Economic History of the United States

By Chester W. Wright | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIX
TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION, 1816-1860

Introduction. The difficulties that arose from the lack of adequate and cheap transportation facilities during the preceding period have already been described. It is obvious that the westward movement of population only served to increase this need for internal improvements. The available waterways chiefly determined the location of the earlier settlers and as the region adjacent to these waterways was occupied and later comers were forced to settle at a distance the demand for improvements grew the more insistent. Nor was there any development in the field of economic activities that was destined to exercise more far-reaching and revolutionary effects upon the economic organization of the country during this period than the introduction of improved facilities for transportation. This development hastened the westward movement; it widened the markets for the products of every region, thus furthering specialization and division of labor, increasing trade, and augmenting the productive capacity of the nation; it helped to break down the local or provincial economy of many sections, hastened the growth of a national economy, and helped to increase trade that was international in scope.

Roads and Turnpikes. For the most part the construction of roads was left to the local authorities, the towns and counties, whose work was sometimes supplemented by aid and supervision from the state. Much of the actual work was done by residents of the locality who were given the option of supplying carts and draft animals and putting in a certain number of days of work on road building or of paying a road tax. The resulting roads were apt to be the poorest that could be used at all and were seldom kept in proper repair. Furthermore, since they were usually constructed primarily to meet the local needs, they failed to provide satisfactory facilities for long-distance traffic. It was largely to meet this need that the states appointed highway commissioners and afforded some financial aid. For similar reasons the construction of turnpikes by private companies was generally confined to places where a considerable volume of traffic, either local or long distance, existed so that the tolls collected would be sufficient to yield an adequate return on the outlay involved.

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