How Did the United States Get Access to the Canal Zone in Panama?

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After Panama won its independence from Colombia in 1903, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty was negotiated, which gave the United States the 10-mile strip that is now the Panama Canal. The dream of the Panama Canal began much sooner, however. The British and Americans plotted together throughout the 19th century to devise an abbreviated trade route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

In fact, the first treaty to allocate land for a canal was the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850. The canal was originally going to pass through Nicaragua. France had better luck in Panama and actually began building in 1880. Workers, however, were unable to overcome a series of setbacks involving disease, and the French ultimately had to abandon the project. By 1902, the United States had shifted its focus from Nicaragua to Panama. When the United States' proposal was rejected by Colombia, which then ruled over Panama, because the Colombian parliament did not think that the United States was offering enough money for the land, the United States then shifted its political focus to support the revolution of the Panamanians. The United States military provided support in helping Panama gain independence from Colombia and, once the independence was won, gained the right to build what is now the Panama Canal.