Classic History Books

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

convention was drawn up, in which the United States guaranteed the independence of Panama and in
return received in perpetuity a grant of a zone ten miles wide within which to construct a canal from

ocean to ocean.


CHAPTER XVI. Problems Of The Caribbean


As the acquisition of the Philippines made all Far Eastern questions of importance to the United States,
so the investment of American millions in a canal across the Isthmus of Panama increased popular

interest in the problems of the Caribbean. That fascinating sheet of water, about six hundred miles from

north to south by about fifteen hundred from east to west, is ringed around by the possessions of many

powers. In 1898 its mainland shores were occupied by Mexico, British Honduras, Guatemala, Honduras,

Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Venezuela; its islands were possessed by the negro states of Hayti

and the Dominican Republic, and by Spain, France, Great Britain, Holland, and Denmark. In the

Caribbean had been fought some of the greatest and most significant naval battles of the eighteenth

century and, when the canal was opened, across its waters would plough a great share of the commerce

of the world. As owner of the canal and professed guardian of its use, the United States was bound to

consider its own strategic relation to this sea into which the canal opened.

Gradually the situation which existed in 1898 has changed. Spain has been removed from the Caribbean.
Of her former possessions the United States holds Porto Rico; Cuba is independent, but is in a way under

the protection of the United States, which possesses on her coast the naval station of Guantanamo. The

American treaty with the new republic of Panama practically created another American protectorate, and

the fortification of the canal gave the United States another strategic position. The negotiation for the

purchase of the Danish islands has been completed successfully. But these obvious footholds are of less

importance than the more indirect relationships which the United States has been steadily establishing,

through successive Administrations, with the various other powers located on the borders of the


The Spanish War did not lull the suspicions of the United States regarding the dangerous influence which
would be exerted should the ambitions of European powers be allowed a field of action in the American

continents, and the United States remained as intent as ever on preventing any opportunity for their

gaining admittance. One such contingency, though perhaps a remote one, was the possibility of a rival

canal, for there are other isthmuses than that of Panama which might be pierced with the aid of modern

resources of capital and genius. To prevent any such action was not selfish on the part of the United

States, for the American canal was to have an open door, and there was no economic justification for

another seaway from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

There might, however, be some temptation in the political and military influence which such a
prospective second canal could exert. Negotiations were begun, therefore, with all the transcontinental

powers of Central America, offering liberal compensation for the control of all possible canal routes.

These negotiations have been long drawn out and are only lately coming to fruition. They have served,

however, to taboo all projects by other nations, and one of these treaties negotiated with Colombia, but

not yet ratified, holds out the prospect of winning back her friendship which was so seriously alienated

by the recognition of the republic of Panama by the United States.

In one respect the changing world has rendered quite obsolete the pronouncements of President Monroe.


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