Archive for February 8th, 2006

Déjà vu all over again

If you get the chance, take a minute to read Governor Daniels’ statement on the acceptance of Cintra-Maquerie’s bid to buy the Indiana Toll Road. Putting aside the substance of his remarks, the Governor’s exuberant tone and use of superlative is interesting:

After closing, we will deposit this astonishing sum, equaling more than a decade of new construction funding at the current level, into a new trust fund, to be invested as fast as legally and humanly possible in the biggest building program in state history. The Hoosier Heartland Corridor, a non-stop US 31, new Ohio River bridges, I-69, the Fort to Port highway, the Gary-Chicago Airport, and hundreds more projects will all change overnight from wishes to certainties. The money will be in the bank. At last, we can stop dreaming and start digging…

Today marks an extraordinary moment in state history. A breakthrough like this may come but once in a public service lifetime…

That speech reminded me of a much earlier period in Indiana history about which I recently read in the book, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly¹. The book notes the dawn of a long-past era that began with a similar tone:

In March, 1827, Congress donated land (to Indiana) for a road from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River…

The gift led Governor James Brown Ray to try to inspire the 11th General Assembly with a sense of the momentousness of the opportunity. Ray… estimated the total worth of the land grant at $1.8 million. He told lawmakers in his message to the 1827-1828 session that not for another fifty years, “perhaps never,” would Indiana have such a chance to construct internal improvements on a scale capable of producing “a revenue that shall relieve our fellow citizens from taxation…” Lawmakers, sure to be interested in any scheme with such magical properties as to make taxes obsolete, accepted the grants… and committed to building the road…

According to the history, the General Assembly then helpfully proceeded with “three years of bitter debate,” which, of course, bled over into the political arena:

While no majority could be achieved regarding specifics until 1832, there was near unanimity that internal improvement projects should be undertaken. The mood that gripped citizens and politicians was reflected in a couplet used by the successful candidate for a House seat from Franklin County in 1828:

If internal improvements you’d wish to go on
You’ll be safe in electing old Daniel St. John.

Unfortunately, despite the bold plans and campaign promises, the “improvements mania” era did not end well for Indiana:

…Speaker of the House Samuel Judah delivered the System’s epitaph in 1841: “Here then is the end of our golden dreams. Here the consummation of all those visionary schemes… developed in the Wabash and Erie Canal, expanded in the system of 1836, and… terminated in bankruptcy, dishonor, and disgrace.

Historical perspective can always be helpful when considering the issues of the present day.

The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly is no longer in print, but my wonderful wife managed to track down a copy for me as a gift. I am not finished reading it yet, but I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Indiana history.

¹Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 28-35.

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