The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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August 15, 1836

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Canal proponents eventually prevailed over those favoring a railroad. The General Assembly determined to revive the project when on February 9, 1835 it authorized a new board of canal commissioners to oversee construction. Further, it gave the governor authority to issue and sell stock in the canal in an amount up to $500,000 to finance the work. Unfortunately the new canal stock was backed only by the assets of the canal itself, unsold canal lands and projected tolls. American capitalists in the East and European investors found these terms unattractive and little stock was sold. Consequently a new act was passed on January 9, 1836 which placed the full faith of the State of Illinois behind canal stock certificates. This legislation further called for yet another canal commission to supervise construction. Governor Duncan chose William B. Archer of Clark County to be the acting canal commissioner. In that position he was employed full-time in the canal's work and was paid an annual salary of $1,200. William F. Thornton of Shelby County was made president of the board and Gurdon S. Hubbard of Cook County was appointed treasurer. Thornton and Hubbard served part-time and were compensated three dollars for each day of canal related work they performed.

The future of the Illinois and Michigan Canal was bright in the summer of 1836. Canal stocks, backed by the state's good faith, were being bought up along the U.S. east coast as well as in Great Britain and on the Continent. A sale of Chicago canal town lots held on June 20 had raised $1,355,755 although only a quarter of that amount immediately was collected in the form of down payments. At Bridgeport on July 4 at an elaborate celebration a ground breaking ceremony had taken place. Commissioner Archer had turned the first spade.

For a map of the completed canal route, see Exhibit A.

Points to Consider

What was Governor Duncan agreeing to do in this letter?
Describe in general terms the relationship between William Archer and Joseph Duncan.
How much work had been accomplished on the canal by August 15, 1836?
Which points along the canal route would have been the most valuable? Why?

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