The Improvement of James River.

February 5, 1870


Virginia requests money from the government to improve the James River.


The deepening of the channel at some points of the lower James river and the marking of it in a better manner than it is now marked are matters of great public interest. Every town in the James River valley-the whole south side and a great part of the north side-the valley of Virginia - West Virginia, Ohio, and the Northwest - Kentucky and Tennessee-all have more or less interest in this improvement. Congress should make liberal appropriations to it. James river has been greatly neglected by the Federal Government. The Hudson River tidal stream is about as long as that of James river, and its claims to appropriation for the improvement of its navigation not one whit stronger than those of James river. Yet, we think we are under the mark in estimating that the Federal Government has expended upon the Hudson river one million and a half of dollars, while it has given to James river only twenty thousand dollars! This gross partiality has no good excuse. It is true that the Democratic party, which had the power in this State, always opposed the voting of money out of the Treasury for improvement in the States; and they wore more "strict" and straight-laced here in Virginia than even General Jackson was; for he made and exception in favor of tidal streams, contending that they were the conduits of foreign commerce and sea-going ships, and ought to be improved by the Federal Government, under the clause about "regulating commerce." No, they would none of the Federal treasure for anything whatever but per diem for congressmen! Now, there was an immense minority in the State that differed with them-there was a great trade that was interesting to the nation and the source of national revenue plying along James river, and the needful improvement of that river ought to have been made by Congress, whatever might have been the partisan opinions on the subject. The representatives from other sections of the Union took all they could get, while the commercial interests in this central latitude, which is destined to be the chief theatre of action of the continent, were completely neglected. We deem it now proper that this neglect should end. The poor pretext that existed before the war is no longer afforded, and Congress ought with alacrity to proceed to make some amends for the crying injustice of the partial appropriations from the common treasure of the nation before the war. We commend this subject to the members of Congress from this State. We have, through them, at last a voice in the national councils, and this grievance should be made known. Virginia gave empires to the nation, and in return she has received $20,000! The necessities of commerce require prompt attention to the improvement of James river, and some of the great debt due Virginia may now with advantage to the State and the nation be appropriated to this important object.
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Charles Simmonds




“The Improvement of James River.,” Reconstructing Virginia, accessed May 18, 2022,