Convention Between the United States of America and Her Britannic Majesty; April 19, 1850
One of the more peculiar diplomatic documents in the history of inter-American relations: in it, the US and Britain agreed to avoid unilaterally annexing or fortifying any canal across the Central American isthmus. That Nicaragua, the ostensible object of these negotiations, was not invited says something about the diplomacy of the era.
THE United States of America and her Britannic Majesty, being desirous of consolidating the relations of amity which so happily subsist between them, by setting forth and fixing in a convention their views and intentions with reference to any means of communication by ship canal, which may be constructed between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, by the way of the River San Juan de Nicaragua, and either or both of the lakes of Nicaragua or Managua, to any port or place on the Pacific Ocean: the President of the United States has conferred full powers on John M. Clayton, Secretary of State of the United States; and her Britannic Majesty on the Right Honorable Sir Henry Lytton Bulwer, a member of her Majesty’s Most Honorable Privy Council, Knight Commander of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath, and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of her Britannic Majesty to the United States, for the aforesaid purpose; and the said plenipotentiaries, having exchanged their full powers, which were found to be in proper form, have agreed to the following articles:
The governments of the United States and Great Britain hereby declare, that neither the one nor the other will ever obtain or maintain for itself any exclusive control over the said ship canal; agreeing that neither will ever erect or maintain any fortifications commanding the same or in the vicinity thereof, or occupy, or fortify, or colonize, or assume or exercise any dominion over Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America; nor will either make use of any protection which either affords or may afford, or any alliance which either teas or may have, to or with any State or people, for the purpose of erecting or maintaining any such fortifications, or of occupying, fortifying, or colonizing Nicaragua, Costa Rica, the Mosquito coast, or any part of Central America, or of assuming or exercising dominion over the same; nor will the United States or Great Britain take advantage of any intimacy, or use any alliance, connection, or influence that either may possess, with any State or government through whose territory the said canal may pass, for the purpose of acquiring or holding, directly or indirectly, for the citizens or subjects of the one, any rights or advantages in regard to commerce or navigation through the said canal which shall not be offered on the same terms to the citizens or subjects of the other.
Vessels of the United States or Great Britain traversing the said canal shall, in case of war between the contracting parties, be exempted from blockade, detention, or capture by either of the belligerents; and this provision shall extend to such a distance from the two ends of the said canal as may hereafter be found expedient to establish.
In order to secure the construction of the said canal, the contracting parties engage, that, if any such canal shall be undertaken upon fair and equitable terms, by any parties having the authority of the local government or governments through whose territory the same may pass, then the persons employed in making the said canal, and their property used or to be used for that object, shall be protected, from the commencement of the said canal to its completion, by the governments of the United States and Great Britain, from unjust detention, confiscation seizure, or any violence whatsoever.
The contracting parties will use whatever influence they respectively exercise with any State, states, or governments, possessing, or claiming to possess, any jurisdiction or right over the territory which the said canal shall traverse, or which shall be near the waters applicable thereto, in order to induce such states or governments to facilitate the construction of the said canal by every means in their power; and furthermore, the United States and Great Britain agree to use their good offices, wherever or however it may be most expedient, in order to procure the establishment of two free ports, one at each end of the said canal.
The contracting parties further engage that, when the said canal shall have been completed, they will protect it from interruption, seizure, or Unjust confiscation, and that they will guarantee the neutrality thereof, so that the said canal may forever be open and free, and the capital invested therein secure. Nevertheless, the governments of the United States and Great Britain, in according their protection to the construction of the said canal, and guaranteeing its neutrality and security when completed, always understand that this protection and guarantee are granted conditionally, and may be withdrawn by both governments, or either government, if both governments, or either government should deem that the persons or company undertaking or managing the same adopt or establish such regulations concerning the traffic thereupon as are contrary to the spirit and intention of this convention, either by making unfair discriminations in favor of the commerce of one of the contracting parties over the commerce of the other, or by imposing oppressive exactions or unreasonable tolls upon passengers, vessels, goods, wares, merchandise, or other articles. Neither party, however, shall withdraw the aforesaid protection and guarantee, without first giving six months notice to the other.
The contracting parties in this convention engage to invite every State with which both or either have friendly intercourse, to enter into stipulations with them similar to those which they have entered into with each other, to the end that all other States may share in the honor and advantage of having contributed to a work of such general interest and importance as the canal herein contemplated. And the contracting parties likewise agree that each shall enter into treaty stipulations with such of the Central American States as they may deem advisable, for the purpose of more effectually carrying out the great design of this convention, namely, that of constructing and maintaining the said canal as a ship communication between the two oceans, for the benefit of mankind, on equal terms to all, and of protecting the same; and they also agree, that the good offices of either shall be employed, when requested by the other, in aiding and assisting the negotiation of such treaty stipulations; and should any differences arise as to right or property over the territory through which the said canal shall pass, between the States or governments of Central America,-and such differences should, in any way, impede or obstruct the execution of the said canal, the governments of the United States and Great Britain will use their good offices to settle such differences in the manner best suited to promote the interests of the said canal, and to strengthen the bonds of friendship and alliance which exist between the contracting parties.
It being desirable that no time should be unnecessarily lost in commencing and constructing the said canal, the governments of the United States and Great Britain determine to give their support and encouragement to such persons or company as may first offer to commence the same, with the necessary capital, the consent of the local authorities, and on such principles as accord with the spirit and intention of this convention; and if any persons or company should already have, with any State through which the proposed ship canal may pass, a contract for the construction of such a canal as that specified in this convention, to the stipulations of which contract neither of the contracting parties in this convention have any just cause to object, and the said persons or company shall, moreover, have made preparations, and expended time, money, and trouble, on the faith of such contract, it is hereby agreed that such persons or company shall have a priority of claim, over every other person, persons, or company, to the protection of the governments of the United States and Great Britain, and be allowed a year from the date of the exchange of the ratifications of this convention for concluding their arrangements, and presenting evidence of sufficient capital subscribed to accomplish the contemplated undertaking; it being understood that if, at the expiration of the aforesaid period, such persons or company be not able to commence and carry out the proposed enterprise, then the governments of the United States and Great Britain shall be free to afford their protection to any other persons or company that shall be prepared to commence and proceed with the construction of the canal in question.
The governments of the United States and Great Britain having not only desired, in entering into this convention, to accomplish a particular object, but also to establish a general principle, they hereby agree to extend their protection, by treaty stipulations, to any other practicable communications, whether by canal or railway, across the isthmus which connects North and South America, and especially to the inter oceanic communications, should the same prove to be practicable, whether by canal or railway, which are now proposed to be established by the way of Tehuantepec or Panama. In granting, however, their joint protection to any such canals or railways as are by this article specified, it is always understood by the United States and Great Britain that the parties constructing or owning the same shall impose no other charges or conditions of traffic thereupon than the aforesaid govern. meets shall approve of as just and equitable; and that the same canals or railways, being open to the citizens and subjects of the United States and Great Britain on equal terms, shall also be open on like terms to the citizens and subjects of every other State which is willing to grant thereto such protection as the United States and Great Britain engage to afford.
The ratifications of this convention shall be exchanged at Washington within six months from this day, or sooner if possible.
In faith whereof, we, the respective plenipotentiaries, have sinned this convention, and have hereunto affixed our seals.
Done at Washington, the nineteenth day of April, anno Domini one thousand eight hundred and fifty.
JOHN M. CLAYTON, [L. S.]
HENRY LYTTON BULWER. [L.S.]
Secretary of State Clayton hoped that his treaty would soothe domestic controversies about the proper US role in the Caribbean Basin. Instead, however, debate about whether the United States should adopt an imperialistic policy in the region became far more strident. The first, the Ostend Manifesto, introduced in the reading and which called for the US to exert all possible efforts to annex Cuba, represents perhaps the most extreme enunciation of an aggressive US posture in the Caribbean.