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There was to be a summit level and an artificial lake at Bohio with the necessary locks, 738 feet long and 82 feet wide, and sea-level connections. There is every reason to believe that the enterprise was feasible and would have been carried through. The company, as a matter of fact, did only enough work to care for the extensive plant and excavated about 5,000,000 cubic yards in five years, but the valuable and necessary progress made was in the way of gathering scientific and engineering information that was absolutely essential and which the old company did not have, and which later proved of the greatest benefit to the United States. The financing of the enterprise became impracticable, due to the United States coming into the field as a probable canal builder. The French were truly leading a forlorn hope and finally their only chance lay in selling out to the United States.
TRANSFER OF CONTROL TO THE UNITED STATES
The Isthmian Canal Commission of the United States, in the two and one-half years from June, 1899, to November, 1901, made most elaborate investigations of the whole canal problem, covering the first Darien route from the Gulf of San Blas to the Gulf of Panama; the second Darien route from Caledonia Bay to San Miguel Bay, an arm of the Gulf of Panama; the Panama route from Limon Bay to Panama Bay; and the Nicaragua route from Greytown via the San Juan River and Lake Nicaragua to Brito on the Pacific, and other less important routes. An immense amount of literature, reports and surveys turned out by previous boards was accessible, including the most excellent and complete data in the hands of the New French Company. Besides all this, much additional surveying and investigation was a necessity.
The commission evaluated the French property as follows:
The French company submitted an estimated valuation for purpose of discussion with a view to sale to the United States, of $109,141,500. The commission estimated the cost of completing the Panama Canal to be $144,233,358, to which must be added the commission's evaluation of the French property, or a total of $184,233,358, or adding the company's offer to the cost of completion, a total of $253,374,858. The commission estimated the cost of building the Nicaragua Canal to be $189,864,062.
A lock type was found to be obligatory on the Nicaragua route, and either a sea-level or lock canal was found possible on the Panama route, but the commission strongly recommended the lock canal and reported on the relative advantages of the two schemes as follows:
The estimated annual cost of maintaining and operating the Nicaragua Canal is $1,300,000 greater than the corresponding charges for the Panama Canal.
The Panama route would be 134.57 miles shorter from sea to sea than the Nicaragua route. It would have less summit elevation, fewer locks, 1568 degrees and 26.44 miles less curvature. The estimated time for a deep-draft vessel to pass through is about 12 hours for Panama and 33 hours for Nicaragua. These periods are practically the measure of the relative advantages of the two canals as waterways connecting the two oceans, but not entirely, because the risks to vessels and the dangers of delay are greater in a canal than in the open sea.
Except for the items of risks and delays, the time required to pass through the canals need to be taken into account only as an element in the time required by vessels to make their voyages between terminal ports. Compared on this basis, the Nicaragua route is the more advantageous for all trans-isthmian commerce except that originating or ending on the west coast of South America. For the commerce in which the United States is most interested, that between our Pacific ports and Atlantic ports, European and American, the Nicaragua route is shorter by about one day. The same advantage exists between our Atlantic ports and the Orient. For our Gulf ports the advantage of the Nicaragua route is nearly two days. For commerce between North Atlantic ports and the west coast of South America the Panama route is shorter by about two days. Between Gulf ports and the west coast of South America the saving is about one day.
The commission's recommendation was that:
After considering all the facts developed by the investigations made by the commission and the actual situation as it now stands, and having in view the terms offered by the New Panama Canal Company, this Commission is of the opinion that "the most practicable and feasible route” for an Isthmian Canal, to be "under the control, management, and ownership of the United States," is that known as the Nicaragua route.
When this information reached Paris the French company were at our mercy and capitulated with a cabled offer to sell to the United States for $40,000,000. The Isthmian Commission then made a supplementary report, dated January 18, 1902, as follows:
The unreasonable sum asked for the property and rights of the New Panama Canal Company when the Commission reached its former conclusion overbalanced that route, and now that the estimates by the two routes have been nearly equalized the Commission can form its judgment by weighing the advantages of each and determining which is the more practicable and feasible.
After considering the changed conditions that now exist, the Commission is of opinion that “the most practicable and feasible route" for an Isthmian Canal, to be under the control, management, and ownership of the United States," is that known as the Panama route.
The report and plans of the commission of 1899–1901 are most comprehensive, covering the subject from the earliest times and forming a veritable mine of information.
The American desire for a trans-isthmian canal had now become a determination. The demands of commerce were intensified, and the trip of the U. S. S. Oregon around South America had made clear the immense potential value of the canal to the navy. During the succeeding moves the American side of the case was handled with great skill and acumen, for which the able report of the Isthmian Commission had paved the way.
The Spooner law became effective on June 28, 1902, and authorized:
(a) The purchase of the rights and property of the New Panama Canal Company at $40,000,000, including the stock of the Panama Railroad.
(b) Acquiring from the Republic of Colombia perpetual control of a strip of land, together with all water rights, and the right to build and perpetually maintain a canal, together with the right to exercise sanitary control over the strip of land and the cities at either end.
(c) The actual building of the canal on the Panama route.
(d) The making of all arrangements for the complete building of a canal on the Nicaragua route, should the negotiations with Colombia or with the New Panama Canal Company prove unsuccessful.
(e) The creation of an Isthmian Canal Commission of seven members, four of whom were to be skilled engineers, and of the four, one to be an officer of the Engineer Corps of the United States Army, and one an officer of the United States Navy.
(f) The act appropriated $10,000,000, to be immediately available, and authorized a further sum of $135,000,000 (besides the $40,000,000 for purchase of the canal company's property) in case of adoption of the Panama route, or of $185,000,000 in case of adoption of the Nicaragua route.
During the negotiations with Colombia the hopes of the stockholders in the French company were alternately raised and dashed as the trend of affairs indicated the adoption of the Panama or the Nicaragua route. The Colombian government, which had the sovereign rights over the Isthmus, failed to ratify the treaty, and soon thereafter the Department of Panama led a successful revolt. The new Panama government,