Many people were involved in the planning and proposal of the Erie Canal, but the idea was first suggested by Jesse Hawley in 1807; he wrote a series of essays published in the Genesee Messenger describing the route, costs and benefits of a canal between Lake Erie and the Hudson River. The essays were read by Joshua Foreman, a member of the state government who proposed a series of surveys to determine the practicalities of building a canal in 1808.
State senator Jonas Platt and Thomas Eddy, a board member of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, approached Senator De Witt Clinton in 1810 to secure support for the project. Clinton was a former mayor of New York City who became intrinsically linked to the project, fighting for support from the state and federal governments.
With Clinton's support, the project was proposed to the state senate. A Canal Commission was named and tasked with conducting further surveys for the route of the proposed canal in March of the same year.
Clinton became the project's mentor and introduced a petition to the state senate and general assembly, formally requesting a canal system between the two points in 1816. The petition was signed by 100,000 residents of New York, and it paved the way for construction starting in 1817.