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to step into the new field of canal operations and the confidence of the French nation. He was not an engineering expert of the present day definition, but he had a vast intellect at his command, and an unusual facility for organization. That he was over-sanguine cannot be doubted, and that this fault led to his making serious mistakes none deny. On the other hand he was in earnest in his enthusiasm for the success of the project, and fundamentally honest in his purpose. This cannot be said of all those he had under him. As one of his countrymen once remarked, “Of all the men high in authority engaged with De Lesseps on the enterprise, he was about the only one whose chief endeavor was not to feather his nest.” Can it be wondered that a fabric built upon a foundation so faulty should be doomed to failure ? At the inception of canal operations and for several years afterwards De Lesseps was practically idolized both in France and the Isthmus. His advent at Panama was heralded as a greater event than that of a conquering general returning home.
Agitation in France in favor of constructing the Isthmian waterway was begun in 1875, and resulted in the formation of a company under the direction of Gen. Turr for the purpose of entering upon negotiations with Colombia to obtain the necessary concession.
In May, 1876, Lucien N. B. Wyse, a lieutenant of engineers in the French army, and a brother-in-law of Gen. Turr was delegated to visit the Isthmus, conclude negotiations and map out a feasible route. The right of way was secured, with the proviso that nothing in the contract should be construed to interfere in any way with the grants given the Panama Railroad under a concession to an association of American capitalists entered into in 1849. The cession with “a string tied to it” like this was not entirely satisfactory to the company Wyse represented, which was organized for promotion purposes only, SO an enlargement
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of privileges was sought, and on March 20th, 1878, a new contract was entered into with the Colombian Government which gave the association of promoters the right to cross the territory occupied by the Panama Railroad Company, providing an amicable agreement could be arrived at with the latter corporation. Under the terms of this agreement the promoters were given the exclusive right to construct and operate a maritime canal across the territory of Colombia, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; for a period of 99 years from the day it was wholly, or in part opened to public service, or when they should commence to collect tolls on transit and navigation.
It was agreed that the general route of the canal should be determined by an international commission of individuals and competent engineers, and upon settling on a route, the promoters were to be allowed two
years to form a joint stock company, which company was required to finish the canal and put it into service in twelve years. All public lands necessary for the route of the canal, and stations, wharves, moorings and warehouses incident to its construction were ceded gratis. This provision also contained the grant of a zone of land about 1.400 feet wide the entire length of the waterway.
It was further stipulated that the canal should main neutral for all time to the end that in case of war merchant vessels and individuals might enjoy its use and advantages unmolested. For these rights and privileges
the Government of Colombia was to be entitled to a share in the gross income of the canal from all sources on increasing scale of from five to eight per cent., dating from the seventy-sixth year after its opening, to the termination of the concession, four-fifths of which was to go to the Republic of Colombia, and one-fifth to the State of Panama, the company controlling the enterprise to guarantee however, that the Government's share should not be less than $250,000 each year.
The right to transfer these privileges to other capitalists or companies was conceded, but an hibition was made against cession or mortgaging to any foreign government.
The international commission of individuals and gineers, known as the International Scientific Congress met in Paris on May 15, 1879. There
were present 135 delegates, most of whom were French. Nearly all European countries were represented however, the contingent from the United States numbering eleven. The conference was presided over by Count De Lesseps, and continued in session for two weeks. The net result was the reaching of a decision that a sea-level canal should be constructed from Limon Bay to the Bay of Panama.
This important point settled, the canal concession was transferred to La Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceaniqe de Panama, commonly known as the Panama Canal Company, an organization chartered under the laws of France. De Lesseps was given control and one of his first steps taken was to purchase a controlling interest in the Panama Railroad Company which involved the changing hands of about $18.000,000.
Arrival of De Lesseps.
The 30th day of December, 1879, will be forever memorable in the history of the Isthmus, says the Star & Herald in its issue of January 1, 1880. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon of that day the French steamer Lafayette with Count Ferdinand de Lesseps was signalled at Colon, and soon afterwards entered the harbor. The steamer came immediately alongside the wharf where the reception committee appointed by the Government, the delegation from the State Assembly, and a large number of invited citizens were collected to welcome the illustrious engineer and the other members of his party.
A little past 4 p. m., the landing stage was put on board and all repaired to the spacious saloon of the Lafayette where a formal address of welcoine was made by J. A. Cespedes, Chairman of the reception committee, which was responded to in a brief but hearty manner by M. de Lesseps. Then followed short and appropriate addresses by Messrs. Andreve and Prestan of the State Assembly, Mr. Pike, consul for Denmark, and Mr. S. W. D. Jackson on behalf of the English-speaking residents of the Isthmus. To all of these the distinguished guest replied with great urbanity and cordiality, and in all his utterances conveyed the unmistakable impression of his earnestness in regard to the projected canal. An hour or more was spent in convivialities appropriate to the occasion, after which the crowd dispersed. During the reception the fine band from Panama played several soul-stirring airs. In the evening many houses in town were illuminated, and there was a fine display of fireworks at the ice house, the usual headquarters for such festivities. Later, M. de Lesseps came on shore and took a walk in the beautiful moonlight, attended by a few friends and surrounded by an enthusiastic crowd of people.
On the morning of the 31st., M de Lesseps and the distinguished engineers of his party made an examination of the harbor front, and inquired into the direction and force of the northers. By the aid of a carefully prepared chart he marked the location of the necessary breakwater, as well as the probable entrance to the great Isthmian Canal. In all and on every point M. de Lesseps declared