Celebrating the Age of the Early Eighteen Hundreds

By Mary Bowden, Researcher, UT Bound Newspaper Archive

January 15, 2016

(Return to Guest Blog)

From the City of Washington Gazette, July 15, 1819:

“This age surpasses any other for daring enterprises, ingenious inventions, wonderful discoveries, and advancement in arts and sciences.  It seems that we shall realize the fables of the ancients and actually perform what they considered miracles.  Like Dedalus we have discovered the art of flying, not only o a balloon, but with wings, if the account of the German watchmaker be true; the story of the enchanting horse Chavilena is rivalled by the Velocipede.  We have not discovered the art of animating clay with celestial fire, like Prometheus, but modern chemists have expressed a belief that a human being might, accidently, be created by a chemical process.–A graduate in the medical school of Philadelphia concluded an inaugural Thesis, by declaring that the time was approaching when the chemist would be able to crystalize a man!  It would gratify curiosity to furnish a list of all the new inventions and discoveries which have originated in the course  of twenty years past.  Our numerous successes have given  us such confidence in the powers of the human intellect that we are as ready to undertake the discovery of longitude and perpetual motion as any thing else.  The boldness of enterprise exhibited by the present age is wonderful.–Strenuous exertions are making to sail to the North Pole, notwithstanding Mr. Symes says, that the poles are hollow and that a tremendous whirlpool exists at each of them:  A steam ship has been sent across the Atlantic in a few weeks past.  

Another species of enterprize is just set on foot, of stupendous magnitude, viz. cutting canals trough the Isthmi of Suez and Darien.  The Suez canal is nothing new, for if we remember right, one of the kings of Egypt commenced and nearly finished a canal from the Nile to the Red Sea, the traces of which are still visible.  A canal through the Isthmus of Darien has been sometime spoken of, but the territory being in possession of the lazy unenterprising Spaniards, nothing can be expected of them.  Perhaps the United States and England have refused to enter into the scheme for fear those canals may injure their carrying trade!  The circumnavigation of Africa and South America is a profitable business to ship owners!  

As to the canal across the Isthmus of Darien, we protest against it, for more substantial reasons.–Suppose a canal there; what would be its effect?  The waters in the Gulf of Mexico some say, are continually 15 feet or thereabouts higher than the waters in the Pacific ocean, and the moment the smallest passage is made for this weight of waters, they will rush through the Isthmus with such impetuosity as  to ‘confound and swallow navigation up!”  The Roanoke and Shenandoah rivers bursting through the Blue-ridge, or the sea rushing through the dykes of Holland could not be more dreadful.  If you but make a pin hole through the Isthmus the sea will soon make a canal wider than could be wished–perhaps the whole Isthmus would be swept away.  The prevalence of the trade winds would continue to operate as usual, and the current through the canal would always be so violent that wind and steam combined could not stem it.  The waters in the Gulf would fall say twelve or fourteen feet, and destroy all the harbors on its coast!!  As the Gulf-stream is occasioned by the reflux of the waters which are thrown into it be the trade winds, it would cease to flow entirely, and thus change the navigation of a great extent of sea.

The cessation of the Gulf stream would alter half the countless currents of the ocean, for Humboldt proves that it makes a great circle, viz. from Newfoundland to the east, round by Africa, and thence to the Gulf.  If the Isthmus of Suez were also opened, there would, perhaps, be a current round the whole globe, from East to West.

We hope the Ohio legislature will take this matter into serious consideration before they proceed further with this canal.  By lowering the waters in the Gulf, it will destroy the harbour of Orleans; and all those on the northern coast of Florida.  Thus would the great western commercial depot be destroyed, at least for a time, and all the western states would suffer materially.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.