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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 15   View pdf image (33K)
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First Board of Public Works and Internal Improvements: 1825-1850 15

if at any time hereafter a company shall be formed for the purpose of making a canal from
the city of Baltimore to York Haven, on the river Susquehannah, of the dimensions con-
templated in the report of the commissioners to survey the practicability and probable
expense of [such a canal], the faith of the state is hereby pledged to grant a charter to such
company ... to extend the canal from the Potomac to the city of Baltimore, called the
Maryland canal; and the faith of the state is also hereby pledged to subscribe for stock in
said company to the amount of five hundred thousand dollars; Provided, That such sub-
scription shall not be made until the executive of this state, for the time being, shall be
satisfied, that with the amount so to be subscribed on the part of the state, the whole sum
necessary to the completion of the said canal hath been actually subscribed by bona fide
and competent subscribers.

In order to finance these various improvements, section 22 directed the treasurer
of the Western Shore, "under the direction of the executive," to

negotiate for, and raise by loan, as they may become payable for canal stock, or other
improvements hereinbefore contemplated under the provisions of this act, the required sum
or sums of money, at the rate of interest not exceeding five per centum per annum, payable
quarter yearly; the whole of said loans to be redeemable at the pleasure of the state, at
any time after [1 January 1860].

Section 23 required that the "dividends and other emoluments" accruing to the
state from "the various investments hereby authorized and from the road stock now
belonging to the State" be pledged to a sinking fund under the management of the
Board of Public Works "to pay and discharge the public debt incurred by the sub-
scriptions hereinbefore authorized."

Although the legislature had previously assumed the role of capitalist by directing
the purchase of stock in the Potomac Company as well as various banks and turnpike
companies, the synthesis of these two 1825 statutes—chapters 166 and 180—em-
barked the state for the first time on a comprehensive program of state-financed
internal improvements. Those two acts represented a commitment by the state to
expend large sums of borrowed money for a vast network of internal canals and river
projects, provided they were feasible, and to create a Board of Public Works charged
with (1) determining their feasibility, (2) accepting donations of property and money
in aid of the improvements, and (3) representing the state's stockholder interest in
the companies chartered by the legislature to make the improvements.

Samuel P. Smith, an Allegany County delegate to the 1850-51 Constitutional
Convention, characterized the board's purpose as follows:

They were under law required to investigate and examine all the various portions of the
State, to ascertain where improvements might be advantageously made. At that time there
was a perfect mania spreading not only throughout the State of Maryland, but throughout
the nation. Almost every creek in the State was examined and surveyed, in order to de-
termine how far it was practicable to make valuable improvements.8

Very few records pertaining to this first Board of Public Works exist. It is therefore
difficult to judge directly how and to what extent it actually performed its statutory

On 26 April 1826 Joseph Merrick, who had been appointed secretary to the board,
wrote the clerk of the governor's Council asking for

copies of Gates' Canal laws of New York, Strickland's report, & the several reports to the
Legislature of this State, heretofore made by Commissioners appointed to explore and

8. Debates and Proceedings of the Maryland Reform Convention to Revise the State Constitution (Annapolis,
1851), 2:397 (hereafter Reform Convention Debates).


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The Maryland Board of Public Works: A History by Alan M. Wilner
Volume 216, Page 15   View pdf image (33K)
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