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

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July 23, 1845

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The General Assembly enacted legislation in 1843 designed to provide for the canal's completion. Governance was placed in the hands of three trustees, two of whom were elected by the subscribers to a new loan of $1,600,000 and one who was appointed by the governor. Captain William H. Swift, formerly of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and David Leavitt, president of the American Exchange Bank of New York City, were elected trustees by a majority of subscribers. Swift had been hired by European banking houses to make an investigation of the soundness of completing the canal. His March 1, 1844 report was favorable. Leavitt's bank had invested heavily in I and M stock since the early days of the canal's financing. Fry had long served as the acting commissioner under the old board of canal commissioners. He was Governor Ford's choice to represent the state's interests. Swift and Leavitt were compensated $5,000 per annum for their part-time canal work while Fry, who was employed full-time in daily supervising canal operations, received only $2,000. With Swift and Leavitt representing subscribers' interests and Fry those of the state, votes on policy often were one-sided.

The canal trustees first met in June of 1845. On July 22 they allotted petitioning contractors renewals of previous agreements; and on August 18 those sections not re-bid were let to the lowest responsible new bidders.

A preemption is a right to purchase something before others (see document 23, document 27, and document 28). At the federal level the Preemption Act of 1841 was a clear victory for western interests. Settlers who had established themselves on federal lands without authorization were given the opportunity of purchasing those lands at the minimum price set rather than having to bid on them in a free market.

Points to Consider

What was this resolution designed to prevent?
For $1.67 a month, what was each of the twenty residents being asked to do?
Describe the work life of the two timber agents. How would the settlers or squatters of the region have regarded them?
Why had canal trustee Jacob Fry voted against this resolution?

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