Electronic Theses and Dissertations





Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Committee Chair

Charles W. Crawford

Committee Member

Janann Sherman

Committee Member

Scott P. Marler


This dissertation investigates the importance of transportation in the development of Arkansas from its pre-colonial days to the Civil War. The study asks why Arkansas differed from other southern states in its position on internal improvements. Focused more on the old frontier east of the Mississippi River, studies of internal improvements have skimmed over developments west of the river until the railroad era of the 1850s and later. These studies highlighted the debate over the constitutionality of federally-funded internal improvements, indicating that most southerners were against federal involvement, while most northerners and westerners advocated federal aid. This study finds that due to its remote location between the two colonial population centers of St. Louis to the north and New Orleans to the south, early Arkansas lagged behind its neighbors in growth, relying on the natural watercourses that flowed through the region, resulting in riparian settlement. When Arkansas became a territory and drew ambitious men to the frontier, they demanded better communications to the East, frontier defense against Indian raids, and all-year transportation within the territory. Without improved rivers and roads, settlers could not move into Arkansas and purchase public lands which limited the tax base for making the needed improvements. Subsequently, to pay for and make these improvements Arkansas, unlike other slave states, relied on federal appropriations and the military during its territorial period. After gaining statehood in 1836, federal land donations replaced federal appropriations to pay for improvements. Seeking to be an integral part of a transcontinental route, the use of corporations failed to generate sufficient capital to successfully build railroads across Arkansas.By 1861, none of the major improvements in Arkansas was finished. Through mainly primary sources, this dissertation concludes that early federal policies suppressed improvements in Arkansas until the 1820s and that most Arkansans desired federally-funded improvements regardless of sectional and political party affiliations, debating instead on their optimal locations. Travel conditions warranting improvements and the benefits those improvements offered are evidenced through primary accounts and documents, giving a more complete picture of why Arkansas countered most slave states by seeking federal assistance.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.