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

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December 20, 1839

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Despite the Panic of 1837 and subsequent national and international economic depression, work on the canal continued unabated through 1839 and beyond. The entire line was in progress in 1838 with the only exceptions being twenty-two miles between Dresden and Marseilles and a mile stretch through the Saganaskee Swamp. By the end of 1839 nearly three million dollars had been expended for canal purposes. Most of this money had been raised on credit. Receipts from canal land sales had brought less than a half million dollars. Negotiated loans totaled nearly two million and canal scrip issued in 1839 amounted to another $616,870.70.

Toward the end of 1839 the General Assembly was experiencing some unease over the financial condition of the canal project. The state, with some aid from the federal government, had invested nearly three million dollars in an unfinished hole in the ground. Only a finished canal capable of generating tolls afforded the opportunity to recoup that expenditure. But a finished canal was going to require an even greater investment.

An act passed by the General Assembly in 1837 provided for moving the state capitol from Vandalia to Springfield. Temporary quarters were occupied there in mid-1839. An elaborate new Capitol Building was opened in late 1840.

Points to Consider

What was the General Assembly's House of Representatives trying to determine?
Why was the House seeking this determination?
What would "a suspension of operations on the Canal" have done to the price of canal lands? Why?
Why was W.F. Thornton, president of the board of canal commissioners, in Springfield on December 20, 1839?

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