Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Christopher M. Curtis

Second Advisor

Pamela Riney-kehrberg


Examination of changes in relations and authority structure through the mechanism of river and canal internal improvements in the nineteenth-century American Midwest provide case studies highlighting the themes of contingency, authority, political development, and state formation. While, undoubtedly there are other mechanisms that contribute to state formation and political development, the ideas of improvement of both person and nature permeated nineteenth-century America. Although internal improvements served to connect markets and aid the development of a national economy, the projects presented new obstacles for individuals, challenged previous business practices, and helped redefine the roles of state and federal governments. Such projects also provided cases that challenged English common law traditions and aided in the emergence of a distinct American legal system. While not all of the internal improvement projects were completed and operational, the efforts themselves provided the mechanism of change and development. In fact, ongoing negotiations over control highlights the role of local, state, and regional internal improvement projects in defining the relationships between individuals, corporations, and governments in nineteenth-century America. These changes are highlighted through relations and authority between states or territories and the national government, the states and their citizens, the national government and it citizens, between states, within the same levels of government, and public and private matters.

In highlighting the role of the natural resources, specifically water and its relation with society, this dissertation will first examine the intellectual origins of improvement, the integration of improvement into empowering a positive government, and the formative role of water-based transportation in the development of nineteenth-century America. For a more acute examination of the transformative role that harnessing water for transportation served in the formation of nineteenth century America, I turn to three water-based improvement projects, The Louisville and Portland Canal, The Illinois and Michigan Canal, and the Des Moines River Improvement Project. Each case provided an environment of political, economic, and social negotiations that resulted in the institutionalization of positive government, economic development, and societal development.


Copyright Owner

Rick Lee Woten



Date Available


File Format


File Size

322 pages

Included in

History Commons