He supports the efforts of "the several states and the cooperating patriotism of enlightened citizens" to build the national infrastructure.
James Madison did more than any contemporary to frame the U.S. Constitution and is therefore commonly referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” His insights were based on the principles of balancing a strong central government with finitely limited and balanced powers. His notes of the debates of the Constitutional Convention...
James Madison did more than any contemporary to frame the U.S. Constitution and is therefore commonly referred to as the “Father of the Constitution.” His insights were based on the principles of balancing a strong central government with finitely limited and balanced powers. His notes of the debates of the Constitutional Convention are the most complete contemporary accounts of the deliberations, and his words have been heavily relied on in cases of interpreting constitutional law.
At the dawn of the 19th century, the rights of Congress were tested in dramatic fashion in a series of three acts of Congress. In 1806, Congress passed, and President Jefferson signed into law, the first interstate internal improvements bill, which provided Congressional funding and oversight for a series of projects stretching from Virginia to Pennsylvania. This was meant to strengthen interstate bonds, settlement and commerce. Madison was at that time Secretary of State.
In 1817, Madison, this time as President, was presented by Congress with an act “to set apart and pledge certain funds for internal improvements.” Madison vetoed it in his last such act as president. He saw the principle as important enough to issue a separate letter to the House of Representatives on March 3, a document famous for its interpretation of the separation of powers. He explained his veto, saying that “The legislative powers vested in Congress are specified… and it does not appear that the power proposed to be exercised by the bill is among the enumerated powers.” He did, however, voice approval of internal improvement projects, writing “I am not unaware of the great importance of roads and canals and the improved navigation of water courses.” In 1822, President Monroe would veto a similar bill, again under the auspices of Constitutional illegality. The states could individually undertake the effort but Congress had no such authority.
This still left the states with the challenge of building and linking their commercial arteries. After all, how could the nation thrive if it was not linked by roads and canals? In 1825, America was learning of the successful locomotive experiments in England, where George and Robert Stephenson had used a steam engine to pull a passenger train on a land railway. These experiments were monitored closely in Baltimore and Pennsylvania, both actively debating how best to advance transportation interests. In February, not without much dissension, the Pennsylvania legislature began debate on a canal going from Middletown to Pittsburgh.
One organization’s action would set in motion the path to rail, culminating in the development of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. The next month, the Pennsylvania Society for the Promotion of Internal Improvements in the Commonwealth, founded by Matthew Carey, sent an engineer, William Strickland, to Europe. His intention, to collect information on construction of inland navigation systems, focused primarily on railroads and the use of locomotive power on and off canal systems. That the project would be a state endeavor funded by the privately run society garnered the support of many, among them men like Madison, who favored locally funded and administered efforts.
Carey, knowing Madison’s influence on the subject and seeking his input, wrote him, sending a copy of the instructions to Strickland. He also included a work he had authored on the necessity of protecting the domestic cotton industry. Madison responded with this Autograph Letter Signed, Montpelier, May 12, 1825, to Matthew Carey, Esq. “I have received your favor of the 22 ult: with the several printed sheets sent with it. It is very gratifying to observe the prospect of internal improvements expanding as it is under the emulating auspices of the several States and the cooperating patriotism of enlightened citizens. No country more than ours admits of improvement by artificial roads and canals; nor can it be doubted either that the cost of them in their fullest extent is within the compass of public resources or that it will be incalculably overbalanced in the account of profit and loss; not to speak of the happy tendency of such works to strengthen the bond of our union; or of the lustre reflected on our free institutions by such specimens of the fruits they produce. Your monitory remarks on the Cotton trade were very opportune and could not fail to be useful. Should any examples worthy of a piece in the “Annals of Beneficence” come to my knowledge or occur to my recollection, I shall feel a pleasure in complying with your request on that kind.”
Strickland procured models of everything from locomotives to bridges and sought answers to questions that had presented tehcnical problems to the states. Carey’s organization’s report would have different effects in different states but would spark action. Pennsylvania soon approved the 395-mile Main Line of Internal Improvements – 277 miles of canals and 118 miles of railroads.
In Maryland, however, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, a privately funded organization, would become the first common carrier railroad. In 1826, it would follow suit by sending their own investigative team to England. Their report, enacted in 1828, resulted in the building of that first rail line, extending from the port of Baltimore to Cumberland.
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