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United States embarked in the undertaking, the impression has gained ground that it acted wisely in taking up the task which the French abandoned, rather than entering on a similar one in a practically untried field.
THE AMERICAN ENTERPRISE
FOLLOWING the completion of preliminaries, the President appointed an Isthmian Canal Commission to direct the canal operation. The Commission was composed of the following members : Rear-Admiral John G. Walker, U. S. N. (retired), Chairman; Major-General George W. Davis, U. S. A. (retired), Governor of the Canal Zone; William Barclay Parsons, C. E.; William H. Burr, C. E.; Benjamin M. Harrod, C. E.; Carl E. Grunsky, C. E.; Frank J. Hecker. The last named was the business man of the body. General Davis had just completed a term as Governor of Cuba. Admiral Walker had the advantage of extensive experience in Isthmian canal investigations, and recent assignments of duty had made him familiar with the details of the French operations. The remainder were engineers of exceptional ability.
The two most important posts in connection with the work were filled by the appointment of John F. Wallace as Engineer-in-Chief, and Surgeon-Colonel William Crawford Gorgas, of the United States Army, as Chief of the Sanitary Department. The former was in the front rank of his profession and had the highest reputation as a railroad engineer. The latter was fresh from his labors in Cuba, where his fine work in the suppression of yellow fever had excited the admiration of physicians throughout the world and gained the commendation of his superiors.
The Commission was made subject to the supervision of the War Department and in his letter of instructions to Secretary William H. Taft, the President defined its duties as being the civil administration of the Canal Zone, the performance of all engineering work and the execution of all sanitary measures. The document went on to say that the inhabitants of the Zone were to be safeguarded in their persons, property and religion; that their private rights and relations were to be conserved and that their customs and avocations were to be disturbed as little as possible. The municipal laws of the Zone were to be administered practically without change and the law of the land was to
remain in force, except where it might be at variance with the principles of the Constitution of the United States.
In a later communication, the President made an important statement of the broader policy of the United States toward the new Republic:
“ The United States is about to confer on the people of the State of Panama a great benefit by the expenditure of millions of dollars in the construction of the canal; but this fact must not blind us to the importance of so exercising the authority given us under the treaty with Panama as to avoid creating any suspicion, however unfounded, of our intentions as to the future. We have not the slightest intention of establishing an independent colony in the middle of the State of Panama, or of exercising any greater governmental functions than are necessary to enable us conveniently and safely to construct, maintain, and operate the canal under the rights given us by the treaty. Least of all do we wish to interfere with the business and prosperity of the people of Panama. However far a just construction of the treaty might enable us to go, did the exigencies of the case require it, in asserting the equivalent of authority over the Canal Strip, it is our full intention that the rights which we exercise shall be exercised with all proper care for the honor and interests of the people of Panama. The exercise of such powers as are given us by the treaty within the geographical boundaries of the Republic of Panama may easily, if a real sympathy for both the present and future welfare of the people of Panama is not shown, create distrust of the American government."
The treaty with Panama conferred extraordinary powers and privileges upon the United States. The cities of Colon and Panama, though geographically within the Canal Zone, are not included in its jurisdiction. The United States have, however, the fullest scope in the maintenance of public order and sanitation in those centres and this precludes the possibility of another revolution ever taking place. A speedy illustration of the wisdom and effectiveness of this provision of the treaty was forthcoming. We had hardly taken possession of the Zone when General Huertas assembled the ragamuffin Panaman army, numbering something less than two hundred, with the object of overthrowing the Amador administration. The mere threat of calling upon the handful of United States Marines on the Isthmus was suf.