made for Federal aid, supported by resolutions of the legislature of Ohio and Michigan, part of the hinterland which the proposed canal would open up. The War of 1812 intervened to show the tragic need in the growing Nation for more effective facilities of communication, but still no national aid was forthcoming, despite the fact that the States of Vermont and Kentucky also expressed interest. In 1817 the New York Legislature decided that the State's resources were ample to undertake the job without outside help and voted the money with which to begin actual construction. The canal as finished in 1825 was more than 363 miles in length and equipped with some 80-odd locks which were "passable by boat, in ordinary times, in 4 minutes." It is one of the paradoxes of history that the city which was destined for national supremacy by the very fact of the canal. actually voted against the bill of 1817 which provided the wherewithal.35
In decided contrast was the vision and understanding of New York's Governor who saw how the canal opened upon a splendid natural highway-the Great Lakes-from which the agricultural products of the Western States could be exchanged for the industrial goods of the seaboard, under ideal conditions of complementary service and division of labor. Clinton visioned the canal as far more than an engineering task, difficult as that was. The completion of the canal was destined to effect an economic and a political revolution, not merely in the State of New York but in the Nation at large. In his View of the Grand Canal, delivered on the ceremonious opening in the fall of 1825, Gov ernor Clinton prophetically delcared:
35 This account has been adapted from B. H. Meyer, History of Transportation in the United States before 1860 (1917), pp. 180-195. Also see N. E. Whitford, "The Canal System and its Influences," and J. P. Riggs and R. M. Faust, "New York Becomes the Empire State," in History of New York, V, pp. 297-336 and VI, pp. 323-363 (1933-37).
As a bond of union between the Atlantic and Western States, it may prevent the dismemberment of the American empire. As an organ of communication between the Hudson, the Mississippi, the St. Lawrence, the Great Lakes of the North and West, and their tributary rivers, it will create the greatest inland trade ever witnessed. The most fertile and extensive regions of America will avail themselves of its facilities for a market. All their surplus productions, whether of the soil, the forest, the mines, or the water, their fabrics of art and their supplies of foreign commodities, will concentrate in the city of New York, for transportation abroad or consumption at home. Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, trade, navigation, and the arts, will receive a correspondent encouragement. That city will, in the course of time, become the granary of the world, the empo rium of commerce, the seat of manufactures, the focus of great moneyed operations, and the con centrating point of vast, disposable, and accumulating capitals, which will stimulate, enliven, extend, and reward the exertions of human labor and ingenuity, in all their processes and exhibitions. And before the revolution of a century, the whole island of Manhattan, covered with habitations and replenished with a dense population, will constitute one vast city.
The historian Turner has commented that, "Sanguine as were Clinton's expectations, the event more than justified his confidence."
The decrease in transportation charges brought prosperity and a tide of population into western New York; villages sprang up along the whole line of the canal; the water power was utilized for manufactures; land values in the western part of the State doubled and in many cases quadrupled; farm produce more than doubled in value. Buffalo and Rochester became cities. The raw products of the disappearing forests of western New York-lumber, staves, pot and pearl ashes, etc., and. the growing surplus of agricultural products, began to flow in increasing volume down this greater Hudson River to New York City. The farther west was also turning its streams of commerce into this channel. The tolls of the canal system were over half a million dollars immediately upon its completion; for 1830 they were over a million dollars.36
With the passing of the vision of Clinton and its far-reaching realization, the next item of planning interest in New York comes about 50 years later, in 1872, when Verplanck Colvin set out to map the Adirondacks, the geographical knowledge of which was both limited and confused.
Colvin had many grandiose plans. He advocated the scheme of Professor Benedict of taking water from the Raquette River watershed into the Hudson River through a canal from Long Lake to Catlin Lake. He nursed a project of damming the Hudson above the junction with the Schroon. River for water storage; he proposed a dam near the Sacandaga near Northville, now a reality. He endorsed a project for an aqueduct to supply the towns along the Hudson River with the pure waters of the upper Hudson, a project conceived by T. J. Fanning, engineer, who visualized a long marginal city extending the length of the Hudson from the Mohawk to New York which would need this supply. Colvin, as before mentioned in this history, was a protaganist of the park idea. During a speech in New York on this subject he had on the table ice and water from the Adirondacks. Coincidently with Colvin's exploration, the legislature created a State park commission "to inquire into the expedience of providing, for vesting in the State, the title of the timbered regions * and converting the same into a public park." In its report in 1873, the commission recommended that spoliation be immediately stopped and that no further alienation of the wild lands take place until the question of establishing a forest preserve had been decided. The report was rather promptly forgotten, except for citation in gubernatorial messages which were, in turn, forgotten.
A decade later, another committee, headed by Prof. Charles Sargent, who had recently completed a forest inventory for the 1880 census, reported definite recommendations for the management of State lands. The report fell on such receptive ears that when, somewhat modified, it was sponsored by the New York City association, it resulted in the bill (1885) which forms "the foundational law of conservation in the State."
In contrast to most other States (which contented themselves with investiga tions of forests), New York embarked immediately upon a policy of forest reservation and management of publicly owned forest lands, principally in the Adirondacks. The pressing objective, as it appears from the legislative record,
86 Rise of the New West (1906), pp. 33-34. Unlike most of the other State canals built during the era of "internal improve. ments," the Erie Canal made a good financial showing, especially during the early period. See H. G. Moulton, The Amer can Transportation Problem (1933), pp. 430-431.
was to conserve and regulate the water supply of the State.37 And this purpose has been cited as the explanation of the State's strong prejudice against opening the reserve to prudent lumbering-a prejudice which was enacted into constitutional form at the constitutional convention of 1894 in the famous sec tion VII-7. This section provides that—
The lands of the State now owned or hereafter acquired constituting the forest preserve as now fixed by law, shall be forever kept as wild forest lands. They shall not be leased, sold, or exchanged, or be taken by any corporation, public or private, nor shall the timber thereon be sold, removed, or destroyed.37a
This sweeping language of the amendment-which has been described “as the best loved and best hated State law"-was unanimously adopted by the con vention. Strictly construed, as the attorney general pointed out in 1915. the amendment would prevent the actual practice of forest and game management by forbidding the removal or clearing of waste material or the erection of game refuges. Four amendments to section VII-7 have been enacted-all of relatively minor import-while attempts at modifying the sweeping prohibition have repeatedly failed. In its Annual Report for 1936, the Division of State Planning recommended:
Careful study of the constitutional provision prohibiting any timber cutting whatsoever in the Adirondack and Catskill Parks should be made lest its too strict interpretation defeat the original sound purpose. Perhaps to further the original purposes, the conservation department should be given limited authority to provide artificial lakes and public camp sites and to safeguard the deer and wildlife by timber slashings and the planting of appropriate wild shrubs and food trees.
In 1911, when the importance of the "conservation movement" in both the national and the State scene was waning, New York established a conservation commission of three members, 38 unifying in one agency control over lands and forests, wildlife, water power, and parks. With the possible exception of the division of water power, whose administrative position is somewhat unique,3 all the major conservational activities of the State of New York are centered in one strong department, administered by a staff selected on the basis of civil service. The subsequent development of this department appears sufficiently from the attached chronological chart for the New York government of
When Gov. Alfred E. Smith was returned to office in 1923 he sponsored the establishment of a temporary State commission on housing and regional planning to inquire into the problem of housing shortage that was so acute in the early 1920's. In addition to its several reports and studies in the housing field, the
37 See National Plan for American Forestry, pp. 756-762, for a critical analysis of New York forestry.
37 Cf. the Virginia constitutional provision (XIII, 175) providing that the natural oyster beds of the State shall not be leased, rented, or sold, but held in trust.
38 In 1895 (c. 395) the fisheries commission had been merged with the forest commission to constitute the new fisheries game, and forest commission. In 1903 the first single commissioner was appointed, reverting back to a multiple head in 1911. In 1915 the principle of the single commission was permanently established. The explanation is political, i. e., the Governor wanted to get rid of certain incumbents, and this could apparently be accomplished only by a reorganization. The organic act is that of 1911 (c. 647), as amended generally in 1928 (c. 242) when the departmental form superseded the
39 At its head is an interdepartmental commission consisting of the commissioner of conservation, the superintendent of public works, and the attorney general. New York Conservation Law, sec. 396.
40 In his 1935 annual report, Commissioner Osborne forcefully pointed out: "The application of conservation principles necessarily must step upon some private toes. Practices which have been permitted in the past will have to be stopped entirely, such as excessive grazing on public lands and perhaps even excessive timber cutting on private lands and certainly the private development of public water resources without governmental supervision. Up to the present time all gov ernments, national, state, and local, have hesitated to invade private property or to change the conception of property rights. In the past when a natural resource has been threatened it has been the policy of the Government to preserve that resource by purchasing the land, the franchise, or the vested right held in that resource by private interests. No public treasury, however, can possibly stand the expense of acquiring all the property upon which conservation must be prac ticed if resources are to be saved. Therefore some further invasion of what have been regarded in the past as private prop erty rights must take place if conservation is to become entirely effective. The fitting of our ideas into a new form is likely to be a little painful and it is certain that many whose minds are hardened in the old mold will not be able to adjust themselves, but the increasing application of the conservation idea is not only a certainty but a necessity. The future of American wealth absolutely depends upon the expansion of conservation activity. Fortunately an increasing number of people is realizing this every year. Still more fortunately this number has increased very rapidly in recent years. The sportsmen, particularly of the Eastern States, were among the first to accept restrictions upon their individual activi ties. Land owners and corporate interests have been less tractable but the erosion problem is beginning to convert them as well to the more modern trend of thought" (p. 23).
commission engaged in an exploratory investigation of the "forces which have shaped the economic history of the State" in order to "find a basis for State planning." The results of these studies were transmitted to Governor Smith on May 7, 1926, by Mr. Clarence Stein, chairman, who had been assisted by Messrs. Henry Wright, Benton MacKaye, and George Soule.11
Somewhat before the submission of this small (only 82 pages) but very fasci nating report, Governor Smith had made public references to the need for a revitalized State government deliberately to engage in State planning as a permanent function. In his radio address to the first annual State conference on regional planning in session at Buffalo, Governor Smith had remarked:
We are too likely to think that cities alone are capable of planning. * The planning of communities and the planning of the State is probably the greatest undertaking we have before us. It is the making of the mold in which future generations will be formed.
And in his great message to the legislature in 1926 outlining a program of State administrative reorganization, Governor Smith again stressed the use of comprehensive State planning:
With the development of our great water power resources, our port facilities, and the tremendous growth of private industries, we feel the pressure of considering plans for the whole State that will relate all these activities effectively to one another. The State bureau of housing and regional planning has done pioneer work in this field, and I have no doubt that in the reorganization of the Govern ment regional planning will be provided in such manner as to keep it in close contact with the execu tive branch of the Government, making use of the special knowledge of the department heads concerned and also of outside expert assistance.
In seeking to outline the objectives and methods of State planning, the report of Governor Smith's commission made very skilful use of a concept borrowed from the English sociologist Patrick Geddes the "valley section." In New York State there are two interconnected valley belts—the Hudson and the Mohawk Valleys, connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes-in which four-fifths of the people live on one-fifth of the total land area of the State. The development of New York was dramatically traced in terms of the history of the Hudson-Mohawk Valleys, and how they had been affected by the successive forms of energy-water power, steam, and electricity. The State appears to have passed through two epochs and is about to emerge into a third. The char acteristics of these epochs may be briefly summarized as follows:
EPOCH I. 1840-80. State-wide activity and intercourse: Rapid development of natural re sources; small towns economically independent; industry served by local water wheels and canal system; all widely distributed over the State. Toward end of period drift to new rail lines had set in.
EPOCH II. 1881-1920. Concentration along main line transportation: Development of central rail routes, change of industry to steam power and competition in agriculture of fertile west combine to concentrate growth in central Valley Belt and undermine the industrial prosperity of towns off main-line transportation.
EPOCH III. The possible state of the future in which each part serves its logical function in support of wholesome activity and good living: Comparable in importance with the railroad and the steam engine in determining the character of development in the second industrial epoch are the modern factors of the automobile, good road, and electrical transmission line. These modern forces do not portend a return to the widely distributed development of the first epoch. Rather they will lend themselves to a more effective utilization of all of the economic resources of the State and to the most favorable development of areas especially adapted to industry, agriculture, recreation, water supply, and forest reserve.
The commission was commendably modest in putting forth the product of its efforts: "This report is not a plan. It is a collection and analysis of some small part of the final data that will serve as a basis of future planning." The future planning, it was recommended, could "best be accomplished by a planning board in the executive department," composed of "the heads of the several State departments charged with the expenditure of funds appropriated for permanent public
41 New York Commission of Housing and Regional Planning, Report to Gov. Alfred E. Smith, May 7, 1926.