Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conversation with the British Ambassador (Geddes), October 17, 1921


2. Panama Canal Tolls

The Ambassador referred to the vote in the Senate and said that he had been instructed by his government to say that the British Government could not recede from its position.

The Secretary said that the Ambassador would note that the action thus far had only been taken by the Senate and not by Congress. The Secretary added that he considered the question one to be handled in the course of diplomatic negotiations.

The Ambassador said that his Government desired to have it made clear that it was not representing simply its own interests but also the interests of other nations in making its claim.

The Secretary said that inasmuch as the Ambassador had referred to that phase of the matter, he felt that he ought to say that this Government could not recognize any right or claim save as it was based upon treaty; that, in the absence of treaty, it was apparent that no nation would have the slightest basis for contending for free passage through a canal which the United States had built; that hence the question turned simply on the construction of a treaty; that the United States had its treaty with Great Britain92a and the question arose under that treaty; that there was also a treaty with Panama92b which incorporated provisions of the treaty with Great Britain; that so far as Great Britain was concerned the question arose solely by virtue of the treaty with Great Britain, and the United States could not recognize that any other government, not having a treaty covering the question, had the slightest right to make any claim, and therefore that this Government could not admit that Great Britain had any standing to make a claim on behalf of any other Power. The Secretary added that of course he understood that there might be motives and interests which would lead Great Britain to advance a contention under a treaty but it was still its contention and its contention alone, and it could not be regarded by this Government as one that should be advanced in a representative capacity.

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The Ambassador said that evidently his Government had been led to bring the matter up by reason of the suggestion of the American Ambassador at London; that a basis might be found for agreement by allowing certain privileges to Canada; that it was apparently in response to this suggestion that he had been instructed to say that Great Britain could not recede from the position already taken.

  1. Signed Nov. 18, 1901; Foreign Relations, 1901, p. 243.
  2. Signed Nov. 18, 1903; ibid., 1904, p. 543.