On the 23rd of December, 1811, perhaps early on a crisp but clear winter morning (as they tend to be in this area), James Madison quickly penned this letter to the Congress and enclosed it with the message he had recently received from several distinguished New Yorkers, including Gouvernuer Morris, De Witt Clinton, Robert Livingston, and Robert Fulton. The men had written the president indicating that they "crave... the credence and favorable notice" of Congress on the matter of a canal project underway in New York. Madison, as he had always been, was enthusiastic about the prospect of such internal improvements which had gained so much attention after Secretary Gallatin had published his report on the subject in the waning years of Jefferson's administration. The president's communication to Congress reflected this enthusiasm, but hurriedly, perhaps because Madison himself would soon be traveling in the direction of his famous predecessor in office. He wanted to make it to Montpelier before Christmas, and given the uncertain condition of the roads, travel could at times be dubious. Madison may very well have expected to see his friend Jefferson over the holiday season, and would have been excited to share the plans for the proposed New York canal with him. A canal in upstate New York would provide the elusive Potomac canal with stiff competition for Western trade, something that all scions of the Old Dominion feared. But the boon to the Union would be undeniable, and the revived interest in canal building held out hope for the old Potomac project spearheaded by Washington himself so many years ago.
Madison, looking forward to seeing his estate and his old friend again, sat down and wrote on that crisp winter morning so that he could pass on the New York peititon to Congress and begin his journey west:
Washington, December 23, 1811
To the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States:
I communicate to Congress copies of an act of the Legislature of New York, relating to a canal from the Great lakes to the Hudson river. In making the communication I consult the respect due to that State in whose behalf the commissioners appointed by the act have placed it in my hands for the purpose.
The utility of canal navigation is universally admitted. It is not less certain that scarcely any country offers more extensive opportunities for that branch of improvements than the United States; and none, perhaps, inducements equally persuasive, to make the most of them. The particular undertaking contemplated by the State of New York, which marks an honorable spirit of enterprise, and comprises objects of national, as well as more limited importance, will recall the attention of Congress to the signal advantages to be derived to the United States from a general system of internal communication and conveyance, and suggest to their consideration whatever steps may be proper, on their part, towards its introduction and accomplishment. As some of those advantages have an intimate connexion with arrangements and exertions for the general security, it is at a period calling for these, that the merits of such a system will be seen in the strongest light.