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In April, 1885, the Colombian government, which was embarrassed by civil war, called upon the United States for the fulfillment of the treaty of 1846, to secure the neutrality and sovereignty of the isthmus. President Cleveland at once sent a body of troops to the isthmus with instructions to confine their action to preventing the transit and its accessories from being interrupted or embarrassed. As soon as peace was reestablished, the troops of the United States were withdrawn.
Four years after the signature of the above treaty with Colombia, and two years after its ratification by the Senate, the United States and Great Britain executed what is popularly known as the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. It is of great importance to understand clearly the circumstances under which this treaty was negotiated.
For very obvious reasons, the Isthmus of Panama was for many years the objective point of all canal schemes, but as the engineering difficulties of this route began to be fully appreciated, attention was directed more and more to that through Nicaragua. The occupation by Great Britain, under the assumption of a protectorate, of the territory about the mouth of the San Juan river, which belonged to Nicaragua and Costa Rica, and in which the Atlantic terminus of the canal would fall, was a source of no little uneasiness and perplexity to the United States. In June, 1849, Mr. Hise, chargé d'affaires of the United States in Central America, negotiated without the authorization or knowledge of his government, a treaty with
Mr. Scruggs to Mr. Bayard, April 16, 1885, For. Rel., also "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," Vol. VIII, p. 326.
Nicaragua which gave the United States exclusive rights in the construction of a canal through the territory of that state. 10 This treaty was not submitted to the Senate, but was made use of in the negotiations that were opened shortly thereafter with Great Britain for the purpose of ousting her from her position of control over the mouth of the San Juan. A few months later, September 28, 1849, Mr. Squier signed with Honduras a treaty which ceded Tiger Island, in the Bay of Fonseca, to the United States, thus giving us a naval station on the Pacific side of the isthmus. This treaty, like that negotiated by Mr. Hise, was unauthorized and never submitted to the Senate." Both treaties were used, however, in bringing England to the signature of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. This activity in treaty-making was occasioned by the acquisition of California and the rush to the gold fields by way of the isthmus.
During the period that elapsed between Mr. Bancroft's withdrawal from London and Mr. Lawrence's arrival as the representative of the United States, Mr. Clayton instructed Mr. Rives, who was on his way to Paris, to stop in London and hold a conference with Lord Palmerston on the Central American question. At this date the United States was striving simply for equal rights in any waterway that might be opened through the isthmus and not for any exclusive rights. Mr. Rives declared to Lord Palmerston "that citizens of the United States had entered into a contract with the state of Nicaragua to open, on certain conditions, a communication between the Atlantic and Pacific
10" Collected Correspondence," p. 94. 11 Ibid., p. 14.
oceans by the river San Juan and the Nicaragua lake; that the government of the United States, after the most careful investigation of the subject, had come undoubtedly to the conclusion that upon both legal and historical grounds the state of Nicaragua was the true territorial sovereign of the river San Juan as well as of the Nicaragua lake, and that it was, therefore, bound to give its countenance and support, by all proper and reasonable means, to rights lawfully derived by their citizens under a grant from that sovereign." He further said:
That the United States would not, if they could, obtain any exclusive right or privilege in a great highway, which naturally belonged to all mankind, for they well knew that the possession of any such privilege would expose them to inevitable jealousies and probable controversies which would make it infinitely more costly than advantageous; that while they aimed at no exclusive privilege for themselves, they could never consent to see so important a communication fall under the exclusive control of any other great commercial power; that we were far from imputing to Her Britannic Majesty's government any views of that kind, but Mosquito possession at the mouth of the San Juan could be considered in no other light than British possession, and his lordship would readily comprehend that such a state of things, so long as it was continued, must necessarily give rise to dissatisfaction and distrust on the part of other commercial powers."
The negotiations thus opened by Mr. Rives were continued by Mr. Lawrence upon his arrival in England, but were shortly thereafter transferred to Washington, where Mr. Clayton succeeded in arranging with Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer the terms of a convention which was signed April 19, 1850. The inten
12" Collected Correspondence," pp. 11 and 12.
tion of the two governments, as declared in the preamble, was to set forth "their views and intentions with reference to any means of communication by ship canal which may be constructed between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by the way of the river San Juan de Nicaragua, and either or both of the lakes of Nicaragua or Managua, to any port or place on the Pacific ocean."
By the first article Great Britain and the United States bound themselves never to obtain or maintain any exclusive control over the said ship canal; never to erect or maintain any fortifications commanding the same or in the vicinity thereof, or to colonize or exercise dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America; and never to make use of any alliance, connection or influence with any of these states to obtain any unequal advantages in regard to commerce or navigation through the said canal.
The second article provided for the neutralization of the canal in the event of war between the contracting parties. The third guaranteed protection for the persons and property of the parties legally undertaking the construction of the canal. The fourth related to gaining the consent of the states whose territory the canal should traverse. The fifth article provided for the neutralization and protection of the canal so long as it was managed without discrimination against either of the contracting parties, and stipulated that neither of them would withdraw its protection without giving the other six months' notice. In the sixth article the contracting parties promised to invite every state with which they were on terms of friendly in
tercourse to accede to this convention. In the seventh article the contracting parties agreed to lend their support and encouragement to the first company offering to construct the canal in accordance with the spirit and intention of this convention. The eighth article was of special importance. It declared that “the governments of the United States and Great Britain having not only desired, in entering into this convention, to accomplish a particular object, but also to establish a general principle, they hereby agree to extend their protection, by treaty stipulations, to any other practicable communication, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America, and especially to the interoceanic communications, should the same prove practicable, whether by canal or railway, which are now proposed to be established by the way of Tehuantepec or Panama.” 13
Such are the main stipulations of the celebrated Clayton-Bulwer treaty, which remained in force until 1901, and which during that period probably called forth more discussion than any treaty which the United States had ever signed.
In after years a large number of people on this side of the Atlantic, forgetting the object and aim of the treaty and the circumstances under which it was negotiated, thought that the United States conceded. too much and violated the principle of the Monroe Doctrine in giving England a position and interest in America which she did not before possess. This opinion was held by some prominent statesmen at the time the treaty was negotiated, notably by Buchanan, who poured forth severe criticism and ridicule upon
11" Collected Correspondence," p. 99.