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through the Panama canal without payment of tolls.
This plank involves no departure from a traditional re
publican policy of encouraging an American merchant marine. Ringing declarations to that purpose have found their way into the platforms of the party through its whole history.
President Taft and the republicans in congress in 1912 forced through an exemption clause in the act providing for canal operation and maintenance. It was bitterly attacked both in America and abroad as a violation of the Hay-Pauncefote treaty of 1901 between the United States and Great Britain. But in the face of attack, even the democratic platform of 1912, adopted while the tolls discussion was at its height in congress, supported this clause of the act, declaring:
"We favor the exemption from toll of American ships en(2) gaged in coastwise trade passing through the canal."
President Wilson gave particular point to this declaration by asserting in a campaign speech that the plank was not "mere molasses to catch flies."
Official protests on the part of Great Britain against the American position died down early in February, 1913. When the new president took office it was fairly generally assumed that the issue had been laid. But Mr. Wilson's mind was not unsusceptible to change on the subject. A year and a day after
(1) Platforms of the Two Great Political Parties, 1856-1920, Inclusive, edited by George D. Ellis, p. 249.
(2) Ibid. p. 177.
(3) Quoted by Miles Poindexter in Our Rights in Panama, Forum, Vol. XLV, p. 141.
assuming office he appeared unexpectedly before congress to urge in a special message the repeal of the tolls exemption clause. "We ought to reverse our action," the president declared, "without raising the question whether we were right or wrong and so once more deserve our reputation for generosity and for the redemption of every obligation without quibble or hesitation. ask this of you in support of the foreign policy of the administration. I shall not know how to deal with other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence if you do not grant it to me in ungrudging measure."
Under pressure of this somewhat mysterious urging, the meaning of whose allusions to "other matters of even greater delicacy and nearer consequence" has never be en explained, congress acceded to the president's will. Before the canal was opened, the preferential stipulation affecting American coastwise shipping was repealed. The American "reputation for generosity" was sustained as the president desired without consideration of "whether we were right or wrong" or whether the maintenance of our reputation for generosity entailed a needless sacrifice of material interest that other commercial powers were quick to take advantage of.
Congress uid not, however, relinquish all opportunity for renewing the subject at a later date. The tolls repeal of June 15, 1914, was accompanied by a declaration to the effect that this legislative action was not to be construed as a disclaimer
(1) Congressional Record, 63rd congress 2nd session, Vol. LI, Part 5, p. 4346.