La Societe De Panama

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LIST OF MAPS AND CHARTS.................




I. GENESIS OF THE CANAL PROJECT...................



RISE AND FALL OF THE FRENCH PANAMA CANAL COMPANY.................................










END OF THE FRENCH EFFORTS...................










Opp. Page

I. Various Proposed Canal Routes...............



Panama Canal Route..........................



Culebra Cut Charts one and two..........


Culebra Cut Charts three and four.......................








The story of the attempt of the French to build a canal at Panama has received considerable attention both here and abroad.

Most American authors, concerned mainly with the

construction of the canal by the United States, have, never­ theless, paid some attention to the French efforts.


French government officially investigated the affairs of the French Panama Canal Company several times.

Because some

records have been lost and others have been cloaked under official secrecy, it is doubtful whether the whole truth can ever be ascertained.

In the histories, reports and

biographies which have been written, many gaps, however, can be filled. Insufficient attention has been paid to the efforts of the French in Panama before 1880 and to the convocation of the uInternational Congress of Studies for an Interoceanic Canal'*, and the deliberations of that body.


organization of the French company, analysis of its finan­ cial history, the part played personally by Ferdinand de Lessens and his share of the responsibility for the collapse of the company have not received the attention they deserve. Nor has sufficient prominence been given to the remarkable statements contained in the Bulletins and other official pronouncements of the company and its L




The parliamentary corruption and the constant


interest of the United States in the canal project all through the nineteenth century have not met with adequate treatment.

At no time has all the material, old and new,

been synthesized into a comprehensive pattern.


attention has here been given to the financial history and especially to the role played by the elder de Lessens in the failure of the company. Too often, it seems, have the actions and works of de Lessens been glossed over, by both French and other auth­ ors.

Li. Courau, as an example, states:

flBut what constitutes

a veritable crime against our country is to depict that grand and noble effort as dominated by the lowest passions... The future will certainly support these conclusions... Too much optimism from the start; imprudent choice of a costly solution; long opposition to the more economical solution of a lock canal:

these are the only complaints which can be 1 lodged against Lessens.11 LI. Bunau-Varilla contends that:

"Never has any trial brought to light, more clearly and brilliant ly, the innocence of the men subjected to an iniquitous pros­ ecution... That trial was finished, as it begun: control of considerations foreign to justice.

under the

It can be ranged

alongside the series of great judicial iniquities...

It repre-

1. Courau, Piobert, Ferdinand de Lessens. Paris, 1932, pp. 262-26 2. Lunau-Varilla, Phillipe, Panama. Creation. Destruction. Resurrection. Paris, 1913? P. 135. L



rsents the successive prostrations of justice before the


popular fury, supposed or real, incited by jealousy, political 1 interest and passions." H. T. Sehonfield asserts that "De Lessens*

tragedy and

misfortune were due to the inevitable accident of advancing years...He sought nothing for himself but everything for humanity...Wien the breath of suspicion had come upon him, he had risen meet the calumny and defend his

2 honor."

W. F. Johnson concludes that:

*'The judgement of

the world was that both Ferdipand and Charles de Lesseps had been accused and condemned without cause, and that they were guiltless of the iniquities which had been perpetrated 3 in their names." These comments are typical and while such leniency of interpretation may be permissible for some of the activities of M. de Lesseps, it cannot be applied to many of his most important acts and statements. The chief sources which have been used are readily available in the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress.

Among them are the Bulletins of. the French Com­

pany; the Rapports GOnOraux of the two French parliamentary committees which investigated the affairs of the company in 1893 and 1898 ; the Compte Rendu of the International Congress of 1879 ; the D£bats of the French Parliament from 1885-1898

1 * Ibid., p . 143. 2. Schonf ield, Hugh J. , Ferdinand de. Lessens. London. 1937 , p. 210. 3 . Johnson, Willis F . , flsniuries of the Esiiama.. Canal New York, 1907, p. 98.


r-and other official documents, reports and judicial proceed*^ ings.

Contemporary newspapers, periodicals and books have

proven extremely helpful.

The voluminous American Congression­

al documents and reports, the Congressional Record, the Canal Records, and the reports of the Isthmian Canal Commission from 1897 on have proved valuable. have been consulted are too numerous

Secondary works which to mention here but a

full list is contained in the bibliography.


CHAPTER I GENESIS OF THE C aNAL PROJECT The hope of finding a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which would obviate the long voyage around South America, was almost completely abandoned in the second half of the sixteenth century for many explor­ ations to find such a passage had proven futile.

The idea

of connecting the two oceans with a canal across some part of Central America developed, therefore, quickly.

Even in

the sixteenth century the tremendous advantages which such a canal could offer were clearly recognized.

Both Charles

V and Phillip II were greatly interested in the matter, though it was under the latter that the Spanish policy, which lasted nearly three centuries, was finally formed. The basis of this policy seems to have been the conviction that a waterway would menace that monopoly of South American commerce and products which Spain was able to maintain through 1 her control of the land routes of the Isthmus. This policy was so advantageous to Spain that it was continued during her long period of domination of South America, or until the beginning of the nineteenth century.

During all that time,

while several abortive efforts were made to further a canal

1. Y i d e , Haring, Clarence H . , Trade and Navigation between Spain and the Indies in the time of the Hapsburgs. Cambridge, Harvard Ud Press, 19lS, chs.1,5,8. Also. U.S. Isthmian Canal Commission Report 1899-1901. J.G. Walker, chairman, published as Se n . Doc. 54., 57th Cong.1st Sess.pp.18-43. Hereafter referred to


1 rproject, virtually no real progress was made and very little information was accuinlated in regard to the physical struct-

2 ure of the Isthmus,. However, in the early nineteenth century, with the passing of Spanish domination in Central and South America there came a general revival of interest in the subject of an isthmus canal.

Alexander von Humboldt, who had visited

the Isthmus in 1804, played an considerable part in stimul­ ating this revival of interest.

While he had no real knowledge

of the physical nature of the country, he had written about the possiblity of the construction of a canal and its import­ ance to the world.

He had concluded that it would be nec­

essary to build a lock canal, but that most vessels,


to an abundance of locks, would continue to use the route 3 around Cape Horn. The United States was the nation which showed the great­ est concern in the project for the next seventy-five years, though France also manifested some interest.

Scarcely had

Guatemala, San Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica and Nicaragua

L. The most important and widely known of these efforts was that of William Paterson at Darien which ended in a fiasco in 1693. Vide, Barbour, J.S., History of William Paterson and the Darien Company. Harpers, N.Y.I 907 . 2. All of the surveys presented a discouraging reports and were perfunctory. Vide, R.JL.C.C. , pp.18-25. 3. These views of Humboldt are contained in his famous letter to Goethe in 1804. Vide, American Historical Review. 1901-1902, Vol.7> P P . 704-706. Also, in his Political Essay on the K ing­ dom of New Spain, trans. by J. Black, N.I.,I. Riley, 1811. 4 Vols., Vol.l, ch.2. Here Humboldt discusses nine possible canal routes but bases his ideas upon much false and inad­ equate knowledge.


rformed the “Federal Republic of the United Provinces of "i 1 Central America*1, when Mr. Aaron H. Palmer, a wealthy mer­ chant of New York City, submitted a proposal to the Federal Republic, seeking a concession for the construction of a canal through Nicaragua.

The Federal Republic’s envoy was

instructed to ascertain the attitude of the United States in the matter.

Henry Clay, Secretary of State, responded

favorably, assuring the envoy of the deep interest taken by the government of the United States in such an undertaking, and informing him that President Adams had decided to auth­ orize Mr. Williams, the United States envoy to the Federal Republic, to investigate the merits of the route and to bring the matter before

the Panama Congress of the American Re­

publics. There is however no record of any report by Mr. Will2 iarns. In his instructions to the envoy, however, Clay formulat­ ed the first American policy in regard to the diplomatic status of

the canal when he said:

“If the work should ever be so

executed so as to admit of the passage of sea vessels from ocean to ocean, the benefits of it ought not to be exclusively appropriated to any one nation, but should be extended to


parts of the globe upon the payment of a just compensation or 3

reasonable tolls” .

Without further waiting the Republic

1. Formed at Guatemala City, June 23-July, 1, 1823, 2. House Report No.14 5 « 30th Cong.2nd 3ess., pp. 362- 67 . also 11

* I» C^

*, p. 28.

3• Report of International American Conference, Historical Appendix, Wash.l590, Vol.4,p.144. For the complete instruct­ ions to the delegates and all of Mr. Clay's correspondence in relation to the Congress, vide, pp. 23 *30,33*50,99>113>151*


thereupon entered into a contract with Palner and his associates on June 16 , 1826 .

However, after nearly a year of vain effort 1 to secure capital, Palmer was forced to abandon his plan. The Central American Republic, in 1.829* entered into negotiations with a Netherlands company for the construction of a canal across Nicaragua.

V/hen the administration at

Washington heard that such a contract was being negotiated, Secretary of State Livingston directed the United States representative at 'Guatemala to ascertain the facts and to signify to the Republic that the United States would consider themselves as entitled to the same advantages, in passing through the canal or using the terminal ports, as were ac­ other nations.

The Dutch effort, however, ended in

2 failure and the project was abandoned. In .1835* the Central American Republic appealed again to the United States, and in response the Senate passed the following resolution which also helped to establish the tradition­ al policy of this country in respect to a canal# Resolved, That the President of the United States be respectfully requested to consider the expediency of opening negotiations with the Governments of other nations and particular­ ly with the Governments of Central America and New Granada,

I* Ibid# Also Sullivan and Cromwell, Compilation of Executive Documents and Diplomatic Correspondence. relative to a transisthmian canal in Central America % New York Evening Post Job Printing House" IS99-1905, 3 Vols, Vol.1,pp.479-60. 2* Senate D o c . No. 229. 29 th Cong.1st Session; Report of'the Secretary of State relative to a projected interoceanic canal, pp.1-7, 23-33* Vide, also, House Report No. 14 5 , etc., pp.366,67. 3* Ibid. The executive decrees of Pres. Santander is cited in L full in Sullivan and Cromwell, op.cit., Vol.l, p.60. j

r for the purpose of effectually protecting, by suitable treaty stipulations with them, such individuals or companies as may undertake to open a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans by the construction of a ship canal across the isthmus which connects North and South America, of navigat­ ing such a canal to all such nations, on the payment of such reasonable tools as may be established, to compensate the capitalists who may engage in such an undertaking and complete the work .1 President Jackson, in accordance with this resolution, sent Charles Biddle to Nicaragua and Panama with instructions to examine the different routes of communication that had been contemplated so as to “procure copious and accurate information in regard to the practicability of the different projects", and also, to obtain surveys and estimates of cost of any of 2 the projects. But the mission led to unsatisfactory results and on January 9? 1837? the President sent a special message to the Senate saying that it was not expedient at that time to enter into negotiations with foreign governments with respect to an interoceanic canal. In January 1338, Mr. Aaron Clark, Mayor of New York, together with a few other influential citizens, presented a 4 memorial on the subject to the House of Representatives. This urged the great national importance of a navigable water­ way between the Atlantic and Pacific; recommended that negotiations be opened with New Granada and Central America and the great powers of Europe for the purpose of entering

1. March 3? 1835? Senate Journal. 23 Cong. 2nd Sess. p.238 2. House Doc. N o . 228 25th Cong. 2d Sess. p.2. Correspondence between Mr. Biddle and the S e c ’y of State, Mr. John Forsyth. 3. Senate Journal. 24th Cong. 2d Sess. p. 100, Congressional Globe, 1836-37? Vol.4, p. 80 . House Report No. 322, 25 th Cong. 3d Sess. pp. 8,9. _j


into a general agreement for the promotion of this object; and as a preliminary step, that competent engineers be sent to the Isthmus country to make explorations and surveys, so as to determine the most eligible route and the cost of con­ structing such work.

This memorial v/as referred to the

Committee on Roads and Canals and led to a report of the Chairman, Mr. C. F. Mercer, on March 2, IS 39 .

The value of a

canal v/as fully recognized but no action was recommended except to request the President to open or continue negotiations with

foreign nations according to the terms of the former

Senate resolutions and. in harmony with the wishes of the 1 memorialists. In the same year, President Van Buren sent Mr. John LLoyd Stevens to the Isthmus to investigate and report on the various routes.

Stevens recommended the Nicaraguan route;

estimated the cost of a canal at about $ 25-,000 ,000 ,but said the time was not favorable for the enterprise because of the 2^ revolutionary condition of the country. During the time that these actions were being taken by Congress, and efforts were being made to obtain concessions from the states through whose territory the canal routes ex­ tended, examinations were made, from time to time, by other parties to determine the feasibility and the costs of the

1. House Report No. 122, 25 th Cong., 3 H 5 Sess., pp. S,7. Report of C. F. Mercer, Chairman, House Comm, on Roads and Canals. 2. Senate D o c . Ho. 119. 29th Cong., 1st Sess. pp.24-27. L



jdifferent projects. In 1824, the Mexican Government and the State of Vera Cruz each appointed a commission to explore the isthmus of Tehuantepec.

The reports of these commissions contained much

valuable information relating to the physical characteristics of the country.

Their surveys demonstrated that great dif­

ficulties opposed the construction of a navigable canal, through the Isthmus.

They reported that the only available expedient

to be adopted was a carriage road from the navigable waters of the Coatzacoalcos River to the lagoons of the south coast. 1 This they considered both easy and advantageous. In November 1827, Simon Bolivar, President of New Granad^ granted a commission to John A. Lloyd for a reconnaissance, with the immediate object of a roadway between the two oceans. The mean height of the Pacific at Panama was supposed to be 3.52 feet above that of the Atlantic at the Chagres mouth but at low tide both oceans were the same distances below their respective mean levelsJ

Lloyd favored the Isthmus at its

narrowest region, where there is a degression in the great * 2 range of mountains, as the best for interoceanic communication. A survey of the Nicaraguan route was made by John Baily, who had been sent out by an English company in 1826 to explore the country and obtain a concession.

Failing in his main

1. R.^.C.G.p. 31* Also, House Report No. 322. etc. pp. 55-57,64-76 2. K.I.C.C.p. 32. This erroneous belief in the different mean levels of various seas and oceans was very common at that time.


purpose he had remained in Central America and in 1837 was 1 employed by President Morazin to determine the best route for a canal.

The route that he favored was from San Juan, now

Greytown, to Lake Nicaragua, across the lake to the Lajasand thence to San Juan de Sur on the Pacific. 1 was taken, however.

No further action

In 1838 , the Republic of New Granda which then controll­ ed the territory of the Isthmus, had granted a concession to the French company of Salomon, Talie et Cie, to construct a railroad or canal across the isthmus with the Pacific terminus at Panama.

The company spent several years in surveys and

reported that a depression had been found in the mountains

2 which offered a passage only 37 feet above sea-level.


contradicted previous surveys so strongly that the government of Louis Phillipe, in September 1843, sent a technical commiss­ ion to investigate the survey.

The claims of the company were

found worthless, but the engineer in charge of the commission, Napoldon Garella, advocated a lock canal, about 158 feet above sea-level with 34- locks, 18 on the Atlantic side and 16 on the Pacific side and proposed either a cut through the mountains or a tunnel.

The estimated cost was £25,000,000 with a tunnel 3 or £28,000,000 with an open cut. This report was a serious disappointment and no further action was taken.

In June 1847,

1. Ibid. 2. Ibid. Also, Sullivan and Cromwell, ^op. cit. . Vol. 1, pp. 156,15 3. Garella, Napoleon, iProjet d fun canal de .ionction de I'ocdan Pacifoue et de I'ocdan Atlantlque A travers l'isthme de Panama L Carilian, Goeury et Cie., Paris, lo45, pp. 1-33, passim.

another French Company, called the Panama Company, obtained *1 a concession to build a railway across the Isthmus but failed to secure the necessary capital and its concession lapsed in 1 June 1848. For the next twenty years French interest waned but that of the United States continued.

In the ’forties and ’fifties

Central America and the Southwest had a particular interest for Americans. more land.

Southern slaveholders were anxious to acquire

The Mexican war had increased public and official

interest, and had also added California to the United States. About a week before the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed, gold had been discovered in that state and an immediate demand 1 arose for a better route across the Isthmus. Steamship companies established termini on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Isthmus to expedite travel between east and west but the difficulties of crossing the Isthmus merely emphasized the desirability of a safer and quick er route.

Further, the establishment and maintenance of army

posts and naval stations in the newly acquired and settled regions in the Far West, the extension of mail facilities to the inhabitants, and the discharge of other official functions all required a connection in the shortest time and at the least distance that was possible and practicable.

The importance of

this connection was so manifest that the American Government

1. Gold was discovered January 24, 1848. The peace treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was signed February 2, 1848. Vide, Smith, L Justie, The Annexation of T ex as . New York, 1911 5 p .87; Sears Louis Ivl., -American Foreign Relations. New York, 1935} ch. 13


was aroused to action before all these enumerated causes had come into operation and negotiations were entered into with New Granada to secure a right of transit across the Isthmus of Panama*

On December 12, 1846 a treaty was concluded

which became effective upon its final ratification on June 10, 1848.

Article 35 of that treaty referred specifically to

the Isthmus of Panama.

By that article "New Granada guarantees

to the government of the United States that the right of way or transit across the Isthmus of Panama upon any modes of communication that now exist or that may hereafter be construct­ ed, shall be open and free to the government and citizens of the United States".

Further, the "United States guarantee...

the perfect neutrality of the Isthmus, with the view that the free transit from the one to the other sea may not be inter­ rupted or embarrassed in any future time while this treaty exists and also guarantees the rights of sovereignty or orop-

1 erty which New Granada has and possesses over the said territory',' Never before had the United States given such pledges or made such guarantees. Soon after this treaty with New Granada efforts were made to negotiate a treaty with Nicaragua for favorable transit rights for citizens and goods of the United States.

Mr. Elijah

Hise, charge d ’affaires in Guatemala, concluded, June 21, 1849,

1. Treaties, Conventions. International A c t s . Protocols and Agreements between the United States and other Powers, 17761909> ed, W ♦L.Malloy, D o c .No. 357. 5l st Congress, 2nd SessL ions, 2 Yols; Yol.l, pp. 302 - 313 . Hereafter referred to aa T.C.I.P. J


a treaty with Nicaragua for "establishing a passage and communication between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, to facilitate the commerce between the two oceans great results".

and other

The terms were most liberal and gave the

United States exclusive rights in the construction of a canal. In return the United States was to aid and protect Nicaragua in all defensive wars, defend the territories of the latter and to recover such as might have been seized or occupied by 1 force. Nicaragua desired to secure the aid of the United States in resisting the policy which Britain was then pursuing In Central America. Great Britain, as protector of the barbarous Mosquito Indians, had seized the Nicaraguan port of San Juan and had established a protectorate over the mouth of the San Juan River. Nicaragua evidently feared that Britain would acquire permanent control over that district.

The "Hise-Selva convention" was

never officially approved in Washington because a new


d'affaires to the whole of Central America had already been appointed and because it was felt that Mr. Hise had exceed­ ed his instructions.

The new charge, Mr. E. G. Squier, proceed­

ed as though no treaty had been made and at every point he saw that Britain was endeavoring to convert debts due British subjects into cessions of strategic territories.

Tigre Island

1. Diplomatic history of the Panama Canal. Senate Doc. No. 4 7 4 . 63rd Congress , 2d Sess., chs.1,2; pp. 503-08, 365-74 in H U . C . C . and Latanb, J. H. and Yvainhouse, D.W. , American Foreign Policy. New York, 1940, pp. 3i.l-i5 .


’belonging to Honduras, near the Pacific terminus of a Nicaraguan route, was especially threatened.



thereupon signed a treaty with Honduras, September 28, 1849, which ceded that island to the United States.

He also

succeeded in negotiating a new treaty with Nicaragua and also in obtaining a contract for an American Company to 1 build a railroad or a canal through the country. When, therefore, in October 1849, Britain seized the Tigre Island, this act of force removed the issue from petty intrigues

2 among third-rate states to the theater of world events. The United States protested but the situation was complex.

America was rebuking Britain for unwarranted

agression at a moment when American agents stood revealed as negotiating for monopolies which their own government disclaimed, and which could never be allowed by England. Indeed, If “public clamor should compel a ratification of the Hise or Squier treaties, war with Britain could hardly 3 be avoided.” At this point, Secretary of State Clayton took up the issue personally with the British minister at Washington.

Ibid. The company had been formed by Cornelius Vanderbilt, Joseph L, White, Nathaniel H. Wolfe and their associates as The American, Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company. 2. Williams, Mary W . , Anglo-American Isthmian Diplomacy. 18151915 5 Washington, I 9I 07 pp.66-66~. 3. Ibid. Also, Sears, L.M. on. cit. , pp.253-54-.



*He pointed out that the two treaties had never been ratified and proposed that in their place, a treaty be negotiated between Britain and America granting equal privileges to each.

After lengthy, and sometimes acrimonious conferences

and discussions,

the pact known as the Clayton-Bulwer treaty 1 was finally signed on April 19, IBJO. By the articles of this treaty Britain and the United States agreed never to obtain or maintain any exclusive control over the said ship canal; never to establish fortifications for the same or to colonize or control Nicaragua, Costa Rica or any part of Central America.


the canal was to b e neutralized in the event of war between the contracting powers and joint guarantees were given to maintain the neutrality and security of the canal so long as it was managed without discrimination against either of the contracting parties.


that agreements or contracts

made by private citizens prior to the treaty should be recog­ nized as valid.

Finally, it declared that “having not only

desired, in entering this convention, to accomplish a particular object, but also to establish a general principle, hereby agree to extend their protection, by treaty stipulation, to any other practicable communication, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus...and especially to the interoceanic communications

1* T.C.I.P. Vol.I.pp.6^9-61. Also. Williams. M.W. op.cit..pp. 56-1097 Sears, L.M. op.cit.. pp.252-57; Diplomatic History of the Panama Canal, ch.2; R.I.C.C. pp.33-34,385-^5, 503-O 0 , '

- , - .

365 74 509 14


r. * .which are now proposed to be established by wav of 1 Tehuantepec or Panama.” This was the treaty that having for its chief objective the facilitation of the construction of a ship-canal across the isthmus was to hinder for a half century almost every enterprise of the kind that was undertaken.

2 The deadly provision was that of ”joint control”. While these developments were occurring, a group of New Yorkers, under the name of the Panama Railroad Company, had obtained from New Granada, in December 1848, a grant 3 similar to the one given to the French the year before. This railroad was completed, after tremendous hardships, on January 28, 1855 and though of great commercial importance merely stressed the advantages to be gained by an all-water route. In March 1850, the American Atlantic and Pacific Ship Canal Company was formally incorporated by Nicaragua in order to prevent any embarrassment in the development and prosecution

1 . T.C. I..P. pp. 659-63; LatanC and Wainhouse, op. cit.p p .318-22. 2. Sears, op.cit.p.25o; Latanb and Wainhouse, op.cit.p p . 318.19. 3. John Lloyd Stephens, William Henry Aspinwall and Henry Chauncey. Vide, Robinson, Tracy, Fifty Years at Panama. Trow Press, New York, 1 9 H ?pp.l-5. Also, Otis, Fessenden N. , Isthmus of Panama. Harper 1 Bros., New York, 1867. Otis, F.N. Illustrated History of Panama Railroad. Harper 8c Bros., New York, lfi6 l. Tomes, Robert, Panama in 1855. Harper Sc Bros., New York, 1855* Sampson, M.B., Central. Am erican and Transit between Oceans. 3.W. Benedict Co., New York, 1850. Budd, Ralph, Panama Rail­ road and its relations to the Panama Canal. Western Society of En g ineer’s Journal, Chicago, 1910, Vol.15,pp.188-227. Affairs of Panama Railroad C o ., United States inter-state and Foreign Commerce Committee, Washington, D.C.,1905+R.I.C.C.pp.5662,465-72. L



the work.

In August 1851, a new arrangement was made by1

which that part of the contract relating to steam navigation upon the waters of the State was separated from that relating to the canal.

This was desired by the company so as to establish

a transit route across the Isthmus connecting with steamship lines at the terminal ports.

It was accomplished by a new

charter authorizing the organization of another company with the same membership, but distinct and separate, to be known as the Accessory Transit Company.

Neither company was relieved,

however, of any obligation, imposed by the former charter.


transit route, using both ships and coaches, was established 2 by this company which was operated for many years. The American Atlantic Company, meanwhile, had appointed Colonel O.V/. Childs, J.D. Fay and S. H. Sweet to survey and examine possible routes and as a result of their studies, their report stated that the “line leading from the mouth of the Rio Lajas to the Pacific at Brito presented more favorable conditions 3 for the construction of a canal than any other*.* At the request of the company, President Fillmore appoint­ ed Colonels J.S. Abert and W. Turnbull, United States Engineers,

1. R.I.C.C. , pp.35, 3 6 ,509-14-. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid.pp.,34,35,75-78. Also, Rodriques, Jos6 C. , The Panama Canal. New York, 1885,pp.13-15*



rto study this report and on March 20, 1852, they stated


that the plan proposed by Colonel Childs was entirely practicable. Some minor changes and modifications were suggested.

In vie?/

of the joint agreement to protect a canal under the Clayton-* Buiwer treaty, It was deemed advisable to submit the C h i l d s 1 report to the British Government; their representatives approv­ ed the plans and stated that

the whole work had been done 1 with great care, fairness and candor. The value of Child s 1 report and surveys was generally recognized but the company ran into financial difficulties and its charter was abrogated

2 February 8 , 1856. Explorations and examinations were taking place, mean­ time in other parts of Central America.

The surveys of Childs

had shov/n the difficulties of the Panama and Nicaragua routes and greater attention was therefore given to the Darien country between Panama and the Atrato River.

Three general

lines were examined; the San Bias, Caledonia Bay and the Atrato, They derived their names from the Atlantic terminus of each route, but there were variations of each, following the courses of the different rivers.

Among the more important expeditions

were those financed by F.M. Kelley who, between 1S51 and 1864, 3 spent about v 125?000 for surveys of various Darien routes, and also that of Dr. Edward Cullen and Lionel Gisborne, who explored

1. Ibid., p.36. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid.,pp.5 0 551. Also, Rodriques, on.cit.op.16.17. L


r the route from the Gulf of 3an Miguel and Caledonia Bay 1 in 18^2. Then in 1853 President HLerce ordered Lieutenant Isaac C. Strain to check the "Cullen Route"•


The difficulties

and privations which led to the failure of this expedition 2 brought about the abandonment of the "Cullen Route". Between 1857 and 1866 more pressing problems confronted the United States and interest lapsed.

But in May, 1858,

Nicaragua and Costa Rica granted a canal concession to a French3 man, Felix Belly, who, however, accomplished nothing. In 1861 and 1864, Lucien de Puydt, another Frenchman, made rather sketchy examinations of the Tuyra and Tanela River 4 routes. Then, in 1865* A. Gogorza and F. Lacharne made hasty 5

and superficial studies of the Paya and Atrato routes.


were the only surveys undertaken by the French between 1850 and 1877 , when the first Wyse survey was undertaken. After the Civil War, American interest v/as again keen and in March, 1866, the Senate passed a resolution requesting the Secretary of the Navy to furnish information on past projects for railways or canals, with any charts, maps, surveys, etc,, which were available, a s a result of that resolution, in July

l.Ibid. 2 . Senate Executive Doc. No. 1 ,33rd Cong. 2d Sess. Vol.2,pp.417-44. 3• Rodrigues, op.cit., p.16. 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. ,p.17.


1867, Admiral C.H. Davis presented a report.

He reviewed


nineteen canal and seven road projects, pointing out the 1 difficulties and advantages of each and urging further intensive explorations for "there does not exist in the libraries of the world the means of determining even approximately the

2 most practical route for a ship canal across the Isthmus." Then in 1867 the Dickinson-Ayon treaty between the United States and Nicaragua was negotiated and signed by both parties.

It granted to the United States the

right of transit

betvi/een the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans on any line of comm­ unication then existing, or that thereafter might be construct­ ed, upon equal terms with the citizens of Nicaragua.


United States agreed to protect all such routes of communication, and to guarantee the neutrality and innocent use of the same. Further, the United States agreed to employ its influence with other nations to induce them to guarantee such neutrality and protection.

Hence this treaty, like the Colombia treaty of

1846 and the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, sought the neutralization of the canal, and in no way invalidated the latter treaty, for in providing for the joint guarantee of other powers it was in 3 accord with the provisions of that treaty. The successful completion of the Suez Canal in November, 1869, brought increased interest in an isthmian canal.

In his

first message to Congress, in December 1869, President Grant

1. Senate Executive Doc. No. 6 2 . 39th Cong. 1st Sess.,p.3-l6 2. Ibid.. p. 18 . Q . T.C.I.P. Vol.2,pp. 1279 -1286; R.I.C.C.pp.353-58.


urged consideration of this question.

He was the first


president to support the "exclusive Control" principle which 1 had grown steadily in the sixties. Grant directed Secretary Hamilton Fish to negotiate a canal treaty with Colombia to replace that of January 1869, which the Senate had refused to ratify.

That treaty had granted the United States the exclusive

right to build and defend a canal, with full recognition of

2 Colombia sovereignty.

According to Fish, Grant regarded the

canal "as an American enterprise, to be undertaken under American 3 auspices." A new convention vms signed at Uogota on January 26, 1870 which assigned the sole right to build a Panama Canal to the United States, which in return recognized Colombia's sovereignty over the region and guaranteed the protection of the canal.

If other nations desired, they could join in the

4 guaranty.

However, obstacles arose which prevented our Senate

from ratifying the treaty, and hence the 184-6 treaty continued to define the isthmian relations between the two countries until 1903.

1. Moore, John., Principles of American Diplomacy. New York, 1918,pp.122-125. 2. Senate D o c . N o .217. 56th Cong.1st Sess., pp.4-5-51* 3. Senate Ex ec .D o c . No. 112,4-6th Cong.2d Sess., p.4-6. 4. Senate D o c .No.2 1 7 . 55th Cong.1st Sess., p.51-61.



On March 13 ? 1872, however, in order to supplement work already undertaken by the Navy, the President created the first official American commission to study the whole canal problem, including routes, costs, practicability, etc.

This committee studied the

problem throughly for the next four years and thus between 1870 and 1876 many fine studies were made by representatives of the United States. In I87 O and I 87 I Captain R.W. Shufeldt surveyed the 1 Tehuantepec route. In 1872 and 1873 Commanders C. Hatfield


E.P. Lull made an examination of the route from Greytown via

2 Lake Nicaragua, Del Medio River and Rio Grande to Brito.


1871, Commander G. Selfridge studied the routes from San Bias to the Chepo River; Caledonia Bay to Chucunaqua; and also examine d the De Puydt and Gog or z a lines.

Major W. McFarland ex4 plored the Nicaraguan and Atrato routes in 1874. In 1875 Lieutenant F. Collins studied the route via the Napipi and Doguado Rivers and Commander Lull the route from Navy Bay to 5 Panama and from San Bias to the Chepo River. Commander Lull, who had been assisted by Engineer A.G. Menocal, had rejected, by I876 , all routes except two.

These were by way of the Lajas

River and the Del Medio River; routes which conjoined about half6 way across the Isthmus. A study of the map facing this page will help to visualize the various proposed routes.

1. 2. 3. 4. Lf>#

Senate Executive Doc. No.6 .42 Cong.2d Sess.,pp.2-15. Senate Executive Doc.No.57.43d Cong., 1st.Sess. House Misc. Doc.No.1 1 3 .42d Cong. 3d Sess. Senate Executive Doc.No. 4 6 ,56th Cong. 2d Sess. Senate Executive Doc.No. 15.46th Cong,1st Sess.

6 . Ibid. Also, RU ...C.C, PP.4-9-55,5'6-70,73- i i i }i 71_78
PP.14221430. illso, United States Dep*t of State, Diplomatic Ii-jstory of the Panama Canal. Washington, 1914. pp.64-88.




When V/yse returned to Paris with this concession the Socl6t6 de Ghograuhie was intensely interested and de Lesseps, as chairman of the canal committe, lost no time in securing an option on that concession for the total price of ten million francs.

Then in order to live up to the terms of the concess­

ion he decided to convoke an “International Congress of Studies for an Interoceanic Canal" to secure approval of the route chosen and advice and suggestions for the building of the canal. The prologue of the drama had been clayed. de Lesseps was now to hold the center of tie

Ferdinand 1 stage. If one

name dominates the history of the French efforts at Panama it is that of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who brought to the new under taking all of the glory acouired by his recent construction of

2 the Suez Canal.

An understanding of the life and character

of this man is essential in comprehending the story of the 3 "Soci^te de Panama."

1. A summary of the history of French efforts betwTen 1871-1879 is also given in the Company's Bulletin of Au&l, 1885, £>P* 1263-1264. 2. Among the best biographies of De Lesseps are: Bertrand, Alphonse, Ferdinand de Lesseps, G. Charpentier, Paris, 1887, Schonfield, Hugh J .5 Ferdinand de Lesseps. H, Joseph, Ltd. London, 1937; Smith, G. Barnett, Life and Enterprises of Ferd. de Lesseps. V/. H.Allen Co. London, l'S9 5 • Coureau, Rob't, Ferdinand de Lesseps. Grasset, Paris, 1932. Bridier, Louis, Une F^mille Franpaise,Paris, A. Fontemoing, 1900. 3. This was thepopular name for tie "Compagnie Jniverselle du Canal Interoc 6 anique de Panama".



“1 Ferdinand de Lesseps was born at Versailles on November

19, I 0O 5 .

He was the fourth child of Comte Mathieu de Lesseps

and Catherine de Grivegn^e, aunt of the Countess of Montys, whose daughter was afterwards to become the Empress Eugenie. Comte Mathieu, like most of his family, had held many diplomatic and consular posts and had been created Count of the Empire by Napoleon I.

After the restoration of the Bourbons he con­

tinued his work, though in lesser posts, until his death in I832 .

It is not strange, therefore, that Ferdinand should have

given his thoughts to a diplomatic career.

He fully intended

to follow the family career and v/as very proud, at the age of twenty, to b e given his first appointment as vice-counsul at Lisbon under-his famous uncle, Barthelemy de Lesseps.

In 1828

he was transferred to Tunis, where his father was at this time Consul-General.

Thus he- had the good fortune in the early years

of his service to be helped and instructed by the two men whom he honored most.

In 1832 he was promoted to the important vice­

consulate at Alexandria where he was to form those friendships and contacts which stood him in such good stead later on.


1834 he became consul-general and, for his bravery during a plague, when he ministered fearlessly to the stricken, he was made a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

In 1837 he married

Agathe Delamalle, a young girl twelve years his junior.


were five children of the marriage, but only two, Charles and Victor, survived.



The confidence of the French government in de Lesseps"1 good sense and ability was exhibited in 1842 when he was given the difficult post of Consul-General at Barcelona. This was just before Isabella II assumed full sovereignty of Spain,

The country was still in ferment after the recent

Carlist wars and de Lesseps found his diplomatic skill taxed to the utmost to safeguard French interest.

So well did he

conduct himself during the period of Catalonian insurrection that the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce ordered his bust in marble and he received the public thanks of the community through the Bishop, The French colony awarded him a gold medal and his king created de Lesseps an Officer of the Legion of Honor, The establishment of the Second Republic did not interrupt his progress for one of the first steps of the nev/ Foreign Minister, Lamartine, was to appoint him ambassador to Spain, In this post he remained only a year but he conducted himself well and on his departure he was publicly complimented by Isabella, Officially, M. de Lesseps had been informed that he had been transferred to the Berne Legation; but he was never to occupy that


Instead, when he returned to P^ris, a mission

fraught with the gravest consequences was intrusted to hirn. In Ferdinand de Lesseps’ Souvenirs what must seem to the reader a disproportionate amount of space is devoted to his



"Passion to Rome".

Not only is the story tv/ice told; "but

page after page is filled with copies of letters, dispatches and diplomatic documents of all kinds.

These explain the

progress of his delicate negotiations with the Roman Republic of Nazzini and conclude with his defense of his action before 1 the Council of State appointed to inquire into them. Probably the reason is that despite his triumphs in another sphere of service, triumphs which might well have dimmed his memory of these circumstances, de Lesseps resented to the end of his eventful life what he considered the gross unfairness and injustice, which at the comparatively youthful .age of forty-four, had abruptly cut short his diplomatic career. It is sufficient to say here that while de Lesseps acted sagaciously and honorably in the whole affair, the changing political situation at home, the different views of the PrincePresident and the National Assembly in respect to the Roman Republic and the Papacy, and the final assault upon Rome by French troops made him a convenient scapegoat.

In Paris his

conduct was examined and condemned by the Council of State for not having "acted as a diplomatic agent should in times of

1. F, de Lesseps, Souvenirs de Caiarante ans dddids a rnes enfants. Paris, Nouvelle Revue, 1887* pp.1-118. The problem of his errand to Rome is so involved and demands such detailed explanation that it is impossible to give a brief account of the affair which would do justice to all involved. Vide, also, Rdnonse de Iv-.F. de Lessens au hinlsteres et au Conseil d ietat. Paris, lo4o.




3o outraged was de Lesseps by what he considered!

unmerited censure that without waiting for any

further develop­

ments he resigned from the diplomatic service. He retired into private life and occupied himself for the newt five years in managing and improving the estates of Madame Delamalle.

He had much time for thinking, however,

and gave considerable attention to a matter which had intrigued him much earlier. of Suez.

That matter was the piercing of the Isthmus

He was spurred into action in 1854- by the accession

of his former intimate friend, Mohammed Said, as Pasha of Egypt, and determined to sail

for Egypt immediately.

This was the

beginning of that glorious chapter in de Lesseps life,


his diplomatic skill and tireless energy were probably more important than everything else connected with the Suez Canal 1 enterprise. Paced by obstacles of every nature, he persever­ ed grimly and had his reward on November 17? 1869 when the French Imperial yacht,

the aigle. with the Empress on board,

began her journey through the completed canal. The completion of the Canal brought many honors to de Lesseps including that of Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor.


carried these honors lightly and devoted himself to the affairs of the Canal Company, to meetings of numerous scientific,

1. Ferdinand de Lesseps wrote a complete history of the enter­ prise in his Qrigines du Canal de S u e z . 1390, and Rhsumb de 1 ’M s to ire du canal de Su e z , 1870, Paris, H.Plon.



geographical and humanitarian bodies and to compiling the history of the Suez Canal.


Ke could not fail, however, to take

an active interest in the various schemes which were being pro­ posed to connect the Atlantic and the Pacific and it was that interest, together with his official position, which had prompt­ ed him to buy an option on the V/yse concession. 4 That option, as we have seen, necessitated the convoc­ ation of a Congress to study the whole problem. M* de Lesseps summoned the Congress to meet at Paris on May 15, 1879.


had communicated with some of the leading engineers, geograph­ ers and navigators of the world and had further requested the Chambers of Commerce and Geographical Societies to appoint delegates, Accordingly when the 136 members of the Congress met, on the appointed day, in the rooms of the Societe de Geographie de Paris, nearly every important nation in the world was rep­ resented.

England and Europe supplied such leading engineers

and geographers as Sir John Hawkshaw, Sir Charles Hartley, Sir John Stokes, Messrs. Bell, Johnston, Smith and Lewis; Admiral de La Ronciere-le-Noury, Commander■Cristoforo Negri, Signor de Gioia, Colonel Coello, Dr. Broch, Colonel Wauwermans, Admiral Likhatchof, Signor Mendez-Leal, and LIM. Conrad, Ceresole, d'Hane Eontane and Dirks.


The United States were represented by eleven

delegates among whom were Admiral Aramen and the Naval Engineer


*A.G. Renocal as the official representative of the United States Government,


^exico sent ?. de Garay, and even China

was represented by the Handarin Li-Shu-Chang, who w^s first secretary to the Chinese Legation at London.


delegates, however, were Frenchmen, who had been designated 1 by de Lesseps. For convenience

and expedition, the Congress was sub­

divided into five committees, each of which undertook to investigate one division of the complex subject set down for 2 discussion. The first body, the Statistical Committee, presided over by II. ^evasseur,. was charged with the duty of estimating the probable traffic of the canal by an examination of the custom returns of all the ports of Europe and America.


Lessens, called before this committee, put forth the view "that the best course for the Panama, as it had been for the Suez Canal, would be to prosecute the work by means of private funds, and ask for nothing from any of the governments, leaving to the enterprise its purely industrial character, and avoiding anything like dabbling in politics.

The question, therefore,

was to know whether the capital invested would obtain a suf-

1. a complete list of all members is given in the Compte Rendu pp.11-18. Also, Lucien de Puydt, La Verite sur le Canal Interoceanique. Paris, Schiller, TT>79?PP*51-53. 2. Compte Rendu, p.19.


33 r ficient return by the traffic passing through the Canal." The second committee, called the Economic Commission, supplemented the work of the first.

It was essential to

ascertain, as far as possible, what income the estimated traffic would yield, and what traffic could be charged against vessels passing through the canal.

It was further

necessary to discuss the probable results of the cutting of the American isthmus, the influence the canal might have upon the trade and industry of each nation, and the new

2 markets it would open to the w o r l d !s trade. The third committee, composed of sailors and geograph­ ers, was of a technical character. It "discussed the influence of the Canal upon shipbuilding, elucidated the bearing of the winds and currents near the various canal routes submitted to the consideration of the Committee and pointed out under what conditions the safety and facility of the passage through the canal could be secured. This commission made an estimate of the speed of the vessels in proportion to the draught of water, and gave its opinion as to the effect of locks and tunnels in a canal intended to be used by the 3 largest ships in existence." The fourth committee was to report unon the different routes for the canal submitted to the Congress by their respective authors,

xirnong other points it was called upon

1. F. de Lesseps, Souvenirs, p. 178 2. Ibid., d . 179. -3. Ibid., p. 1'79.


to discuss each project fromthe engineering point of view, to indicate the advantages and drawbacks of each and estimate what each would cost, both for construction and actual mainten1 ance. This was, by far, the most important committee since its chdce of a route would probably be accepted by the Congress. The fifth committee was on V7ays and Lleans,

Its duty

was to complete in a more detailed manner the labors of the second committee, and to fix definitely the tariff it would be desirable to charge, having regard to the caoital employed

2 and to the prospective earnings of the canal. In the Statistical Commission, the principal represent­ atives of the American states and the administrators of the great maritime companies met under the presidency of Signor Mendez-LOal.

They first proceeded to examine the results

of the working of the Suez Canal, which had been open for ten years, and they asked for a report on this subject from If. Fontane, the Secretary-General of the Suez Canal Company.


report impressed the Congress, for LI. i^ontane asserted that an annual traffic of six million tons was possible only in a canal through which fifty ships could pass in twenty four hours. He also stated that this was why it had been necessary in making

1. Ibid., p. 179* 2. The functions and members of the Committees are given also in the Compte Rendu, p.20-23.




rthe Suez Canal, to adopt the system of a water level canal? The Statistical Commission, pursuing its task, prepared a voluminous report, the work of M. Levasseur, who first attempted to estimate the traffic of a Panama Canal,


long and careful consideration, based upon the commercial returns of all states for 1876 , he estimated this traffic at 4,830,000 tons of merchandise.

Taking into account

the annual increase in commerce, which for the years i860I 876 had been six percent, he arrived at the conclusion that, with a much slower increase, the tonnage would reach 7,249,000 tons by the time of the pro bab le opening of the

2 canal in 1890. The second Commission, presided over by Mr. Nathan Appleton of Boston, supplemented this first report by one on the advantages existing traffic would derive from the canal.

M . Simonin, the reporter of the Commission, gave

examples of the distances that would be saved to navigators. From the chief ports of France and En gland the distance to Can Francisco around Cape Horn, was 9000 leagues, whereas by Panama it would be only 1500; to Valparaiso the distance would be reduced from 3000 to 2000 leagues.

The saving in

time for sailing vessels would be sixty days to San Franciso and thirty days to Valparaiso.

Also steamers and sailing

1. Compte R e n du , p.46-54. 2. Ibid., pp.55-88. This was the estimated total traffic of the area. No attempt was made to determine the proportion of this traffic which would use the canal. L


‘vessels alike would save the dangerous passage around Gape “* Horn.

Thus the distance and the time in going from one part

of the globe to another would be materially shortened and there would be such a reduction in the rates of assurance and freight,

that maritime intercourse would soon double

itself, and the many markets now closed to European commerce would be opened, and provided with increased trading facilit­ ies.

The new world would send to Europe its timber, indgo,

coffee, rice, sugar, rubber and mineral wealth;

while the

industry of Europe, acquiring a fresh impetus, would send its 1 manufactured articles all over the American Continent. Dr. Broch, ex-Minister of the Norwegian Navy, pres­ ided over the third or Committee of Navigation.

The report

was drawn up by M. Sp6ment, a director of the Suez Canal Company, who reviewed the probable influence which the Panama Canal would have upon the course of shipping, and its magnitude.

He believed that the opening of the canal

would be more favorable to sailing vessels than to steamers because of the advantages derived by the former from the permanency of trade winds in the Gulf of Mexico.


on the practical aspects of the various schemes proposed he pointed out that some involved the making of a tunnel, others that of locks.

LI. SpOment's report concluded that

1. Ibid., pp. 155-164.




* A s regards the tunnel, the vessels would have to go througli with their mainmasts up, and as the largest vessels such as the France and Annamite. have very high masts, they would require an altitude of nearly a hundred feet above the level of the water.

With regard to the locks, they must be few enough

to permit the passage of fifty vessels per day. total which has

been reached at Suez and there is no reason

why it should not be equalled, and even exceeded, Panama Canal.

This is the

by the

It would be necessary, therefore, to have double

locks, side by side, one for the vessels goingwest, and the other for vessels going east; and the construction of these would entail special arrangements.

In conclusion, therefore,

I would say that a canal with locks ought only to te accepted if a canal on the level is proved to be impossible.

So v/ith

regard tothe tunnel, which should only be adopted if it is found that owing to technical difficulties or excessive cost, TL. the canal cannot be made without one.M The fourth or Technical Committee proceeded v/ith


of comparing the various projects and selecting that which seemed the best fitted to fulfill the necessary requirements. The President of the Committee was M. Daubrde, member of the French Institute, and its reporter, M. Voisin Bey, formerly director of the works

1. Ibid.., pp. 189-191.


of the Suez Canal.

The authors of the


rvarious canal projects - Messrs. Ammen, Menocal, Blanchet,"* Belly, Selfridge, Be Garay, Wyse, Reclus, and Mainfroi - ex­ plained their plans before the Committee and rebutted objections. Then two sub-committees were appointed - one to deal with the routes from technical viewpoint, and the other to estimate the probable costs and earnings of each plan. On May 28, this Committee, after ostensibly examining, 1 the technical aspects of all the schemes presented to it, voted that 11the Committee, standing on a technical point of vi ew, is of the opinion that the Canal is possible across the Isthmus of Panama and recommend especially a canal at the

2 level of the sea.” II.

de Lesseps states, in his Souven i r s , that "the Com­

mittee decided bp a large majority against the system of locks o a and declared strongly in favor of an open canal on the level", but the vote in the Committee on the above resolution was 16 4 yeas, 10 abstentions, 3 nays and 25 absentees. That could hardly be termed a "large majority". The fifth committee, the one on VIays and Means, summarized its work by stating that "We are convinced that the sum of

1. Ibid. , pp. 494-604. The attitude of this committee is explained in the next few pages. 2 • I M A * j P* 355* 3. F. de Lesseps, op.cit.. p. 188. 4. Compte Rendu, p. 355$ also In the Interoceanic Canal Congress. Instructions to Rear-Admiral Daniel Ammen and Civil Engineer A. G. Menocal. U.S.N., and Report of the proceedings of the Congress. Washington, 18795 p.20.





the elements of transit, already amply sufficient to defray the cost

of the canal, is desined as the work develops, to

expand to an incalculable extent...We estimate the net annual profit of the canal at 1,680,000 pounds sterling.

...and to

guard against the risks and chances of the unknown, that even at the cost of more time and money, the canal might be made 1 without locks or tunnels” . On May 29, the Congress adopted the follov/ing resolution: "The Congress believes that trie building of an interoceanic canal, at sea-level, so desirable in the interests of commerce and navigation, is possible ; and that this maritime canal, in order to supply those in di sp ensable facilities of access and usefulness which a passage of this kind should offer, should be constructed from the Gulf of Limon to Panama Bay V 2. M. de Lesseps had won his first victory.

The vote in

the Congress was a vote for him rather than for anything else and it is not to be supposed that all the delegates were un­ aware of what was transpiring.

Many criticisms of the Wyse-

Reclus plan had been voiced in the Congress and the vote on the final resolution was seventy-four yeas, eight nays and 3 sixteen absentions with the rest of the 136 delegates absent. So of the total membership only a bare majority had actually voted in favor of the resolution.

It must again be noted that

seventy-four of the total number of delegates were Frenchmen,

1. Report of M, Chanel, Compte Rendu. pp. 625-631 2. Compte R en du , p.646. 3. Ibid.". p.648-649.



^ n d all selected by de Lesseps*


That a great deal of the criticism directed at M. de Lesseps for the part he played at the Congress was justified can be appreciated from the following observations. First of all it must be remembered that de Lesseps had purchased a concession which would be valueless if the route chosen by the Congress were at Nicaragua or Tehuantepec.


canal route had to be in Panama— if the Panama Railroad would permit i t 2

a choice of any other route would not have pleased

M. de Lesseps. Secondly, de Lesseps made some remarkable statements to both the technical Committee and the Congress as a whole. In the gen er al .session of the Congress on May 23, de Lesseps remarked: "I will ask the Technical Committee not to formulate any resolutions which could arrest certain plans.

I would

wish them to say only yes or no, whether it appears to them possible to construct a sea-level canal, which seems to be the desire of the whole world.

...I will only ask the Committee

to tell us precisely what would be the expense of a sea-level canal.

... Governments can encourage such enterprises; they

cannot execute them.

It is the public, then, on whom you must

call, and when you come before them, they will ask of you


it is a canal with locks what will be the expense in the future?

1. De Puydt, oo.cit.. pp.51-53-




I will express my opinion. would retard navigation,

I consider a canal with locks ...We ought not to make a canal with

locks at Panama, but one at sea-level; that is the opinion 1 of the public whose organ I am” , at the same meeting he also made one of his most amazing statements:

that "which impresses us

most, is the enthusiasm of the United States of America in favor

2 of the construction of a canal at Panama."

In view of the ex­

pressed opinion of the Commission of 1872 and the plans presen­ ted to the Congress by the American delegates, how could such a statement be honestly made? Further, before the Technical Committee, on May 27 and Ivlay 28, de Lesseps requested that the Committee should "say yes or no to the Panama-Aspinwall water-level route as the best 3 plan", xie insisted further that the "Committee must make a definite renort.

The Technical Committee must follow the 4

other committees.

Each 'one is master of his own vote.

If you

do not decide yes or no there will be indecision in the result of the votes of the Congress, a result which the oublic in 5 general cannot admit". When a certain member of the Committee objected that the most the Committee could do was to suggest

1* Compte R endu, pp. 636 - 38 . 2. Ibid. . Vide, also, Amrnen, Daniel, American Interoceanic Ship Canal Question, Phila., Hammersly," C o . , 1880, pp.24-26. 3. Compte Rendu^ pp. 326,340-41. 4. That is, in submitting definite reports. 5. Compte R endu, pp. 355-356.





that certain routes were preferable and that it was incom­ petent to decide all technical questions, much less to draw up a report overnight, de Lesseps replied that "very little 1 time was needed to draft that report". Hence, on May 27, the Committe approved the estimates of the canal costs which had been submitted to it.

The vote

was twenty yeas, one nay, twelve abstentions, twenty-one absent, 2 with no American or English delegate voting. Then on may 28, the route from Colon to Panama was approved by a vote of 3 twenty yeas, nine abstentions and twenty-five absentees. The water-level plan was approved by sixteen yeas, three nays, 4 ten abstentions, twenty-five absentees. In no question was there approval by a majority of the ?4 members of the Committee.1 Then the of ficial delga.tes from the United States, RearAdmiral Daniel Ammen and U.S. Naval Engineer Aniceto G. Menocal,

William M. Evarts, what they thought of the activities of the Congress.


show clearly in their report to the American Secretary of State,

These are the observations which Admiral Ammen made:

"The afternoon of May 17) was taken up by Lieut. L. N.B. Wyse, of the Erench Navy, who explained his development for a

l.Ibid. 2.Ibid.. pp.340-41 3. Ibid.. op.354-56. 4. Ibid. 5. Ammen and Menocal, op.cit. p.5. There are actually two reports; one by Ammen, pp.1-12; and the second by Menocal, pp.l2ff.



canal in the vicinity of the line of the Panama Railroad.— “1 His discourse was general and referred to all of the proposed lines, and occasionally something about the Isthmus of Panama. ...The afternoon of May 19 was taken up by alternate explanations of Lieut. Wyse and Reclus, in their development of a ship canal in the vicinity and along the general line of the Panama Rail­ road, k niveau, that is to say on the ocean level, with and without a tunnel and as well in stating objections at any time to the Nicaragua route. They were urolix and their data were 1 not at all sufficient. ...On Tuesday, May 20, a general session was held.

...M, Menocal was invited to explain the surveys and

plans of the Panama route.

...He exposed the hopELessness of

an attempt to make a ship canal on that route a niv ea u;


out beyond controversy, that if so made there would a cataract of the River Ghagres at Matachin of 42 feet, which in periods of flood would be seventy-two feet high, of a body of water that would be thirty-six feet deep, with a width of 1500 feet. The surprise and painful emotion of the part of those who had plans k niveau, and of their many friends in attendance, can hardly be conceived.

The fact stared them in the face that

the plans which they presented so confidently for adoption were absolutely impracticable.

There was, however, after a day or so,

H i d . The plans of Wyse and Reclus are given in the Compte R endu, pp. 455-91. a comparison of their data with the American surveys shows how pitifully inadequate their knowledge was. Thirty-six pages to explain the whole scheme! The map which they used was an old one of the Panama Railroad's, drawn in 1857! Vide, Menocal.'s Re;oort. pp. 14-15.


*a presentation of "Plans'* and estimates of the cost of


execution, quite independent of a sufficient knowledge of the 1 topography upon which they could be properly based, ...Prom the first sitting it was quite apparent that there were two parties of what we would call "speculators'1, the one represent ed by Mr. Blanche!, who had an unconfirmed grant from the Nicaraguan government, and Lieut. Wyse who had a grant from the Colombian government.

...Lieut. Wyse has the powerful

support of LI. de Lessens.

I need hardly add that through

the geographical societies of Paris, and the method of appoint­ ing "delegates" to the Congress, the latter is quite able to have any desired majority on a vote relating to the respective 2 merits of the Nicaragua and Panama routes.** Mr. Menocal supplemented the views of Admiral Aminen with the following comments: sub-committees

"On the 22nd I was called by both

(of the Technical Committee) to give some ad­

ditional information relative to the Nicaraguan Canal.


was apparently the intention of this committee to so increase the cost of the canal with locks, via Nicaragua, as to make It less practicable in a commercial sense than the canal at sealevel via Panama, which had had very strong advocates in that 3 body, particularly its President.** "Lieutenants Wyse and Reclus had been before the sub-

1. Ibid., p. 6. 2. Ibid., p. 8. 3 * Ibid., p . 16. L


[committee advocating such modification of their schemes as q

1 they thought might be accepted as a solution of the problem. It was at last decided,..that the canal should be provided with a tide-lock on the Pacific side and that new channels be made for the Chagres River and its tributaries from Matachin to the sea.

Y/ith these modifications the canal with locks was

reported favorably upon and estimates of cost prepared by the first subcommittee.

No surveys had been made to determine

the possiblity of locating the proposed new channel, and I may venture to say that if such work is ever undertaken it will be found to be of more difficult execution than is anticipated by the authors of the project. as utterly


...Such work may be regarded

...On motion of M r . Danzats, sup­

ported by Mr. Pourcey, it was agreed by acclamation that the time of construction of the Nicaraguan line should be raised from six years (as recommended by the subcommittee) to eight years.

The estimates were also in the same informal manner,

2 raised, that of Nicaragua to 900,000,000 francs. On the morning of the 29th, the subcommittee reported estimates for the new scheme of inundation proposed at Panama, amounting to 700,000,000 frans.

I then requested to be informed

by the Committee whether or not the design of such acanal had been based on any actual survey...and that if no survey had been

1, The nroblem of controlling the Chagres River. 2. Ibid!. pp.17,18.



rmade what importance could I attach to its figures.



thought proper to add in that connection that we had been directed to present before this Congress all the information relating to the interoceanie canal question in possession of the Government of the United States...that we expected to find here information of the same character; and that from a proper com­ parison and discussion of all the reliable data thus obtained, competent engineers would be able to decide intelligently as to the best route for a canal.

Instead of that, I was sorry

to see that that the only reliable and well digested plans presented had been those from the United States, and I was sorry to see that they were weighted on the same scale with imaginary projects traced on imperfect maps of the Isthmus, some of them the result of one n i g h t ’s inspiration.

Some confusion

was produced by these fact, no reply was made to my inquiries.

...The discussion lasted until late in the even­

ing, Mr. Fourcy speaking for several hours in favor of a canal without locks, no matter what the cost.

It was at last agreed,

amid great confusion and excitement, by a vote of sixteen yeas and eleven abstentions, three nays and seven absentees, that “The Committee, standing on a technical point of view, is of the opinion that the canal is possible across the Isthmus of Panama and recommend especially a canal at the level of the seas. ...Of the affirmative vote nineteen were engineers and of this last number eight are at present, or have been, connected with




the duez Canal; five are not practical engineers and only one has been in Central America...Of the five delegates of the french Society of Engineers, two voted no and three absented

chemselves from the last two sessions of the 1 Committee and the Congress.” Mr. Menocal concluded by stating that, ”It is expected that the impracticable scheme proposed by Panama will soon

2 be abandoned for want of supporters.” To these observations may be added the comments of M. de Puydt, one of the truly eminent geographers of that time, who refused to present his plan to the Congress, because he was convinced that, ”the program of the Congress had already been determined and that the organizers of the Congress


long ago decided that only those canal projects favored or ,3 revised by M. Wyse would be examined by them,” lie also observes that anong those voting for the resolution, "Eleven were members of the Society of Geography and of the Society of Commercial Geography of Paris, which prepared the affair; and twenty-one engineers, administrators or employees of the Suez Canal Company, which M. de Lessps directs, whose interests the vote of the Congress should certainly bene-

1. Ibid. . pp. 20,21 Mr. Menocal refers in this last sertence to tne vote on the resolution submitted to the whole Congress on May 29. 2 . Ibid. , p.21. 3. Compte R e n d u , pp. 276 -278 . De Puydt wrote a letter to the Tech. Comm, containing that statement. Vide, also, De Puydt, op.cit. , p.14. L


r 1 f i t .11

n Furthermore, when de Lesseps issued his first appeals

for capital, he ignored almost completely the findings of his own committees regarding the time, cost and difficulties of the problem.

The second sub-committee of the Technical

Committee had for example first estimated the cost of the Wyse canal, with a tunnel, at 74-7)384,812 francs, including twenty-five percent for contingencies but "not including, 1. The expenses necessary not only to place the works of the excavation beyond danger of the water, but also to affect excavations under water. estimated even approximately,

These expenses cannot be

but they will be very great;

most likely they will exceed 100 ,000,000 francs. 2. The interest during time of construction, which should be put down as ten years. 3. The several liabilities of the company, among them

2 the indemnity to the Panama Railroad Company." For the second estimate of 1,044,000,000 francs


including the Panama Railroad costs) the sub-committee added that "the execution of such works, and principally that of such deep cuts, the stability of which is problematical,

1. De Puydt, op.cit., pp.51-52. De Puydt was a charter member of the Geograpnic Society of Madrid; Honorary member of the Geographic Society of Paris; Corresponding member of the Geographic Societies of London, Marseillaise, and Bordeaux; member of the Meterorological Society of France, etc. 2. Comnte Rendu, pp. 261,262.




as well as the operations relating to the course of the River Chagres, constitute a complication of difficulties 1 impossible to estimate ,11 A