Ashburton Guardian. Megna est Veritas et Prævalebit. THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 1914. PANAMA TOLLS.
Writing 1 in March last, on the proposal at that-time before the (Jnited States Legislature to retain in the Panama Canal Act the clause, providing for preference to American vessels passing through the canal, the London " Spectator" asked, "What greater disaster could happen than the creation of a feeling throughout the British Empire that the word of an American statesman was no longer to be taken absolutely at its face value ?'' The possibility of the abrogation of the Hay-Paun-cefote Treaty was regarded as seriously by the American Press and responsible public men as it was in England—so much so, indeed, that a leading New York journal published a remarkably clever dirge, the refrain of .which was : " Honour is dead !" Since then, ■President' Wilson lia& made it very plain that the retention of the preference clause is most distasteful to him, and only last week he stated that there was every prospect of its repeal. However, it would seem that in the States^ the President proposes but Senators dispose, for a cable from America, yesterday, announced that " the Democratic members of the Lower House developed opposition to President Wilson's attitude regarding the Panama tolls." And it seemed quite natural for the cdble agent to add that "the opposition surprised the President." . America has so many serious problems to unravel just now that, apart from the question of the nation's honour so far as keeping faith with Great Britain is concerned, it would seem almost like national suicide for her to precipitate a quarrel with her only racial and natural ally. Especially is this so in face of the statement made a few days ago by.a leading American naval authority that both the Navy and Army are quite unprepared for: war. Behind the agitation for preference to American ships -is the knowledge that the country is woefully behind in foreign commerce. Many of the Senators have exp^e^sed the belief that a merchant marine able to compete with those of England and Germany can be built up in a decade. >•• But the thinking ones know better; and these are the men who are straining every nerve to , get help for Americans in the sliipping trade. That is the biggest reason behind America's determination to give at least its coasting commerce what is called "an inside track" on the canal. It,is probably not because America is seeking an opportunity to " knife i} Great Britain in the back (though there are irresponsible Senators who declare, as Senator Carter did' some months ago, that," it is tirnel England was shown that sl,ie can't dictate to the States ''),'. but that she is struggling desperately to get her head above water in the shipping trade. At present, according to the latest figures on the subject, America is not better off, in the matter of maritime affairs, than Greece is, and is actually inferior to Norway in tonnage. The States are so used to translating their achievements into arithmetical terms that overshadow the efforts of other nations, that to have to cut such a sorry figure in so vital a matter as shipping- seemed ,to the ba ;Jc woods element amongst her legislators sufficient warrant for the recent legislation of Congress which permits the entry into the]
canal, under American registry, and for the foreign trade, of foreign-built vessels, providing they are owned by American citizens. But it was in reality the most revolutionary legislation of its kind Congress has _ ever enacted. It is true that m the final analysis any British shipowner can appeal to the Supreme Court of the United States for justice; but that is a course not likely to be pursued should the I obnoxious clause be insisted upon. British diplomacy can be trusted to find a more equitable and dignified way out. President Wilson has had his own way, so far, to such a remarkable extent, that the whole Avorld will watch with interest how he will handle the present situation, which he frankly admits has "surprised him.