Theodore Roosevelt and His Time Shown in His Own Letters - Vol. 1

By Joseph Bucklin Bishop | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXV
BUILDER OF THE PANAMA CANAL

THAT the United States and the world owe the existence of the Panama Canal entirely to President Roosevelt, is a fact which cannot be disputed. Every step in the progress of that enterprise, from the time of taking possession of the Isthmus without an instant's delay when the Panama revolution offered the opportunity, till the water-way between the two oceans was thrown open to the shipping of the world, was due to his personal action in the early stages of the work. It was carried to completion under Presidents Taft and Wilson on the lines that he had established so firmly that they could not be changed. As he said later, with a frank boldness that astounded his critics: "Yes, I took the Isthmus, and I am in a wholly unrepentant frame of mind in reference thereto. The ethical conception upon which I acted was that I did not intend that Uncle Sam should be held up while he was doing a great work for himself and all mankind." Having made up his mind on the subject, he did not stop to ask if the course would win popular approval, or even if Congress would approve. If he had waited for Congress to act, the opportunity would have passed.

When it came to the question of how to build the canal, he acted with equal promptness and courage. Here again he kept himself steadily ahead of Congress, as the record will show. In fact, Congress, building better than it knew or suspected, left the direction of the work virtually in his hands. In the law which it passed, authorizing him to build the canal through a commission of seven members, Congress decreed that the commission should "in all matters be subject to the direction and control of the President."

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