While in other countries the artificial means of intercommunication are works undertaken, completed, owned, and managed by the government, our policy has been to leave these matters to private enterprise, or to the management of corporations chartered for the purpose ; although where the work was a matter of national necessity, or advantage, appropriations in aid have been made from the public treasury, and privileges have been granted to the stockholders who raised the principal means and carried forward the work. In many cases this assistance is judicious, and whatever may be the opinion as to the extent to which corporations may be thus aided, it is certain that such work as is necessary to keep open and in order our natural highways, as navigable rivers, belongs properly to the national government. The rivers and lakes that form our splendid system of natural intercommunication are, and should be, free to all, and no company or corporation, should be allowed to obstruct them, for their own benefit. The right of locomotion, even if not laid down in any bill of rights, declarations of independence, or constitutions, is one as inalienable and unquestionable as that of breathing. Especially is this right necessary in a country like ours, of such vast territorial extent, of such diversified topography, varied climate, and difference of products. By cheap and unobstructed communications the sectional interests become national and the parts become a whole, exemplifying our national motto, E Pluribus TJnum. We, therefore, regard the obstruction of a navigable stream as a national rather than a sectional calamity, but a calamity nevertheless, whether viewed in a general or local sense. If the resources of engineering talent were exhausted, in carrying railways or common roads across navigable estuaries and rivers, only by means of short span bridges supported by frequent piers, or bridges of too low an elevation to admit the passage of vessels without raising or swinging a draw, there might be reason in thus obstructing natural highways for the benefit of artificial ways deemed to be more valuable. But where a single span of trestle work or arch is not feasible, the suspension system is practicable, in most cases; or if neither of these is advisable, or possible, a tunnel may be substituted. There are few localities where the tunnel may not be used. It may be built on shore, in sections, if required, and sunk to the bed of the river, or on piers laid for its support, of of sufiicient hight to level the inequalities of the river bottom. The superior cheapness of water carriage, especially for heavy and bulky freight, should be sufiicient inducement to preserve intact our navigable rivers, and to improve them by the removal of obstructions that accumulate by natural agencies, rather than to add to tliese obstructions by building piers .11 tho water way to act as nuclei for the accumulation of silt and the formation of sand bars. That this is the effect of such structures no observing person can doubt. Above the pier the current deposits its load of sand, gravel, etc., making an elongated A-shaped shoal; and below, the cross currents, by their eddies, do the same thing, so that on either side, in time, there is deposited an island of an elongated lozenge form, its longer diameter extending many yards both up and down stream, the pier itself being the center. Such obstructions, if formed by nature, either in the channel or on its borders, would be deemed, as they are, obstructions, and demand removal. That they-are the result of arti cal erections doen not remove the objection to their formation. It is certain that, from what cause soever these obstructions occur, they are inimical to navigation, and to means of intercommunication, and, therefore, unworthy of toleration. Our rivers should be free, as free from artificial obstacles as from legal exactions.
This article was originally published with the title "The Natural Highways of Travel" in Scientific American 20, 15, 233 (April 1869)