Hay-Pauncefote Treaties (1901)

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Hay-Pauncefote Treaties (1901)

The Hay-Pauncefote Treaties (1901), were agreements between the United States and Great Britain that permitted the former to build a canal in Central America, thereby clearing the way for U.S. construction of the Panama Canal. The first version, signed on February 5, 1901, envisioned a waterway like the Suez Canal, without fortifications. When U.S. public opinion disputed the neutrality clauses and the Senate amended the treaty to include military protection, U.S. secretary of state John Hay was obliged to renegotiate it with British ambassador Julian Pauncefote. The second treaty, signed on November 18, 1901, did not mention fortifications, implicitly allowing the United States to defend the canal with military installations. It was approved by the newly inaugurated president, Theodore Roosevelt (who aspired to build a canal in Central America), and won easy ratification in the Senate.

Roosevelt and congressional leaders believed that the canal had to be wholly owned and operated by the United States. Simultaneously with the Hay—Pauncefote treaties, the U.S. State Department negotiated a treaty with Nicaragua permitting construction of the canal there. Later events, however, led to selection of the present site in Panama.

These treaties nullified portions of the controversial Clayton—Bulwer Treaty of 1850, which committed the United States and Britain to a jointly run canal with no fortifications. This treaty had elicited severe criticism ever since its approval and was a definite irritant in Anglo-American relations. British acquiescence to its modification signaled recognition of a U.S. sphere of influence in the Caribbean basin and foreshadowed the country's rise to world power status.

See alsoClayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850); Panama Canal; Roosevelt, Theodore.


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McCullough, David. The Path between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870–1914. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1977.

Naylor, Robert A. Penny Ante Imperialism: The Mosquito Shore and the Bay of Honduras, 1600–1914. London: Associated University Presses, 1989.

Williams, Mary Wilhelmine. Anglo-American Isthmian Diplomacy, 1815–1915, 2nd edition. New York: Russell & Russell, 1965.

                                     Michael L. Conniff