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Nicaragua Canal - 1881-1888

The project of opening an interoceanic canal through Nicaraguan territory, far from having been relinquished, seemed likely to become an accomplished fact. The Government of Nicaragua found an opportunity, which it embraced, of increasing the means of communication, and particularly those facilitating the transport of products from the interior to the coast.

James Gillespie Blaine (1830-1893), Republican Presidential candidate in 1884 and a major figure in national politics in the post-Civil War period, was appointed Secretary of State by President James A. Garfield in 1881. Blaine planned the first Pan-American Conference (which was not held until 1889), and proposed to Great Britain a modification of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. According to Blaine, "It was frankly admitted on both sides that the engagements of the treaty were misunderstandingly entered into, improperly comprehended, contradictorily interpreted, and mutually vexatious." During the few months he was in office, President Garfield announced to England his desire to revise the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850, and his Secretary of State, Blaine, called a conference of American republics to be held in Washington in 1882. This meeting did not take place as scheduled, partially because of the President Garfield's assassination on 02 July 1881.

The Nicaragua Canal was forecast to open up the almost inexhaustible resources of that Republic, and the engineering works alone would have offered lucrative employment to thousands of foreigners. Its physical difficulties were thought to be insignificant compared with those which Lesseps never overcame on the Isthmus of Panama; and perhaps the greatest obstacle to contend with was the silting of the alluvial deposits at the month of the San Juan River, the Atlantic entrance to the canal. Its whole length was to be 194 English miles, 110 of which are included in the great lake of Nicaragua, 134 feet above sea level, whose total superficial area is 3,668 English square miles. A short cutting would connect this lake with that of Managua, 156 feet above sea level, with a superficial area of 600 English square miles, being fifty miles long by twenty-five miles broad, with an average depth of five fathoms.

On page 50, of H.R. Doc. 16, Forty-Sixth Congress, third Session [1881], is found the testimony of M. de Lesseps before a select committee on the Interoceanic canal question. He stated "If it were determined to build a lock canal, and if there could not be a canal between the two oceans except a lock canal, then there was no doubt that the Nicaragua route was the best route." In reply to Mr. Hutchins, who asked how many vessels a day could pass through the Nicaragua canal, supposing it to have seventeen locks, M de Lesseps stated that each lockage would require two hours, even if everything went well. Mr. Hutchins asked whether more than one steamer could pass through a lock at one time, to which M. de Lesseps replied in the negative. Mr. Hutchins said, accoiding to that, not more than ten or twelve steamers a day could pass through the Nicaragua canal. M. de Lesseps assented; he would say fifteen as the greatest number that cuuld pass the locks in one day. At the 1878 Paris Canal Congress, Sir John Hawkshaw said that he thought fifteen minutes ample time to pass a single large vessel through a lift lock.

On 15 December 1881 a bill was introduced in the US Senate by Senator Miller, of California, to incorporate the "Marine Canal Company of Nicaragua," nameing as persons to be s? incorporated, TJ. S. Grant, E. D. Morgan, H. J. Jewett, Howard Potter, William R. Garrison. Frederick Billings, George B. Loring, William L. Merry, William B. Franklin, Solon Humphreys, Frederick Butter- field, E. F. Beale, William H. Barnum, George F. Baker, Daniel Ammen, Edward 0. Anderson, Alexander Taylor, U. S. Grant, Jr., Edward M. Clvnicr. S. L. Phelps, Charles Dana, Robert Harris, Edward F. Smith, Robert Ten Brocck, William Dennbon, Manuel Cuadra, Thomas De Franco; and A. G. Menocul.

The bill proposed to authorize this company "to do all lawful things to secure the lull emioyment of the powere, privileges, rights, benefits, and grant, contained in a canal concession made by the Republic of Nicaragua to the Provsional Interoceanic Canal Society, and confirmed May 22. 1880." The principal office of the company was to be in New York City. Its capital stock was to consist of not less than 500,000 nor more than 1,000,0OO shares of $100 each, which shall, in all respects, be deemed personal property, and its affairs were to be managed by a board of eleven directors, one of whom shall bo appointed by the President of the United States, and one by the Government of Nicaragua. The bill further provided that the United States shall guarantee to the said company, for the period of twenty veare from and after the completion of its canal and the commencement of the passage of vessels through it from ocean to ocean, that its net receipts shall not be less than three per cent upon its capital stock. The ninth section provides that the aggregate tolls and charges for the transit of any vessel through the canal shall not exceed $2.50 per ton of weight, or of forty cubic feet measurement (according to the usage observed by the Pacific steamship companies), of all cargo, fuel, and supplies on board any vessel in transit; but the company may, at its option, charge in lieu thereof not exceeding $1.25 per ton, actual displacement of any vessel, when in the canal. Section 10 required the company to transmit, yearly, to the Secretary of the Treasury a statement of the total canal receipts and expenditures.

In 1884 a treaty was negotiated with Nicaragua for the building of a canal at the expense of the United States, but was not ratified by the US Senate. In 1886 the Nicaragua Canal Association was formed in New York city by private citizens for the purpose of obtaining the necessary concessions and for building the canal. Concessions were obtained from Nicaragua and from Costa Rica, but no work was forthcoming.

By 1888, the government of Nicaragua grew concerned that the US was not doing enough to respond to the canal being built by the French under Lesseps in Panama. Former Nicaragua President Adan Cardenas was sent to Europe to try to interest British, German and Italian investors in the Nicaraguan canal project, but little interest was aroused.



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