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"Since the aforesaid treaty is the law which governs between the two countries, and now that the weakness and ruin of my country, after three years of civil war scarcely at an end, and in which her bravest sons were lost by thousands, place her in the unhappy position of asking justice of the Government of your excellency, I propose that the claims which I make in the present note on account of the violation of the aforesaid treaty, and all other claims which may hereafter be made in connection with the events of Panama, be submitted to the Arbitration Tribunal of The Hague.''
General Reyes, special minister of Colombia, to Mr. Hay, Sec. of State, Dec. 23, 1903,
“The Government of the United States has careMr. Hay's note of Jan. 5, 1904.
fully considered the grave complaints so ably set
forth in the statement of grievances' presented on behalf of the Government and people of Colombia, with your note of the 23d ultimo.
“The Government and people of the United States have ever entertained toward the Government and people of Colombia the most friendly sentiments, and it is their earnest wish and hope that the bonds of amity that unite the two peoples may forever remain unbroken. In this spirit the Government of the United States, mindful that between even the most friendly nations differences sometimes unhappily arise, has given to your representations the most deliberate and earnest attention, and in the same spirit it will employ every effort consistent with justice and with its duty to itself and to other nations not only to maintain but also to strengthen the good relations between the two countries.
“At the present moment the questions which you submit can be viewed only in the light of accomplished facts. The Republic of Panama has become a member of the family of nations. Its independence has been recognized by the Governments of the United States, France, China, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Russia, Sweden and Norway, Belgium, Nicaragua, Peru, Cuba, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Costa Rica, and Switzerland. These solemn acts of recognition carry with them international obligations which, in peace as in war, are fixed by the law of nations and which can not be disregarded. A due appreciation of this circumstance is shown in your admission, made with a frankness and fairness honorable alike to your Government and to yourself, that Panama has become independent-has organized a government.
“The action not merely, as you observe, of a 'few powers,' but of all the so-called 'great powers' and many of the lesser ones, in recognizing the independence of Panama, leaves no doubt as to the public opinion of the world concerning the propriety of that measure. The law of nations does not undertake to fix the precise time at which recognition shall or may be extended to a new state. This is a question to be determined by each state upon its own just sense of international rights and obligations; and it has rarely happened, where a new state has been formed and recognized within the limits of an existing state, that the parent state has not complained that the recognition was premature. And if in the present instance the powers of the world gave their recognition with unwonted promptitude, it is only because they entertained the common conviction that interests of vast importance to the whole civilized world were at stake, which would by any other course be put in peril.
“The independence of the Republic of Panama being an admitted fact, the Department will proceed to consider the complaints presented by you on behalf of your Government as to the manner in which that independence was established. In performing this task I desire to avoid all appearance of recrimination; and if I shall not be wholly successful in so doing, it is only because I am under the nccessity of vindicating the conduct of this Government against reproaches of the most grave and unusual character. The Department is in duty bound to deal with these charges in a spirit of the utmost candor; but in performing this duty it will not seek in unofficial sources material for unjust and groundless aspersions. It is greatly to be regretted that your duty to your Government could not, in your estimation, have been discharged within similar limitations.
“With every disposition to advance the purpose of your mission, the Department has read with surprise your repetition of gross imputations upon the conduct and motives of this Government, which are said to have appeared in 'reputable American newspapers.' The press in this country is entirely free, and as a necessary consequence represents substantially every phase of human activity, interest, and disposition. Not only is the course of the Government in all matters subject to daily comment, but the motives of public men are as freely discussed as their acts; and if, as sometimes happens, criticism proceeds to the point of calumny, the evil is left to work its own cure. Diplomatic representatives, however, are not supposed to seek in such sources material for arguments, much less for grave accusations. Any charge that this Government or any responsible member of it held intercourse, whether official or unoffical, with agents of revolution in Colombia is utterly without justification.
“ Equally so is the insinuation that any action of this Government prior to the revolution in Panama was the result of complicity with the plans of the revolutionists. The Department sees fit to make these denials, and it makes them finally.
"The origin of the Republic of Panama and the reasons for its independent existence may be traced in certain acts of the Government of Colombia, which are matters of official record.
“It is a matter of common knowledge that the quest of a way to the westward, across the sea, from Europe to Asia led to the discovery and settlement of the American continents. The process of colonization had, however, scarcely begun when the adventurous spirits of that age, not to be balked in their undertaking by an obstacle that seemed to be removable, began to form projects for a canal to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As early as 1528 a proposal was laid before the Emperor Charles V. for the opening of such a way across the Isthmus of Panama. From that day to the present the project has continued to occupy a place among the great enterprises yet to be accomplished. It remains unfulfilled only because the experience of four hundred years has demonstrated that private effort is wholly inadequate to the purpose, and that the work must be performed, if at all, under the auspices of a government of the largest resources. There was only one such government in a position to undertake it. By a well-settled policy, in which all American nations are understood to concur, the assumption of the task by any of the great governments of Europe was pronounced to be inadmissible. Among American governments there was only one that seemed to be able to assume the burden, and that was the Government of the United States.
“Such was the precise situation when the United States manifested its determination to construct the great highway across the American isthmus. Its purpose was universally applauded. The circumstance that this Government possibly might, in return for the great expenditures which it was about to hazard, derive from the construction of the canal some special advantage was not thought to be a reason for opposing what was to be of such vast benefit to all mankind. The Clayton-Bulwer treaty was conceived to form an obstacle, and the British Government therefore agreed to abrogate it, the United States only promising in return to protect the canal and keep it open on equal terms to all nations, in accordance with our traditional policy. Nor were indications wanting of appreciation on the part of the American Republics. On January 22, 1902, the second Pan-American conference, sitting at the City of Mexico, adopted the following resolution:
“The Republics assembled at the International Conference of Mexico applaud the purpose of the United States Government to construct an interoceanic canal, and acknowledge that this work will not only be worthy of the greatness of the American people, but also in the highest sense a work of civilization and to the greatest degree beneficial to the development of commerce between the American States and the other countries of the world.
"Among the delegates who signed this resolution, which was adopted without dissent, was the delegate of Colombia.
"At that time the Government of the United States had not formally decided upon the route for the canal, whether by way of Panama or of Nicaragua. Owing to the lack of correct information there had long existed a strong tendency toward the latter route, but, as the result of more thorough investigations, a decided change in opinion had begun to appear. To Colombia this change was understood to be very gratifying. As early as May 15, 1897, the Colombian chargé d'affaires at Washington, speaking in the name of his Government, represented in a 'friendly spirit' that any official assistance extended by the United States to the Nicaraguan Canal Company would work serious injury to Colombia.
“In a similar sense Señor Martinez Silva, then Colombian minister at this capital, in a note of December 7, 1901, referring to a press report that the Isthmian Canal Commission had, by reason of the excessive price fixed by the Panama Canal Company, reported in favor of the Nicaraguan route, assured the Department that the price was not final, and after declaring that the matter was one that affected 'the interests of the Colombian Government, which is well disposed to facilitate the construction of the proposed interoceanic canal through its territory,' said:
“It would indeed be unfortunate if, through misunderstandings arising from the absence of timely explanations, the Government of the United States should be forced to select a route for the proposed canal which would be longer, more expensive, both in construction and maintenance, and less adapted to the commerce of the world than the short and halffinished canal available at Panama.
“On June 28, 1902, the President of the United States gave his approval to the act now commonly referred to as the Spooner Act, to provide for the construction of the interoceanic canal. Following the report of the Isthmian Canal Commission, which confirmed the opinion expressed by the Colombian Government, it embodied the formal decision of the United States in favor of the Panama route. It accordingly authorized the President to acquire, at a cost not exceeding $40,000,000, 'the rights, privileges, franchises, concessions,' and other property of the New Panama Canal Company, including its interests in the Panama Railroad Company, and to obtain from Colombia on such terms as he might deem reasonable, perpetual control for the purposes of the canal of a strip of land not less than six miles wide, such control to include jurisdiction to make and, through such tribunals as might be agreed on, to enforce such police and sanitary rules and regulations as should be necessary to the preservation of order and of the public health.
"The act also provided, in a clause to which your statement adverts, that, in case the President should be unable to obtain for the United States a satisfactory title to the property of the New Panama Canal Company and the control of the necessary territory of the Republic of Colombia,' together with the 'rights' mentioned in connection therewith, 'within a reasonable time and upon reasonable terms,' he should turn to Nicaragua. But this provision, while it indicated that the construction of the canal was not wholly to depend upon the success or failure to make reasonable terms with Colombia and the canal company, by no means implied that the question of routes was a matter of indifference.
“In the nature of things it could not be so. Not only was the work to endure for all time, but its prompt construction was felt to be of vast importance; and it could not be a matter of less concern to the United States than to Colombia that this Government might possibly be forced to adopt a route which would, as the Colombian minister had observed"be longer, more expensive, both in construction and maintenance, and less adapted to the commerce of the world than the short and half-finished canal available at Panama.
“Nevertheless, even if the route by Panama had been found to be the only feasible one, it would have been highly imprudent for this Government to expose itself to exorbitant demands.
“It possessed, indeed, the gratifying assurance that the Colombian Government was 'well disposed to facilitate the construction of the proposed interoceanic canal through its territory,' and the Department is pleased to add to this your present assurance that Colombia considers the canal strip'as a Divine bequest for the innocent use of the American family;' but it was fully understood that, before the canal was begun, arrangements of a very substantial kind would have to be made; and it was felt that, no matter how generous the views of the Colombian Government might be, the canal company might be indisposed to act in the same liberal spirit.
“The Spooner Act, in providing for the acquisition by the United States of a limited control over the canal strip, merely followed the lines of previous negotiations with Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Under any circumstances, the exercise of such control could not have been considered unreasonable, but it was deemed to be altogether essential, in view of the unsettled political and social conditions which had for many years prevailed, and which unhappily still continued to exist, along the canal routes, both in Nicaragua and in Panama.
Its necessity was clearly recognized in the Hay-Pauncefote treaty, and it was on all sides fully understood to form a requisite part of any plan for the construction of the canal by the United States. Neither while the Spooner Act was pending before Congress nor at any previous time was it intimated from any quarter that it would form a bar to the carrying out of the great project for which the local sovereigns of the canal routes were then such ardent competitors.