Hawley’s essays were gaining public attention just as business and political leaders were considering “internal improvements” to bolster both state and national economies weakened during the American Revolution. In 1808, Assemblyman Joshua Forman was the first to submit legislation in the state government, calling for surveys to examine a water route between Lake Erie and the Hudson River. On March 13, 1810, the State Senate passed a measure establishing a Canal Commission and directing its commissioners to explore and propose a route for a canal connecting the Hudson River to the Great Lakes. Though the War of 1812 would cause a temporary delay in moving the project forward, the conflict itself underscored the need for inland transportation networks to protect American interests.
In 1817, DeWitt Clinton was elected governor of New York, running on a pro-canal platform. In April, the project was approved for funding in the legislature. Clinton's political fortunes rose and fell with the popularity of the canal project, often referred to as “Clinton’s Big Ditch” or “Clinton’s Folly” by his adversaries. Voted out of office in 1822, he was re-elected as governor in time to preside over the Erie Canal's opening ceremonies in October 1825.