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the policy of our government to encourage discussion or negotiation with European powers regarding the control of an isthmian canal. On the contrary it had sought to foster the opening of such a channel as an enterprise for Americans to undertake and carry to a successful completion. For a number of years thereafter this policy was maintained.
But by 1877 the United States was constrained to abandon, at least temporarily, the idea of an exclusively 'American control of the isthmian transits. For a number of years the government had relied upon its own individual guarantee of protection and neutrality for the canal to attract the necessary capital for the construction of that work. But experience had shown this expectation to be ill-founded and the government now determined to adopt a different course. That year a treaty was proposed to Nicaragua which not only repudiated the idea of an American monopoly of interoceanic waterways, but made definite provision for joint control by the leading maritime powers of the world. Provision was likewise made for an international guarantee of neutrality in order that the canal might be free to the navigation of all nations. To such as would enter into the engagements of the treaty the canal was to be open at all times. It is significant, however, that the United States declared that she would not be bound by the stipulations of that instrument till three or more of the leading maritime powers of Europe had given it their adherence. But the treaty came to nought and within a very few years circumstances constrained the United States to resume her former policy respecting the control of interoceanic transits.
Doubtless the most potent factor in producing this reaction was the attempt of a French company to open a canal across the Panama isthmus. By many it was feared that the work would sooner or later fall into the control of the French government and thus become a menace to American interests. But the United States government could not be a silent witness to the consummation of an enterprise that jeopardized the interests of
1 House Mis. Doc. 219, 2d sess. 42d Cong.
the nation or its subjects. It, therefore, openly proclaimed its unqualified opposition to a foreign monopoly of the transit and declared for an exclusively American control of the work. The formal announcement of this change of attitude was made by President Hayes in March, 1880. In a message to Congress he declared the policy of this country to be a canal under American control. Moreover, the United States could never consent to surrender that control to any European power or combination of such powers. If existing treaties stood in the way of its realization, steps should be taken to establish that policy by just and liberal negotiations. Congress received these views with favor and at once proceeded to act upon the President's suggestions. The house soon passed a joint resolution calling for the abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty,” which was justly regarded as a serious obstacle to the realization of the American policy.
These sentiments were so fully endorsed by the people that Congress at its next session took a much more radical position respecting the matter. In the House the Committee on Foreign Affairs reported that the construction of a canal across the isthmus by an European power or government would be in violation of the Monroe Doctrine and could not be sanctioned by the United States. Moreover, if a ship-canal were opened at Panama or elsewhere the United States would insist that it should not be under the control of any European power. Hard upon this came a resolution from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations asserting that the consent of the United States was a necessary condition precedent to the opening of a canal or the participation of other nations in its use.*
Meanwhile the government had once more open negotiation with Colombia. The result was the conclusion of a treaty which secured to the United States practical control of any canal that might be opened across the Isthmus of Panama." The Colombian government, however, not only rejected it but showed some
House Ex. Doc. 112, 2d sess. 46th Cong., pp. 1 and 2.
disposition to invite the powers of Europe in guaranteering her sovereignty of the isthmus and the neutrality of any canal that might be opened through it. The apprehensions of this country were aroused and notice was at once given that such an arrangement would be regarded as an intrusion into a field where the interests of the United States were superior to those of all other nations. This followed from the fact that a channel connecting the two seas would for all practical purposes constitute a part of her internal communication. Consequently an agreement among European powers for its control would partake of the nature of an alliance against her, and constitute an extension of their political system to our shores and a menace to the peace
and welfare of this country. Such, in brief, was the position of the United States respecting the neutralization and control of the interoceanic routes through a joint agreement of European powers as set forth by Mr. Blaine in his circular letter of June
Having announced this policy to the world the next step was to promote its realization. Naturally attention was first directed to securing the modification or abrogation of any treaty engagements that stood in the way. Accordingly a modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty was proposed to the British government. This led to a long and spirited controversy regarding the original scope and purpose of that instrument; its binding force was also called in question by the United States government, while that of Great Britain stoutly maintained it. The only important result of the controversy was to reveal the utter incompatibility of the British and American views respecting the proper status for isthmian transits.
Meanwhile public sentiment in this country had been setting more strongly in favor of an exclusively American control of the interoceanic highways. In harmony with the popular desire the government had undertaken negotiations with Nicaragua with a view to securing a suitable concession for the opening of a channel that should be under the absolute control of the United States. The most notable results of its efforts in that direction was the conclusion of the Frelinghuysen-Zavala Treaty in 1884.
Foreign Relations for 1881, vol. i, pp. 537-540.
By the terms of that instrument the United States acquires the right to construct and own a ship-canal between the two oceans. She was also to become the joint owner with Nicaragua of a tract of territory two and one-half miles wide along the entire course of the canal. Besides a perpetual alliance was established between the two republics and the United States was placed under solemn obligation to maintain the integrity of Nicaraguan territory. But its provisions were so completely antagonistic to the fundamental maxims of American polity that the treaty found little favor with the administration which came into power while it was pending in the Senate. President Cleveland at once withdrew it from that body and thereby originated a governmental reaction that was to continue for a number of years. During that period the government acted upon the theory that a ship-canal across the isthmus should be a trust for mankind, free from the domination of any single power and shielded from the warlike ambitions of all nations. Furthermore, this desideratum could only be realized by interesting all the leading powers in maintaining the neutrality of the route.?
The government's action, however, had very little influence with the people; they still clung to the idea that the United States should have control of the isthmian transits. This feeling was manifested in a variety of ways and ere long became influential again with the government. By 1891 Congress was ready to give force to the prevailing sentiment. In order to prevent foreigners from acquiring a controlling interest in the maritime canal a bill was passed guaranteeing the payment of the Canal Company's bonds. The bill also made it possible for the United States under contingencies to acquire virtual ownership of the canal.3
For some years after its passage the government adhered to the policy of this bill. Various attempts were made to promote the construction of an isthmian waterway by lending the public credit to private corporations or by making the nation a part owner in the enterprise. But as time passed the drift of public sentiment in favor of an American monopoly of the transit
Colquhoun's Key to the Pacific, App. III.
became more pronounced and this induced the government to adopt a different course. Instead of lending assistance to private corporations it was proposed that the government should construct the canal and make owership the basis for a monopoly of control. During the last few years numerous bills looking to the realization of such a scheme have received more or less attention from Congress. These bills have provided for the acquisition of a right-of-way for a ship-canal across the isthmus by the Nicaragua route and the construction of such a work at public expense. Some of them have also authorized the President to secure the abrogation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty or its modification to such an extent that the United States might construct, own and operate the canal under its own exclusive control. The last and most notable attempt of this kind is the present Morgan-Hepburn Bill which recently passed the House of Representatives. This bill authorizes the President to acquire from Costa Rica and Nicaragua control of such portions of their territory as may
be necessary for the construction and defense of a ship-canal across the isthmus by that route. The bill also authorizes the President to guarantee to those States the use of the canal and the ports at its extremities, and appropriates $140,000,000 for the construction of the work.
In the meantime negotiations looking toward the modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty had been in progress at Washington. These resulted in the conclusion of the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty signed February of the past year. Under the terms of that instrument the United States is authorized to construct the canal and provide for its regulation and management.
Yet the United States is prohibited from erecting any fortifications on the canal or the waters commanding it. It is also expressly stipulated that the passage shall be neutral and free to all nations in time of war as well as in peace. All nations are to be invited by the contracting parties to give adherence to the treaty. Thus after three-quarters of a century of discussion and negotiation the way has been cleared for the United States to construct and manage a ship-canal between the two oceans that shall be free from fortifications and open to all nations even in time of war.
IRA D. TRAVIS. Salt Lake City.