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THE great purpose of all the early explorers in American waters was to discover a western passage from Europe to India, China, and other countries of the East. The Portuguese voyagers found a pathway around the Cape of Good Hope, and, when Columbus started from Palos upon his memorable voyage, he had no expectation of finding a new world, but sought only to demonstrate the accuracy of the theory that the world was round, and that India could be reached by sailing westward as well as to the east. On his last and most disastrous voyage he cruised up and down the northern coast of Central America, searching each inlet and creek and bay for the navigable passage his genius taught him should be there, but which nature, by some Titanic convulsion, had closed ages before his time.

The discovery of the Straits of Magellan, and the circumnavigation of the globe by the seamen who followed Columbus proved the truth of his theories, but the enormous distance that must be sailed before the Pacific Ocean could be entered made it necessary to shorten the route by artificial means. As early as 1513, when the Pacific Ocean was discovered by Vasco Nuñez de Balboa, a proposition for a canal through the isthmus was made, but several years passed before the Spaniards abandoned the attempt to find a natural channel across the continent. As late as 1523, Emperor Charles V. ad

monished Cortez to search carefully along the western as well as the eastern shores of New Spain for what was termed, El secreto del estrecho-the secret of the straits.

In 1528, however, the fact that no passage existed became very well established, and a Commission of Engineers was appointed by the court of Spain to consider a plan for artificial water communication across the Isthmus of Darien (Panama), but there is no record of further action until 1534, when Charles V. instructed the governor of Panama (see map, page 48) to make an exploration and report the result. The governor, Pascual Andagoya, replied that the scheme was impracticable, but in 1540 the investigation was resumed under the direction of Philip II., and Bautiste Antonelli reported in favor of a canal across Nicaragua (see map, page 111). In 1550 Antonio Galvao proposed four different routes, of which he considered that across Nicaragua the most practicable, and the subject was extensively discussed, but the superstitious monks, who still controlled the policy of Spain, condemned the plan as contrary to the will of the Divine Providence that had placed a barrier there to restrain the fury of the seas.

The project was frequently revived, not only in Spain but in other parts of Europe, and finally in 1695, William Patterson, the founder of the Bank of England, organized the first company that was ever established to construct an interoceanic canal. Money was freely subscribed in England, Holland, Belgium, and other European countries, and a colony of twelve hundred men in five ships sailed to the isthmus from Leith, Scotland, in July, 1698, to commence work. Spain sent a fleet and an army to prevent the enterprise, and, after four months of resistance and distress, the colonists surrendered, and returned to England.

Various subsequent attempts were made to undertake the work, with no better success, and it was not until after the

republic of New Granada (Colombia) had achieved its independence that even a scientific survey was made to determine a route for a canal. Then, in 1827, Simon Bolivar employed two English engineers, who spent two years on the isthmus, and reported in favor of the route that was afterwards adopted for the line of the Panama railway. In 1838 the government of New Granada gave a concession to a French company to construct the canal, but they did no more than make a survey. The project was first proposed in this country in 1825 by Antonio Jose Cañaz, minister at Washington from the republic of Central America, who, in the name of his government, invited the United States to undertake the construction of a canal across Nicaragua. Henry Clay, who was then secretary of state, replied in a communication that stands as one of the noblest state papers ever issued from the Executive Department of this government, accepting the invitation and announcing that the United States minister to Central America had been instructed to make the necessary examination. Mr. Williams, the minister, reported favorably on the subject, and the result was the formation of a company, under a charter from Congress, to construct the canal. DeWitt Clinton, then governor of New York, and the father of the Erie Canal, was the most conspicuous member of the corporation, which secured a concession from the government of Central America and made a series of surveys, but was unable to obtain the necessary capital.

This company having dissolved, the king of the Netherlands agreed to undertake the work, but the dissolution of the Central American Confederacy caused him to abandon the project.

No further action was taken by the government of the United States until 1835, when Congress passed a resolution directing the President to open negotiations with the governments of New Granada and Central America for the purpose

of securing treaty stipulations for such individuals or companies as might undertake the construction of a ship canal across the isthmus. On the first of March following, President Jackson appointed Charles H. Biddle of Philadelphia as commissioner to confer with the authorities of Colombia and Central America, and to make such investigations as were necessary fully to inform the government on the subject. Mr. Biddle visited Central America, but died shortly after his return to the United States, leaving a partially completed report, which pronounced the Panama route impracticable.

In 1838 a memorial was submitted to Congress by citizens of New York and Philadelphia for a renewal of the negotiations, and the committee on roads and canals of the House of Representatives made an elaborate report on the subject, which was illustrated by maps, charts, plans, and profiles showing the several proposed routes and discussing their respective advantages. The report concluded with a resolution requesting the President to reopen negotiations; it was adopted by the House, but no further action was taken.

In 1839, however, Mr. John L. Stephens, accompanied by Mr. Catherwood, a skillful artist and draughtsman, was sent to Central America, ostensibly to visit the ruined cities there, but really to make a confidential report to the President on the subject of an interoceanic canal. In Nicaragua he met Lieutenant Bailey of the British Royal Engineers, who had surveyed a canal route for the Nicaraguan government, and secured from him copies of all his reports and maps, which were afterwards submitted to Congress; but owing to the unsettled condition of political affairs in Central America, the negotiations were postponed.

In 1848, during the negotiations that followed the war with Mexico and resulted in the annexation of New Mexico and Arizona to the United States, it was proposed to purchase a

right of way for a canal or railway across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, but the offer was rejected by the Mexican authorities.

During the same year a treaty, which is still in force, was negotiated with New Granada, under which the United States was guaranteed the right of free transit across the Isthmus of Panama, and permission to construct a railway or canal or any other means of transportation under the same rights and privileges that might be enjoyed by the citizens of that country.


About this time occurred the inci

dent of the occupation of the city of Greytown, Nicaragua, by the Brit



and the establishment of a protec

torate over the Mosquito Indians, which led to the negotiation of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty. The circumstances are fully related in the chapter on the Mon

roe doctrine (page



Under the provisions of the treaty the government of Nicaragua granted a concession for the construction of a canal to Cornelius Vanderbilt and his associates, under the corporate

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