By Panama Canal Authority
Last updated 2011-02-17
The US President Theodore Roosevelt saw the canal as being vital to America's destiny as a global power, and it was this that had driven him to push Congress to let him acquire the French rights to the Canal.
He also supported Panama's independence from Colombia - he thought this would strengthen the US around such a strategically important region. He dispatched US warships to both sides of the Isthmus as a show of strength to the Colombians, and also sent in troops to protect the Panamanian railroad.
These actions meant that Panama was able to declare independence from Colombia on 3 November 1903 and, not surprisingly, the Panamanians granted the Canal zone to the US in perpetuity. It was not ceded back to Panama until 1999.
At the end of Roosevelt's last day in Panama, he made a speech to the American workers, including John Stevens, the Canal's Chief Engineer up to 1907. In his speech, Roosevelt hailed the construction efforts:
'... whoever you are, if you are doing your duty, the balance of the country is placed under obligation to you, just as it is to a soldier in a great war. As I have looked at you, and seen you work, seen what you have done and are doing, I have felt just exactly as I would feel to see the big men of our country carrying on a great war. ...This is one of the great works of the world. It is a greater work than you yourselves at the moment realise.'
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