Front Matter The Beginning of the U.S Franklin's Return Troubles After the War The Constitution The First President Washington's Troubles A Wonderful Invention Death of Washington The U.S. Buys Land War With African Pirates Death of Somers The First Steamboat The Gerrymander The War of 1812 "Don't Give Up the Ship" The Star-Spangled Banner Clinton's "Big Ditch" More Land Bought Jackson Stories Jackson's Presidency New Inventions Whitman's Ride The Mormons The First Telegraph The Mexican War The Slavery Quarrel Daniel Webster's Youth Webster's Speeches Early Times in California Discovery of El Dorado Rush to California The Underground Railroad The First World's Fair John Brown's Raid Lincoln's Youth The First Shot The Call to Arms The President's Decision Admiral Farragut The Monitor and Merrimac The Penninsular Campaign Barbara Frietchie Lincoln's Vow The Battle of Gettysburg The Taking of Vicksburg Riots, Raids, and Battles The Burning of Atlanta The March to the Sea Sheridan's Ride The Doings of the Fleet Lee's Surrender Decoration Day Lincoln Stories Lincoln's Rebukes A President's Son A Noble Southerner Hard Times in the South The Atlantic Cable Best Way to Settle Quarrels Our One Hundredth Birthday Gold for Greenbacks A Clever Engineer Death of Garfield The Celebration at Yorktown The Great Statue A Terrible Flood Lynch Law The Great White City The Explosion of the Maine The Battle of Manila Hobson's Brave Deed Surrender of Santiago The Hawaiian Islands The Annexation of Hawaii The Philippine War Assassination of McKinley The Panama Canal Roosevelt's Administration Two Presidents German Views The World War Since the World War

Story of the Great Republic - Helene Guerber

Clinton's "Big Ditch"

Madison was succeeded, in 1817, by President James Monroe, who took his oath on the ruins of the Capitol. As he gazed at the foundations, which were quite unharmed, he said that they reminded him of the Union, which was as firm as ever, in spite of all that had happened.

The war being over, a period of peace and prosperity set in for our country. Instead of fighting, people devoted all their energies to tilling the soil, working in the new manufactories, and building towns and roads. War having ceased in Europe also, people in America no longer sided for or against the French or the British, and all quarrels on that subject were so entirely forgotten that this period of time has been called the "era of good feeling."

Monroe did not have nearly so many cares as the Presidents who came before him, and had leisure to travel. He therefore decided to make a tour of the Eastern and Northern states, so as to inspect forts and harbors, and see how the people were thriving in different parts of the country. As he had taken part in the Revolutionary War, still wore his uniform, and was a general favorite, he was warmly received everywhere, and the signs of industry and prosperity which he saw on all sides greatly pleased him.

The United States, having been cut off from commerce with Europe for some time, had learned to depend more upon itself. Cotton and woolen mills had been built, discoveries of coal had given a new start to the iron trade, and American wits were hard at work over many new inventions. Among other things, matches now took the place of flint and steel, and when people wanted to light a fire in a hurry, they no longer needed to run into a neighbor's house for hot coals.

New roads were made in many directions, bridges were built over rivers and brooks, and the National Pike or Cumberland Road made traveling easy between the "Potomac and Ohio rivers. Stagecoaches now ran regularly between the principal cities, and steamboats began to appear on all the large lakes and rivers.

Clinton  Erie canal


Along the roads and down the rivers an endless stream of boats and wagons was going westward, where land could be bought so cheap that many emigrants hastened thither to secure farms. People declared that water ways binding together lakes and rivers would be a great improvement, so Governor Clinton of New York (1817) dug the first shovelful of dirt for a canal which was to connect Lake Erie and the Hudson.

As the work had all to be done by hand, people made great fun of Clinton's "big ditch," declaring it would never be finished. But Clinton's men went calmly on, and after eight years of patient toil his canal was ready. Starting from Buffalo with a party of friends, Clinton sailed all along the new canal to Albany, and thence to New York by the Hudson. When he left Buffalo, a salute was fired, and cannons, stationed all along the road every few miles, boomed forth the great piece of news one after another, thus telegraphing it to New York in about eighty minutes.

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


It took Clinton much longer than that, however, to reach the ocean, for canal travel is very slow. Besides, he had to stop and listen to many speeches on his way. When he finally reached New York Bay, he solemnly poured a keg of Lake Erie water into the Atlantic, to celebrate "the marriage of Lake Erie and the ocean," which were now connected by an unbroken water way. This was a grand day for New York city, and the people cheered until they were hoarse, for they could now send merchandise to the Western farmers, and receive their produce in exchange, for about one tenth of the sum it had cost before.

During Monroe's two terms as President, another great change took place. As there were places where steam boats could not go, and as stages seemed too slow, people began to talk of building passenger railroads. For more than two hundred years the English had used roughly built railroads to carry coal and other heavy materials short distances. In the year 1804 the first steam railroad was built in England, but it was a very imperfect one, the speed being only five miles an hour.

A short railroad to carry earth for grading streets had been built in Boston in 1807, where the cars were drawn by horses or mules. This was the first attempt at a railway in America, although one of our citizens had said in 1804: "The time will come when a steam carriage will set out from Washington in the morning, the passengers will breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia, and sup at New York."

[Illustration] from Story of the Great Republic by Helene Guerber


This prophecy seemed very wild to the people who heard it, but it soon came true. Now railroad travel is much faster than it was at first, so that one can easily breakfast in Washington, and still have half a day to spend in New York. Besides, people no longer need to stop for their meals, as the trains are provided with comfortable dining cars.

Soon after this prediction, the inventor John Stevens began making experiments with steam railroads, and in 1826 he built a small model road at Hoboken, in New Jersey. This attempt was laughed at just like the steam-boat and canal, but people soon ceased to make fun when they saw how useful it would be. In fact, during the next five years orders were given for the building of several passenger and freight railroads, although the cars on them were at first to be drawn by horses instead of steam engines.

The most joyful event during Monroe's time was a visit from the Marquis de Lafayette, who was well known to all because he had come over from France to America to help Washington resist Great Britain during the Revolutionary War. After fighting bravely till our independence was won, Lafayette had gone back to France to struggle for freedom there, and had been a prisoner in Austria for five years. Now, however, he was again free, so in 1824 our Congress invited him to make this country a visit.

As the whole nation longed to honor its guest, his visit was a long series of banquets and festivities of all kinds. People gave him so warm a welcome that his tour through the twenty-four states was like a long triumphal march.

Such was the anxiety to meet him, shake his hand, or win some token of his regard, that people constantly crowded around him. We are even told that a foolish lady, hearing he had kissed a little girl, gushingly cried: "If Lafayette had kissed me, I would never have washed my face again!" Since she was so silly, it was very fortunate that Lafayette did not kiss her, was it not?

Lafayette visited all the principal cities in our country, laid the corner stone of the Bunker Hill Monument, heard Daniel Webster's famous speech on that occasion, and finally made a pilgrimage to the tomb of his friend at Mount Vernon. There he entered the vault alone, kissed the marble coffin, and doubtless thought how happy he would have been could he only have gazed once more on the strong, good face of his fatherly friend.

On all sides Lafayette beheld great changes, for instead of the three million inhabitants of Revolutionary times, our country now had ten million. Besides, our wealth and territory had greatly increased, and, instead of occupying only a small strip along the Atlantic, the United States stretched from that ocean to the Rocky Mountains. Lafayette not only received many honors, but Congress gave him $200,000 and a fine tract of land in reward for his services to the nation.

Lafayette's statue


When his visit was finished, and he wanted to return to France, he was sent home on a new man-of-war, which in his honor was called the Brandywine, because in the Revolutionary War he had been wounded in the battle of that name. When Lafayette died he was buried in a little cemetery near Paris, where Americans often go to visit the grave of the man who was Washington's dearest friend. It is because he was Washington's friend, and because he was brave, honest, and noble, that every one admires him. As he helped us in our time of greatest need, Americans have always wished to do him honor, and that is the reason why you will often see pictures and statues representing him.