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

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November 29, 1834

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Residents of Chicago and Cook County overwhelmingly favored a canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River rather than a railroad. In New York State the Erie Canal, stretching from Albany to Buffalo and connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie, had been opened in 1825 and was enjoying great success. Although canals in northern climates had to be closed in winter months when their waters froze, they offered advantages over the railroads of 1834. Bulk goods could be shipped more cheaply over canals. Railroads were private enterprises which afforded their owners monopolies over the routes they traveled. And canals had a tradition of proven dependable transportation, whereas railroads still were in their infancy.

James Bucklin, a consulting engineer, had been hired by the canal commissioners to determine the merits of a railroad or a canal. He reported in 1833 that for the route proposed a canal would be fraught with engineering difficulties and would cost $1,601,695.83. A railroad along a similar path could be constructed rather easily for a mere $1,052,488.19.

Joseph Duncan had been elected governor in 1834. He was a strong canal advocate and in his December 3, 1834 inaugural he called for a canal of sufficient dimensions to accommodate steamboats. James H. Collins had settled in Chicago in February 1834 where he formed a law partnership with J. Caton. Collins was elected to the board of directors of the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad in April of 1848.

To locate Chicago lots and blocks, see Exhibit B.

Points to Consider

Which arguments were used against a railroad?
Why would a canal of sufficient size to accommodate steamboats have been even better?
How was Mr. Collins proposing that the state pay for the canal's construction?
The citizens of Cook County apparently favored a state-owned canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Illinois River. How might citizens from other parts of the state have felt about the proposed project?

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