From Our Friends at Delancey Place:
In today's excerpt - the completion of the Erie Canal and the extension of Illinois' border north to include the land that became Chicago saved the Union. The Mississippi River held an economic dominance over the middle of the country in the early 1800s, and put that dominance in the hands of Louisiana, Missouri and other slaveholding states. It was only the opening of the Erie Canal that created a self-contained East-West economic region among the Great Lakes states, and thus gave them economic independence from this Mississippi dominance. So when Congress was carving out the new state of Illinois under the dictates of the "Northwest Ordinance" - one of the three key "founding documents" in American History since it helped define how new states could be admitted to the country - it was careful to extend its borders to include a port on Lake Michigan:
"Illinois' northern border departed from that specified in the Northwest Ordinance. ... [which defined it] as 'an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan.' One problem with this border was that any state below the line would have no window on Lake Michigan and the important transportation network provided by the Great Lakes. In fairness to Thomas Jefferson, the primary architect of the Northwest Ordinance, in 1787 the Great Lakes would not be considered a major transportation network for another twenty years or so, when the idea of a canal connecting the lakes to the Hudson River (and thus to the Atlantic Ocean) began to take shape.
"Consequently, when the residents of Illinois decided to seek statehood in 1817, they now knew just how critical access to Lake Michigan would be to the economy of the state. In that same year, construction began on the Erie Canal. For this reason, Illinois sought to have its northern border adjusted to provide the state with a window on Lake Michigan. ... The Illinois statehood delegation urged Congress to locate its border nearly 6o miles north [of the border defined by the Northwest Ordinance]. And they succeeded. Why?
"When Illinois made its bid for statehood, Missouri was also becoming a state. Missouri sought admission to the Union as a slave state, whereas by law none of the states created from the Northwest Territory could have slavery. The drift toward Civil War was already a conscious concern, as revealed by Illinois statehood delegate Nathaniel Pope's observation that a new state connected to New York would afford 'additional security to the perpetuity of the Union.' What in the world was this man's logic? Illinois was not even close to New York. Plus, what did this have to do with Missouri? Not to mention Illinois'
"As far as Missouri was concerned, the fear for the future security of the Union included the fact that so many of the nation's western rivers find their way to the Missouri River, which, in turn, finds its way to the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Missouri. This network of rivers represented a vast system of transportation for resources, and those resources all led to the slave-holding state of Missouri and point south.
"Illinois also borders the Mississippi River, and was poised to play a similar role in channeling resources through the south. But it also had the option of directing the resources from the rivers in northern Illinois to Lake Michigan. From Lake Michigan, the goods could proceed to Lake Huron, then Lake Erie, then into the Erie Canal to the Hudson River, at the mouth of which is Manhattan and access to the sea. This connection was what Nathaniel Pope was referring to when he linked Illinois to New York. And this connection was why Illinois could contribute to the security of the Union."
Author: Mark Stein
Title: How the States Got Their Shapes
Date: Copyright 2008 by Mark Stein
How the States Got Their Shapes
by Mark Stein by Smithsonian
Hardcover ~ Release Date: 2008-05-27