The Rivers and Harbors Bill 1846

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The Rivers and Harbors Bill 1846

The Rivers and Harbors Bill was passed by the congress in 1846. The bill which sought the government funded  internal improvements of small harbors mostly in the great  lakes was however vetoed buy president James Polk on 3rd August of the same year on grounds that it was unconstitutional and exerted favorism on certain areas. The voting pattern exhibited during the voting of this bill is viewed by Paskoff as a clear manifestation of party discipline coupled with the local interests of the individual members of the congress in respect to the geographical location of their respective districts (83). The voting of this bill led to sharp divisions among the party members with the Free State Whig mavericks coming from districts with no water for the federal funded improvement. On the other hand, a number of democrats who came from districts along the rivers and great lakes voted in favor of the government bill owing to the fact that it would benefit their districts. This was a major determining factor of the congressional voting pattern between the Whigs and the democrats in the subsequent years.

The move by President Polk to veto the rivers and harbors bill was a major disappointment to his democrats especially from the northwest. This was due to the fact that the bill would have seen the provision of federal aid for improvements of transportation in their districts. In addition to the northern democrats, the Whigs from districts of the north that stood to benefit from the improved water transportation were equally angered by the president’s move. Having been brought up at a time when the Mexico war was going on, the government was afraid that it did not have any funds available for  improvements since the lions share of the available government funds was  been utilized in fuelling the on going Mexico war. According to Paskoff, about 80% of the total expenditure was spent on the army and navy in 1847 and 1848. This was a significant increase from 50 percent which was spent on the same before the war (80). This left minimal or n funds available for use on water transport improvements. The Chicago convention delegates under the presidency of Edward Bates prepared a memorial that served as a signal for more action to be expected in the congress. This convention was composed majorly of delegates from parts of the country that had an interest in removal of hazards from the western rivers and either creation or improvement of harbors on the Mississippi as well as the great lakes, (Paskoff, 81). Whigs from newyork and New England as well as Georgia, Florida and Missouri did not have any interest in voting the bill since they were not from districts that needed improvement. In this case, they could not see the need to vote for the necessary appropriations as stipulated in this bill. They were backed up by the democrats who did not have any interests as they were not from congressional districts that stood to benefit from the passing of this bill.

During the early 1850’s the supporters of the federally funded improvements on the rivers and harbors could count on the majority of the Whig votes as well as some of the votes from the democrats who were ready to relinquish their party beliefs on improvements. Representatives in the new western states had realized a big potential of the shipping routes and in land harbors as well as the Mississippi and the great lakes among other waterways. However, the presence of barriers like sand dunes, floods as well as snags was a great disappointment towards exploiting these natural resources. In this case the state of the environment became the tool of lobbying for support from other states since they could not succeed on their own.  Because of the immense economic benefits that the improvements on the rivers and harbors were bound to bring, were there was intense lobbying since among the democrats with constituents appealing to their senators to plead with the president to accent to the bill. For instance residents from Ohio wanted a light house constructed since it would increase their exports. On the other hand, the old North West wanted the removal of travel obstructions on the rivers that drain into the great lakes. They argued that the removal of barriers would improve the efficiency of trade on the Eric canal. With all these benefit.............


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