This is installment 3.2 of my Indiana Bicentennial series. Installment 3 covers generally the period from 1832 to 1848. 3.1 discussed the national context. Now to look at Governor Noble and the state at the beginning of this period.
Noah Noble (1832-1837)
Indiana’s 5th Governor, Noah Noble, was an example of early industrial and financial enterprise in the State. Most of the pioneering people focused on agricultural pursuits (often pork and corn as cash crops) but needed access to markets, capital, finished goods, and methods for processing their own produce in a manner suitable for shipping and trading. Noble, in addition to being a land speculator in Brookville, was the owner of a trading company that purchased produce from area farmers and shipped them to New Orleans. I don’t know the particulars of his business, but there was often a lack of access to cash and credit, so the local merchant became sort of a fledgling banking operation. Providing goods on credit to local farmers, giving them a local means of trading their goods, and interacting with markets and manufacturers further away. This was not guaranteed profit by any means, a boating accident in 1819 destroyed an entire shipment and left him in debt for many years. Noble also operated a water powered weaving mill with a wool carding machine.
Noah was active in Franklin County politics, and his brother was Senator James Noble, a member of Indiana’s first constitutional convention. His brother’s influence got him the job of Receiver of Public Moneys in the Indiana Land Office which put him in touch with influential people in the State. (Apparently his other, younger brother Lazarus had previously held the position but died while moving the land office from Brookville to Indianapolis). When Andrew Jackson got elected, the nature of the spoils system was such that Noble was bounced from his job. However, he was soon appointed to the commission that laid out the Michigan Road.
As I’ve mentioned before, early Indiana government policy had a strong focus on transportation. Economic activity is largely useless if you don’t have the means to connect people and markets. You have to be able to get your pigs and corn to people who have a use for them, and the means to pay for them. The Michigan Road was an early state effort in transportation. In addition, the federal government was building the National Road which eventually ran east-to-west from Richmond (by way of Cumberland, Maryland) through Indianapolis to Terre Haute (and on into Illinois). The Michigan Road ran north-south from Madison on the Ohio River, up to Indianapolis, and (by way of Logansport at the junction of the Wabash and Eel Rivers and South Bend on the St. Joseph River) to Lake Michigan at the port at Michigan City.
In the election of 1831, Noble was the Whig nominee for governor. On the national level, Whigs had formed in opposition to Andrew Jackson’s Presidency. Generally speaking, it favored Congress over the Presidency, modernization, banking, and protectionism that favored domestic manufacturing. “It appealed to entrepreneurs and planters, but had little appeal to farmers or unskilled workers.”
Having been chosen to lead the Whigs, Noble won a hard fought race as a Whig against his Democratic opponent, James Read; taking office in December 1831 and holding it until December 1837. He oversaw the completion of survey work on the Wabash and Erie Canal, and work started on the canal in 1832. Canals were all the rage for a period of time in the U.S. The Erie Canal, built to connect New York City to the Great Lakes and opened in 1825 was wildly successful. The proposed Wabash & Erie project, which had its roots in an 1827 Congressional land grant, wasn’t necessarily popular throughout the Indiana, however. Under the terms of the grant, Indiana was required to start the project within five years and complete it within twenty. “Many saw the Wabash & Erie Canal as the speculative hobby of Fort Wayne Indian agent John Tipton (who stood to gain a fortune in Indian lands). Few people relished the idea of encumbering the state’s energy and scarce resources with a project in the northern wilderness, while the vast majority of voters and taxpayers stayed quite literally stuck in the mud of southern Indiana’s roads and rivers.” (Larson, John Lauritz. (2001), Internal Improvement: National Public Works and the Promise of Popular Government in the United States.)
The Wabash & Erie was an effort to connect the Great Lakes to the Ohio River. Nearly 500 miles long, it was the longest canal ever built in North America; eventually running from the Maumee River near Toledo, Ohio down through Fort Wayne, Peru, Logansport, Delphi, Lafayette, and then to Terre Haute and Evansville. By 1837, construction of the canal had reached Logansport.
Noble’s early efforts for a large scale internal improvement project were met with resistance by the Indiana General Assembly. He wanted money to pave highways and the creation of an Internal Improvement Board to coordinate projects and perhaps save money by buying in bulk. In particular, representatives from the southern part of the state resisted such efforts because the benefits would be experienced by the central and northern part of the state. (However, the southern representatives did agree to a reorganization of the legislature such that it reached its present size of 50 Senators and 100 Representatives, giving the central and northern parts of the state more representation despite the significantly higher population in the south.)
Access to capital continued to be a problem. I mentioned in an earlier installment that financial mismanagement, overly ambitious projects, and the national economy led to the demise of early banking in Indiana. For many years, the state relied on local branches of the Bank of the United States. However, Andrew Jackson got mad at the Bank of the United States and, like many things that got on Old Hickory’s bad side, it died. (Jackson had a variety of reasons for opposing the bank – personal, political, economic philosophy, and Constitutional philosophy). Lacking banking options, the state created the Bank of Indiana with branches in Indianapolis, Lawrenceburg, Richmond, Madison, New Albany, Vincennes, Bedford, Terre Haute, and Lafayette. The State owned 50% of the bank stock, financed through land sales and the other 50% was owned by private investors, who bought stock with about 1/3 of the purchase price paid up front and the remainder paid back on credit backed by the State. Start up money was in hard currency, Spanish and Mexican silver dollars. (Spanish dollars were legal tender in the U.S. until the Coinage Act of 1857 — one legacy of which, apparently, was the pricing of New York Stock Exchange listings in units of 1/8ths of a dollar (1/8 being a ‘bit’) until 1997.) The struggle to create the state bank left political scars. When the General Assembly of 1832 could not agree on a plan, there was an upheaval in the election of 1833 where only one Senator was re-elected and twenty-five new Representatives were elected. According to one author, “the old leaders who had dominated the General Assembly since 1816 disappeared. The pioneer period of Indiana history was ended, so far as the State legislature was concerned.”
Noble’s campaign for a second term was a rematch against James Read which he ultimately won. While neither seems to have been especially partisan, Read’s support came from the “Jacksonian Triangle” between Madison, Indianapolis, and Evansville. An item of controversy in the election was Noble’s sale of one of his father-in-law’s slaves. He had apparently been traveling with her from Virginia and stopped in Brookville for a couple of days. After that, he took her to Kentucky where it was expected that her owner would follow. The father-in-law later changed his plans and instructed Noble to sell her which he did in 1820. Because she had been in a free-state, this was characterized by Noble’s Democratic opponents as him selling her back into slavery. There is also speculation that the Magruders, slaves of the Noble family, who were freed and relocated to a cabin at Noble and Market Streets in Indianapolis were the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Slavery did not endear him to the eastern, Quaker-heavy parts of the state, but he managed to win anyway. The re-election was seen as partially a rejection of President Jackson and partially as a vote of support for the internal improvement policies of Gov. Noble.
Next time: The Indiana Mammoth Internal Improvement Act.
Carlito Brigante says
There are still stretches of the canal in Fort Wayne. In fact, one of the bike/hike trails in Fort Wayne is built on the towpath for the canal.
Also a number of places in So. Indiana. Big waste of money and lives, based on vision of the past rather than the future. Critics told him to put the money in railroads. Imagine the infrastructure if he had.
The prior governor had been a railroad enthusiast. People thought he was crazy.
Crazy can be temporary, stupid is forever.
Rick Westerman says
The Erie canal was a success. Railroads were new and unproven. It is not always easy to know which way technology will evolve thus I do not characterize the decision to build a canal as ‘stupid’.
Bringing such decisions to the present time (and involving me personally) was a decision by the extension service 20+ years ago to start using multi-user computers in each extension office instead of using the new-fangled DOS-based PCs. At the time Indiana extension was one of the leaders in getting computing power out to the county offices but our systems were aging and we needed to make a switch to something new. Multi-user systems, albeit at a large scale, were well known and had much greater potential power at a lower cost than PCs so we went with the multi-user systems. As we now know in retrospect the PCs were a better choice — more flexible, more extension created software — but that was not obvious at the time. Two years after the switchover PCs were everywhere … except in Indiana extension which had spent its money on the multi-user systems. Painful! Fortunately I doubt if many people remember that, if not fiasco, at least not a bright spot in Indiana Extension.
Carlito Brigante says
Rick, you make a good point about predicting which technology will break out. But the canals were limited in speed to six miles per hour, the speed of the horse. Railroads were succeeding in England during this time period so strong signals about the viability of railroads were present. So canals were just waiting to be picked off by some alternative technology.
Another choice of technology of example would be the fight between VHS and Betamax. I recall that Betamax was a better media, but VHS manufacturers created the bulk of players and steered the market away from Betamax.