Navigation of the Mississippi
Cleveland Morning Leader, February 21, 1861
The importance of the Mississippi river as a commercial thoroughfare has long been proverbial with the people of the United States, the power conferred by its undisturbed possession having been the chief consideration in inducing our government to purchase the territory contiguous to its mouth. The many railroad lines constructed within the past few years have tended in a great degree to lessen the value of internal water routes, but still the control of the "Father of Rivers" is something which the American people—especially those of the Northwest—would not surrender without a desperate struggle. The recent action of the Gulf States indicates that the Southern chivalry are emboldened in their rebellion by a belief that they hold the key to this important national roadway. They assume that the Northwestern States are dependent upon them for the privilege of navigating the lower Mississippi, and this assumption, unfounded as it is, makes them arrogant and dictatorial. If, therefore, it were practicable, it would be well to remove from the rebels this fancied source of power. This, it has been demonstrated, is eminently practicable and easy of attainment. For years the people of Illinois have been agitating a plan for connecting the waters of Lake Michigan with those of the Illinois river. They are at present connected by a canal of ordinary dimensions, which could readily be enlarged so as to be navigable by the largest river steamers. The Illinois flows through the richest agricultural portion of the State, emptying into the Mississippi a short distance above the mouth of the Missouri. Hitherto the friends of this enterprise have depended upon private capital for the consummation of the work. Now they seek to enlist the aid of the Federal Government. Petitions are being extensively circulated and numerously signed along the route, and will be soon forwarded for circulation in the Eastern cities, asking Congress, "in view of the late, present and prospective obstructions of the Mississippi river by armed forces of the seceding States, to make instant provision for the purchase and speedy enlargement of the Illinois & Michigan Canal." On this subject, the Chicago Tribune says:
—"The vast and increasing commerce of the Northwest must have a cheap and easy outlet to the seaboard; and if the way by New Orleans is blocked up by the madness and folly of Louisiana, the enlargement of that canal is a national necessity which no Administration would dare to overlook; and when that enlargement is once completed the uses of the Mississippi for the purposes of navigation would be at an end; because, whatever might happen in the political world, goods could be transported from Memphis to New York or Boston much cheaper, quicker and more safely than by the old channel; and though having impoverished themselves by the secession folly, the States near the mouth of the Mississippi might return to the Union, like the prodigal son to his father, they never could regain the trade which the scheme now in contemplation would snatch from their hands."