When he first proposed its construction more than two centuries ago, Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s plan for a 363-mile canal across upstate New York was met with derision and scorn.
They said it was a pipe dream; that it could not be done.
Many even derided it as “Clinton’s ditch.” They laughed when he came, cap in hand, asking them to help finance the project.
As we near the bicentennial anniversary of the Erie Canal, we can say without a doubt that the detractors were wrong. By linking the Great Lakes to the eastern seaboard, the Erie Canal created an aquatic superhighway, opening our state to previously unimaginable levels of expansion, trade, and prosperity.
Fortunes were made off the canal’s unprecedented commerce, which fueled innovation. Even social movements of the era—including religious revivals, women’s suffrage, and Abolitionism—spread like wildfire from Albany to Buffalo. It was truly one of the most revolutionary advancements of the era and helped set the United States on a course to global economic leadership.
In celebration of that spirit and this great feat of American engineering, I introduced bipartisan legislation directing the U.S. Mint to create a bicentennial commemorative Erie Canal coin, the proceeds of which will go to the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor to support tourism, community development, education, and conservation efforts.
This bicentennial reminds us of what American ingenuity can achieve when we think big and act boldly. Americans have never shrunk in the face of challenges. Instead, we welcome them. The Erie Canal is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the American people, and particularly to the spirit of the Empire State.
However, you know as well as I, that the Erie Canal is not the major commercial route it once was. Recent history has seen an industrial decline across our great state. Facing rising costs, burdensome regulations, and neglect from politicians in Albany, businesses and manufacturers have fled New York in staggering numbers, leaving our communities in economic and social distress. Upstate New York, which thrived off its industry and the tenacity of its people in the 19th and 20th centuries, is now struggling to meet the demands of the 21st century.
The key to our renewal lies in setting a new course, one that restores the same indefatigable spirit of ingenuity and dynamism that drove Gov. DeWitt Clinton’s Erie Canal project. In Congress, I have dedicated myself to leading this charge.
This year, I introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to combat declining manufacturing and economic activity: the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act. This bill would provide American manufacturers the economic support they need to grow and thrive in upstate New York. The AIM Act breaks down many of the barriers businesses face when trying to acquire financial resources.
By working in partnership with our domestic manufacturers, we can infuse American industry with the capital it so desperately needs, and which today is concentrated in big cities like New York and San Francisco.
In doing so, we will help restore stable, well-paying jobs in our region and throughout the nation. The supply-chain catastrophe we are seeing now underscores the vitally important need to reinvest in America manufacturing.
The spirit of ingenuity and perseverance that brought the Erie Canal into existence is still alive and well, we simply must harness it once again. Years of bad policy from both sides of the aisle have forced our most productive industries to leave in search of better opportunities and business climates.
It does not have to be like this. We can ensure the legacy of the Erie Canal lives on; we can once again make upstate New York an economic powerhouse for innovators and businesses. This is the work I am committed to, and I hope others in Congress, our community, and our state will join me as we work to make New York great once again.
Congresswoman Claudia Tenney represents New York’s 22nd Congressional District in Congress as a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Small Business Committees.