CHAPTER XV. The Panama Canal

While American troops were threading the mountain passes and the morasses of the Philippines, scaling the walls of Pekin, and sunning themselves in the delectable pleasances of the Forbidden City, and while American Secretaries of State were penning dispatches which determined the fate of countries on the opposite side of the globe, the old diplomatic problems nearer home still persisted. The Spanish War, however, had so thoroughly changed the relationship of the United States to the rest of the world that the conditions under which even these old problems were to be adjusted or solved gave them entirely new aspects. The American people gradually but effectually began to take foreign affairs more seriously. As time went on, the Government made improvements in the consular and diplomatic services. Politicians found that their irresponsible threatenings of other countries had ceased to be politically profitable when public opinion realized what was at stake. Other countries, moreover, began to take the United States more seriously. The open hostility which they had shown on the first entrance of this nation into world politics changed, on second thought, to a desire on their part to placate and perhaps to win the support of this new and formidable power.

The attitude of Germany in particular was conspicuous. The Kaiser sent his brother, Prince Henry, to visit the United States. He presented the nation with a statue of Frederick the Great and Harvard with a Germanic museum; he ordered a Herreshoff yacht, and asked the President's daughter, Alice Roosevelt, to christen it; he established exchange professorships in the universities; and he began a campaign aimed apparently at securing for Germany the support of the entire American people, or, failing that, at organizing for German purposes the German-born element within the United States. France sought to revive the memory of her friendship for the United States during the Revolution by presenting the nation with a statue of Rochambeau, and she also established exchange professorships. In England, Cecil Rhodes, with his great dream of drawing together all portions of the British race, devoted his fortune to making Oxford the mold where all its leaders of thought and action should be shaped; and Joseph Chamberlain and other English leaders talked freely and enthusiastically of an alliance between Great Britain and the United States as the surest foundation for world peace.

It need not be supposed, however, that these international amenities meant that the United States was to be allowed to have its own way in the world. The friendliness of Great Britain was indeed sincere. Engaged between 1899 and 1901 in the Boer War, she appreciated ever more strongly the need for the friendship of the United States, and she looked with cordial approbation upon the development of Secretary Hay's policy in China. The British, however, like the Americans, are legalistically inclined, and disputes between the two nations are likely to be maintained to the limit of the law. The advantage of this legal mindedness is that there has always been a disposition in both peoples to submit to judicial award when ordinary negotiations have reached a deadlock. But the real affection for each other which underlay the eternal bickerings of the two nations had as yet not revealed itself to the American consciousness. As most of the disputes of the United States had been with Great Britain, Americans were always on the alert to maintain all their claims and were suspicious of "British gold."

It was, therefore, in an atmosphere by no means conducive to yielding on the part of the United States, though it was one not antagonistic to good feeling, that the representatives of the two countries met. John Hay and Sir Julian Pauncefote, whose long quiet service in this country had made him the first popular British ambassador, now set about clearing up the problems confronting the two peoples. The first question which pressed for settlement was one of boundary. It had already taken ninety years to draw the line from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and now the purchase of Alaska by the United States had added new uncertainties to the international boundary. The claims of both nations were based on a treaty of 1825 between Great Britain and Russia. Like most attempts to define boundaries running through unexplored territories, the treaty terms admitted of two interpretations. The boundary line from Portland Channel to Mount St. Elias was stipulated to run everywhere a distance of ten marine leagues from the coast and to follow its sinuosities. This particular coast, however, is bitten into by long fiords stretching far into the country. Great Britain held that these were not part of the sea in the sense of the treaty and that the line should cut across them ten marine leagues from the outer coast line. On the other hand, the United States held that the line should be drawn ten marine leagues from the heads of these inlets.

The discovery of gold on the Yukon in 1897 made this boundary question of practical moment. Action now became an immediate necessity. In 1899 the two countries agreed upon a modus Vivendi and in 1903 arranged an arbitration. The arbitrating board consisted of three members from each of the two nations. The United States appointed Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, ex-Senator George Turner, and Elihu Root, then Secretary of War. Great Britain appointed two Canadians, Louis A. Jette and A. B. Aylesworth, and Lord Alverstone, Chief Justice of England. Their decision was in accordance with the principle for which the United States had contended, though not following the actual line which it had sketched. It gave the Americans, however, full control of the coast and its harbors, and the settlement provided a mutually accepted boundary on every frontier.