File No. 819.1052/47.

The Acting Secretary of War to the Secretary of State.


Sir: I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your letter of May 7, 1915, transmitting the copy of a dispatch from the American Minister to the Republic of Panama containing the latter’s report upon a conference which he had had with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Panama as to certain proposals made by Panama regarding the control of the Panaman police by American police.

The Department of State expresses the desire, in the above letter, to be in possession of such views as the War Department may care to submit, regarding full American control of the police in Panama.

Before stating the views desired by the Department of State, I take advantage of this opportunity to express the full accord with that Department on the part of the War Department in the view—

That should any control of the Panaman police be attempted by the American authorities it should be absolute in character, allowing a free hand to the American official who would be in charge of the American personnel and whatever Panaman personnel would seem best under the circumstances.

Since the receipt of the Department of State’s letter of above-mentioned date, I have conferred upon the subject with Major General George W. Goethals, Governor of the Panama Canal. I learned from him that prior to his recent departure from the Canal Zone he had three conferences with Señor Lefevre concerning the police situation in the terminal cities. The propositions made to him by Señor Lefevre were, apparently, the same as those reported in the dispatch from the American Minister to the Republic of Panama as having been made to him in conference with the same gentleman. General Goethals states that, after discussing the matter with the American [Page 1224] Minister, he informed Señor Lefevre that in his opinion the proposed arrangement would not work satisfactorily, and for the same reasons which apparently led to the view expressed in the Department of State’s letter of the 7th instant to this Department.

General Goethals states that Señor Lefevre then suggested that the former assist him in securing the services of two Americans as instructors of police, one for Panama and one for Colon. He replied that he hesitated to recommend Americans, who would probably be placed in the same embarrassing position as were Colonel Clark and Major Helfert, both of whom had been recommended by the Department of State as instructors of the Panaman police, but who were given no authority over the police.

There appears to be a general concurrence of opinion on the part of the War Department officials in the Canal Zone that assured safety can be attained only by assuming complete police control of the two terminal cities under the terms of the existing treaty.

In transmitting these views to the War Department, Major General Wood (within the geographical limits of whose department the Canal Zone lies) recommended that, as a tentative and possible preliminary measure, the exact status and powers of the American military patrols in the cities of Colon and Panama be defined in agreement between this Government and that of the Republic of Panama. This recommendation was made in the hope that such an agreement might make unnecessary the more drastic step of assuming complete control under the terms of the treaty. I concurred in this recommendation and communicated the views of this Department to the Department of State in my letter of the 11th instant. I renew my recommendation conveyed in that letter in the hope that should a satisfactory agreement be entered into, it may be unnecessary to consider the question of more complete police control.

Very respectfully,

Henry S. Breckinridge.