Story of the Youngest Republic

With Some Side Lights on the Historic Drama of 1903, in which the Interests of Three Countries Were Involved.

Although four years have elapsed since the Republic of Panama took its place in the ranks of the world's free and independent nations the dramatic events that led up to and surrounded the secessionary movement have never been clearly understood.   Links have been missing, and some perhaps are still missing, in the chain of circumstances, the forging of which began with the negotiations for a canal treaty between the United States and Colombia; reached the white-heat stage in the revolutionary incidents of 1903, culminating in the tempered and finished period of the present, as represented by the impending treaty with Colombia, in which amicable relations between Panama and the mother country bid fair to be restored.  Mr. F. I. Rockwood who has furnished The Pilot and Guide with much information in connection with this article, was a resident of the Colombian Capital while these events were taking place, and speaks of the situation there from personal knowledge.  The plot and the east have been at hand.   The dramatization only has been lacking.—Editor.

Why the Colombian Treaty Failed.

It is necessary to take a dispassionate view from both sides to understand the events that put in action the separation from Colombia, and made the Republic of Panama a reality.  When the United States undertook to negotiate a canal treaty with Colombia in the earlier part of 1903, one of the important and leading figures of the latter country, of whom there is very little known outside, was Dr. José M. Marroquin, a man then about 67 years of age, of excellent character and reputation, and by profession a doctor of laws.  The sudden retirement of President Sanclamente brought Marroquin into the presidency as a representative of the Conservative party, otherwise known as the Clerical party from its deference to the Church in affairs of state and administration of laws.  The government at the capital at the time of Marroquin's ascendancy was dominated by an unprincipled political faction whose policy was rule or ruin, and paved the way for the long and wasteful three years' war.  With the return on peace and the assembling of Congress, the government found itself still dominated by this faction in both branches, which was worse than the open revolutions of the Liberal party.

It is but just to state that the Colombian Congress contained many patriotic and high-minded men who endeavored to act for their country's good, but the factional element was for getting the government into their hands at any cost and incidentally the control of the $20,000,000 national annual income, compared to which the Isthmus and the canal cut but a secondary figure.  They had as their leader General Velez, who was slated for the presidency if a change could be effected.

At the time when the war of the revolution was in full swing on the Isthmus, President Marroquin appealed for help from the United States Government to preserve order there in favor of his government, especially along the line of railroad, promising in return that when the revolution was over, he would sign a canal treaty, thereby pledging the word of his country as its president.  The United States landed troops and thereafter until the cessation of hostilities kept the transit clear.

Then came the assembling of the Colombian Congress for the discussion of the proposed canal treaty, and President Marroquin was informed that he would not be allowed to comply with his word unless authorized by it, despite the special powers that had previously been conferred upon him for this purpose, in which the honor of his country was compromised.

The Colombian Congress was duly put on notice concerning action on the treaty as evidenced by the following memorandum presented by the United States Minister at Bogota to the Colombian Government, June 13th, 1903:—

Sir: -- I have received instructions from my government by cable to the effect that the Government of Colombia, by all appearances, does not fully appreciate the gravity of the situation.  The negotiations for the sale of the canal at Panama were initiated by Colombia, and were urgently solicited from my government for many years.  The propositions presented by Colombia, with a few modifications, were finally adopted by the United States.  In virtue of this agreement our Congress revoked its previous decision, and decided for the Panama route.   If Colombia now rejects the treaty, or unduly delays its ratification, the amicable relations existing between the two countries will be so seriously compromised that our Congress in its next session may adopt measures that may be regretted by all friends of Colombia.

This evidently had no impression on the dominant faction in the Colombia Congress, as indicated in the following cables to the Panama Star & Herald:

Bogota, July 7, 1903.
General Velez, leader of the opposition said, "My countrymen are opposed to the treaty as it now stands, as they do not think that the United States has been generous enough in the terms offered."

Bogota, July 8, 1903
About President Marroquin signing the canal treaty, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in a much applauded speech answered all of Caro's arguments, finally convincing the Senate that THEY must approve the canal treaty before the President's signature.

It was apparent to President Marroquin that the factional element was using the canal question to place him out of power and bring their following into control of the government, and that to attain this object they were ready and perfectly willing to sacrifice the canal treaty.

After two months or more of debate in both houses the treaty came to a vote in the lower branch of Congress and was endorsed by that body.  It then went to the Senate where Velez and his following had made all preparations to fight it to the last ditch.  The result appears in the cable herewith:—

Bogota, August 12, 1903.
The Hay-Herran canal treaty was defeated in the Colombian Senate today.

Immediately the result became known, President Marroquin adopted a course which had for its object, the placing of the dominant political faction in the Colombian Senate in a corner at any cost.  He made up his mind that as president of the country his word would be complied with indirectly, if it could not be directly, and accordingly appointed Don Domingo de Obaldia, who was pronounced and outspoken in the interests of Panama, to be its governor.  This raised a storm of protest, and showed that a political move was on the board that had not been thought of, but with all the criticisms of the Colombian press on this appointment, none denied but that Obaldia was a man of high character and ability.  It was this fact that stirred them up the most.

From the Colombian Minister at Washington, and from individuals and companies in the United States and Europe, having commercial interests in Colombia, came cable after cable concerning the movements and purported plans of the revolutionary agents of Panama.  These cables were sent principally over the lines touching Venezuela, and from there transmitted by telegraph to Bogota, it being considered unwise at this juncture to send them in the usual manner through Panama.   Many of the cables urged the massing of troops on the Isthmus in order to forestall the rumored change in political ties.  So well informed was the Colombian Government and even private parties at Bogota, that it was a matter of public comment on the streets at this period why no action was taken looking to the dispatch of troops to the isthmus.   In the meantime the faction who had defeated the canal treaty gave open expression to the belief that this turn of events would bring its adherents permanently to the front, and its leader into the presidential chair.

There were at that time in Bogota seven thousand troops of the Colombian Line, and another ten thousand within reach, all well-drilled and armed, and officered by men on whom the government could depend, yet no move was made to mobilize them in any way, or any indication given that they were to be dispatched to the coast.  President Marroquin had ample time to place all the troops needed on the Isthmus, and when an anxious merchant asked him why he did not do so after so much warning, the President replied, "What for?"  The merchant then went on to state that according to advices he had received, there was a revolution junta working in New York and Washington, and it was apparent there would be trouble at Panama.   The President replied to this in saying that, "Sometimes the unexpected happens."

It was the general belief of those who knew President Marroquin intimately as well as the circumstances surrounding the Panama affair, that he allowed the secessionary movement to proceed without taking any decisive steps to stave it off, not altogether to revenge himself for the slight put upon him by the Velez faction, but as a lesson for the betterment of his country, and to avoid a repetition of the occurrences that characterized the revolution of 1899 to 1902.  The manner in which events shaped themselves is now accepted in Colombia as one of the best things that could have happened for the reason that the affairs of Panama have always proved a fruitful source of dissension in Colombian politics, while its secession has operated to remove this discordant factor, thereby turning the thoughts of its people into wiser and broader-minded channels.  Ex-President Marroquin today has the respect of all in the Colombian capital, whereas if it was thought that he had perpetrated a grievous wrong on his country, his presence would not have been tolerated for a moment.

The defeating of the canal treaty does not appear to have met the will or the wishes of the people of Colombia as a whole, but was brought about through the scheming of a political clique that had been drawn together by the possibility of getting the reins of government into its hands.  The excuse used by Velez and his champions in blocking favorable action on the treaty in the Colombian Senate was that the United States did not offer enough for the privileges sought for and that it would be prejudicial to the integrity of the republic to permit the American Government to exercise supreme control over the canal strip, this despite the fact that the lower house ratified the treaty without question.  Moreover, the amount of $10,000,000 that would have changed hands upon the successful issue of the treaty was far more liberal than any proposition theretofore made the Colombian Government in connection with the canal undertaking.  Then too, Velez was an avowed enemy of progress and his antipathy to foreigners and foreign enterprises was notorious.

After Congress adjourned, the action of the Colombian Senate in turning down the canal treaty crystallized public sentiment against Velez, and it is extremely probably that could the matter have come up again a few months later, the result would have been decidedly different.  President Roosevelt's reference to the defeat of the treaty in his message to Congress states:—

"During all the years of negotiation and discussion that preceded the conclusion of the Hay-Herran treaty, Colombia never intimated that the requirement by the United States of control over the canal strip would render unattainable the construction of a canal by way of the Isthmus of Panama; nor were we advised, during the months when legislation of 1902 was pending before the Congress, that the terms which it embodied would render negotiations with Colombia impracticable.   It is plain that no nation could construct and guarantee the neutrality of the canal with a less degree of control than was stipulated in the Hay-Herran treaty.  A refusal to grant such degree of control was necessarily a refusal to make any practicable treaty at all.  such refusal therefore squarely raised the question whether Colombia was entitled to bar the transit of the world's traffic across the Isthmus... Colombia, after having rejected the treaty in spite of our protest and warnings when it was in her power to accept it, has since shown the utmost eagerness to accept the same treaty if only the status quo could be restored.  One of the men standing highest in the official circles of Colombia on November 6, 1903, addressed the American Minister at Bogota, saying that if the Government of the United States would land troops to preserve Colombian sovereignty and the transit, the Colombian Government would declare martial law, and by virtue of vested constitutional authority, when public order is disturbed (would) approve by decree the ratification of the canal treaty as signed; or, if the government of the United States prefers (would) call an extra session of the Congress--with new and friendly members--next May to approve the treaty.  Having these facts in view, there is no shadow of a question that the government of the United States proposed a treaty that was not only just, but generous to Colombia, which our people regarded as erring, if at all; on the side of overgenerosity; which was hailed with delight by the people of the immediate locality through which the canal was to pass, who were most concerned as to the new order of things, and which the Colombian authorities now recognize as being so good that they are willing to promise its unconditional ratification if only we will desert those who have shown themselves our friends and restore to those who have shown themselves unfriendly, the power to undo what they did.  I pass by the question as to what assurance we have that they would now keep their pledge and not again refuse to ratify the treaty if they had the power; for of course, I will not for one moment discuss the possibility of the United States committing an act of such baseness as to abandon the new Republic of Panama."

In 1904, General Velez the leader of the anti-canal faction was a candidate for the Colombian presidency against General Reyes, but he was overwhelmingly defeated and died shortly afterwards.  When General Reyes assumed the chair he found the same anti-canal faction working against him and he proceeded to eradicate it by radical measures.  Over four hundred, including men of wealth and ability, were arrested and deported to the military penal colony of Macoa on one of the branches of the Amazon, two months' journey from Bogota, from where prisoners seldom return.  President Reyes in explaining his action stated that the riddance of this faction was made necessary for the maintenance of peace and prosperity.  Others fled the country and are now living abroad.  The measure appears to have been successful for Colombia has been enjoying an era of peace unusual in its history.

The Secession Pot Begins To Boil.

That the Hay-Herran treaty would never be ratified by the Colombian Congress appears to have been regarded by the people on the Isthmus as a foregone conclusion.  In his clever little book in Spanish on the "Independence of the Isthmus," Don José Augustin Arango, who was a member of the original junta of separation and who had been prominently identified with the movement since its inception, states, "I was a senator in the Colombian National Congress of 1903, but I refused to attend as I was completely convinced that the treaty would not go through, and could see no other way than a separation from Colombia to save the Isthmus from ruin."  The Colombian Senate was to have adjourned on Sept. 22, 1903, but a month before that date the opinion was generally shared in that no favorable action would be taken.

In the forepart of August, 1903, a number of prominent citizens of Panama came together and earnestly discussed the chances for success in a movement looking to the severance of political ties with Colombia.  The result was the naming of a junta consisting of Messrs. José Augustin Arango, Federico Boyd, Ricardo Arias, Micanor A. de Obarrio, Manuel Espinosa B., and Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, the latter now President of the Republic.  Plans were laid, and to Dr. Amador was entrusted the delicate mission to visit the United States to ascertain by means of interviews how the movement would be looked upon there.  In this connection Dr. Amador was to have the able assistance of Captain Beers, formerly freight agent for the Panama Railroad.

During the last days of August a meeting was held in New York City attended by Dr. Amador, Amadeo Arosemena, Tracy Robinson, formerly with the Panama Railroad Company at Colon, J. Gabriel Duque of the Panama Star & Herald, and G. Lewis, also of Panama.  The New York World said of this meeting and its results:—

"They went over the whole situation in detail and figured out the strength of the armed force they could raise as compared with the Colombian army on the Isthmus, and decided that the revolt should take place September 22, on the day the Colombian Congress was to adjourn.  It was arranged that Panama and Colon should be seized simultaneously, and the new Republic proclaimed throughout the Isthmus.  Resistance was only expected at Colon and Panama, and as the garrisons of both places were small, it was thought they could be easily overthrown.  It was reported to the committee that the United States would view the revolt, with favor, and would take an indirect hand in it by at once landing marines to keep the Isthmus open for traffic, and would permit no fighting along the line, or at either end of it.  The revolutionist appreciated that this attitude would be of immense advantage to whoever was in control at Panama and Colon, and it was decided to center all their energies at these points."

"J. Gabriel Duque was selected to visit Washington and acquaint the administration confidentially with the plans.  He went there at once and on September 3 had a long talk with Secretary Hay in which he unfolded the whole Panama scheme.  Mr. Hay had heard of it before and was interested chiefly in the date set for the revolution, and the exact nature of the plans.  Mr. Hay did not officially countenance the revolution.   His remarks were perfectly proper; it was what he did not say, rather than what he did say that encouraged the revolutionists and caused them to change their plans."

"You are much too hasty," said Mr. Hay when he was told of the date set for the revolt.  'Colombia should be given a chance to repent.  If she should show no signs of repentance within a reasonable time, you would of course, be free to take any action you saw fit, as you are now, but it seems to me it would look much better to wait six weeks or so.  Of course you understand that if there is a revolution the United States will keep the Isthmus open and allow no fighting near the railway.  If there is to be any fighting it will have to be done before our marines get there.'"

Mr. Duque returned to New York, told of the result of his visit, whereupon it was decided that the new government should not be set up, or proclaimed until the 4th of November.

Colombia Gets the News.

Within a few days after the conference with Mr. Hay, Dr. Herran the Colombian Minister cabled his government full information concerning the revolutionary movement, setting forth that it was serious, and that the garrisons at Panama and Colon would be strengthened at once.  He was informed that his advice had been followed, and that there were 2,000 picked men at Panama, whereas the garrison numbered only about 400.   When it was too late Colombia acted upon Dr. Herran's suggestion, for it was not until November 3, the day the new republic was proclaimed that a Colombian gunboat and a chartered steamer arrived at Colon from Cartagena with 300 troops on board of one, and 200 on the other.

The letting of the cat out of the bag created some commotion in the revolutionary camp, and led them to be extremely cautious in their future movements.  Dr. Herran wrote the representative of the French canal company to the effect that he would hold them responsible for what transpired in this case.  After this occurrence the cable only was used for the transmission of instructions.

No coal for Colombian boats.

"We thought it best," writes Don Arango in his Notes "to let Colonel J. R. Shaler, Superintendent of the Panama Railroad Company, know of our plans through Captain Beers, so one day when both were in my office, Captain Beers explained what we intended doing.  Among the things that came up was the supplying the Commanding General of the Colombian military forces with 200 tons of coal, which the General asked through the Governor at first, then directly of the railroad company.   It was explained that this coal was urgently needed for the Colombian gunboats Padilla and Bogota, which were under hurry orders to go the Buenaventura, and bring the troops that were there ready to embark for Panama.  As this would have been fatal to our plans, Colonel Shaler consulted with me as to the best way of evading delivery of the coal.  The only way we could see was to put off the request from day to day by telling the General that the coal was in Colon, although there was a great quantity in Panama, and some of it had already been sold to the different steamship companies."

"Sup. Shaler gave me authority to look after this matter, and I was able to put off the Commanding General in spite of the notes which he sent me to supply the two vessels named.  I had talked with General Varon, commanding the Padilla, and ascertained that he was in sympathy with our cause, and afterwards Dr. Amador had a clearer understanding with him.  We then advised that the Padilla could receive coal, and after a talk with Col. Shaler over the telephone about it, the supply was furnished.  We also offered to supply the Bogota, but mentally had no intention of following up the offer.  I advised Col. Shaler to take the matter in hand directly in case the Commanding General was not satisfied with  my promises, Commander Valdes, and Colonel J. A. Arango, he was escorted to the office of Dr. Amador Guerrero, his friend, and left there as a prisoner.

General Tovar's Arrival in Panama.

Writing of General Tovar's reception in Panama, the Colon Starlet of December 17, 1903, said:

"He was received by the garrison with the Colombian standard, the military band, and the populace.  As the General drove through the street, there was not lacking any evidence of the best of intentions on the part of the people.  But the separatist plot had reached a very striking point by the very presence of the General.   It was to nip in the bud, if possible, the secession, that the General had been hurried to the isthmus, with the first contingent of troops.  It was supposed that the Republic would have been declared on the 28th of November amidst the festivities, so the General thought himself in the enemy's camp, and that any attempt at a revolution could be easily crushed.  But before the sun had gone down that evening behind the silent sentinel of Mount Ancon, Colombia's rule on the Isthmus had forever ceased.   Tovar who had been welcomed that morning under the Colombian flag amid strains of the national hymn of his country, was in the evening a prisoner under the flag of Panama.   No wonder that bitter remorse filled his breast as he reflected on the 500 troops he had left behind him at Colon.  But whether he had gone over to Panama or not,or whether he had had his troops with him, Colombia must have had to lose Panama, even though there was a sacrifice of blood."

The Bogota Pays Its Compliments.

At 8 p.m., about three hours after the imprisonment of the generals, the Paymaster of the Bogota, who had assumed temporary command of that boat, by official note advised the Chief of Police that unless the general were set at liberty inside of two hours that that time he would proceed to shell the city.  No attention being paid to the demand, at the expiration of the time mentioned, he commenced firing.   The battery on the Bovedas replied a once, and the Bogota retired hastily after firing but two shots, one killing a Chinaman, the only casualty in the entire revolution.  The Chinaman was struck while walking along Salsipuedes Street and immediately ceased to take an interest in earthy things.   That ball that killed him is now in the possession of Mr. H. G. Prescott, having been presented to him by the Minister of War of the Provisional Government.

Without Hatred and Without Joy.

The manifesto issued by the provisional junta on the eve of separation recites the reasons for the act in the following language:

The transcendental act which by a spontaneous movement the inhabitants of the isthmus of Panama have just executed is the inevitable consequence of a situation which has become graver daily.

Long is the recital of the grievances that the inhabitants of the Isthmus have suffered from their Colombian brothers, but their grievances would have been withstood with resignation for the sake of harmony and national union, had its separation been possible, and if we could have entertained well founded hopes of improvement and of effective progress under the system to which we were subjected by that Republic.  We have to solemnly declare that we have the sincere and profound conviction that all hopes were future, and all the sacrifices on our part useless.

The Isthmus of Panama has been governed by the Republic of Colombia with the narrow-mindedness that in transpore was applied to their colonies by the European nations; the Isthmian people and territory was a source of fiscal resources and nothing more.

The contracts and negotiations regarding the railroad and the Panama Canal, and the national taxes collected on the Isthmus have netted to Colombia tremendous sums which we will not detail, not wishing to appear in this exposition which will go down to posterity, as being moved by a mercenary spirit, which never has been, nor is now our purpose.   Of these large sums the Isthmus has not received the benefit of a bridge for any of its numerous rivers, nor the construction of a single road between its towns; or a public building, or a single college, and has neither seen any interest displayed in advancing its industries, nor has the most infinite part of those sums ever been applied towards its prosperity.

A very recent example of what we have related above is what has occurred with the negotiations of the Panama Canal which, when taken under consideration by Congress was rejected in a summary manner.  There were a few public men who expressed their adverse opinion on the ground that the Isthmus of Panama alone was to be favored by the opening of the canal by virtue of a treaty with the United States, and that the rest of Colombia would not receive any direct benefits of any sort of that work, as if that way of reasoning, even though it were correct, would justify the irreparable and perpetual damage which would be caused to the isthmus by the rejection of the treaty in the manner in which it was done, which was equivalent to closing the doors to future negotiations.

The people of the Isthmus in view of such notorious causes have decided to recover their sovereignty, and begin to form a part of the society of the free and independent nations, in order to work out its own destiny, to insure its future in a stable manner and discharge the duties which it is called to do by the situation of its territory and its immense wealth.

To that, we the initiators of the movement effected aspire, and have obtained an unanimous approval.

We aspire to the formation of a true republic where tolerance will prevail, where the law should be the invariable guide of those governing, and of those governed; where effective peace be established which consists in the free and harmonious play of all interests and all activities, and where finally, civilization and progress will find perpetual stability.

At the commencement of the life of an independent nation, we fully appreciate the responsibilities that State means, but we have profound faith in the good sense and patriotism of the Isthmian people, and we possess sufficient energy to open our way by means of labor to a happy future without any worry or any dangers.

In separating from our brothers of Colombia, we do it without any hatred and without any joy.  Just as a son withdraws from his paternal roof, the Isthmian people in adopting the lot they have chosen, have done so with grief, but in compliance with the supreme and inevitable duty they owe to themselves, and that of their own welfare.

We therefore, begin to form a part among the free nations of the world, considering Colombia as a sister nation, with which we shall be whenever circumstances may require it, and for whose prosperity we have the most fervent and sincere wishes.

José Augustin Arango,
Federico Boyd,
Tomas Arias

The formal declaration of independence was made by the Municipal Council of the city of Panama at 4 o'clock of the afternoon of November 4, in Cathedral Plaza, and the provisional junta, took upon itself the direction of affairs until the establishment of the provisional government.

The Show of fight at Colon.

The news of the arrest of Generals Tovar and Amaya did not reach the ears of Colonel Torres and his force of Colombians until the train reached Colon on the forenoon of the 4th.  He immediately notified United States Consul Oscar Malmros through the Colon local authorities that unless the imprisoned officers were set at liberty by 2 p.m., he would open fire on the town and kill every American in it.   This threat was conveyed to Panama by the following telegram caught from the wire while going through:—

"Troops refuse to accept proposal and say unless Tovar and Amaya are released by 2 p.m., they will burn the town and kill every American in it; that Colonel wants him to get in communication with the Junta and see what can be done, if necessary."

At this time the only American warship in the harbor at Colon was the gunboat Nashville.  John Hubbard, commanding, and with 192 men on board.  The Nashville was ordered to proceed to Colon on October 30th and arrived at its destination on November 2d.  The consul's first step was to apprise Commander Hubbard of Colonel Torres' threat, and the action the Commander took is covered in his official report of the incident, as follows:—

"U.S.S. Nashville, Third Rate,
Colon, U. S. Colombia, November 5, 1903

"Sir:— Pending a complete report of the occurrences of the last three days at Colon, Colombia, I most respectfully invite the Department's attention to those of the date of Wednesday, November 4, which amounted to practically the making of war against the United States by the officer in command of the Colombian troops in Colon.  At 1 o'clock p.m., on that date, I was summoned on shore by a preconcerted signal, and on landing met the United States consul, vice-consul, and Col. Shaler, the general superintentent of the Panama Railroad."

"The Consul informed me that he had received notice from the officer commanding the Colombian troops, Col. Torres, through the prefect of Colon, to the effect that if the Colombian officers, Generals Tovar and Amaya, who had been seized in Panama on the evening of November 3, by the independents, and held as prisoners, were not released by 2 o'clock p.m., he, Torres, would open fire on the town of Colon and kill every United States citizen in the place, and my advice and action were requested.  I advised that all the United States citizens should take refuge in the shed of the Panama Railroad Company, a stone building susceptible of being put in a good state for defense, and that I would immediately land such body of men, with extra arms for arming the citizens, as the complement of the ship would permit."

"This was agreed to, and I immediately returned on board, arriving at 1:15 p.m.  The order for landing was immediately given, and at 1:30 p.m., the boats left the ship with a party of forty-two men under the command of Lieutenant-Commander H. M. Witzel, with Midshipman J. P. Jackson as second in command.   Time being pressing, I gave verbal orders to Mr. Witzel to take the building referred to above, to put it into the best state of defense possible, and protect the lives of the citizens assembled there, not firing unless fired upon.  The women and children took refuge on the German steamer Marcomania and the Panama Railroad steamer City of Washington, both ready to haul out from dock if necessary."

"The Nashville got under way and patrolled along the waterfront close in and ready to use either small arm or shrapnel fire.  The Colombians surrounded the building of the railroad company almost immediately after we had taken possession and for about one and a half hours their attitude was most threatening, it being seemingly their purpose to provoke an attack.  Happily our men were cool and steady, and while the tension was very great, no shot was fired."

"At about 3:15 p.m., Colonel Torres came into the building for an interview and expressed himself as most friendly to the Americans, claiming that the whole affair was a misapprehension, and that he would like to send the Alcalde of Colon to Panama to see General Tovar and have him direct the discontinuance of the show of force.  A special train was furnished and safe conduct guaranteed.   At about 5:30 p.m., Colonel Torres made the proposition of withdrawing his troops to Monkey Hill if would withdraw the Nashville's forces and leave the town in possession of the police until the return of the alcalde on the morning of the 5th.

"After an interview with the United States consul and Colonel Shaler as the probability of good faith in the matter, I decided to accept the proposition and brought my men on board, the disparity in numbers between my force and that of the Colombians—nearly ten to one, making me desirous to avoiding a conflict so long as the object in view, the protection of American citizens, was not imperiled."

"I am positive that the determined attitude of our men, their coolness and evident intention of standing their ground had a most salutary and decisive effect on the immediate situation, and was the initial step in the ultimate abandoning of Colon by those troops and their return to Cartagena the following day.   Lieutenant-Commander Witzel is entitled to much praise for his admirable work in command on the spot."

"I feel that I cannot sufficiently represent to the Department the grossness of this outrage and the insult to our dignity, even apart from the savagery of the threat."

"Very respectfully,
John Hubbard,
Commander, United States, Navy, Commanding"

Colonel Torres made a number of efforts to get in telegraph or telephone communication with the imprisoned generals at Panama, but failed, the only answer that was permitted to his message being that he would be expected to comply with his duty.  following is a copy of a telegram sent by Colonel Torres asking for instructions.  While dated the 5th, the reference to preparation for hostilities would infer that it was filed at Colon before the occurrences on the 4th:—

"Colon, November 5, 1903.

General Ramon G. Amaya and Juan B. Tovar, Panama

I have to advise you that the cruiser Cartagena left yesterday against my orders.  I am awaiting your instructions in respect to what ought to be done.  The commission which has been sent will not give any knowledge in particular.  Again and for the last time I desire your orders in order to comply with them.  I have obtained permission to be allowed communication with General Tovar by telephone to receive your last instructions.  The enemy's troops are throwing up defenses and are deploying.  What ought to be done?  I await your immediate answer.
Eliseo Torres G."

Embargo Placed on Carrying Troops.

In connection with the attitude of the Panama Railroad Company in the matter of transporting troops over its line, the following telegram will explain:—

Colon, November 4, 1903.

H. G. Prescott, Asst. Supt.,

The following communication from Commander U. S. S. Nashville for your information and to be governed accordingly:—

U. S. S. Nashville, November 3,
Colon, U. S. S. Colombia, November 4.

Sir:—The condition of affairs at Panama being such that any movement of troops to that neighborhood must inevitably produce a conflict and interrupt that transit of the isthmus, which the U. S. Government is pledged to maintain uninterrupted, I am obliged to prohibit the carrying of troops of either party, or in either direction by your railroad, and hereby notify you that I do so prohibit it.

Yours very respectfully,
John Hubbard
Commander, U. S. Navy, Commanding.

To Col. Shaler, General Sup., P. R. R. Colon.

More U. S. Vessels Arrive.

Colon Starlet:—The United States steamer Dixie arrived on the 4th at 7 p.m.  A force of between three and four hundred men was immediately landed.  The Dixie is a practice and troop ship attached to the Caribbean fleet with headquarters at Culebra Island, Porto Rico.

Colon Starlet, November 12:—The U. S. S. Atlanta left Kingston, Jamaica at 10 a.m. the 4th inst., and arrived at Colon on the morning of the 6th, a record run, and a chance for a crack ship to display her steaming powers.  The Atlanta was ordered to Guantanamo, Cuba, on October 18th.  This brings the combined American force at Colon to three vessels and over 1,000 men.

Washington dispatch dated November 7:—The battleship Maine has been order to Colon.

(From Colon Starlet, November 10, 1903).

Washington, November 6:—To the American Naval Commanders on the Isthmus:  forces will be increased if necessary to prevent conflict between the Bogota Government and the secessionists.  Colombia must settle the quarrel with its subjects peacefully, if at all.  It is the only way to stop the yearly insurrections on the isthmus, and relieve the United States of the burden of policing a territory that is not its own.

Colombian Troops Re-embark.

The Colombian troops comprising the "Tiradores" battalion, which were left in charge of Col. Torres during the enforced absence of Gens. Tovar and Amaya in Panama, surrendered their arms on the 5th, two days after the act of secession, and arrangements were at once made for their return to Cartagena.  It was first decided that Gens. Tovar and Amaya should leave the Isthmus on the steamer carrying the troops, but later it was considered that this might be an unwise move, for when the officers rejoined their men they might try to incite them to some further efforts.   They were held prisoners in Panama until the sailing of the next Royal Mail steamer for Cartagena, a matter of ten days or so, and were then taken to Colon under a military escort composed entirely of young men from the capital city, under the leadership of Guillermo Andreve, aide-de-camp to Gen. Domingo Diaz.  In connection with the departure of the troops, the Colon Starlet of November 7th has the following:—

"The sailing of the Colombian battalion "Tiradores" on the night of the 5th on the royal Mail steamer, Orinoco, too away all danger that existed of a conflict on the Isthmus.  The defenses of the U. S. Marines were at once taken down."

As an additional inducement to the Colombian troops to accept with resignation the new state of affairs, a purse of money is reported to have been made up and turned over to Colonel Torres for himself and men.  It was also rumored at the time that this officer was arrested and shot upon his arrival at Cartagena, but the Colon Starlet of November 24th corrects the report, and refers to the disposition of the money, as follows:—

"We understand that Colonel Torres was not shot as was reported, and that the money from Panama, $8,000 in gold, which was presented to himself and troops, he turned over to his government on his arrival at Cartagena."

Again on the 25th, the Starlet says:—

"Anent the paragraph in Tuesday's issue of the handing over by Colonel Torres to the Colombian authorities at Cartagena, the money he received as a present before leaving Colon on November 5th, we have since been authoritatively informed that General Reyes on arriving at Colon brought the money with him and returned it.

Junta Defines Status of P. R. R.

Before affairs reached a critical pass, officials of the Panama Railroad Company arrived at an understanding with the leaders of the secessionary movement, as described in the copies of correspondence reproduced here.  It is interesting to note that it was the idea of the provisonal junta to name the new republic, the Republic of the Isthmus.   It is evident that this namedid not meet with popular approval, as the new republic came into being under the name of the Republic of Panama.

"Panama Railroad Company.
November 2, 1903.

Dear Prescott:—
I send you herewith memo, of points that should be covered in any communication addressed to us.  Of course, there are many others, and you had better see Dr. Pablo Arosemena as soon as you can do so consistently and let him advise you fully.  The object is to have the New Government send us such communication as will free us from liability in cash thre is a failure.  Don't fail to get full advice and be government by.  It send this by No. 5 tomorrow that you may have it early.

Yours truly,
J. R. Shaler, Gen'l. Supt."

"Of course, you understand that we will not accept any requests from the proposed New Government, unless they are backed up by mlitary force.   But I advise you of this fully in case there may be interruption of communicatio between Panama and Colon."

(Memorandum cited in above letter.)

Panama Railroad Company
Monday, November 2, 1903.

Dear Mr. Prescott:—
Have just wired you that Nashville has been sighted.  this I presume settles the question.  I have to suggest that New Government should address a communication to the Gen'l supt., stating the facts that may have transpired up to the time when they may want to make any requests of us.  They should state the facts as to their assumption of authority of Government.  they should give assurance that they will render absolute protection to the R. R. in its properties and its rights, the same as secured to R. R. Co., by contracts 1850 and 1867, Article 30, and elsewhere with Bogota Government.   In consideration of this action on part of Government, they will expect the R. R. Co. to comply with the provisions of Art. 19, and to furnish promptly all cars necessary for compaying with the provisions of said article (19), to the new Government.  they must notify the R. R. Co., that the new Government (by whatever its name may be) has the military force necessary to enforce their requests, and it will be used for this prupose.   And that such mlitary force will be kept in readiness for service at all times.   Government should notify R. R. Co. that they shall expect R. R. Co. to operate their trains regularly, and the Government will see to it that such movement of trains shall not be interfered with by other parties, or forces.

This is in a general way.  See my letter deven date accompanying this

J. R. Shaler

The junta replied to this as follows: —

"Panama, November 3, 1903.

To Superintendent of the Railroad Company,

We have to inform you that today at 6 p.m., a popular meeting took place in this city, by which the independence of the Department has been declared, and which will be called in the future the Republic of the Isthmus.

There has been named a junta of the provisional government composed of Señores José Augustin Arango, Federico Boyd and Tomas Arias, who in their official character communicate to you what has occurred, and likewise to inform you that as the 'Government de facto," they are disposed to comply with all the obligations contained in the contracts made between the Republic of Colombia and the Railroad Company in 1850 and 1867.  In consequence we hope that you on your part will comply with Article 19, and other analogous points in the same contracts.

We have also to inform you that the new Government, in addition to the prestige with which it has been invested by all the citizens, has the military power sufficient for the protection of the property of the Railroad Company at any time that you may find it necessary to call upon us.  We hope that the traffic between this city and the city of Colon will be maintained without any change, as in normal times, and the Government which we represent will in no case permit outside interference that will iterrupt the traffic or the regularity of the trains.

We are,
Your obedient servants,
J. A. Arango
Federico Boyd
Tomas Arias."

Flag of the Republic Hoisted.

"Yesterday morning, November 6th, at ten o'clock, the very interesting ceremony of hoisting the flag of the new Republic was performed at the Prefecture," says the Colon Starlet of November 7th.

"All the foreign representatives, heads of the Panama Railroad, several officers of the United States forces, merchants and a large number of other persons, both Colombians and foreigners were present to witness the exercises.

"Before the flag was hoisted Señor Ocaña, Vice-President of the last Colombian Municipal Council, read a resolution which was passed at a meeting of the board on Thursday, signifying the adhesion of Colon to the Republic of Panama.  Señor Melendez then addressed the meeting stating that the object that had brought them all together was of so transcendental a nature that no comment was necessary.   He then proceeded to read a printed speech addressed to the isthmian Colonials and citizens respectively.  The address closed with shouts of 'Viva el Isthmo,' 'Viva la República de Panama.'  After this the new flag was brought out to be hoisted.   The honor of performing this act was conferred on MAJOR BLACK, OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY.

As the new flag was run up for the first time under a clear sky and flung its folds to the breeze, the police force which had been drawn up outside in the street, saluted it, while shouts of 'Viva la República' were raised."

Just a Little Too Late.

Panama Star & Herald:—Gen. Pompilio Gutierrez arrived at Colon on the 5th on the French steamer Canada.  He had been nominated Governor of the Department of Panama and came to take charge of the position, accompanied by a large staff of officers.  He was met by the agents of the revolutionary junta and shown that it was impossible for him to take any action, as the independence of Panama had become an assured fact.  When offered the command of the battalion "Tiradores," as its superior officer, he refused and stayed on board the steamer, returning with his staff to Colombia.  It was rumored here that the revolutionary agents were fighting with a weapon that General Gutierrez went away convinced of the uselessness of making any effort against them.

Star & Herald of November 19th:—Yesterday the French steamer Canada arrived at Colon with the Colombian commissioners on board, and with General Reyes at their head.  They were en route for the United States.  A conference was held on board without results.   General Reyes, who had been delegated full presidential powers to represent the Government of Colombia, asked Admiral Coghlan, the commander of the American naval forces on the isthmus, to cable President Roosevelt that Colombia would not resort to any act of hostility towards the new Republic of Panama.  In the evening the commissioners took a ride about Colon in company with the Panama Government delegation that had come over to meet them.  They sailed for the States the next day.

How the News was Received at Bogotá.

Bogota is one of the most isolated cities in all South America and it was not until the 8th of the month that the news of the secession reached there.  The information was augmented by the report that the American fleet was at Panama and Colon, and that the Colombian forces were not allowed to land there.  The news was not unexpected to those current with the situation, but it created intense excitement among the middle and lower classes who thronged the streets crying, "Down with the government, down with Marroquin."  Others should, "Why didn't the Americans take us in also."

In Bogota at that time there was a floating, irresponsible class who preferred revolution and robbery, to work.  This element was attracted into the public parks of the city by bands of music and eloquent speakers who urged that they must save their country and march to Panama.  They had more patriotism poured into them on that occasion than they had ever heard in their lives before; flags were presented; a banquet in which liquors figured largely was prepared, and with voluntary and involuntary subscriptions for expenses about one thousand men started for the coast, equipped with an old stand of worn-out arms.  As a Government official afterwards expressed it, "The Government wants them out of here and they will never come back."  And they did not.  This was the much-talked-of expedition to Panama overland by way of the Darien.

During all the excitement at the Colombian capital there were no demonstrations or threats made against the American Legation, as reported in the newspapers at the time, nor were the resident Americans molested.  When the same papers were publishing reports of Americans being killed and their property destroyed, a cable to Present Marroquin brought an answer that the American Legation and the American colony had been guaranteed absolute protection.

Railroad Officials Complimented.

Don Arango in his little story of the secession takes occasion to compliment highly the railroad officials, Colonel J. R. Shaler, and his able assistant, Mr. H. G. Prescott, for their part in the affair.  He says:  "From the day he knew of the movement, Col. Shaler showed in every act his sympathy for us, and that he was trying to protect us by avoiding combats on the line with the troops that had come from Colombia, which we had determined to attack if they had reached Panama.  The part he took in the reembarkation of Col. Torres and his men also merits our gratitude.  Of no less value were the services of that notable North American, Mr. H. G. Prescott, second superintendent of the railroad, who had for many years previous made his home here and married in this country.  Mr. Prescott in accord with his chief went to Colon where he remained until the arrival of the Colombian forces.  He was in constant communication with us, transmitted our instructions and kept us informed of what was transpiring there.  by this and other valuable services the Panamanians owe Mr. Prescott a great debt of gratitude."

Colonel Shaler and Mr. Prescott remained with the railroad company for over a year after its purchase by the United States Government in the same capacities, Mr. Prescott serving as Acting Superintendent for several months after Col. Shaler's resignation and departure.  Col. Shaler is now consul for the Republic of Panama at his home city, Chattanooga, Tenn., while Mr. Prescott continues to reside in Panama occupied with commercial pursuits.

All Over But the Shouting.

"Worthy recognition has been taken", says the Colon Starlet of December 3, 1903, "of the six gentlemen to whom the credit of creating the new Republic of Panama belongs.  At an extraordinary meeting of the board of the Isthmus Progressive Club on the 22d ult., it was unanimously voted to tender tribute to these gentlemen, namely, Dr. Manuel Amador Guerrero, Don Federico Boyd, Don Manuel Espinosa B., Don Ricardo Arias, Mr. Tracy Robinson, and Mr. J. Gabriel Duque, the two last being citizens of the United States."

General Huertas too, was the recipient of many attentions.  Had he not been won over to the cause bringing with him his men, these pages would probably have had a different story to tell, at least the end could not have been attained without the shedding of blood.  General Huertas was feted one night shortly after the proclamation of independence.  While the banquet was in progress, of a sudden there occurred the simultaneous popping of many corks, and the next instant the doughty general was deluged with the contents of a dozen bottles of champagne, which poured from his person in streams.  The General appeared to relish his novel bath.  The military record of General Huertas, and the subsequent events in which he figured will be found in another part of this book.


The first country to recognize the independence of Panama was the United States, the acknowledgment being made on November 6.  In its message to the Constitutional Convention of January 15, 1904, the provisional junta announced that the Republic had up to that time been accorded recognition by the following governments:—United States, France, Austria-Hungary, China, Germany, Russia, Denmark, Belgium, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Norway and Sweden, Switzerland, Peru, Cuba, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the order named.  In February, 1904, Guatemala, Persia, Holland and Venezuela followed suit; in March, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Honduras, Argentina and Salvador; in May, the Holy See and Spain; in June, Serbia; in July, Paraguay and Romania.  Portugal, Greece and Uruguay have never tendered their formal recognition but a tacit understanding exists.

As regards Ecuador, former President Lisardo Garcia sent an autograph letter to President Amador setting forth that it was the wish of his government and people to maintain the friendliest relations with Panama.  Those relations have been cultivated under the government of General Eloy Alfaro, the resent ruler.  The tardiness in making formal recognition is said to be due to a desire on the part of Ecuador not to disturb the amicable relations between it and Colombia.

From:  Canal Zone Pilot (Guide To the Republic of Panama and Classified Business Directory).  Edited by William C. Haskins.  Published by A. Bienkowski, Ancon, Canal Zone and Panama, R.P.  Star & Herald Publication, 1908.

April 9, 2001

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