Page images

ure, its meaning is not debated outside the United States. Everywhere else the language of the treaty is given but one interpretation, and that interpretation precludes the exemption I am asking you to repeal. We consented to the treaty; its language we accepted, if we did not originate; and we are too big, too powerful, too self-respecting a nation to interpret with too strained or refined a reading the words of our promises just because we have power enough to give us leave to read them as we please. The large thing to do is the only thing that we can afford to do, a voluntary withdrawal from a position everywhere questioned and misunderstood. We ought to reverse our action without raising the question whether we were right or wrong, and so once more deserve our reputation for generosity and for the redemption of every obligation without quibble or hesitation.

"I ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the administration. I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence if you do not grant it to me in ungrudging measure."

In pursuance of the President's request the Sims bill was introduced in the House on March 9, 1914; this was a bill simply to repeal the toll exemption part of the law of 1912. The bill was passed by the House on March 31 following by a vote of 247 in favor and 162 against repeal. This vote is taken from the newspapers of April 1, 1914. The bill then reached the Senate on April 1, and was reported out of committee on April 30, without any recommendation. On June 10, what is known as the Simmons-Norris amendment was adopted by the Senate by a vote of 50 to 24; and on June 11, the bill and amendment was passed by a vote of 50 to 35.

Some of the arguments in the House were political rather than legal. Still the repeal went through the House with a bound!

When the bill was presented to the Senate, a different field was opened up. The Senate was supposed to have been closely divided on the repeal question. This alone made it a critical matter and it brought out an entirely different kind of argument and oratory. The Senate is a deliberative body and contains some of the very able lawyers of the country. Impulsive oratory there, could not stand before the close reasoning and analytic dissection made by the clear and cold legal intellect. The discussion covered almost every conceivable legal question that ingenuity could suggest to maintain the respective sides of the controversy. Patriotism to country was brought forward on both sides to influence the decision. The one who favored toll exemption stood on patriotism as a reason to oppose the foreign view of the construction of the treaty; those who opposed exemption came back with the plea that it was the highest patriotism to ones country to induce the nation to observe with honor its duties and obligations under international compacts, so on the face of things all were patriots, and were willing to argue to the fullest extent in the service of their country. It is not believed that any acted through sympathy for England as against their own nation. Some, perhaps, held a firm opinion of our country's duty voluntarily assumed to secure the canal and were seeking to have this performed and there was no sympathy for England or subservience to any foreign power. Party politics made a strong appeal but the wiser policy gained the decision.

All admitted that the canal belonged to America, was obtained with American money and was under

American control, but when it came to offering the service and use of the canal to the general travelling public another question was interjected and it was vital. Many very able men believed that a canal to be owned by America, to be locked up by America, would be altogether out of harmony with the purchase and the enormous outlay. They believed that the canal was intended for use, for general use and that there should be no favoritism even if there had been no binding treaty conditions. Some even believed that toll exemption would be an imposition on our government after it having spent such an enormous sum of money and with untold millions yet to be expended in the near future.

The main arguments in favor of maintaining the exemption were:

1. By the repeal we are bowing down to England. 2. The exemption is necessary in order to control the railroad rates.

As to the first, it is impossible to think that any substantial citizen would purposely decide to favor England as against his own country except his country was clearly in the wrong. It is the belief that in a short time this argument will be forgotten and no one will be found willing even to suggest it. It cannot possibly be true.

As to the second argument: There can be no need of toll exemption to regulate the railroads for the reason that the Interstate Commission and 48 State Utility Commissions have the railroads entirely in leash and under perfect subjection; hence water competition is most absolutely not needed for any such purpose. The canal commercially is needed as a time-saver and as a means of transporting heavy goods, cheaply.

There were many other auxiliary arguments made

why coastwise ships should be exempted and our nation should do as she pleased about the home rates. One argument was strongly urged and it was this: We have sovereignty over the canal and are beyond control as regards the operation thereof. Legal conclusion cannot always be founded on the claim of sovereignty. Sovereignty cannot overthrow a clear legal compact based on a proper consideration. The question in such cases is not what the sovereign power is, but what did the sovereign promise to do and perform?

Our nation had sovereignty enough to legally make the treaties and the amount thereof can in no way increase or reduce the obligation. The ill-spent time on the sovereignty argument was in every sense a futility. We believe that if a nation by binding compact pledges itself to another nation, it to that extent places itself under control of that sovereign.

It may be an effective argument, when discussing rights between a subject and his nation, to make use of the high-sounding word sovereignty; but it cannot be more than "sounding brass" when arguing with another sovereign nation. One sovereignty may have power to neutralize the sovereignty of another by the mere force of favorable circumstances. One nation may grant transit through its territory to another in full sovereignty, or it may charge the grant with any condition or limitation at pleasure. The compact in its entirety determines the degree and measure of the sovereignty.

Another suggested argument was: That the canal is domestic territory and our trade through it would be interstate traffic; hence, why should a foreign nation have any control over it? The canal is not wholly domestic, but it is in many ways conceded to be international. How could we have so much diplomatic negotia

tion and contention about a purely domestic canal? A domestic waterway would be private so long as it was not dedicated to the world's use, thereafter it would be international.

Another argument urged most faithfully was: That giving our coastwise ships free passage through the canal would build up a lagging industry and would aid business in general and give the consumer lower prices. The operation would be this: The nation would donate tolls to aid a "class of business;" the money donated would come from the national treasury; so the aid would be national cash. If donated tolls were a thing essential to national prosperity why not go further and donate money to aid in building ships and operating them. If the nation is to be a public benefactor as regards the coastwise trade, where shall the benefactions begin and end? Who will be able to determine the question? Shall it be a subsidy of half tolls, all tolls, or a direct subsidy of one-half the cost of ships and tackle? Why any economist could so precisely figure it out that the amount of tolls should be the precise amount that the government should donate to the coastwise trade is a mystery "past finding out." It must have been on the theory that here was the opportunity and a convenient time to secure what was possible. It was evidently not founded on any system of mathematical calculation. It was simply "we want it and expediency ought to grant it to us."

Another captivating suggestion was: Millions of dollars are annually spent in dredging rivers and no tolls are charged for their use; then why not exempt our ships from canal tolls? In order for the argument to be effective the rivers and the Panama Canal should be parallel cases. There is no analogy except that ships sail through both.

« PreviousContinue »