The Panama Canal

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How Did The Us Get The Panama Canal

How did the United States gain the control over the Panama Canal? What really happened in the negotiations between the US and the Colombian government to gain access to the canal?

The road to the Panama Canal was paved with intrigue and conflict. The French originally began work on the canal, but the US embarked on its own efforts in 1901. Columbia, however, would not agree to the US purchase of the necessary land, so the US encouraged Panamanian rebels to fight for Panama's independence, which they won. Then, the US paid Panama for the land, purchased French assets, and got to work.

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The United States of America gained control of the Panama Canal after other European nations tried and ultimately failed to construct a waterway that could connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

The United States didn’t acquire the Panama Canal until 1902. Four centuries earlier, in the 1500s, the king of Spain, Charles I, had one of his subordinates check into the feasibility of constructing a waterway like the kind that was eventually assembled. Unfortunately for Charles I, such a project was deemed too difficult at the time.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, with technology advancing, a Frenchman named Count Ferdinand de Lesseps tried to build a canal, but disease and inclement weather thwarted the project. Bankrupt, the French company that tried to build the canal sold their assets to the United States.

Now, the United States had control of the canal area. Yet they couldn’t start building the canal; they needed Colombia’s permission. The people of Colombia didn’t appear inclined to let another country come into their territory and build something that mostly benefited them.

To deal with Colombia’s resistance, the United States government fomented a revolution that resulted in Panama succeeding from Colombia. Now that Panama was an independent nation, it could grant the United States the rights to finally build the Panama Canal.

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The United States' involvement in the planning, negotiating, and eventual building of the Panama Canal is marked by plenty of intrigue. Originally, the French were the ones set on building a canal that would open up a quick and efficient method of transport between the Atlantic and Pacific. French engineers and workmen even began excavation in the 1880s, but they didn't get very far before too many workers were lost to malaria, and the venture went bankrupt. In the 1890s, the French were already lobbying the US to take over the project.

In 1901, the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty gave the US the go-ahead to build its own canal, and the US Senate decided that Panama would be the right spot. But there was still an obstacle because Panama was not yet independent; it was a province of Colombia. So the US negotiated with Colombia and agreed to pay for the land it wanted, but Colombian lawmakers turned down the deal.

Therefore, the US supported a Panamanian revolt, even sending warships to support the rebels. Colombian troops, however, got bogged down in the jungle, and Panama declared independence in November of 1903. This left the road open to US control over the proposed canal, and the US agreed to pay $10 million to Panama plus an annual $250,000 payment and help in maintaining Panama's independence. The US also paid $40 million to France for its previous work on the canal. At this point, the US was ready to begin work.

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The United States wanted to build a canal in what is now the country of Panama. We had gained the exclusive right to build a canal with the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty in 1901. We...

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were negotiating with Colombia for permission to build a canal through a region that originally belonged to Colombia. We offered them a $10 million fee plus an annual rent of $250,000. However, Colombia refused this offer.

The people who lived in this area weren’t happy being ruled by the government of Colombia. The United States, in a behind the scenes role, encouraged these people to revolt for their freedom. When the Colombians tried to enter the area to end the rebellion, our navy wouldn’t allow this to occur. When the people revolted, the United States quickly recognized the independence of the new country of Panama. We made the same offer to Panama that we made to Colombia. Panama accepted our offer, and we began to build the canal. The Panama Canal opened in 1914.

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Before the canal was built successfully by the United States, the Atlantic and Pacific were connected by a railroad through Panama. This railroad was later destroyed by the Chagres River. The French attempted to build the canal but this ended up with major losses in lives and resources. The French gave up on this expedition and they were to release the equipment to Colombia as per their agreement. America was also interested in building the canal for trade and defense purposes. After deliberations on whether to build the canal in Nicaragua or Colombia, America settled for Colombia.

President Roosevelt engaged the Colombian government through the then Secretary of State John Hay. The two countries negotiated and finally reached an agreement. The US was allowed to build the canal through Panama but due to vested interests, the Colombian government delayed ratification of the treaty. This led to a revolution for secession, staged by the Panamanians against Colombia. The revolution was supported by the US and the French company after a deal was struck between the two. Panama then became independent, a new treaty was signed which favored the US, and the French company was paid 40 million dollars for its machinery in this new deal.   

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First of all, please note that when the US and the Colombian government were negotiating, the canal did not exist.  The US got access to Panama through the negotiations and then it was the US that built the canal.

In 1903, the US and Colombia concluded a treaty that would have given the US the right to build a canal through the Isthmus of Panama (this was part of Colombia at the time).  But the Colombian Senate rejected the treaty.  This made Pres. Theodore Roosevelt very unhappy and so he helped Panama stage a rebellion against Colombia.  The US Navy prevented Colombian troops from crushing the rebellion and Panama became independent.

After that happened, the US signed a treaty with the Prime Minister of Panama (who was actually a Frenchman who was part of a company that wanted to make money off the canal).  The treaty gave the US the canal zone.  After that, America built the canal, completing it in 1914 after 10 years of work.

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