Mr. Stevens to Mr. Blaine.
Stockholm, September 23, 1881. (Received October 3.)
Sir: Your dispatch No. 103, of June 24, 1881, relative to the question of the proposed Panama Canal, was received about July 20. As its terms of instruction seemed to leave the time of the presentation of its subject-matter to this government somewhat to my judgment and discretion, I deemed it expedient to delay until I had received information from my colleagues that the communication had been made to some of the great powers. Besides, at the date of the reception of your dispatch, His Majesty the King of Sweden and Norway was absent from his kingdom, being on his visit of rest and recuperation in England, Holland, and Germany, after his serious illness of last spring. The King had previously evinced considerable interest in the proposed canal in conversation with me, and is understood to be a subscriber to the stock of the Lessens Company. When he returned to Sweden in July, he came only within its southern border, where he remained for some time, and where his minister of foreign affairs joined him.
Well, in August, having informed myself by correspondence with our legations in London, St. Petersburg, and Berlin that the terms of your dispatch had been duly communicated to the British, Russian, and German Governments, I deemed the fitting time had arrived to make a like communication to this government. But in the mean time the minister for foreign affairs had obtained leave of absence and had gone on his usual summer vacation, and he did not return to his post until September 14.
Imperative circumstances prevented the necessary interview with the minister for foreign affairs, Baron Hochschild, until early in the day of September 20, before the information reached this legation of the sad death of President Garfield. Accompanied by a brief note of the undersigned, I communicated to Baron Hochschild the full text of your dispatch by careful reading, and left with him a copy of the same. In course of conversation with the minister for foreign affairs his opinion was expressed or implied that there was nothing in the terms of your communication to which His Majesty’s government could object, though he wished it understood that he was speaking in an informal and unauthoritative regard. He did not know but that France and Great Britain, especially the latter, might have some objections to the views taken by our government. As Great Britain had extensive Australian colonies which might wish to make use of the proposed canal, that government might make some claim as to the control of the same. This gave me the opportunity to enlarge on the chief points of the surpassing importance of the interests of the United States and the broad liberality of our policy as to guaranteeing the proposed canal for the free and impartial use of all nations. I remarked that the Pacific slope of the United States was one of the fattest pieces of territory on the face of the earth; that California, Oregon, and Washington Territory had natural resources equal to France and Germany united; that at no dis-distant day they would contain 25,000,000 of people; that according to carefully considered data at least nine-tenths of the commercial traffic to pass through the proposed canal would be that of the United States in transit between the Pacific and Atlantic States and Europe.[Page 1074]
I remarked that the canal would be to the United States in relative importance much what the Gotha Canal is to Sweden, passing, as the latter does, from Stockholm to Gottenburg, affording a great central artery of travel and commerce between the Baltic, the North, and the Atlantic Seas. With the difference, remarked the minister, that the Gotha Canal is through Swedish territory, while the Isthmian territory is not the possession of the United States. To this I responded by urging the strength of our contract, obligations, and rights under our treaty with the United States of Colombia. The magnitude and great superiority of our interests the minister did not controvert nor question. That the United States should object to the European nations guaranteeing precisely what we were ready to guarantee—the free and perpetual use of the canal for the peaceful commerce of all nations—he seemed to demur somewhat.
He remarked, finally, that our position seemed to be the impartial use of the canal for the commerce of nations, and that Europe should assent that the United States should practically guarantee the police thereof. I assented that this might be regarded very nearly the view which we held and which our government had long maintained.
This conversation was very informal, and in the best temper on both sides, the undersigned confining himself strictly to the terms and spirit of your dispatch. The incidental conversations with the King, mentioned in the first part of this communication, took place last winter at the receptions of the minister of state and of the minister for foreign affairs. They were sought by His Majesty in a most genial spirit, and I responded to him with much caution, in no respect exceeding the known policy of our government, not then claiming to speak by authority or instruction, using such terms only as courtesy and prudence required. There has manifestly been more or less misunderstanding in Europe as to the position of our government relative to the proposed canal of Panama, and there can be no doubt that the broad and elevated language of our lamented President’s inaugural, and the full and comprehensive statement of your dispatch, were timely, and will prove to be of commanding importance and value.
I have, &c.,