Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/333

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Washington was a surveyor and explorer before he entered upon the fields of war and statecraft, and his honesty of purpose, sincerity of action and accuracy of statement and method, so manifest throughout his career as a soldier and statesman, are found also in the earlier record. At the age of sixteen he crossed the Blue Ridge on horseback and made a series of successful surveys in the Shenandoah valley, overcoming physical obstacles with the method and system of a modern scientist. At twenty-two he led a party into the wilderness of the valley of the Ohio to treat with the French and Indians. He then became acquainted with the great resources of the interior, and saw that the valleys of the James and Potomac afforded unusual facilities for lines of transportation for the trade 'of a rising empire.' In 1754 he reported in favor of a scheme of communication between the Atlantic states and the great west. Sixteen years later he suggested that the project of opening up the Potomac be 'recommended to public notice.' The idea contained in the Potomac scheme was of far-reaching import, and only the present generation can fully realize its significance.

Washington was not only the first to map and recommend the general route of the great highways called the National Pike and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which are now in truth 'becoming the channels of conveyance of the extensive and valuable trade of a rising empire,' but he was also the first to predict the commercial success of that route through the Mohawk valley which was afterwards taken by the Erie Canal and the New York Central Railroad.

One hundred and fifteen years ago he asked: "Would it not be worthy of the wisdom and attention of Congress to have the western waters well explored, the navigation of them fully ascertained and accurately laid down, and a complete and perfect map made of the country. . . . . The advantages would be unbounded, for sure I am that nature has made such a display of her bounties in those regions that the more the country is explored the more it will rise in estimation, consequently greater will the revenue be to the Union." Again he declared, "I shall not rest contented until I have explored the western country and have traversed those lines which have given bounds to a new empire."

Washington did not do this as fully as he wished, but his ambition has been and is being realized through the medium of hundreds of enterprises under both national and private encouragement. The result of a trip made in the fall of 1784 was the real historic beginning of the Potomac enterprise. On his return he wrote to Benjamin Harrison, Governor of Virginia, "I shall take the liberty now, my dear sir, to suggest a matter which would mark your administration as an important era in the annals of this country if it should be recommended by you and adopted by the Assembly." He reached far out for those days, assuming Detroit as a point of departure for the trade of the northwest territory. His confidence in the practical abilities of the American people is shown by the remark, "A people who are possessed with the spirit of commerce, who see and will pursue their destinies, may achieve almost anything. No person who knows the temper, genius and policy of this people as well as I do can harbor the smallest doubt."

In urging the Potomac scheme, he