Extract of Thomas Jefferson on Canals, as told by George Forman to David Hosack

I made a trip to Washington, almost entirely to converse with Mr. Jefferson on the subject. Sometime in January, 1809, I called on him in company with Wm. Kirkpatrick, Esq. of Salina, then Member of Congress, who introduced me, and informed him, that in view of his proposal to expend the surplus revenues of the nation in making roads and canals, the state of New-York had explored the route of a canal from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, and had found it practicable beyond their most sanguine expectations; after recapitulating in as laconic a manner as I could, some of the most important advantages it offered to the nation as inducements to undertake it–enhancing the value of their lands–settling the frontier–opening a channel of commerce for the western country to our own sea-ports–a military way in time of war, and a bond of union to the states. He replied, it was a very fine project, and might be executed a century hence. “Why sir,” said he, “here is a canal of a few miles, projected by General Washington, which, if completed, would render this a fine commercial city, which has languished for many years because the small sum of 200,000 dollars necessary to complete it, cannot be obtained from the general government, the state government, or from individuals—and you talk of making a canal of 350 miles through the wilderness—it is little short of madness to think of it at this day.”

Published in David Hosack, Memoir of De Witt Clinton: with an Appendix, containing Numerous Documents, illustrative of the Principal Events of his Life (New York: J. Seymour, 1829), 346–7.
George Forman
David Hosack
Date Range
October 13, 1828
Quotes by and about Thomas Jefferson