In “Artificial River,” Sheriff analyses the economic, social,and political dimensions of the construction of the Erie Canalbetween the years 1817 and 1825. The construction of the canal was amilestone step of progress in the United States. Notably, the canal,which connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes, is a 363-mileartificial river1.The canal was viewed as an infrastructural development that wouldperfect the creation of God. The people who lived along the canalsupported the idea fully. As the title suggests, the canal is anartificial river that is man-made and which is seen as a sign ofprogress. The construction of the canal was supported by both thepoliticians and the local communities. Therefore, it is evident thatthe process of its construction has a social and a politicaldimension.
Socially, the construction of the canal received immense supportfrom the locals. However, there were some concerns such as theintegration of the laborers with the middle-class local people. Thelaborers were considered as low-class people who would never advancein their social classes by working as laborers2.The construction of the canal took over huge tracts of land that weremeant for agricultural purposes. Essentially, the local communitiessupported its construction and only looked at the greater good of theproject rather than the individual benefits. The project would openup the New York area to tourists and business. People were able toexchange goods and services easily, but they were still concernedabout the social cost of the project. It is essential to note thatthe project would not have succeeded if the people in upstate NewYork did not let go of their land3.Another social issue that surrounded the project was the use ofchildren as laborers. Further, the laborers were accused ofthreatening the locals, and they were forcefully made sober andconverted to Christians. Although the project was faced with such fewsocial challenges, it is important to note that the project continuedto its successful completion.
The construction process of the Erie Canal received immensepolitical support according to Sheriff. It was a political vision,and the politicians such as the governor of New York DeWitt Clintonshowed persistence and patience in the construction of the canal.Further, the laborers were said to be the republican freemen.However, it was later realized that the laborers did not resemble therepublican freemen4.The subordination of individual good for the public good or what waswidely known as the practical republicanism would eventually lead tothe formation of the Whig and Republican Parties. The Republicansformed and championed the culture of progress the constructions ofcanals and railroads.
Sheriff has referred to the project as a paradox of progress due tothe fact that despite its economic benefits, there are some socialconcerns. The project required the developers to consider thebenefits versus the social harm it would cause. Numerous farmers weredisplaced, and the geography of the land along the canal was changedcompletely. However, despite these social concerns, the developersand the residents along the corridor gave immense value to theculture of progress.
While concluding, there is no doubt that the Erie Canal has remaineda significant project in the U.S. to date. Thousands of acres of landwere dug up for its constructions hence compromising on agricultureand the geography of the land. It is essential to note that itsconstruction occurred at such a time when the culture of progress wasa famous slogan amongst the politicians and the locals.
Donal, Parkerson. The Agricultural Transition in New York State:Markets and Migration in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America. Ames:Iowa State University Press, 2014.
Sheriff, Carol. The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and theParadox of Progress, 1817-1862. New York: Farrar, Straus andGiroux, 2013.
Theodore, Steinberg. Nature Incorporated: Industrialization andthe Waters of New England. New York: Cambridge University Press,2012.
1 Sheriff, Carol. The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
2 Sheriff, Carol. The Artificial River: The Erie Canal and the Paradox of Progress, 1817-1862. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.
3 Donal, Parkerson. The Agricultural Transition in New York State: Markets and Migration in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 2014.
4 Theodore, Steinberg. Nature Incorporated: Industrialization and the Waters of New England. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.