Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation

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Wedding of the Waters: The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation

Author: Peter L. Bernstein
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Copyright: 2005
Pages: 448
Cover Price: $ 16.95

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Begun in 1817 and completed in 1825, the Erie Canal stretches 363 miles across upstate New York from Buffalo on Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson River. A stunning achievement, the canal was hacked through a densely forested pass in the Appalachian Mountains using only axes, shovels, low-grade explosive power, beasts of burden, and some ingenious devices. The engineers and workers created locks, bypassed rapids and waterfalls, and adjusted to countless changes in elevation. When the canal was completed it became one of the wonders of the world. But the canal was much more than a spectacular construction project; it also served to bind a young United States to itself and the rest of the world in one bold stroke.

In this thoroughly absorbing book, Peter Bernstein describes in vivid detail how the Erie Canal helped to shape the United States into a great nation by connecting the eastern seaboard and western expanses of America, as well as propel the Industrial Revolution and stimulate global trade, economics, and immigration. It was so important to the development of the U.S., argues Bernstein, that without the canal the detached western territories "would in all likelihood have broken away" and created another, if not several, separate countries. Manifest Destiny would have been denied.

In telling this gripping tale, the author offers a brief history of canals through the ages, explains the foresight exhibited by George Washington and Thomas Jefferson regarding the need for a waterway to the west, and outlines the political wars, financing challenges, and seemingly endless delays and false starts to the project. He also reveals much about the political landscape of early America through his profiles of the personalities and visionaries who devoted their lives to the project, along with the engineers and surveyors, most of whom had little experience designing or constructing a canal of any kind, much less such a massive undertaking. Wedding of the Waters succeeds brilliantly in bringing this rich story to life. --Shawn Carkonen

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Background Information

The Erie Canal crossed upstate New York and connected the Hudson River with the waters of the Great Lakes, making New York City the most important port in America. Buffalo, the westernmost large city in New York State, owes its economic development primarily to the opening of the Erie Canal. Albany, New York, first settled by the Dutch, became the capital of New York State and the eastern end of the Erie Canal on the Hudson River. The Hudson River drains upstate New York into the Atlantic, forming the fine harbor New York City in its estuary. The Appalachian Mountains are the ancient mountain range separating the Eastern seaboard from the interior of the United States. The success of the Erie Canal inspired many promoters to launch canal projects that were not as well thought out. Manifest destinty was the view that America's domination of the North American continent from sea to sea was the manifest intention of God.