James E. Vance, Jr., in _The North American Railroad_ reproduces a couple of paragraphs by Stevens in 1812 on the subject of Why Rail Instead of Canals. I'm going to pass them along as well:
"The extension and completion of the main arteries of such a system of communication would by no means be a work of [an extended] time."
Compared to canals, no.
"It would be exempted totally from the difficulties, embarrassments, casualties, interruptions, and delays incident to the formation of canals. Requiring no supply of water -- no precision and accuracy in levelling, the work could be commenced and carried on in various detached parts [RLA: indeed, the transcontinental would be] -- its progress would be rapid, and its completion could be ascertained with certainty. Innumerable ramifications [RLA: he means extra bits added later on] would from time to time be extended in every direction. Thus would the sources of private and public wealth, going hand in hand, increase with a rapidity beyond all parallel. For every shilling contributed towards the [public -- RLA: means taxes] revenue, a dollar at least would be put in the hands of individuals."
Then a bit later [ETA: earlier, actually]:
"The celerity of communication it would afford with the distant sections of our wide extended empire, is a consideration of the utmost moment. To the rapidity of the motion of the steam-carriage on these rail-ways, no definite limit can be set. The Frying Proas, as they are called by voyagers, belonging to the natives of the Islands of the Pacific Ocean, are said at times to sail at the rate of more than twenty miles an hour. But as the resistance of the water to the progress of a vessel increases as the square of her velocity, it is obvious that the power required to propel her must also increase at the same ratio. Not so with a steam-carriage -- as it moves in a flui 800 times more rare than water, the resistance will be proportionably diminished. Indeed the principal resistance to its motion arises from friction [RLA: he _got_ that! Then! Yes, duh, physicists knew about friction. But he didn't dismiss it out of hand!], which does not even increase in a direct ratio with the velocity of carriage. If, then a Proa can be driven by wind (the propulsive power of which is constantly diminishing as the velocity of the Pro increases) through so dense a fluid as water, at the rate of twenty miles an hour, I can see nothing to hinder a steam-carriage from moving on these ways with a velocity of one hundred miles an hour."
That's right up there with Arthur C. Clarke and satellites, IMO. Freaking brilliant. This guy looked at a _very_ immature technology and _saw_ the future. In detail.
[ETA: note sez Stevens weaseled -- my term -- and said 30, 40, 50 more likely. Which was also accurate.]