Attorney illuminates Route 40's tale
By Barbara Starn
Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012, 4:52 p.m.
The Friends of Fort Necessity recently hosted a lecture by attorney Ted Sky on the legacies of the National Road, now known as Route 40.
Sky said the road has legal significance because it was the first federally funded interstate highway.
Conceptualized in the early 1790s, the road generated a Constitutional conflict regarding federal power versus the power of the states through which the road would run.
The biggest question, Sky pointed out, was who would pay for it.
"Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the authority to fund projects of national interest," Sky said. "Two of our founding fathers took opposite sides on this issue. Alexander Hamilton was for the National Road; he believed that the United States should expand manufacturing and be more than just an agricultural area."
Sky explained the opposing view, championed by the father of the Constitution, James Madison.
"Madison was concerned that Hamilton's broad interpretation of the Constitution would undermine the clause regarding 'projects of national interest.' Madison thought that such an interpretation would grant Congress unlimited power. "
In 1806, during the Jefferson administration, Congress authorized funds to construct the road from Cumberland, Md., to Wheeling, Va. Jefferson shared Madison's concern's about excessive federal power; however, he believed that in the case of the road, states had sufficient autonomy over their lands.
Jefferson's successors, James Madison and James Monroe, would continue work on the road. Madison was willing to allocate funds for the construction of the road, but vetoed a bill which allocated funds for repair of the road. Monroe was able to establish balance between state's autonomy and federal power to continue building and improving the road by allowing states to administer the government funds as the states saw fit.
Sky pointed out that the road has cultural significance, as well.
"The first perspective focuses on life along the road in Pennsylvania and the other states that it served during the early 19th century. The written recollections of the builders, the wagon and stage drivers, the tavern keepers, the settlers, and the visitors, including visitors from abroad, give us a sense of the culture of the road in its prime."
He said that the road represented a search for national unity.
"The continuing search for national unity, for which the road was a symbol, was also an aspect of its culture. The theme was frequently sounded by the presidents who presided over the construction of the road beginning in 1811."
Sky said that the road can play a vital role in encouraging tourism to this area.
"The historical and cultural significance of the road should encourage tourists to visit the area to learn more about it," he said. "In so doing, many will frequent the motels, resorts, restaurants and business establishments along the road."
He contends there are many steps people can take to preserve the legacy of the road, including visiting museums, educational centers, taverns, houses and other sites along U.S. 40, participating in events such as National Pike Days, working with related organizations and developing and carrying out projects for student participation in schools and other educational institutions.
"Just as in the National Road era, the entire community needs to be involved in legacy preservation along with all levels of government, business, education, and nonprofit enterprise in a cooperative and integrated effort." Sky said. "Those so engaged are deserving of much commendation."
Sky is a distinguished lecturer at the Columbus School of Law at the Catholic University of America in Washington.
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