Page images
PDF
EPUB

nation-ignoring Nicaragua -could authorize the building of the canal; only one nation could be permitted to build it. Colombia's monopoly naturally tempted her to try to extort unjust concessions from this country. Our monopoly naturally tempted us to use our power to demand unreasonable concessions from Colombia. If the United States had a right to say that Colombia's rejection of the treaty was unreasonable, Colombia certainly had an equal right to say that the provisions of the treaty were improper.

President Roosevelt, indeed, is perfectly sure that the terms offered to Colombia were not only just but generous. Perhaps they were. But does he not know that in any event he would be likely to think so? Has history taught anything more clearly than that when a civilized nation comes in contact with one of "imperfect social development," the rights of the latter are likely to be violated? Does he not know that he has interpreted the treaty of 1846 as he would never have presumed to do if he had considered Colombia as an equal? Surely until a ruler regards himself as having attained to infallibility he will hesitate to make his judgment of a nation's deserts a criterion of absolute justice.

The opinion that Colombia is in a state of "imperfect social development" has, in effect, led our Government to deny the right of her constitutional authorities to sit in judgment on the canal treaty. Secretary Hay wrote a despatch in which he ordered Mr. Beaupré to threaten the Colombian Government with the consequences of rejecting the treaty. The despatch ran as follows:

The Colombian Government apparently does not appreciate the gravity of the situation. The canal negotiations were initiated by Colombia, and were energetically pressed upon this Government for several years. The propositions presented by Colombia with slight modifications were finally accepted by us. In virtue of this agreement our Congress reversed its previous judgment, and decided upon the Panama route. If Colombia should now reject the treaty or unduly delay its ratification, the friendly understanding between the two countries would be so seriously compromised that action might be taken by Congress next winter which every friend of Colombia would regret. Communicate substance of this to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Mr. Beaupré not only made the verbal communication, but he wrote a note in which he said:

The antecedent circumstances of the whole negotiation of the canal treaty are of such a nature as to fully warrant the United States in considering any modifications whatever of the treaty as practically a breach of faith on the part of the Colombian Government such as may involve the very greatest complications in the friendly relations which have hitherto existed between the two countries.

To this argument the Colombian minister wrote an absolutely con

clusive reply. He said that if the framing of a treaty by the Executive carried with it an obligation on the part of the Legislature to confirm it, it would be superfluous to submit treaties to Legislatures "for the power to make treaties with foreign Powers would be in reality vested solely in the Executive, which is plainly contrary to the spirit and letter of the Constitution of the Republic."

Mr. Root endeavors to show that there is "no constitutional government in Colombia"; "that the deliberations of the special Congress at Bogota" were "a sham and a pretence; that Panama's rights, that the rights of the United States, that the world's rights to the passage of the Isthmus" were "the subjects of disingenuous juggling at the hands of successful adventurers and not of the fair expression of a free nation's will." This conclusion is based on the following despatch telegraphed on November 6 by Mr. Beaupré to Mr. Hay:

Knowing that the revolution has already commenced in Panama, Gen. Reyes says that if the Government of the United States will land troops to preserve Colombian sovereignty and the transit of the Isthmus, if requested by the Chargé d'Affaires of Colombia, this Government will declare martial law, and by virtue of vested constitutional authority, when public order is disturbed, will approve by decree the ratification of the canal treaty as required; or, if the Government of the United States prefers, will call extra session of Congress with new and friendly members next May to approve the treaty.

This despatch Mr. Root regards as a proof that the Congress which rejected the treaty was selected for that purpose; but if he has read all the despatches of Mr. Beaupré as carefully as he has read this one, he must be aware of the fact that there are almost insurmountable obstacles

in the way of any such conclusion. On April 15, 1903, Mr. Beaupré

wrote:

This fact is clear, that if the convention were to be submitted to the free opinion of the people it would not pass. The Congress about to assemble has been elected under the supervision of Government officials, and a system of quite indigenous wirepulling has undoubtedly been used; and yet, if Congress as now constituted were allowed to give a free vote, I feel convinced the convention would not be ratified. On May 4: The opposition to the ratification of the canal treaty is intensifying. The press is teeming with articles rancorous in enmity to the proposed treaty, while public opinion is veering into a current of extreme bitterness against the authors of the pact, especially Mr. Herran. On May 7: All the enemies of the Government are united in an onslaught upon the canal convention. Many of them are sincere, of course, in their opposition to the proposed treaty. On July 2: Have received information privately that the President had a meeting of senators at the palace yesterday urging the necessity of the ratification of the treaty. Heated discussion ensued, the majority declaring in opposition to the treaty. At present the majority in the Senate seems against ratification.

It seems to me that these despatches and others of the same import

which might be quoted make it extremely difficult to believe that the Colombian Congress which rejected the treaty was called for that purpose, and that it did not give a fair expression to a free nation's will.

The President and Mr. Root make a number of irrelevant arguments to justify the action of the Government. The President says, for example, that the course of the Administration saved great suffering, waste of life, and destruction of property. Perhaps so. But is he quite sure that he has not established a precedent that may lead to a far greater loss of life than he has averted? And may one nation interfere in the internal affairs of another whenever it thinks such interference will avert suffering and loss of life?

Mr. Root calls attention to the fact that the rights of Panama as a sovereign state were usurped by Colombia in 1885, and that the people of the Isthmus have three times since risen in rebellion against their oppressors. Before these facts can be shown to have any bearing upon the question, the ex-Secretary of War must prove that similar acts of usurpation confer upon outside Powers the right to interfere. Is he willing to undertake that? It is currently supposed that the methods by which England has acquired her title to many parts of her vast colonial empire will not bear investigation; but is Mr. Root willing to say that in case of rebellion by an English colony, whose rights had been invaded the Boers of Africa, for example - any outside Power would have the right to interfere? In truth, a very poor argument will do if backed by sufficient force; and an argument that seems entirely valid when used against a weak Power of "imperfect social development would seem ridiculously inadequate if urged to justify similar action in case of a really great Power.

Criticism is cheap, it may be replied. If the course of the Administration was wrong what was its proper course? The Government should have rigidly refrained from interfering, without the authority of Congress, with the attempts of Colombia to put down the rebellion of Panama. If Colombia had succeeded in reëstablishing her control over Panama, then the just alternatives before the Government were the selection of the Nicaraguan route or the submission of the questionsay to The Hague Tribunal - whether we had not a right to dig the canal through Panama in spite of Colombia, and, if so, on what conditions. J. P. GORDY.

JUSTICE AND EQUITY IN PANAMA.

THE question of our Government's policy in Panama is, as the term implies, a question of policy. It is not a question of executive details, because there were no such details concerning which, per se, any material question could be raised. There was no waging of war. There was no slaughter. There were no torturings nor imprisonments. There was no arbitrary overthrowing of an established government. All that was done was to exercise the moral influence of a definite and peaceful policy. The train of incidents implicated with that policy was as follows:

The United States Congress on June 28, 1902, directed the President to construct a canal at Panama. If, however, he should be unable to obtain title to the unfinished French canal and control of the necessary territory, on satisfactory terms and within a reasonable time, he was to turn to the Nicaragua route. Under that law the President negotiated a treaty with Colombia, which was signed on January 22, 1903, and was ratified by the United States Senate, by a vote of seventy-three to twelve, on March 17, 1903. The Colombian Congress rejected that treaty on August 12, 1903; the time within which ratifications of it were to be exchanged expired on September 12; and on October 31 the Colombian Congress adjourned, leaving the treaty dead. Three days later, on November 3, the State of Panama declared its independence of Colombia, and on November 5 the Colombian garrison withdrew from Panama and went home. The United States, meantime, intervened for the protection of property and for the maintenance of transit across the Isthmus, according to the provisions of the Treaty of 1846. On November 6 an offer was made, on behalf of Colombia, that, if the United States would suppress the revolution and forcibly restore Panama to Colombia, martial law or a dictatorship in Colombia would resurrect and ratify the dead treaty for the construction of the canal. Instead of accepting this offer, the United States on that day recognized the de facto status of the Panama Government, and on November 13 received its minister and recognized its de jure independence,

which was thereafter promptly recognized by other Governments throughout the world; to wit, by France on November 18, by China on November 22, by Austria-Hungary on November 27, by Germany on November 30, and at later dates by Denmark, Russia, Sweden and Norway, Belgium, Nicaragua, Peru, Cuba, Great Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Japan, Guatemala, Holland, Venezuela, and Portugal, in the order given. On November 18 a canal treaty between the United States and Panama was signed; on December 2 it was ratified by Panama; on December 7 it was transmitted to the United States Senate; on February 23 it was ratified by the Senate; and three days later it was proclaimed and became law.

Such were the salient features of our policy, as practised toward Colombia and Panama. The question at issue is whether that policy was just and equitable.

1. — It was justified, and indeed made necessary, by domestic obligations. Congress had directed the President to construct a canal at Panama, rather than at any other point. We need not stop to consider why Panama was chosen. That was a matter of congressional enactment, not of administrative policy. The question of route had been discussed, with a wealth of investigation and detail, for many years. Whether wisely or not, and whether for adequate or inadequate reasons, Congress finally declared, explicitly and unequivocally, in favor of Panama. The President had to obey that mandate. There was no alternative, save in case of his inability to make satisfactory terms within a reasonable time. The President promptly proceeded to do the work prescribed by Congress. He made terms, which the Senate accepted as satisfactory, for the construction and control of the canal. He was himself the sole judge of what was a "reasonable time" in which to make such terms. That time proved to be something less than a year and a half, and it was approved as "reasonable" by the Senate. Thus far, then, the President scrupulously obeyed the law.

But it is said that the law directed him to make his terms with the Colombian Government, and that, instead, he made them with Panama. It is true that Congress mentioned the Colombian Government as the one with which he was to negotiate. Obviously, that was because it was at that time the sovereign of Panama. But it is equally obvious that Congress meant not that Government, per se, but whatever lawful Government the President might find in possession of the Isthmus. That is because (a) the Congress of the United States could not guarantee that President Marroquin's or any special Colombian Government

« PreviousContinue »