Exam preparation materials

CONNECTING THE PACIFIC AND THE ATLANTIC: THE PANAMA CANAL

After the Spanish-American War, most in America and in Europe regarded America as one of the major world powers. Theodore Roosevelt became president after the assassination of President McKinley and, as he had previously demonstrated, favored an aggressive foreign policy. (McKinley was killed during the first year of his second term as president by an anarchist; the next day political boss Mark Hanna lamented “now that damned cowboy is President of the United States”.) One of Roosevelt’s most cherished goals was the construction of a Panama Canal, which would link the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. The strategic and economic benefits of such a canal for America at the time were obvious.

A French building company had already acquired the rights to build such a canal in the region of Panama (which was controlled by Colombia). In 1902 the United States bought the rights from the company to construct the land, but this agreement was opposed by the Colombians. A “revolt” was organized in Panama by the French. United States warships sailed off the coast of Panama to help the “rebels.” The United States was the first to recognize Panama as an independent country; newly installed Panamanian officials then gave America territory to build a canal. By the terms of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1904, the United States received permanent rights and sovereignty over a 10-mile-wide area on which they planned to build the canal. In return, Panama was given $10 million. Construction of the canal began shortly afterward.

There was much criticism of American actions in Panama within the United States, hut as in the case of the Philippines, the practical benefits of having a canal won out. The canal was finally completed in 1914. American businesses could now ship their goods faster and cheaper, although the acquisition of Panama deepened the suspicion of many in Latin America toward the United States.

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