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special authorities sometimes exercised by trustees. They knew what they meant, and expressed it in apt words, used in their ordinary and correct signification.
ITS RIGHT CONSTRUCTION.
They said, not that the surplus should be “set apart as a fund to promote the completion”—not that it should “be applied to the benefit of the canals”—no such loose and general phrase, but that it should “be applied to the completion” of those works known at the time to be unfinished but in progress. If they intended the direct expenditure of the surplus in the actual construction of the works, what fitter or more exact language could they have selected ? They were familiar with the distinction between appropriating as a fund and “applying” on a work in progress, both of which they provided for in this very article, in carefully discriminating language. They understood that the discretion conferred for managing as a fund, and for applying a revenue to complete an unfinished structure, are of a very different nature. They could not have manifested their intention that this surplus should not be held or managed as a fund to borrow money upon—or to promote the general object in collateral or indirect modes, more clearly, except by an express prohibition.
Their language, by its obvious signification, not only excludes any such use of this surplus, but was adapted to the practical operation of the provisions, under the system then existing of administering the canals and keeping the public accounts. It first requires the payment of the expenses of collection, superintendence and ordinary repairs, and the sums devoted to the two sinking funds which had been created. It says, “after paying” them—not after providing for—not after estimating or deducting or reserving for—but after actually paying them, which could only be done when the revenues had been received. It next requires a payment to the treasury or General Fund, as it is called, of an annual sum. It says here also —shall be “paid,” and paid “on or before the thirtieth day of September, in each year.” It then requires that “the remainder of the revenues of the said canals, shall, in each fiscal year, be applied to the completion of the Erie Canal enlargement, until,” &c. When applied ? Not till after the revenues are actually received, and the three classes of payments to which priority is given, are actually made. It is a monstrous perversion, to say that such language was intended to authorize or permit that surplus to be anticipated and applied an indefinite period of years before the revenue should accrue, or the surplus be ascertained. Applied how, and by whom 8 Not by the Legislature, but by the executive officers—the canal commissioners, it would be as the law then was and now is, “in such manner as the Legislature shall direct.” Discretion there is here, doubtless, in the apportionment between the three canals, and in directing the expenditure for the different structures, the various parts, and numerous details of each; an ample field for the exercise of a discretion, which Mr. Spencer so strongly claims in behalf of the Legislature; but discretion in directing the application of the surplus when realized, and not in expending it an indefinite period beforehand, or treating it as a fund to borrow money upon, to financier with, or to “use in any way” which might conduce ultimately to the completion of the canals.
If any thing more than the plain import of the language to every mind unsophisticated by technical subtleties, were needed to show the meaning of the Convention, it can be found in the history of this section. Its phraseology, so far as affects the present discussion, was borrowed from a provision reported by the committee, and drawn by Mr. Hoffman with direct reference to a distinct plan for the progressive improvement of the Erie Canal, by the application of the surplus, as it should be realized, “in each fiscal year.”
Mr. Spencer seems to suppose such a method of completing the canals so inadequate, that the Convention could not have intended to enjoin it upon the Legislature, With deference to those financial geniuses who think that nothing wise or effectual can be done with their own money, or without borrowing other people's, I must entertain a different opinion. The plan contemplated by the committee was the same on which the enlargement of the Erie Canal was originally commenced, and it
was believed by at least two members of the committee, that if that plan had been adhered to and wisely executed, we should, in 1846, have been in the enjoyment of nearly all the benefits of the finished enlargement, with the canals free from the incumbrance of five and twenty millions of debt. In such a condition, we should have been able to strike off, not merely a small part of the two-fifths of the whole cost of transportation which went to the carrier as freight, but nearly all of the three-fifths of that cost which the state was compelled to exact as tolls, in order to pay the interest on improvident “anticipations” of future revenues. It was, therefore, not in authorizing new mortgages—it was not even in expending actual income upon the improvements which we did intend adequately to provide for—but in discharging the existing liens of the public creditor, that our power was most clearly seen to make the great west tributary to the grandeur of our state and the wealth of our citizens, by the blessings we should confer upon it—to cheapen exotic necessaries to our remote interior, and to cheapen bread to our crowded cities.
HOW THE CANAL WAS PRACTICALLY ENIARGED.
Thus warned how much could be lost by the improvident expenditure, which is the characteristic of easy and eager borrowers, whether states or individuals, the committee had learned also how much could be accomplished by that wise application of moderate sums, which is the characteristic of those who pay as they go. The original excavation of the Erie Canal had been, in some parts of it, considerably less than the four feet required by law, and the brilliant financiers who encumbered it with its present debt, were too busy in planning magnificent improvements, in borrowing money to make them, and in estimating imaginary incomes with which to pay the loans and enrich the State—to attend to the meaner duty of cleaning out from the channel, the gradual deposits of wash from its sides. In the last year of their administration, when thirteen millions had been spent on the enlargement, in beginning everything, and finishing nothing so as to be available—when the works had practically ceased because the treasury was inadequate to the current expenses, and could no longer borrow—when the credit of this great State had fallen so low that its six per cents were selling at two-thirds their present market value—the inconveniences from such obstructions to navigation became so great, that the ordinary time of a trip from Albany to Buffalo and back, increased from eighteen to twenty-two days, and the Canal Board for the first time restricted the size of the boats, by prohibiting the use of any drawing more than three feet of water. A half year afterwards, Mr. Flagg was restored to the administration of the department. He repealed this restriction, commenced bottoming out the canal and raising its banks, and imparted his characteristic efficiency to its general management. During the four years that intervened until the meeting of the Convention, the canal became able to accommodate boats of over eighty tons; and, notwithstanding the smaller boats were generally continued in use until they wore out, the actual average of the down cargo had nearly doubled, and the price of freight had experienced a great reduction. The engineers, on whose official reports the enlargement was originally authorized, held out the promise of a diminution in the cost of freights, of about forty-five per cent. in a canal of seven feet by seventy. One of them estimated that thirty-five of that forty-five per cent. reduction, would be made by the use of a boat of seventy-nine tons in a canal of six feet by sixty; a second that forty per cent. of it would be attained by a boat of one hundred and three tons in a canal of such dimensions; and the third, that it would be entirely realized by a boat of eighty tons in a still smaller canal. Beyond that, neither of them anticipated much reduction.
The canal had been improved by Mr. Flagg's judicious expenditure, so as to give an easy transit to a boat of six and even nine inches greater draft. The size of the boat had increased, and it could be more heavily laden. The freights had fallen so as to realize, to a large extent, the results contemplated by the engineers from the enlargement, as the maximum of economical transportion. This was a great mystery, especially to those whose experience had been in the opposite system of borrowing all they could, spending all they borrowed, and having the canal, in the meantime, grow smaller and smaller. It was freely charged, that while Mr. Flagg resisted any law for the enlargement, he had actually been doing the thing of his own discretion, under the head of ordinary repairs. But that item had not increased as fast as the business of the canals; and, carefully as he had been saving for the state, he was not supposed to have saved so mnch from his small salary as to have done it from his private resources. To satisfy a curiosity which was growing uncomfortable, the water in the canal was measured, during the sitting of the convention, on the upper and lower mitre sill of every lock, and sounded in the intermediate spaces, on each side of the boat, every four rods from Albany to Buffalo. Sworn returns, which were examined by members of the committee, and were open to the inspection of every member of the convention, showed that the increase of the tonnage of the boat, and the reduction of the freights had been effected in a canal of not more, and at some points rather less, than four feet of water for navigation. The Increase of the aggregate capacity of the canal had been not less remarkable, and scarcely less mysterious. In the period to which I have before alluded, as memorable for its magnificent projects and its humiliating bankruptcy—when the draft of the boat was restricted and the time of the trip lengthened, because the repairs necessary to keep the channel in working order were neglected, the canal commissioners insisted that the speedy enlargement was not only a “measure of fiscal and commercial expediency, but of immediate and vital necessity.” The ground of their urgency, was, in their own language, that, “there was a fixed and absolute quantity, to wit, 225,000 tons which if added to the descending tonnage (then 467,000 tons) would exhaust the remaining capacity of the canal,” and that “any further increase of the trade must seek another channel.” In 1842, the Commissioners repeated these estimates, and said that experience had established their correctness. Nevertheless, the Increase had, in the year before the convention was held, been more than double that quantity, and for the year then current was evidently to be triple, and yet the whole business was done so easily, as greatly to lessen the time of the trip. As a member of the committee, and in fulfilling an allotment of duties, I had occasion to discuss the capacity of the canal. After analyzing the representations as to detentions, crowds and local obstructions, and showing that similar complaints had been ioudly made within the first five years after the canal was completed, and when its business was comparatively inconsiderable; I admitted that it was difficult to measure the extent of the details with sufficient exactness, to determine the aggregate result; but claimed that there was a test decisive of the whole controversy—the comparative time of the trip from Albany to Buffalo and back. And I ventured to assert, that the ordinary average time of the trip, in 1846, was not longer than it had been in the year before the enlargement was first authorized, and when the down tonnage was scarcely more than a fourth of its amount in the current season. And this, notwithstanding the boat having more than doubled its capacity, could not be expected to be as easily handled or rapidly moved. . A fact so potent to dispel honest illusion, and to silence misleading clamor, brought instantly upon their feet, two gentlemen, of opposite politics, one of whom had ably maintained the antagonist policy, and the other of whom had been prominent in the administration of the canals, to correct me; and unable to overcome their incredulity, I adjourned to the proofs. The next morning, I submitted evidences from original clear: ances, which had been just received at the office of the Collector at Albany, and others received during the great pressure of business, created by the foreign demand for bread stuffs, at the close of the previous season; statements from towing and forwarding establishments, and citations from the official documents of former periods, which seemed to settle the controversy. As far as I know, the fact was not afterwards called in question. I have adverted to it, and the grounds on which it rests, because I deem it important, and the discussion of it was not reported.
HOW THE CAPACITY OF THE LOCKS WAS INCREASED.
The increase of capacity was to be, in a great degree, ascribed to the enlargement of the boat, the deepening of the water in the canal and togeneral efficiency of administration. But there is another particular which merits especial notice. A practical limit to the capacity of the canal is in the power of the locks to pass the boats. At the time the enlargement was undertaken, their maximum power was supposed to be to pass one in about ten minutes. In 1841, when the commissioners thought that two hundred and twenty-five thousand tons added to the down tonnage would exhaust the utmost capacity of the canal, it was estimated to be to pass one in a little over seven minutes. In 1843, a number of the locks at various points were watched
and timed for the same twenty-four consecutive hours; and it was found that they passed the boats in from four to six minutes each. Something of these results may have been accomplished by manning and working the locks efficiently. But there was a more potent cause. In the lock gates are inserted paddle gates, as they are called, through which the water is let in and out, until the lock gates can be moved. The main detention in passing the locks is in filling and emptying them; and the rapidity with which this can be done must depend upon the construction of these paddle gates. Nobody condescended, so far as I could learn by a diligent search through a fearful library of official and scientific reports on the improvement of the canal, to pay much attention to them. While we were incurring an expenditure of four-and-twenty millions, and encumbering our noblest work with a mortgage that will for a generation rob it of its chiefest power to benefit the millions whose commercial intercourse with the world it might still enlarge and cheapen—and doing this mainly on the ground of its inadequacy to its business, these humble but useful servants were getting improved as they could. They felt no difficulty in doubling or tripling the capacity of the canal from what it was supposed to be when the enlargement was undertaken, almost without cost. They went on working silently under the feet of men whose eyes were in the clouds, and, by gradual approximations to what they were capable of, confounding all calculations as to the quantity of tonnage which the canal could accommodate. About three miles above Schenectady is Alexander's lock. Through it must pass all the tonnage that concentrates in the Erie Canal on its way to tide water. The superintendent had at an early period kept an account of its lockages, and from its power in this respect, the commissioners in 1841, had calculated the capacity of the canal. In 1846, it was an old lock, built with the canal itself, and single. There it stood, doing the business that came from both ways, and apparently never wearied with showing how much less liberal were Mr. Ruggles' calculations of its power than his estimates of business, surpluses and sinking funds. In analyzing the experiments of 1843, the manuscript reports of which were found in the Canal Department, I observe a whole hour, in which the average time of its lockages was three and a half minutes; and I learned from the superintendent, whom Mr. Bissel was good enough to send down to me, that its paddle gates were not of the best construction. He added two at one end of the lock, not finding it convenient to do so at both, and reported a saving of twenty seconds. During the session of the convention, while the depth of water was being measured, the time required to fill and empty the locks and to pass the boats, was also tested, and it was ascertained that, with the best paddle gates and apparatus, it could be done easily in three minutes. If the canal were able to give easy transit to boats of double the tonnage on which its maximum capacity was calculated by Mr. Ruggles and Mr. Spencer in 1841, and the locks were able to pass them in one half the time they supposed to be required, the capacity of the canal would be quadrupled. It has been, in fact, tripled between the time they left its administration and the session of the convention. Hence, it was able to accommodate not only the increase from the 467,315 tons it was carrying at the time of this estimate, to the 691,315 tons which were to exhaust its utmost capacity, but to 1,107,270 tons in the year of the convention, and to 1,431,250 tons in the year after. More than four times the increase predicted as exhausting the maximum capacity of the canal, and more than three times the actual aggregate when that prediction was made, were thus achieved, under the administration of Mr. Flagg, with additional facilities to business, and without much swelling the account of ordinary repairs. It is remarkable that Mr. Ruggles, whose name heads the report of the Canal Commissioners which founded on calculations so fallacious, the disastrous policy that had almost bankrupted the state, has published an elaborate letter in favor of the present project; and Mr. Spencer, whose name heads reports of the Canal Board adopting the same general views, has published a labored argument to establish its constitutionality. The experience of such errors which aroused the people to assemble in their delegated sovereignty to take from all future agents the power to repeat them, seems to have been lost on these gentlemen. The latter gravely argues, that the convention could not have intended to restrict the Legislature to the expending of the surplus as it actually accrues, because it would be so inadequate; forgetting how much more Mr. Flagg was able to accomplish by a tenth of the present surplus wisely applied, in that manner, than had been done by an expenditure of “anticipated revenues,” which emptied the treasury—prostra. ted the credit of the state, and entailed oppressive mortgages upon the canals.
HOW THE ENLARGEMENT MIGHT BE COMPLETED WITHOUT BORROWING.
Looking forward to the future, the committee saw that these processes, so efficient and so inexpensive, were not exhausted. The average tonnage of the boat would be brought up nearly one-third, as the old were gradually supplanted by new. The paddle gates could be improved at very slight expense. The water could easily be deepened a foot by bottoming out the canal to the level of the mitre-sills of the locks, and by strengthening its banks. The enlargement could be made, to a considerable extent, immediately available, by judicious improvements at particular points. A second line of locks, of the enlarged size, could be brought into use the whole distance between Albany and Syracuse—where the main pressure of business is—by an expenditure of three hundred thousand dollars. One such line might next be completed to Buffalo; and then might be added whatever convenience should result from doubling the tier of enlarged locks through the mountain ridge at Lockport. An expenditure of two millions and a half—the engineers would say much less— could accomplish these improvements, and would put usin immediate use of the boat of one hundred and twenty tons, and again triple the capacity of the canal. Most of the expenditures would be in execution of the general plan of the enlargement, and the residue so small as to find an equivalent in the immediate results. If the business did not increase, it would be more than accommodated; if it did, as the committee expected, and it was not found necessary to accelerate the inevitable reductions in the tolls, that increase would furnish a surplus, not only adequate to secure all incidental benefits, but to ultimately complete the work on a scale of costly magnificence.
THE RISKS OF IN CURRING MORE DEBT TO COMPLETE IT.
The ability of the canal to do its accumulating business from the very outset, being thus adequately and certainly assured, the motive which was mainly urged in favor of the enlargement, and was most influential in its adoption, was fully answered. The accessory benefit of a reduction in the freights, further than was already realized, or could be by these improvements, was not so sure in its extent, that the attainment of it at an earlier period was an equivalent to the inevitable evils of a large increase of the debt; the loss of the certain and extensive power to cheapen transport by lessening the tolls—the accumulation of the annual charge for interest, which already amounted to thirteen hundred thousand dollars, and consumed nearly all we could apply on the debt—the risk that future anticipations might be as inefficiently applied as the former had been, or that if, by any of the errors to which human calculations are subject, they did not materially lessen the cost of transport, they would deprive us of the ability we yet possessed, to effect that result in other modes, or to gradually discharge the existing mortgages. Anticipations of income or profits, to such an extent that the interest on the amount expended, presses closely on the whole income or profits expected, usually prove fatal to individuals, and will do so until human nature is changed, and hopes become more real than facts. Experience has shown that they are not less ruinous to states. Not even the unmatched power of the Erie Canal to realize sanguine conjectures as to its business, were able to overcome miscalculations as to cost, or misapplications of expenditure, or more obvious difficulties which should have been foreseen in such a system of financiering, so as to attain any of the benefits of the enlargement, or to give to the sinking funds which figured so conspicuously in the original plans, any existence, except in the imaginations of Mr. Ruggles and Mr. Spencer. But the anticipations of its future revenues had created enormous expenditure for enterprises which ought never to have been undertaken—for the partial construction of works at extravagant prices, and without making what was done available—and for interest on such misapplications of borrowed monies—in all, an actual waste sufficient to have enlarged the Erie Canal in a costly manner, and without a debt; and had encumbered it, as yet unenlarged, with an annual charge for interest, which, added to the surplus, Would have been as much as the state could have applied, economically, or wisely, to such objects, and withannual instalments of principal for a generation to come.