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H.R. 3110, Amendment to provide for the construction of a canal . . . (Spooner Act), June 18, 1902

In 1902 Senator John Spooner of Wisconsin introduced an amendment to a bill for a canal in Nicaragua. A Nicaraguan canal was considered most economical until a French company offered the United States a low price on a project it had abandoned in Panama. Spooner's amendment authorized the president to purchase the company’s rights and assets and acquire the Panamanian site for a canal.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

H.R. 3110, Amendment to provide for the construction of a canal . . . (Spooner Act), June 18, 1902

The Panama Canal

By the 1880s Congress considered a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans necessary for commerce and defense, but disagreements about its location stalled any action. Then the USS Maine exploded in Cuba. The battleship USS Oregon, stationed on the West Coast, took two months to reach the Caribbean to provide support in the Spanish-American War. The long voyage convinced Congress that a canal was imperative. In 1902 Congress authorized the purchase of a project initiated by France on land owned by Colombia, to complete construction of the Panama Canal.

I want . . . a bill to be passed here under which we will get a canal. There never was greater need for it than now. The Oregon demonstrated [that] to our people.

Senator John Spooner of Wisconsin, Speech to the U.S. Senate, June 18, 1902