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A STUDY IN
CHARLES HENRY HUBERICH, D. C. L.
THE TRANS-ISTHMIAN CANAL:
A STUDY IN AMERICAN DIPLOMATIC HISTORY (1825-1904)."
CHARLES HENRY HUBERICH, D. C. L.,
The projected canal across the isthmus joining the two Americas, which has interested the governments of Europe since the discovery of the American continent, played no rôle in the foreign policy of the United States until after the Spanish-American colonies had achieved their independence. In 1825, Señor Antonio José Canaz, the representative of the Central American Republic at Washington, proposed to the United States that the two governments coöperate in the construction of the Nicaragua canal. Señor Canaz was assured of “the deep interest which is taken by the government of the United States in the execution of an undertaking which is so highly calculated to diffuse an extensive influence on the affair of mankind.” In addition, Mr. Clay, then secretary of state, instructed the American chargé d'affaires in Central America to collect all data relative to the cost and practicability of the Nicaragua route. The subject aroused considerable interest in commercial circles, and a contract was actually entered into between the Central American Republic and some New York capitalists for the construction of the canal.
The canal project was one of the topics to be discussed at the Panama congress in 1826. In the instructions to the American delegates to that congress the policy of the United States in reference to the canal is announced for the first time. "If the work should ever be executed," writes Secretary Clay, "so as to admit of the passage of sea vessels from ocean to ocean, the benefit of it ought not to be exclusively appropriated to any one nation, but
1 The greater part of this article was published by the writer early in 1903, in the Revue du droit public et de la science politique, Vol. XIX, pp. 193-213.
Keasbey, The Nicaragua Canal and the Monroe Doctrine, p. 143.
should be extended to all parts of the globe upon the payment of a just compensation or reasonable tolls."1
A few years later the king of the Netherlands launched his project of a canal across Central America “to be opened on the same terms to all nations.” As this was entirely in accordance with the American view, no diplomatic action was taken by the United States, except that the American minister to the Netherlands was instructed to endeavor to obtain for the government or citizens of the United States a majority of the shares of stock in the enterprise, and a share in the monopoly.
On March 3, 1835, the Senate passed a resolution requesting the President to open negotiations with Central America and New Granada in order to secure “forever * * * the free and equal right of navigating such canal to all nations, on the payment of such reasonable tolls as may be established to compensate the capitalists who may engage in such undertaking and complete the work.” In conformity with this resolution President Jackson appointed Mr. Charles Biddle to investigate the different routes proposed. Mr. Biddle returned to the United States in September, 1836, and from his report the President was convinced that “the probability of an early execution of any of the projects which have been set on foot for the construction of the communication alluded to is not so great as to render it expedient to open negotiation at present with any foreign government upon the sub
On March 2, 1839, a similar resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives, which resulted in the sending of another agent to the isthmus, who reported in favor of the Nicaragua route, but did not deem it expedient to undertake the work at the moment, owing to the political situation in Central America.
The concession for "le canal Napoléon de Nicaragua” (January 8, 1845) did not call forth any discussion in the United States. But indirectly we may attribute to it the negotiations with New Granada, which resulted in the treaty of December 12, 1846. The
Mr. Clay to Messrs. Anderson and Sargent, May 8, 1826. Wharton, Digest of the International Law of the United States, Vol. III, p. 1. Neither of the delegates was present at the Congress.
* The concession was obtained December 18, 1830.
thirty-fifth article of this treaty provides that citizens of the United, States shall enjoy all the exemptions, privileges, and immunities concerning commerce and navigation enjoyed by citizens of New Granada; and “that this equality of favors shall be made to extend to the passengers, correspondence, and merchandise of the United States, in their transit across the said territory, from one sea to the other. The government of New Granada guarantees to. the government of the United States that the right of way or transit across the isthmus of Panama upon any modes of communication that now exist, or that may be hereafter constructed, shall be open and free to the government and citizens of the United States, and for the transportation of any articles of produce, man- Ne ufactures, or merchandise, of lawful commerce, belonging to the citizens of the United States; that no other tolls or charges shall
Granat be levied or collected upon the citizens of the United States * * * than is, under like circumstances, collected from Granadian citizens. * * * And, in order to secure to themselves the tranquil and constant enjoyment of these advantages, and as an especial compensation for the said advantages * * * the United States guarantee, positively and efficaciously, to New Granada * * * the perfect neutrality of the before-mentioned isthmus, with the view that the free transit from the one to the other sea may not be interrupted or embarrassed in any future time while this treaty exists; and in consequence, the United States also guarantee, in the same manner, the rights of sovereignty and property which New Granada has and possesses over the said territory.”
In his message to the Senate, submitting this treaty, President Polk says:
1Since June 10, 1848, the date of the exchange of ratifications, the treaty has been subject to twelve months' notice of termination by either party.
* Messages and Papers of the Presidents, Vol. IV, pp. 512, 513. The treaty was ratified without a dissenting vote, but already in the following year the Committee on Naval Affairs of the House referring to the guaranty of sovereignty says: “This is a very wide departure from our foreign policy hitherto, and its justification is only to be found in the exigency of the case, the overruling necessities of our position with reference to our terriories on the Pacific.”
On May 10, 1847, the government of New Granada granted to a French company the right to construct a railway across the isthmus of Panama,