1903 Panama Canal Treaty Signed

On November 18, 1903, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was signed, granting the United States a strip of land across the Isthmus of Panama and the right to build and fortify the Panama Canal. Building an interoceanic canal was not a new idea at the turn of the 20th century, but U.S. acquisition of California in 1848 and territories in the Pacific and the Caribbean after the Spanish-American War made the canal crucial to American foreign policy. In January 1903, the Hay-Herran Treaty with Colombia–Panama was a part of Colombia–would have given the United States the land and the right to build a canal across Panama, but Colombia refused to ratify the treaty. Subsequently, Panamanian rebels–encouraged by American agents–rose against Colombia on November 3, 1903. After a one-day coup, in which an American warship offshore prevented Colombia from quelling the revolt and the only casualty was a donkey, Panama declared her independence. A jubilant President Theodore Roosevelt, pictured here at a Panama Canal construction site, recognized the new republic three days later. The Panama Canal, a cornerstone of Roosevelt’s aggressive foreign policy, was completed in 10 years.

Photo: National Archives