Last Updated on January 9, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 889
Ferdinand de Lesseps
de Lesseps was a French diplomat credited with building the Suez Canal. He was celebrated for this achievement and used his fame to galvanize the French people to support his Compagnie universelle du canal interocéanique de Panama. Despite the help of his son Charles, his attempt to build a canal in Panamá was a failure and ended in scandal.
Lucien Napoléon Bonaparte-Wyse
Wyse was a French engineer commissioned by the Compagnie universelle to oversee construction of the canal. He was able to come to terms with the Colombian government (in control of Panamá and the Canal Zone at the time) and gain a ninety-nine-year window in which to build the canal. This became known as the "Wyse Concession" and would play a role in the future American efforts to build the canal.
Ammen was a United States Naval officer put in charge of the US delegation to the Paris International Canal Congress. Ammen would argue in favor of building the canal through Nicaragua, an idea that many preferred to that of a Panamá route.
Herz was a doctor and businessman who emerged at the center of the "Panamá scandals." He was implicated in financing and orchestrating the failed attempts to save the canal from ruin, but his exact role and relationship to Jacob Adolphe Reinach was never clarified. His association with statesman Georges Clemenceau would nearly ruin Clemenceau's political career.
Jacob Adolphe Reinach
A French banker made infamous by the "Panamá scandals," Reinach was the canal commission's financial adviser and was found guilty of extortion. He would be viewed as the primary villain of the scandals and eventually commit suicide.
Clemenceau was a significant French physician and statesman who was implicated during the scandal. His friendship with Dr. Cornelius Herz would nearly ruin a political career that would see Clemenceau become prime minister of France during World War I.
Bunau-Varilla was a French engineer who became a primary player in the American decision to build in Panamá. After lobbying for the canal's construction to be in Panamá, with the help of attorney William Nelson Cromwell, Bunau-Varilla would also help to undermine Colombian control of the isthmus via the Panamanian Revolution, as well as sign a treaty with the United States on the Panamanians' behalf.
Theodore Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States. Roosevelt's political role in establishing an acceptable government in Panamá, despite the rights of the Colombian government, was overshadowed by his personality and contagious belief that American leadership and control would lead them toward the successful completion the canal.
Hanna was an American senator who worked with Bunau-Varilla and attorney William Nelson Cromwell to convince congress to build in Panamá. Hanna successfully helped to negotiate with the Colombians before the ensuing revolution, but he died while the treaty with the Panamanian government to build the canal was still being formalized.
John Tyler Morgan
Morgan was an American politician and Confederate veteran who would lead the argument for the United States to build the canal in Nicaragua. Despite his failure to bring his own hopes to fruition, he would accurately and ironically (he had been a slave-holder and was a notorious voice for white supremacy) declare that the United States had grown "too large to be just."
Manuel Amador Guerrero
The first president of Panamá, Guerrero was of Colombian descent and emerged as a key figure in the Panamanian Revolution. He came to discover after traveling to Washington that Bunau-Varilla had already signed the treaty with the United States to build the canal.
Hay was an American statesman who worked with Bunau-Varilla to solidify American interests in Panamá following the revolution. Hay's work in 1903 on the Hay–Bunau-Varilla Treaty not only worked out the financial details and land rights for the canal, but also addressed governance rights in the Canal Zone.
John F. Wallace
Wallace was appointed as the chief engineer of the American canal efforts by Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. Wallace's failure to work out the simple logistics of the project would lead to his resignation by 1906.
Stevens was an American civil engineer credited with helping to build both the Great Northern Railroad and the Panamá Canal. His success was in part due to his hands-on approach and ability to rationalize the process of completing a project on the scale of the canal. It was under his leadership that the American attempt to build the locked canal was made possible. Despite his success, he would resign from the role of chief engineer in 1907 in unclear circumstances that most, including Roosevelt, believed to be caused by stress.
Gorgas was a United States Army physician who had previously worked in Havana to stop the spread of yellow fever and malaria. Despite resistance to his practices from many, Gorgas's understanding of the diseases would make the American building of the canal possible. Gorgas's efforts (including trying to rid a jungle environment of standing water) cannot be understated in their effect on the lives of those who worked on the canal.
Gaillard was an American Army engineer who replaced John Stephens as chief engineer of the canal in 1908. His notable accomplishments include building in the most notorious section of the canal (the Culebra Cut) and saving the US government millions of dollars by making the logistical processes in Panamá more efficient.
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