Suez canal history



Omitting details, it may be stated that an inter-oceanic waterway has long been desired by American statesmen and the commercial world. Schemes have been set afoot to accomplish the work, and, from various causes, have failed. In his message to the Fifty-sixth Congress the President states the situation of affairs as follows:

"The all-important matter of an inter-oceanic canal has assumed a new phase. Adhering to its refusal to reopen the question of the forfeiture of the contract of the Maritime Canal Company, which was terminated for alleged non-execution in October, 1899, the government of Nicaragua has since supplemented that action by declaring the so-styled Eyre-Cragin option void for non-payment of the stipulated advance. Protests in relation to these acts have been filed in the state department and are under consideration. Deeming itself relieved from existing engagements, the Nicaraguan government shows a disposition to deal freely with the canal question in the way of negotiations with the United States or by taking measures to promote the waterway.

Overtures for a convention to effect the building of the canal under the auspices of the United States are under consideration. In the mean time the views of Congress upon the general subject, in the light of the report of the Commission appointed to examine the comparative merits of the various ship-canal projects, may be awaited.

I commend to the early attention of the Senate the convention with Great Britain to facilitate the construction of such a canal, and to remove any objections which might arise out of the convention commonly called the Clayton-Bulwer treaty."

This convention, known as the Hay-Pauncefote Canal Treaty, from the names of the American and English negotiators, contained the following provisions:

Article I. It is agreed that the canal can be constructed under the auspices of the government of the United States, either directly at its own cost, or by gift or loan of money to individuals or corporations, or through subscription to or purchase of stock or shares, and that, subject to the provisions of the present convention, the said government shall have and enjoy all the rights incident to such construction, as well as the exclusive right of providing for the regulation and management of the canal.

Article II. The high contracting parties, desiring to preserve and maintain the "general principle" of neutralization established in Article VIII. of the Clayton-Bulwer Convention, adopt as basis of such neutralization the following rules, substantially as embodied in the convention between Great Britain and certain other powers, signed at Constantinople October 29, 1888, for the free navigation of the Suez Maritime Canal. This is to say:

First -- The canal shall be free and open, in time of war as in time of peace, to the vessels of commerce and war of all nations, on terms of entire equality, so that there shall be no discrimination against any nation or its citizens or subjects in respect of the conditions or charges of traffic or otherwise.

Second -- The canal shall never be blockaded, nor shall any right of war be exercised nor any act of hostility be committed within it.

Third -- Vessels of war of a belligerent shall not revictual nor take any stores in the canal except so far as may be strictly necessary; and the transit of such vessels through the canal shall be effected with the least possible delay, in accordance with the regulations in force, and with only such intermission as may result from the necessities of the service. Prizes shall be in all respects subject to the same rules as vessels of war of the belligerents.

Fourth -- No belligerent shall embark or disembark troops, munitions of war, or warlike materials in the canal except in case of accidental hindrance of the transit, and in such case the transit shall be resumed with all possible despatch.

Fifth -- The provisions of this article shall apply to waters adjacent to the canal, within three marine miles of either end. Vessels of war of a belligerent shall not remain in such waters longer than twenty-four hours at any one time except in case of distress, and in such case shall depart as soon as possible; but a vessel of war of one belligerent shall not depart within twenty-four hours from the departure of a vessel of war of the other belligerent.

Sixth -- The plant, establishments, buildings, and all works necessary to the construction, maintenance, and operation of the canal shall be deemed to be part thereof, for the purposes of this convention, and in time of war, as in time of peace, shall enjoy complete immunity from attack or injury by belligerents, and from acts calculated to impair their usefulness as part of the canal.

Seventh -- No fortification shall be erected commanding the canal or the waters adjacent. The United States, however, shall be at liberty to maintain such military police along the canal as may be necessary to protect it against lawlessness and disorder.

Article III. The high contracting parties will immediately upon the exchange of the ratifications of this convention bring it to the notice of the other powers, and invite them to adhere to it.

Article IV. The present convention shall be ratified by the President of the United States, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate thereof, and by Her Britannic Majesty; and the ratifications shall be exchanged at Washington or at London within six months from the date hereof, or earlier if possible.]

The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on March 9, 1900, reported the treaty to the Senate, with the following amendment, to be inserted at the end of Section 5 of Article II., known as the Davis amendment: "It is agreed, however, that none of the immediately foregoing conditions and stipulations in Sections Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 of this act shall apply to measures which the United States may find it necessary to take for securing by its own forces the defence of the United States and the maintenance of public order." The amendment received the vote of all the members of the Committee except Senator Morgan, who filed a minority report opposing the amendment. It became apparent before the close of the first session of the Fifty-sixth Congress that the treaty could not be ratified by the Senate, with or without the amendment, during that session.

In May, 1900, the House of Representatives passed the Hepburn bill, by a vote of 225 to 35, calling for the construction of the canal by the United States, and authorizing the Government to make "such provisions for defence as may be necessary." Ultimately, the Senate ratified the treaty as changed by "the Davis amendment."

Two sets of objections were raised against this. There were American objections and English objections. The former are illustrated by this communication, sent by then Secretary Frelinghuysen, in 1882, to then Minister Lowell, in London, as follows: "A canal across the isthmus for vessels of all dimensions and every character, under possible conditions hereinafter referred to, would affect this Republic in its trade and commerce; would expose our Western coast to attack; destroy our isolation, oblige us to improve our defences, and to increase our navy; and possibly compel us, contrary to our traditions, to take an active interest in the affairs of European nations. The United States, with their large and increasing population and wealth, cannot be uninterested in a change in the physical conformation of this hemisphere which may injuriously affect the material or political interests of the Republic, and naturally seek that the severance of the isthmus connecting the continents shall be effected in harmony with those interests."

The English objections were stated with some show of suppressed temper. The new treaty was expressly a modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1859, which has always stood as a menace against the building and control of a canal by the United States Government. The case for the English and Canadian objectors was summed up by the London Times, as follows: "The Hay-Pauncefote agreement gave America the right, which she does not posses under the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, to construct and control and inter-oceanic canal independently of this country. In other respects it has left that treaty unaltered. In particular it fully preserved the advantages we enjoy under the existing treaty relative to the neutrality of the canal and the protection of commerce under conditions of entire equality. We are quite alive to the value of those advantages, whatever certain members of the Senate may think or pretend to think. It is in consideration of them, and on condition only that they should be preserved, that we consented to the modifications desired by Mr. McKinley and by Mr. Hay. The two parts of the bargain are mutually dependent. We have not agreed and we are not going to agree to the proposed variation of our treaty rights save upon terms acceptable to ourselves. We shall stand upon those rights. It is not the custom of this country to conclude treaties of surrender with any nation -- even with those whose friendship we value most -- and that is a custom from which we have no mind to depart."





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