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[Detail] Memoirs of mammoth...Thomas Ashe 1806.

Rights to the Navigation of the Mississippi

Settlers in the Ohio Valley were also discontented about the navigation of the Mississippi River.  Rivers east of the Appalachians flowed toward the Atlantic while rivers west of the mountains flowed eventually into the Mississippi, which flowed south to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. Settlers west of the Appalachians needed a way to get goods to the East Coast.  Thus, navigation of the Mississippi was critical to the economy in the west. However, Spain controlled the port of New Orleans and charged huge fees for goods passing through New Orleans. Spain also claimed the river itself. Read the 1794 broadside accusing the federal government of neglecting the interests of the citizens of Kentucky. It reads, in part:


1. That the inhabitants West of the Apalachian, mountains are entitled by nature and by stipulation to the free and undisturbed Navigation of the River Mississippi.

2. That from the year 1783 until this time, the enjoyment of this right has been uniformly prevented, by the Spaniards.

3. That the General Government whose duty it was to have put us in possession of this right, have, either through design or mistaken policy, adopted no effectual measures for its attainment….

From “Meeting of the Citizens of the State of Kentucky.”

  • What was the basis for the grievance by the citizens of Kentucky? Why do you think the federal government had done little to protect the navigation rights of settlers in the West? 
  • What measures were proposed to solve the problem of navigation of the Mississippi?  How effective do you think these measures would be in solving the problem?

Conduct research to find out how the problem of navigation of the Mississippi River was resolved. Can you find evidence that the feelings of people West of the Appalachians influenced the U.S. government with respect to this issue?