Panama Canal

Creation of Panama Canal

President Theodore Roosevelt oversaw the understanding of a long-lasting United States goal—a trans-isthmian channel. Throughout the 1800s, American and British frontrunners and entrepreneurs wished to ship products rapidly and inexpensively between your Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Roosevelt on a digging machine during building regarding the Panama Canal, circa 1908. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

To that end, in 1850 the United States and Great Britain negotiated the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty to reign in rivalry over a proposed canal through the Central American Republic of Nicaragua. The Anglo-American canal, however, never went beyond the planning stages. French attempts to build a canal through Panama (province of Colombia) advanced further. Led by Ferdinand de Lesseps—the builder of the Suez Canal in Egypt—the French began excavating in 1880. Malaria, yellow fever, and other tropical diseases conspired against the de Lesseps campaign and after 9 years and a loss of approximately 20, 000 lives, the French attempt went bankrupt. In spite of such setbacks, American interest in a canal continued unabated. The Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901 abrogated the earlier Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and licensed the United States to build and manage its own canal. Following heated debate over the location of the proposed canal, on June 19, 1902, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of building the canal through Panama. Within 6 months, Secretary of State John Hay signed a treaty with Colombian Foreign Minister Tomás Herrán to build the new canal. The financial terms were unacceptable to Colombia’s congress, and it rejected the offer.

President Roosevelt reacted by dispatching U.S. warships to Panama City (on Pacific) and Colón (on Atlantic) meant for Panamanian freedom. Colombian troops were unable to negotiate the jungles of Darien Strait and Panama declared independence on November 3, 1903. The newly stated Republic of Panama instantly called Philippe Bunau-Varilla (a French engineer who was simply involved in the earlier de Lesseps channel effort) as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. In the new role, Bunau-Varilla negotiated the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903, which provided the United States with a 10-mile large strip of land the canal, a one-time $10 million payment to Panama, and an annual annuity of $250, 000. America additionally consented to guarantee the freedom of Panama. Finished in 1914, the Panama Canal symbolized U.S. technical prowess and economic energy. Although U.S. control over the channel in the course of time became an irritant to U.S.-Panamanian relations, during the time it absolutely was heralded as an important international plan achievement.

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