Classic History Books


The Path of Empire. A Chronicle of the United States as a World Power
by Carl Russell Fish

the President to acquire the rights and property needed to construct a canal by the Panama route, on
condition that he could make satisfactory arrangements "within a reasonable time and upon reasonable

terms." Otherwise, Nicaragua was to be chosen. Theodore Roosevelt was now President and, though at

one time not favoring Panama, he decided that there the canal should be constructed and with his

accustomed vigor set himself to the task.

The first difficulty presented by this route was the prior right which the French company still retained,
although it had little, if any, hope of carrying on the construction itself. It possessed not only rights but

also much equipment on the spot, and it had actually begun excavation at certain points. The purchase of

all its properties complete for $40,000,000 was, therefore, not a bad investment on the part of the

Government. By this purchase the United States was brought directly into relation with Colombia,

through one of whose federal states, Panama, the canal was to be cut.

While the French purchase had removed one obstacle, the De Lesseps charter alone would not suffice for
the construction of the canal, for the American Government had definite ideas as to the conditions

necessary for the success of the work. The Government required a zone which should be under its

complete control, for not otherwise could satisfactory sanitary regulations be enforced. It insisted also on

receiving the right to fortify the canal. It must have these and other privileges on a long time grant. For

them, it was willing to pay generously. Negotiations would be affected, one could not say how, by the

Treaty of 1846 with Colombia,* by which the United States had received the right of free use of the

isthmus, with the right of maintaining the neutrality of the district and in return had guaranteed to

Colombia sovereignty over the isthmus.

* Then known as the Republic of New Granada.

Hay took up the negotiations with the Colombian charge d'affaires, Dr. Herran, and arranged a treaty,
which gave the United States a strip of land six miles wide across the isthmus, on a ninety-nine year

lease, for which it should pay ten million dollars and, after a period of nine years for construction, a

quarter of a million a year. This treaty, after months of debate in press and Congress, was rejected by the

Colombian Senate on August 12, 1903, though the people of Panama, nervously anxious lest this

opportunity to sit on the bank of the world's great highway should slip into the hands of their rivals of

Nicaragua, had urged earnestly the acceptance of the terms. The majority of the Colombians probably

expected to grant the American requests in time but were determined to force the last penny from the

United States. As Hay wrote: "The Isthmus is looked upon as a financial cow to be milked for the benefit

of the country at large. This difficulty might be overcome by diplomacy and money."

President Roosevelt at this point took the negotiations into his own hands. Knowing that the price offered
was more than just, he decided to depend no longer on bartering. He ordered the American minister to

leave Colombia, and he prepared a message to Congress proposing that the Americans proceed to dig the

canal under authority which he claimed to find in the Treaty of 1846. It was, however, doubtful if

Congress would find it there, particularly as so many Congressmen preferred the Nicaragua route. The

President therefore listened with pleased attention to the rumors of a revolution planned to separate

Panama from Colombia. Most picturesquely this information was brought by M. Philippe Bunau-Varilla,

a former engineer of the De Lesseps company, who glowed with the excitement of coming events.

Roosevelt, however, relied more upon the information furnished by two American officers, who reported

"that various revolutionary movements were being inaugurated."

On October 10, 1903, the President wrote to Dr. Albert Shaw, of the "Review of Reviews":

 

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