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of any right that the United States might have under treaties with Great Britain and Panama "to discriminate in favor of its vessels by exempting the vessels of the United States or its citizens from the payment of tolls," or as "in any way waiving, impairing or affecting any right of the United States under said treaties, or otherwise, with respect to the sovereignty over or the ownership, control and management of said canal and the regulation of the conditions or charges of traffic through (1) the same."
While in effect the advantage sought by Great Britain was yielded, it will be noted that this reservation was even broader than the previously authorized exemption, embracing as it did American vessels generally instead of merely those engaged in the coastwise trade. In this respect it assumed the same position as the general exemptions demand embodied in the republican platform of 1920, instead of one limited merely to coastwise traffic.
The war with its abnormal commercial conditions minimized almost to negligibility the comparative loss to United States shipping through tolls levied equally against the vessels of all nations passing through the canal. With a renewal of commerce on a more nearly normal basis and the rush of nations to regain their commercial prestige, the tolls question again has become an important issue. Tolls exemption bills were introduced early in 1920 by Senators Borah of Idaho and Poindexter and Jones of
(1) United States Statutes at Large, Vol. XXXVIII, Part I, p. 386.
States expended $373,000,000 in building the
canal on soil over which she exercised sovereign rights. foreign power lifted a hand or put a penny into the actual construction. These facts support the reassumption of a strong position by proponents of tolls exemption, who hold that because we built the canal, we have a right to operate it on our own terms. In support of this position they adduce the traditional interstate free trade policy of the United States. Throughout American history, say these supporters of exemption, it has been the tendency of both national and local policy to make all public highways free to the use and passage of Americans. Nearly all highroads have been freed of tolls; and although more than a half billion dollars has been spent in rivers and harbors improvement, it never has occurred to the government, nor to any political party, to advocate charging tolls for navigation of our internal waterways.
This historic view has been largely lost sight of by the opponents of free tolls. The traditional policy is in some measure obscured in the object of making the canal a profit-making concern at the expense of American shipping. But in greater measure it has been stifled by a superabundant indulgence in international altruism that has neglected our primary and reasonable national stakes in the canal. It may fairly be asserted that hostility of public opinion to the free tolls idea has chiefly resulted from a widespread belief that the powers of the United States to act independently in the canal zone have been so tied up by the Anglo-American diplomacy of the last seventy years
that the nation can not declare for free tolls to its own shipping without incurring a stigma of international dishonor through supposed breach of treaty obligations. Therefore any attempt to
form a just opinion regarding the moral rights of the United
States must be preceded by a study of the diplomatic background of the question.