How To Shrink The World

Roosevelt called building the Panama Canal "by far the most important action" he had taken in foreign affairs. Why did he succeed where others had failed? He made his own rules


Panama was a province of Colombia when Theodore Roosevelt took up the idea of building a canal after a failed attempt by France. When the Colombian government rejected a new treaty allowing the U.S. to build a canal, Roosevelt became enraged. Soon after, a group of Panamanian separatist leaders declared a revolution. That same day, U.S. gunboats appeared off the coast to keep Colombia from reclaiming its territory. Roosevelt vigorously denied that the U.S. had fomented the revolution but defended his actions in characteristic terms: "To have acted otherwise ... would have been betrayal of the...

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