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demands of commerce and could be finished in ten years, at $100,000,000. It recognized three principal difficulties to be contended with. These were the problem of sanitation, the cut through the Culebra pass, and the control of the Chagres River.
“ The studies of the New Company were based on three fundamental principles : (1) To reject any plan that did not, independently of considerations of time and expense, offer every guarantee of a serviceable canal. (2) To reject any fanciful scheme depending on the application of new and untried devices not justified by experience; and (3) to give due weight to the peculiar tropical conditions under which the work must be executed. These must compel the employment of a class of laborers inferior to those available in better climates, and the work will be exhausting to those supervising the constructions. No technical details should therefore be admitted involving operations of exceptional difficulty."1
While the plans of the French Company and the opinions of its engineering experts were of general interest so long as the form of waterway to be adopted by us remained in doubt, a recital of them now would be wearisome to any but the technical reader, who may easily apply to first hand sources. Suffice it to say that they were well conceived, and might possibly have been carried out but for several adverse circumstances which were beyond the control of the Company, and chief of which was the promotion of the American project for a canal across Nicaragua.
1 Problems of the Panama Canal. Brig-Gen. Henry L. Abbott U.S. Army (retired). Late member of the Comité Technique New York, 1905.
The fact of the French launching the Panama Canal enterprise did not deter those who desired to see a waterway constructed by Americans from pursuing their object. In fact, two of the delegates from the United States to the Paris Conference of 1879 were prominent members of a corporation which was shortly afterwards organized for the purpose of making a canal in Nicaragua. But, with the progress of time, sentiment grew in favor of the Government assuming the undertaking, and the failure of the French tended strongly to increase it.
In 1884, the American Secretary of State and the Nicaraguan Minister at Washington came to an agreement which provided for the construction of a canal, to be held and controlled by the two countries jointly. One of the conditions of the proposed treaty was that the United States should guarantee the territorial integrity of Nicaragua and this feature militated against its ratification. The idea was not allowed to die, however. In 1887, an expedition was sent to Nicaragua to survey a canal route. In 1889, Congress granted a charter to a corporation known as the Maritime Canal Company of the United States, which had for its purpose the construction of a canal in Nicaragua. The company was capitalized at $150,000,000 and a construction company with $12,000,000 capital stock was shortly afterwards formed. Work was begun on the Atlantic end and continued for three years, at the end of which time the construction company had exhausted its resources. Unfortunately, its appeal for additional funds was made during the panic of 1893, and met with a result which in better times might have been otherwise, for there was the keenest desire in America to see such an enterprise successfully carried out. The Construction Company was compelled to go into the hands of a receiver and work on the Nicaragua Canal ceased.
During the following decade numerons attempts were made to promote private enterprise in this direction and to induce Governmental action in it. At length, in 1897, Congress created an Isthmian Canal Commission and appropriated $300,000 for its use. This body was headed by Admiral John C. Walker and included a number of prominent engineers, both civil and military. The Commission went to Nicaragua and made a close investigation of conditions, which resulted in a unanimous report favoring a canal at Nicaragua. Meanwhile, the improbability of the French completing the work at Panama had become so apparent that attention was turned in that direction as possibly affording a desirable alternative. In June, 1899, a new commission was appointed with Admiral Walker as Chairman, and it was charged with the duty of making a comparative estimate of the two routes.
The Commission inspected the operation at Panama and extended its investigation to Paris. The consent of the Colombian Government to the transfer of the concession having been gained, the New Panama Company was invited to state the terms on which it would convey to the United States Government all its rights and assets. The proposition placed the Company in rather a delicate position. The Commission had no authority to accept an offer and in reality was only seeking for information. Under the circumstances, the Company was justified in declining to commit itself definitely. It set the price tentatively at somewhat less than $110,000,000, but offered to submit the property to expert valuation and arbitration whenever the value put upon an item should fail to meet with the approval of the representatives of the United States. This proposition was fair enough. The figures were based on the conservative valuation by the receiver of the assets that came into his hands and on the work and material added by the New Panama Company. Of course the members of the Commission fully realized this, but they seem to have considered it their duty to take advantage of the helpless position of the Company to drive a hard bargain. Had they been dealing with the French Government the matter might have assumed a somewhat different aspect, but when it is considered that the sellers were an aggregation of needy persons who, at the best, would suffer heavy loss, the United States does not appear in a very admirable light in this transaction.