New York by Bruce Bliven

New York by Bruce Bliven

Author:Bruce Bliven
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780393348613
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company


The Western Connection

SOME time after Washington’s inauguration and before the Civil War, an American style evolved—the most significant conclusion to the struggles for independence and nationhood. It was not definable, overall, in any brief descriptive phrase, and it was not by any means finished. However, in every field of endeavor, and in all institutions, and in manners, there came to be a distinctly American way of doing things so that any world traveller knew without having to inquire that he was not in England, France, or Germany, and certainly not in the Netherlands or China. New York’s influences on this emerging national character were extraordinarily great.

Former Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, for instance, had a hand in the introduction of the steamboat to the Hudson River, and thus to all the rivers of the land. Livingston was appointed minister plenipotentiary to France in 1801, and there he scored a great diplomatic success by seizing the opportunity offered the United States to purchase Louisiana. He also met a tall, dark-haired Pennsylvanian, Robert Fulton, a portrait painter turned engineer who had been living in Europe for most of twenty years. Fulton had been born into a poor farm family forty-two years earlier and had shown remarkable talent as a boy for drawing. He had learned gunsmithing, and he drew the fanciful decorative designs that were much in demand by gunmakers. Fulton then had gone to Philadelphia to study art, and he had learned to paint portraits, miniatures, and landscapes. After he had saved enough money to buy his widowed mother a farm, he went to England. Four years later, in 1791, two of Fulton’s paintings were included in the Royal Academy show. He traveled through England as he visited the country houses of people who had commissioned portraits, and he witnessed the changes that were taking place: new canals, new bridges, new machinery, and steam engines providing their power. He became acquainted with the Duke of Bridgewater and Lord Stanhope, and they encouraged him to devote all his time to engineering. Fulton patented machines for sawing marble, spinning flax, and twisting hemp rope and a “doubly inclined plane” for raising and lowering canal boats. In 1797, during a lull in the wars between England and France, Fulton went to Paris and built a remarkably successful submarine, Nautilus, which could submerge twenty-five feet, steered easily under water, and could stay submerged for more than four hours.

Livingston met Fulton in Paris, and they talked about steamboats. Livingston’s brother-in-law, Colonel John Stevens of Hoboken, New Jersey, had been trying for some time to build a practical steamboat—inspired by the experiments of John Fitch and James Rumsey, who had launched steamboats with less than perfect success on the Delaware and Potomac rivers, respectively, in 1787. Livingston himself had found time to read every available paper on the subject. He had also secured the repeal of a New York State law of 1787 that had given Fitch sole rights to use steamboats on the Hudson, as well as


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