Page images


as political actors in the world drama of their times. In 1830 (December 18) the King of the Netherlands entered into an engagement with Nicaragua for the construction of a canal "to be opened on the same terms to all nations." The United States offered no diplomatic objections but directed our representative to secure a share in the stock of the company and of the monopoly which it was to enjoy. In 1835 (March 3) the Senate of the United States passed a resolution asking President Jackson to request the Governments of Central America and New Granada to grant the United States a free and equal right in the enjoyment of any canal that might be constructed. In 1839 (March 2) the House of Representatives passed a similar resolution providing for the sending of an agent of the United States, who reported in favor of the Nicaragua route, but added that on account of political unrest no canal project was feasible. In 1845 the most conspicuous adventurer of the age appears upon the scene, and a concession was granted (January 8) to Louis Napoleon for Le Canal Napoléon de Nicaragua. The United States does not seem to have taken special notice of this, but in 1846 (December 12) a treaty was negotiated with New Granada, which shows that it was watching the canal question and beginning to appreciate the political as well as the commercial aspect. This treaty provided not only for equal rights for the United States, but the United States joined in a guarantee of neutrality, which is not only important as the appearance of a new and significant idea, but doubly so because this treaty is the foundation upon which the law which governs the present canal ultimately rests. President Polk in his message explained the position of the United States in guaranteeing neutrality so as to completely satisfy the Senate, and the treaty was unanimously ratified on June 10, 1848. The significance of this treaty in the ultimate construction of the canal is such that a fuller discussion will be reserved till the consideration of the last phase.

In connection with the Senate's resolution of 1835 President Jackson sent Charles Biddle to Nicaragua to make inquiries; but acting with surprising independence, he went to New Granada instead and there obtained a concession granting the citizens of the United States the exclusive right of constructing a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, with the thrifty additional provision that two-thirds of the stock created under the grant should be his own property and that of such citizens of the United States as he might associate with him.

The discreditable character of this action led to a disavowal by our government, but nevertheless, seems to have been contagious. Only a few years later (1849) Elijah Hise was appointed Chargé to Central America with instructions to investigate the British claims to the Mosquito coast and to negotiate commercial treaties. He too exceeded his instructions and negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua with exclusive rights of construction in the United States and her citizens and the right to fortify the canal and station troops in the canal territory. It was further provided that the canal was to be closed to war vessels and to contraband of war. His action was disavowed, and General Taylor sent E. G. Squier, who also concluded a treaty which was never ratified.

With the discovery of gold in California in 1849 a new importance was given to the question. A more regular and rapid means of communication between its Atlantic and Pacific coasts became a matter of urgent concern to the United States. This found its expression in the concession for the building of the Panama Railroad in 1855. Eventually it led to the building of trans-continental railroads and the construction of the canal. It brought into prominence the commercial companies, which since 1826 had been dabbling in canal enterprises. The Central American and United States Atlantic and Pacific Canal Company, incorporated for the purpose of building a canal at an estimated cost of five millions of dollars, had been encouraged by an act of Congress, but it was unable to raise sufficient funds to give body to its undertaking. In 1848 a new company, the United States Atlantic and Pacific Canal Company, was organized, and Cornelius Vanderbilt became its president. It took advantage of the gold fever and established a line of steamers on the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua and a line of stages from the Lake to the Pacific. The company made money during the first period of the westward movement until superior facilities were provided by the Panama Railroad. This company was reorganized as the Central American Transit Company, and despite legal difficulties maintained its existence until 1869, when it sold out to an Italian company. In the meantime in 1858 a French company headed by Felix Belly was organized and played a part in the canal drama long enough to evoke a declaration from Mr. Cass that the United States would not tolerate interference with American affairs by European nations. His undertaking revived the interest of Louis Napoleon in a canal, an

interest more or less identified with the ideas which led to the French expedition to Mexico in support of Maximilian. The French at last took up the question seriously in 1878 under the leadership of de Lesseps, fresh from his great triumph at Suez. It is impossible to do more than refer to this company,-its organization, its mismanagement, its misfortunes, and its final collapse. It must suffice to say that with an adequate concession, the approval of the civilized world, and the first true conception of the immensity of the undertaking, it revealed the real conditions of success by emphasizing the necessity of probity and leadership in the management of so vast an undertaking. Until the conclusion of the war for the Union the American people and the Government of the United States did not appreciate the necessity of the construction of a canal as a national undertaking executed by the government itself. The war was scarcely over when Mr. Seward began to use language indicative of the new point of view. President Grant clearly stated it. President Hayes coined the phrase "an American canal under American control." Mr. Blaine threw his weight eagerly into the new policy. Eventually under McKinley and Roosevelt it came to full growth

In the meantime the engineering problems had been thoroughly studied and reduced to form. Six main routes had been suggested and examined. In order to secure the best possible information President Grant appointed in 1869 the first Interoceanic Canal Commission, and, after extensive surveys, it reported in 1876 (February 7) unanimously recommending the Nicaragua route with the Pacific terminal at Brito. Work was actually undertaken by a private corporation, and Senator Bacon maintained a persistent effort to secure the construction of a canal by the government or with government aid. A commission of investigation was provided by Congress in 1895, but with inadequate funds. Another followed in 1897, and in 1899 another with an appropriation of $1,000,000 to investigate both the Nicaragua and Panama routes. The French company being in possession at Panama, the commission seemed limited to a recommendation of the Nicaragua route. But the collapse of the French company and the unravelling of the diplomatic tangle eventually opened the way for the final adoption of the Panama route for a canal constructed by the Government of the United States.

The treaty with New Granada of 1846 underlies the present undertaking. President Polk in his message transmitting this treaty to the Senate (February 10, 1847) said:

It will be perceived by the 35th article of this treaty that New Granada proposes to guarantee to the Government and citizens of the United States the right of passage across the Isthmus of Panama over the natural roads and over any canal or railroad which may be constructed to unite the two seas, on condition that the United States shall make a similar guarantee to New Granada of the neutrality of this portion of her territory and her sovereignty over the same.

The importance of defining the attitude of Great Britain led to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and under it to the eventual withdrawal of that Power from the field of canal operations. The French undertaking became matter of protest with eventual acquiescence in its work. It collapsed in 1888. Then followed the negotiations resulting in the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty (November 18, 1901); the negotiations for a renewal of the purchased French concession, ending in the failure of Colombia to ratify the Hay-Herrán Treaty; the Panama revolution; the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty; and the organization and prosecution of the construction of the canal across the Isthmus of Panama as a national undertaking.

These steps are characterized by notable questions of international law and policy which tempt the chronicler to pause at least to point out their interest and importance. The growing vision of world-wide need and international interest in an isthmian canal must at least be emphasized as a reason for dealing with these questions in a large and generous spirit which prefers the welfare of mankind to the glory or the gain of any nation however great or however beloved.

The CHAIRMAN. The next paper on the program is on the subject of "Comparison of the relative interests of the United States and Great Britain in the Western Hemisphere at the different stages of negotiations," and Mr. Crammond Kennedy, of the Bar of the District of Columbia and of the Supreme Court of the United States, will address the Society on that subject.




ADDRESS OF MR. CRAMMOND KENNEDY, of the Bar of the District of Columbia and of the Supreme Court of the United States.



The subject on which I am to address you is announced in the program as a "Comparison of the relative interests of the United States and Great Britain in the Western Hemisphere at the different stages of negotiations”—in regard to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, and its supersedure by the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, now in force.

I should like to say at the outset that, so far as the principle of the controversy in regard to the Panama Canal tolls is concerned, or any other matter of disagreement between the two countries connected with this enterprise, it makes no difference what the comparative interests of the United States and Great Britain have been, or are, or may be, in the use of the waterway which will connect the two great oceans and make them practically one: both governments should do as they have agreed without fear or favor, and the faith of the treaty should, at all hazards, be kept. In this respect the situation is the same as it was in 1881, when, in answer to Mr. Blaine's representations in his circular note of June 24th of that year, on the paramount, political and military interest of the United States in the canal, Lord Granville said briefly in reply, on the 10th of the following November:

I should wish, therefore, merely to point out to you that the position of Great Britain and the United States with reference to the canal, irrespective of the magnitude of the commercial relations of the former power with countries to and from which, if completed, it will form the highway, is determined by the engagements entered into by them, respectively, in the convention which was signed at Washington on the 19th of April, 1850, commonly known as the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and Her Majesty's Government rely with confidence upon the observance of all the engagements of that treaty.1

1The Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and Monroe Doctrine, Ex. Doc. No. 194, Senate, 47th Congress, 1st Session, page 178.

« PreviousContinue »