Colombia: The Proposed Message To Congress, 1903

Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography, New York: The MacMillan Company 1913

  • The rough draft of the message I had proposed to send Congress ran as follows:
  • "The Colombian Government, through its representative here, and directly in communication with our representative at Colombia, has refused to come to any agreement with us, and has delayed action so as to make it evident that it intends to make extortionate and improper terms with us. The Isthmian Canal bill was, of course, passed upon the assumption that whatever route was used, the benefit to the particular section of the Isthmus through which it passed would be so great that the country controlling this part would be eager to facilitate the building of the canal. It is out of the question to submit to extortion on the part of a beneficiary of the scheme. All the labor, all the expense, all the risk are to be assumed by us and all the skill shown by us. Those controlling the ground through which the canal is to be put are wholly incapable of building it.
  • "Yet the interest of international commerce generally and the interest of this country generally demands that the canal should be begun with no needless delay. The refusal of Colombia properly to respond to our sincere and earnest efforts to come to an agreement, or to pay heed to the many concessions we have made, renders it in my judgment necessary that the United States should take immediate action on one of two lines: either we should drop the Panama canal project and immediately begin work on the Nicaraguan canal, or else we should purchase all the rights of the French company, and, without any further parley with Colombia, enter upon the completion of the canal which the French company has begun. I feel that the latter course is the one demanded by the interests of this Nation, and I therefore bring the matter to your attention for such action in the premises as you may deem wise. If in your judgment it is better not to take such action, then I shall proceed at once with the Nicaraguan canal.
  • "The reason that I advocate the action above outlined in regard to the Panama canal is, in the first place, the strong testimony of the experts that this route is the most feasible; and in the next place, the impropriety from an international standpoint of permitting such conduct as that to which Colombia seems to incline. The testimony of the experts is very strong, not only that the Panama route is feasible, but that in the Nicaragua route we may encounter some unpleasant surprises, and that it is far more difficult to forecast the result with any certainty as regards this latter route. As for Colombia's attitude, it is incomprehensible upon any theory of desire to see the canal built upon the basis of mutual advantage alike to those building it and to Colombia herself. All we desire to do is to take up the work begun by the French Government and to finish it. Obviously it is Colombia's duty to help towards such completion. We are most anxious to come to an agreement with her in which most scrupulous care should be taken to guard her interests and ours. But we cannot consent to permit her to block the performance of the work which it is so greatly to our interest immediately to begin and carry through."
  • Shortly after this rough draft was dictated the Panama revolution came, and I never thought of the rough draft again until I was accused of having instigated the revolution. This accusation is preposterous in the eyes of any one who knows the actual conditions at Panama. Only the menace of action by us in the interest of Colombia kept down revolution; as soon as Colombia's own conduct removed such menace, all check on the various revolutionary movements (there were at least three from entirely separate sources) ceased; and then an explosion was inevitable, for the French company knew that all their property would be confiscated if Colombia put through her plans, and the entire people of Panama felt that if in disgust with Colombia's extortions the United States turned to Nicaragua, they, the people of Panama, would be ruined. Knowing the character of those then in charge of the Colombian Government, I was not surprised at their bad faith; but I was surprised at their folly. They apparently had no idea either of the power of France or the power of the United States, and expected to be permitted to commit wrong with impunity, just as Castro in Venezuela had done. The difference was that, unless we acted in self-defense, Colombia had it in her power to do us serious harm, and Venezuela did not have such power. Colombia's wrongdoing, therefore, recoiled on her own head. There was no new lesson taught; it ought already to have been known to every one that wickedness, weakness, and folly combined rarely fail to meet punishment, and that the intent to do wrong, when joined to inability to carry the evil purpose to a successful conclusion, inevitably reacts on the wrongdoer.
  • For the full history of the acquisition and building of the canal see The Panama Gateway, by Joseph Bucklin Bishop (Scribner's Sons). Mr. Bishop has been for eight years secretary of the commission and is one of the most efficient of the many efficient men to whose work on the Isthmus America owes so much.