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River and thence to the city of Panama. All the routes advocated by Humboldt, with one possible exception, involved some river, and he seemed to think that the idea of a canal throughout, even though facilitated by locks, should not be considered as within the bounds of practicability. Later experience has shown that he was right in his estimate of the possibilities at that time.
The publications of Humboldt relating to the Isthmian canal question, and a visit which he made to Spain shortly after their appearance, aroused the government of that country to renewed activity in the matter. In 1814, the Cortes passed a law providing for a waterway capable of accommodating the largest vessels, and authorizing the formation of a company for the purpose of carrying out the work. The undertaking hung fire for some years, and, with the revolutions that shortly after broke out in Spain's American possessions and ultimately led to their freedom, the last chance of Spain having the glory and advantage of constructing the canal expired. In fact, Spain was almost the only European nation that had no part in the negotiations which from this time on assumed a practical aspect.
The emancipation of the Spanish American colonies, while it destroyed all prospect of canal building for the mother country, opened up the field to other nations. The new republics, needing money and anxious to build up commerce, saw in an interoceanic waterway the greatest advantage to the region they occupied and particularly to that country which should be so fortunate as to secure the prize. Each of them welcomed proposals and, in their eagerness, granted concessions without due consideration.
In 1824, Aaron H. Palmer, of New York, on behalf of an American syndicate, made overtures to the Central American Republic. These were favorably received, but, before acting decisively upon them, the government of that country sought to enlist the United States in the enterprise, at least to the extent of formally endorsing it. The political representative of the Republic suggested to Henry Clay, then Secretary of State, a treaty between the two countries embodying an agreement on the subject of a canal at Nicaragua. Mr. Clay in response expressed his appreciation of the importance of the matter and undertook to have an investigation made for the purpose of determining whether the proposed route was entitled to preference over all others of those available. In case of the enquiry leading to such a conclusion, he promised to bring the subject to the attention of Congress.
The matter does not seem to have ever advanced beyond the stage of correspondence. In June, 1826, the Republic of Central America decided not to wait longer for action on the part of the United States and entered into a contract with Aaron Palmer and his associates. Twelve months from the date of the contract work was to be commenced on a canal equal to the accommodation of the largest vessels of that day. The American interests were to retain their control until they should be reimbursed for all the capital invested, together with ten per cent interest, and for a term of seven years thereafter they were to receive one-half of the net proceeds from the operation of the canal. The waterway was to be strictly neutral, and under no circumstances were any privileges to be granted to one nation to the exclusion of any other.
The concessionaires then attempted to organize a corporation with the cumbersome title of The Central American and United States Atlantic and Pacific Canal Company, and the totally inadequate capital of $5,000,000, for the purpose of effecting the construction. In America, capitalists were disappointingly slow in responding to the proposal and the promoter went to London, where he spent the best part of a year with no better result. Twelve months after signing the contract with the Republic of Central America, Palmer and his associates were in no position to enter upon the work, and the project was abandoned.
After a futile effort to secure the co-operation of the Netherlands in a canal project, the Republic of Central America again approached the United States on the subject. This led the Senate to pass a resolution which prompted President Jackson, in 1835, to send Charles Biddle to the Isthmus with instructions to examine the various canal and transisthmian railroad routes. The outcome was not satisfactory, and two years later the President sent a message to the Senate expressing the opinion that it was not at that time expedient to enter into any negotiations with regard to an interoceanic canal. In the following year, however, the matter was extensively discussed in Congress and the President was requested to open or continue negotiations with foreign nations in accordance with the Senate resolution. Complying with the wishes of Congress, President Van Buren sent John L. Stephens to the Isthmus for the purpose of examining the question. Mr. Stephens' report recommended the Nicaraguan route in preference to any other, and estimated the cost of a canal there at $25,000,000, but he deemed the undertaking inadvisable at that time on account of the unsettled state of the country.
Meanwhile, other nations had become interested in the canal project. The King of the Netherlands was only deterred from accepting the offer of the Republic of Central America by the intervention of the United States, which was, at that time, disposed to take the ground that no European nation could undertake the work without violation of the principles of the Monroe Doctrine. A British company sent John Bailey to Nicaragua to survey a route and to secure a concession, if possible. Simon Bolivar gave a franchise for a canal at Panama to a Frenchman. In 1844, Nicaragua, which had become a separate republic, sent an envoy to Louis Philippe with a view of inducing him to establish a protectorate over Nicaragua and construct a canal through the country. The pro