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Without doubt many Americans were opposed to the exemption of any ships that accepted the services of the canal, and when England objected to the act of 1912, they gave a thorough investigation to the subject and were convinced that exemption was economically and politically wrong; hence the strong contest to have the act repealed.
The English people made their own arguments, while the Americans, likewise, made their arguments at home among themselves. There was no concert of action with any foreign nation, and if any arguments were in harmony with outside arguments it was merely incidental, from the facts and circumstances surrounding the controversy. The opponents of the repeal should have been content with an attack against the arguments, and their overthrow if possible.
Since our system of government has cast upon the citizens a large part of the political and governmental power, they, in any national controversy, take part in the discussion, as they are expresssly authorized by the terms of the constitution.
The canal arguments, internationally, took place between the diplomatic officials of the two nations. The home discussion was a family-a domestic affair. The repeal of the exemption act belonged wholly to Congress and the American people.
It seems strange that some disputants could clearly see that "the canal was built with American money, and the land was bought with American money," yet were unwilling to allow some of those whose property would be charged with a part of this debt, to determine by what economic system this most expensive enterprise should be operated.
The American people have the right to establish, in the first place, the rates for the use of the canal.
They have a right to be heard, by any legitimate course of reasoning, on the question of rates or the exemption from tolls. The ultimate decision, as to whether there can be discrimination in rates would be regulated by a construction of the treaties. But the legal rights under the treaties are so interwoven with the economic question of rates, that it would be impossible to determine the economic problem without reference to all phases of the controversy. They are all necessarily brought into the debate, and are a necessary part thereof.
Toll exemption has already been made a matter of partisan politics and may again be brought forward as platform material and become a live subject for political exposition around the hustings. And when discussion begins, whether before Congress or in a political canvass, there is no place for debate to end, until the whole field has been explored and investigated. This must be the rule in all nations where the power is vested in the voting multitude.
Let us go back in our reverie to Monticello, and rehearse the words of the immortal Jefferson, written to President Monroe October 23, 1823. Speaking of what is since known as the "Monroe doctrine," he said: "One nation, most of all, could disturb us in this pursuit; she now offers to lead, aid and accompany us in it." He discloses this to be Great Britain, and continuing, says: "With her, then, we should most sedulously cherish a cordial friendship, and nothing could tend more to knit our affections than to be fighting once more side by side in the same cause."
Could it be, truthfully said, that on account of the above sentiment, that Jefferson was in any way allied with England against his own country?
Such a conception would be incredible and wholly impossible!
REASONS FOR BUILDING THE CANAL.
Many statesmen claim that we built the canal, solely, for our own people and such incidental use as we choose to accord to other nations; that we have all control, full ownership, absolute sovereignty; and we need ask nothing from any other power as to our canal policy. We presume that our motives in building the canal
1. For honor and glory.
2. A determination, that no foreign nation should have prime control, and that we might secure ourselves from being discriminated against by any other operator.
3. To afford our traffic, both domestic and foreign, a short route from ocean to ocean, without a distant trip around Cape Horn.
4. For the profits that might in the course of time come from the operation of such a utility.
5. To move our warships, quickly, from coast to coast, in time of necessity or war.
6. For the often repeated benevolent purpose of benefiting civilization and the advancement of the whole world.
If there were other reasons we are not able to conjecture them. In the beginning, nothing was ever suggested about what the tolls should be or that any ships should be exempt, except in the Panama treaty certain free tolls were given as a part of the purchase money; and might be considered as tolls paid in advance.
The momentous problems were: Where to build,
how to build, and how to secure the lands? And finally is it possible to build and operate a canal? The French had failed; can we succeed?
Now, if one of the prime reasons was to furnish a short cut for our ships, from ocean to ocean, is it not enough to furnish the "short cut" without making it a clear donation?
If it were only the original cost of the canal, for which we are obligated, there might be a plea asking for favors in the nature of a subsidy. But we are only at the beginning of the expense of the canal. Operating expenses will be enormous, and new plans will ever be brought to the forefront for adoption and installation. No one can approximate what changes are in the immediate future. No one has a right to expect that all the nation's future finances can be expended in Panama, and that any ships of traffic can be allowed to navigate the canal without cost or tolls. We are now only at the threshold; the end is a very long way in the distance, with unconjectured millions of expenditure to be placed on top of the $400,000,000.
It is too soon for generosity; it will be better policy to see what the balance sheet will show. There is a national economic question to be solved of far greater moment than the international treaty questions. If we do not receive income from our own ships, then we are dependent wholly on foreign customers for funds to recoup our annual outlay. Can we expect their patronage, by notifying them, that we built the canal, and own it, and will do as we please with it?
Necessity might still drive some foreign ships to use the canal, almost against their desire; but is it not far better to court their good will and patronage, precisely as would every successful man of business?
The whole trouble with a nation operating a public
utility is, that it is liable to be affected with politics the same as toll exemption has affected the Panama Canal. Politics, at least in America, is not based on economy, but on what is best in a political sense; what is the selfinterest or the vagaries of any class of voters.
If a private corporation owned the canal, there would not be even a suggestion of toll exemption. Even in the post-office department all users pay the same rate, except officials who have the franking privilege, as a part of their salary.
Since all questions connected with the finances of the canal are yet an unsolved problem, let those who believe in "ship subsidy," if they have the political power, enact a law making the donation a definite sum, and pay the same out of a specific, known and ascertained fund. Let us for a moment follow the theory, that America built the canal for herself:
Then England signed the Hay-Pauncefote treaty with this end in view, and Panama went to revolution and to the edge of war to give America a canal for Americans. We are not sure that foreign nations, more than ourselves, are so overflowing with benevolence and altruism.