DeWitt Clinton was bornin 1769 in New York, Orange County. His parents were James Clinton and Mary DeWittwho was a descendant of settlers from Dutch. He was a lawyer by profession butlater joined politics courtesy of his uncle George Clinton who was a governorof New York.2 He became the mayor of New York in 1810 and wasappointed to head a commission that was to construct a canal between HudsonRiver and Erie Lake.2 He became the leader of the canal movementthat legislated laws that authorized the creation of the Erie Canal.2His efforts earned him an election to the governor’s office in 1817.
2Apart from writing, Clinton will be remembered for initiating the canalengineering projects that were taken up throughout America which reduced thecost of shipping from $100 to $5 a ton leading to an economic boom that led tothe development of Genesee country making it easier to transport the bulkywheat potash and lumber. Within no time the initial loan of $7 million used toconstruct the 363-mile long canal connecting Hudson River to great lakes waspaid off, and the surplus was used to develop the national wide transportationnetwork. During this time when the canal was being constructed, he kept a diarywhich was published by William Campbell in 1849.”Internalimprovements” was a term was coined by Americain late 1700 to refer to educational, economic, and engineering projects thatwere undertaken by either state or federal government in the 1780s.2 In early 1800, this term was narrowed toinclude innovations such as water transportation network, building canals andconstructing railroads.2 These projects were crucial in jumpstartingthe nation’s economic stimulus, but they consumed the colossal amount oftaxpayers’ money and the people mandated with oversight started complaining.
2Some were genuine while others were outright pessimistic about the wholeproject. People started referring to the Erie Canal as Clinton Ditch butClinton’s strong belief in the “internal improvements” made him even moreresolute.3 He lobbied for states to take over public transportation,which they did briefly. When they withdrew, he initiated legislation tofacilitate the private transportation networks to receive funding from public assets.Although De Witt iswriting about very serious political memoirs with great politicalrepercussions, his tone does not match with the register and the jargon thatthe reader expects. He introduces his narration in a very relaxed manner.
Hegives a geographical description of Dr. Jonas C. Baldwin’s home using featuresthat outright comical. The way the dam and the canal are providing a lockdownto his home is funny.
He claims that they were detained at the canal, but hedoes not literary mean that. This can be portrayed as being sarcastic inthe way they entered the host’s home. They had sent an emissary, Geddes who hadleft them in the day to announce their arrival.1 He is ridiculingthe government bureaucracy where security is sent in advance to prepare thearrival of a VIP, but in this case, it was a social call, and in this case, atnight. The fact that that they were welcomed by Miss Baldwin shows howunofficial the visit was. It should not be lost to the reader that the visitwas not necessarily a social call. It was a benchmark tour on how thegovernment can implement the doctor’s idea of creating canals, but the relaxedmanner Clinton is explaining the whole experience shows how down to earth of a manhe really is. He lets the corrupt nature of Morris pass with a light touch.
This shows how the ordinary folk expects handouts from politicians regardlessof how selfless they are on matters that touch their daily lives. A politicianworth his mettle is supposed to part with a few coins and dollars here andthere in case he is not reelected.1 Clinton adopts anofficial tone when he is writing serious official matters.
When he documentsabout the work of the surveyor and breaking down the financial statements, hegives his writing the seriousness it deserves. The reader shifts from thesocial politician to a committed capitalist and an elitist who can mix easilywith the ordinary folk and the bourgeoisie without offending either. He returnsto his relaxed tone when he explains about their encounter with some lustywomen in a bath tub, but they played a hoax to the Commodore that they hadfound an old woman who was almost 100 years old with gray hair and very goodfaculties.1 This made him leave the boat in a hurry to go andenquire about this woman only to be met with mid-aged women who were gigglingand laughing that he had been tricked.
He is trying to show the reader thatdespite the leaders being held in high esteem and being treated like demigods,they are human after all and share human jokes here and there just like normalhumans do. Clinton is oscillating from serious and official tone to humorous,relaxed and friendly tone and most of the time he is very sarcastic of thebureaucracy of the government and its officials who would rather stay in thecorner office than dirty their hands with murky work meant for ordinary folks.He is trying to be funny in his writing but what he is communicating is not alaughing matter.
Clinton uses the first-personperspective in his entire memoir to capture the activities that were going onaround him. When he says, “We dined in the woods, ten miles from Columbia, onthe north side, and at the head of Cross Lake,” he wants the reader to knowthat he was a part of the group and was not treated with any specialty or favorsince he was a senior officer.1 First person perspective shows thereader the character he was, a virtuous leader with humility yet he had theentrapment of power. He could as well send a commission or a taskforce and waitfor their report in his office, but he opted to go on the ground in not veryfriendly circumstances to serve the people who elected him. That is something outstandingand inspiring. Something that is still rare to find in politicians during today’stimes. Clinton is very good inusing vivid description to express his feelings, especially on the environment.His approach to describing landscapes makes the reader be filled withadmiration and awe.
We note that his drive was mentored by his ambition of combiningcommercial and political ambition of building a great canal between New Yorkand the great lakes. His writing makes him a legend who would explore thegeographical landscape in his canal that he created. This canal became sofamous that his distractors insulted him that he was creating Clinton’s ditch,but this insult became a complement later when the canal became the greatestsuccess economic story in the early 19th century.
3 His descriptionof Cross Lake comes complete with mental images that a reader can see theactual lake. He says how it is five miles in length and its breadth is onemile.1 He comments about its great depth in some places. The aquaticlife around the lake makes the whole ecosystem look real.
There are ducks andother species of birds, and the Seneca River’s estuary makes a large swampcreating a large area of neighboring wetlands1.Clinton personifiesinanimate objects to make his narration interesting. He gives the fog and “theinsalubrious appearance of the country,” human attributes which makes us knowhow personal he was when it came to observation.
1 When he says that”sleep was not expected in the house”, this personifies sleep. The reader knowsthat sleep is one of the most important aspects of human life, therefore thereader would end up sympathizing with Clinton’s situation.1Clinton would never havementioned that he could foresee his pet project as a total failure after it wasovertaken by other modern modes of transport.
It is obvious that transport and,to a large extent, communication networks are seasonal and more complex systemsthat keep coming up with ever-changing innovations. Transportation began as horseand carriages, then turned into automobiles. Ships may be a way oftransportation now, but eventually trains would become more popular and thenairplanes would be invented. The establishment of the Erie Canal cost the taxpayers more than 6 million dollars, a colossal amount during those times.(FIND CITATION) Whether the initial cost was recovered is notthe bone of contention. The elephant in the room is whether the project couldwithstand the test of time. The journal completely avoided to discuss theengineering challenges and in his inaugural speech as a governor, Clinton seemsto be warning his listeners not to judge the engineers as they wereinexperienced, but it is not inexperience as we know it.
They had no idea whatexactly was expected of them, and most probably they were doing some guessworkwhich eventually worked. This is gambling with public finances, but the gamblepaid off.1 The question is, what if it did not work? What if thewhole project was a total failure? America would probably not be as we know itnow, at least economically. Clinton failed to mention the disadvantage his $4billion (by today’s standards) could have done about railroad transportation whichis much cheaper to build and maintain. The 363-mile canal took seven years tobuild but how long would it have taken to build a railway by then? The extracosts of building bridges like the forty-foot wide bridge connecting Lake Eriewith Hudson River could have been avoided altogether. It should be noted thatthe Erie Canal project started in 1784 when George Washington wrote to theCongress and outlined designs for the mega infrastructure that could create acanal that could navigate the waters of the eastern New York and connect themas close as possible to the western waters of Ohio and hence open Lake Erie andtherefore open the trade routes to the external world.
According to GeorgeWashington, this could increase America’s export capacity and bind the peopleof inland America with binding chains that could not be broken by race wheneverybody was economically empowered. This took the courage of one De WittClinton to fulfill the dreams of the founding fathers in the midst of strong oppositionfrom west wing politicians that were anti-establishment. The history will judgeClinton as one of the few politicians who walked their talk and took theinitiative of creating the great Erie Canal in a record of seven years withlimited resources, limited expertise and uncooperative legislative council.