William Howard Taft

Article by the President in McClure's Magazine: "An Answer to the Panama Canal Critics"

May 01, 1909

The Panama Canal continues to furnish copy for the newspapers and the magazines of the country. It is being constructed by the United States Government for the benefit of world commerce, and every citizen of the United States, and indeed any citizen of the world, properly feels himself authorized to criticize the work as it is being done and to express his opinion as to the type of canal that is selected. In such an enormous work as the construction of the canal is likely to be, it would seem wise to have fixed definitely, at the beginning, the type and plan to be followed.

When De Lesseps, having completed in triumph the Suez Canal, came to Panama, he began the construction of what his board of management and he intended to be a sea-level canal. Between that time and 1902, when the canal was offered for sale to the United States for $40,000,000 several boards were appointed for the purpose of recommending the best course to be taken in the construction of the canal. Two of these boards were French, and all of them recommended the lock type of canal, with a dam at Bohio. We all remember that the Nicaragua route had a great many adherents in and out of Congress, and that for a time it seemed likely that that route would be selected. The natural conditions made it necessary that the canal across Nicaragua should be of a lock type. When the change of plan from Nicaragua to Panama was made, it is quite evident, from the discussion, from the law, and from direct evidence, that it was expected that the canal to be built would be of the lock type and would not be on the sea level.

One of the most careful of the French boards that recommended the lock type pointed out that a lock canal was necessary because the floods of the Chagres River would be uncontrollable in case of a sea-level canal, and made such a canal impossible. In 1906 thirteen engineers were invited to consider the question of the proper type of the canal. Of these, eight were Americans and five foreigners. A majority, consisting of the five foreigners and three Americans, decided in favor of a canal that should be 150 feet across the bottom for more than nineteen miles and 200 feet across the bottom for a little more than twenty miles. Five American engineers — including Mr. Alfred Noble, chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Company, constructor of the "Soo" canal and locks, and dean of American engineers; Mr. Frederic P. Stearns, the chief engineer of the Metropolitan Water Board Company of Boston; and Mr. Randolph, the constructor of the Chicago Damage Canal — recommended the construction of a lock canal, the main feature of which was to be a lake with the level of the water at eighty-five feet above the sea. These reports were considered by the Isthmian Canal Commission, itself composed of engineers and men familiar with works of construction, and that commission, by a vote of five to one, recommended to the War Department and to the President the adoption of the minority report. This action of the commission was concurred in by Mr. John F. Stevens, then chief engineer of the commission in charge of the work at the Isthmus. The Secretary of War and the President also approved the report of the minority of the consulting board and decided in favor of a lock canal.

The question was submitted by President Roosevelt to Congress. It was unnecessary to do this, because, under the Spooner Act, the President had authority to build the canal, and so had authority to determine what the type should be. The fact is that in reading the Spooner Act of 1902, directing the construction of the canal, it is impossible to escape the construction that Congress at that time contemplated, not a sea-level, but a lock canal.

However, the question was again fairly submitted to Congress upon all the reports made and all the evidence.

After the reports had been made, the Senate Committee on Interoceanic Canals conducted an examination of all the engineers and others with knowledge, in order to arrive at a conclusion in respect to the question thus submitted to Congress. The Senate Committee by a majority reported in favor of a sea-level canal, but when the matter was considered in open Senate, where it was very fully discussed, the Senate accepted the minority report of that Committee and decided in favor of the lock canal. In the House of Representatives the resolution in favor of the lock canal was carried by a very decided majority. And so the law of Congress to-day fixes the type of the canal as a lock canal, at a level of eighty-five feet. Meantime, the organization of the instrumentalities for construction on the Isthmus has gone on with great rapidity and effectiveness, until the excavation has reached the very large amount of three millions of cubic yards of material a month. More than half of this has been made by steam shovels in the dry, while the rest has been made by steam dredges. The steam dredges have been working in the softer material in the harbors and channels near the ocean on each side of the Isthmus.

All the plans have been made and all the work done with a view to the construction of the lock canal. It is true that a large part of the work, until recently, would have had to be done for a sea-level canal, except for the expensive change or relocation of the Panama Railroad, and the excavations for the locks and for the spillway of the great Gatun Dam, which is the key of the lock type. I presume it would be difficult to say how many millions of dollars have now been spent that would be thrown away, were the canal to be changed from a lock to a sea-level type, but certainly fifteen million dollars is not an overestimate of the amount.

With a plan settled and the organization becoming more and more perfect, and the work of excavation going on at an unexpected rate of progress, suddenly those responsible for the work are confronted with a newspaper war upon the type of the canal, and a discussion in the Senate of the United States, seriously suggesting a change from the lock type solemnly adopted by law two years ago, to a sea-level canal. What has given rise to this renewed discussion of the type of the canal and this assumption that the question of the type is still really open for consideration and settlement? Three circumstances, and only three, that I can trace.

The first is that a newspaper correspondent on the Isthmus, while detained by a washout on the railroad in one of the heavy rains that are frequent on the Isthmus, heard that the rock and earth which is now being deposited in great quantities to form the Gatun Dam, had, under the effect of the flood, sunk out of sight into a subterranean lake, and cabled to the United States that the whole structure of the Gatun Dam had given way.

The second circumstance was that the estimates of the engineers in the actual construction of the work and the expenditure of the money from time to time showed quite clearly that the cost of the construction of the lock type of canal would be at least twice that which had been estimated as its cost by the minority of the board of consulting engineers.

The third circumstance was that under the present efficient organization, with the use of steam shovels and dredges, the amount of excavation has considerably exceeded that which had been anticipated.

In this wise, the argument in favor of a change from the lock canal to the sea-level canal apparently is given great additional force because it is said that by the sinking and giving way of the Gatun Dam, the indispensable feature of the lock type, it has been demonstrated that the lock type is unsafe, dangerous, and impossible.

Second, it is said that the argument which has been made in favor of the lock type of canal on the ground of economy is shown to be unfounded because the real cost of the lock type of canal is demonstrated by actual construction to be equal to, or in excess of, the estimated cost of the sea-level canal.

Third, it is said that the argument that the sea-level canal would be a great many years in process of construction, which was vigorously advanced, is now shown to be erroneous by the great increase in the daily, monthly, and yearly excavation as compared with the total amount of excavation needed in the sea-level type.

I propose in a general way to examine these three reasons to see how much real weight they have.

First, as to the sinking of the Gatun Dam. The report of the newspaper correspondent, like so many other statements made with respect to a matter two thousand miles away, under the influence of a desire to be sensational and startling, was founded purely on imagination. The only foundation for the statement was that in a comparatively small stretch on the site of the dam, perhaps two hundred feet across, some rough material had been piled up on the upward side of the dam, and there had been excavated immediately back of this pile or dump a lot of material from an old French diversion channel; that the water accumulated above this dump in the very heavy rains; that the water behind the dump and the material there had been taken out; and that there was a slide down into the cavity that had been made just back of the dump. The slide could not have been more than one hundred feet. The whole mass was not more than two hundred feet across, and on a personal examination, for I was there, it was evidently nothing more than an ordinary slide, such as frequently occurs in the construction of railroad banks and other fills when they are not properly balanced, and are without the proper slope. The material on the inside of the dam, that which is to be impermeable and puddled, has not yet been deposited at all. This was a mere deposit on the edge of the bottom of the dam upstream. The dam at that point, when constructed, will be nearly half a mile wide. The insignificance of the circumstance, when one takes into consideration the whole size of the dam, and the relation of this particular material to the entire dam, is apparent. It appears that there is clay in the material taken out of the excavation at Culebra which is slippery and upon which other material will slide if the pressure is unequal and the usual precautions against sliding are not taken. But this has always been known, and is true of most clays. It is not a danger that can not be provided against, and, indeed, the shape and form and exact method of building the dam are for the very purpose of producing the stability needed, and of avoiding any danger of a slide due to a lack of proper balance and weight in the material put into the dam.

President Roosevelt, in view of the widespread report as to the failure of the dam, concluded to send a competent board of engineers to find out whether anything had occurred on the Isthmus that should lead to a change from that type of canal which had the Gatun Dam as its chief feature. The board was made up of Mr. Stearns of Boston, and Mr. Randolph, the chief engineer of the Chicago Drainage Canal, both of whom had been on the original minority board; Mr. Freeman, who had visited the canal two years before with a view to ascertaining whether there was a proper foundation for the locks at the Gatun Dam; and four other engineers, who had not given their opinion before as to the proper type of canal. These were the chief engineer of the Reclamation Service, Mr. Davis, who has had wide experience in the construction of dams and locks; Mr. Schuyler, one of the two or three great engineers of the West Coast, who has written a text-book on the subject of earthen dams and their proper construction; Mr. Hazen, perhaps, the greatest authority on filtration in the country; and Captain Allen, a hydraulic engineer of high standing in Chicago. Their report was unanimous. They decided that the dam as projected was heavier and more expensive than it need be. They reduced the cost and the amount of material in it. They reported that the lock type of canal was entirely feasible, and safe as projected; and they pointed out and emphasized the difficulties of the proposed sea-level canal.

The report of this board has been attacked on the ground that it was a packed jury, and that two of its members had already expressed their opinion in recommending the lock type of canal as part of the minority board. This is utterly unjust. It is quite true that the two gentlemen named had expressed their opinion in favor of a lock type of canal and had recommended the plan that was adopted, but it is also true that five of the board had not so committed themselves, and there was not the slightest reason why, if they differed from the other two, they should not express their opinion. Two of the old board were taken for the reason that they were as competent engineers as the country afforded and knew well the grounds on which the lock type had been originally adopted. It is entirely proper, when it is claimed that a judgment should be set aside on the ground of newly discovered evidence, that at least part of the same court should sit to hear what that new evidence is and pass upon its weight with reference to the previous judgment. The truth is that the judgment of this new board of engineers ought to remove all doubt as to the safety of the Gatun Dam from the minds of the interested public. But engineers are like members of other professions, and I presume we may expect from time to time, as the construction of the canal goes on, further attacks upon the feasibility, safety, and usefulness of the type adopted after so much care.

Not only has this board determined on the entire safety and practicability of the Gatun Dam, but the army engineers. Colonel Goethals and his assistants, who are in charge of the actual work, are perfectly certain that the Gatun Dam can be and will be made as safe as the adjoining hills in resisting the pressure of the water of the lake against it and in maintaining it there for purposes of navigation. These army engineers are not responsible for the type of the canal. They did not take hold of the work until after the type had been settled by act of Congress, and they had no preconceived notions in respect to the matter when they took charge and assumed that intimate relation to the whole project which makes their judgment of great value.

Mr. Frederic P. Stearns is one of the greatest authorities in the world on the construction of dams. He has built a dam at the Wachusetts Reservoir of the Metropolitan Board of Public Works in Massachusetts, upon foundations much less favorable for stability than those of the Gatun Dam, and the water is now standing at 65 feet in the reservoir. The dam has been tested, and his judgment has the benefit, therefore, of actual test and verification.

The judgment of the engineers in 1906 as to the sufficiency of the foundation upon which to construct the Gatun Dam was based on borings made with wash drills into the material underneath the proposed dam site, and material was washed from depths varying from 20 to 250 feet below the surface. The wash of the water affected the material to such an extent as to give a wrong impression regarding some of it. The borings seemed to show that at considerable depth, that is, from 200 to 250 feet down, there was loose sand and gravel such as to permit the free flow of an underground stream. Since these borings were taken, pits have been sunk that make possible the removal of the material in place so that it can be seen just exactly what the foundation consists of, and it turns out that, instead of there being loose sand and gravel at the bottom, there appears to be a conglomerate of sand, clay, and gravel so united as to require a pick to separate it, and entirely impervious to water. In other words, a full examination of the foundations of the Gatun Dam strengthens greatly the opinion of those who held that there was a foundation of a blanket 200 feet in depth entirely impervious to water, below the surface, and substantially incompressible.

A most interesting exhibit can be seen at the headquarters of the commission at Culebra, of the various layers of material which form the foundations under the Gatun Dam, and when they are examined, the truth of the assertion that this makes an excellent foundation can be readily understood.

The second circumstance is with reference to the cost of the work. The estimate of the cost of the canal, exclusive of the interest during construction, sanitation, and expense of Zone government, and the $50,000,000 paid Panama and the French company, was $139,705,200. The present estimate of the cost of the canal as now projected, exclusive of the same items, is $297,766,000, or a grand total of $375,000,000. The increase arises, first, from the fact that the yardage or excavation to be made was 50 per cent. underestimated. This was due, first, to insufficient surveys, and second, to changes of plan. These changes of plan involved a widening of the canal, for a distance of four thousand feet, from 500 feet to 1,000 feet in width, just below the Gatun locks on the north side, in order to furnish a wider and more commodious place for vessels anchoring before entering the locks. The canal has also been widened for five miles from 200 feet to 300 feet across the bottom; this in the Culebra cut. Again, the material supposed to be easy of dredging turns out to be in many places more of rock than was supposed, and the average cost of excavation has been increased generally about 20 per cent. In addition to that, the locks as originally projected were 900 feet usable length and 95 feet in width. They have been increased now, in response to a request from our Navy Department, from 900 feet to 1,000 feet usable length and from 95 feet to 110 feet in width. This greatly increases the amount of concrete, greatly widens the gates, and greatly increases the whole cost of the locks at both ends of the canal. Then, too, it was thought wise not to follow the minority report which contemplated dams immediately on the shore of the Pacific at La Boca, in Sosa Hill, but to move them back to Miraflores and San Pedro Miguel, some four miles or more from the shore. This was chiefly done for military reasons, in order to take the lock construction out of sight of an enemy approaching the canal on the Bay of Panama.

All these changes were substantial increases in the amount of work to be done, which, taken with the increased unit price, explains the discrepancy between the estimate and the actual expenditure. Much money was expended in the construction and repair of buildings in which the employees of the canal lived. Much money, not included in the estimate, was expended for the purpose of making their lives more enjoyable while on the Isthmus. The wages per day are higher than those which were estimated. Colonel Goethals has submitted a detailed statement showing exactly where the difference is between the original estimate and the actual cost. This has been examined by the present board of engineers, who report that in their judgment the estimate presented by Colonel Goethals is an outside figure, and that the cost will probably be less for the present type of canal than $297,000,000, as estimated.

The advocates of the sea-level canal point to the fact that the estimate by the Consulting Board in 1906 of the cost of the sea-level canal was $247,000,000, plus cost of sanitation, government, and the $50,000,000 paid Panama and the French company, or fifty millions less than the admitted cost of the lock type. They assume, therefore, that the difference in cost originally advanced as an argument against a sea-level canal has now been refuted. The defect of this argument is that the same circumstances that have increased the cost of the lock type of canal would increase the actual cost of a sea-level canal. Much of the work that has been done — indeed, a very large part of it — is work that would have had to be done for a sea-level canal, and we are furnished now by Colonel Goethals with an estimate of what the sea-level canal would cost, in the light of the actual cost of the work and unit prices on the Isthmus. This would be $477,601,000 without cost of sanitation or government and exclusive of the original $50,000,000 payment. When the loss of interest and loss of revenue by delay is taken into consideration, the cost is easily increased $200,000,000 beyond the cost of the lock type of canal, so that the difference between the cost of the lock type and the sea-level canal is shown by actual construction on the Isthmus to be greater than was estimated when the lock type of canal was selected as the proper one.

Third, the date of completion for the lock type of canal has been fixed as the 1st of January, 1915. I hope that it may be considerably before that. At the rate of excavation now going on in the Culebra cut, it could probably be completed in less than three years, but the difficulty is that as the cut grows deeper, the number of shovels that can be worked must necessarily be decreased. Therefore, the excavation per day, per month, and per year must grow less. Hence it is not safe to base the estimate of time on a division of the total amount to be excavated by the yearly excavation at present. Then, too, the Gatun Dam and locks and the manufacture and adjustment of the gates may take a longer time than the excavation itself, so that it is wiser to count on the date set. The enthusiastic supporters of the sea-level canal, basing their calculation on the amount of material now being excavated, and upon the total amount to be excavated, for a sea-level canal, reach the conclusion that the sea-level canal could be constructed in a comparatively short time as compared with the estimate of twelve or fifteen years made at the time of the decision in favor of the lock type. They have fallen into the error, already pointed out, of assuming that the present rate of excavation could continue as the work of building the sea-level canal went on, which in the case of the sea-level canal is even more erroneous and misleading than in the case of the lock canal, for the reason that the construction, below the forty-foot level above the sea down to the level of forty feet below the sea, is work of the most difficult character, more than half of it always under water, and necessitating either pumping or dredging in rock and working in a narrow space, which greatly reduces the possible rate of excavation.

It is said that new methods of removing rock under water are available so as greatly to reduce the price and the time. I shall take up this statement a little later, but it is sufficient now to say that these methods are in use on the Isthmus, and that the actual employment of them in the character of material that exists on the line of the canal completely refutes the claim that they can accomplish anything more than, or as much as, the excavation in the dry.

Then, too, in this calculation of time, a third great error of the sea-level enthusiasts is the failure to take into consideration the time actually needed to construct the Gamboa Dam to retain the waters of the Chagres River and the other dams and the great diversion channels that would absolutely have to be built before the sea-level excavation could be carried on. The Gamboa Dam as projected is a masonry dam, 180 feet above sea level, with a level of the water 170 feet against the dam and above the bed rock of the stream, and of a length 4,500 feet along the top. It would be the highest dam known in the world and its construction would have to be of the most careful character, and would take an indeterminate time. It has never been definitely settled that there is at the only available site a foundation suitable for such a dam.

I have thus examined the circumstances relied upon by the present advocates of the sea-level canal to show that the known conditions are different to-day from those that influenced the selection of the lock type. I have not gone into the matter in detail, but the records will bear out my general statements and show that not in the slightest respect has the argument been changed by newly discovered facts in favor of the sea-level canal.

The memory of the reading public, however, is not very long, and, relying on this fact, the opponents of the lock canal do not hesitate to bring out again, as if newly discovered, the same old arguments that failed to convince when the issue was fresh and the supposedly final decision was given. We are again met with the statements of gentlemen who claim to be and really are familiar with the steamship business, that mariners would prefer a sea-level canal and would use a lock canal with reluctance. With a great show of enthusiasm and a chain of reasoning as if newly thought out, the ease with which vessels can be navigated on the level is held up in contrast with the difficulties involved in lifting them eighty-five feet at one side of the Isthmus and lowering them the same distance on the other. Such an argument always proceeds on the hidden premise that the question whether we should have a lock or a sea-level canal is a mere matter of preference freely open to our choice, and wholly without regard to the real difficulties involved in the construction of a sea-level canal such as the discussions of the present day seem to assume a sea-level canal will be.

We hear much of the Straits of Panama described as a broad passage of from 400 to 600 feet in width across the bottom, 40 to 45 feet in depth, and piercing the Isthmus with a volume of water sufl5cient to do away with all difficulty from rapid currents produced by the water of swollen tropical streams, or cross currents resulting from the discharge of such streams into the canal from heights ranging all the way from ten feet to fifty feet above the level of the water. Such a comparison is utterly misleading. The only sea-level canal that has been projected with respect to which estimates of any substantial and reliable kind have been made is a canal, one-half the length of which is 150 feet across the bottom and the other half of which is 200 feet across the bottom. It is a canal that for twenty miles, from the point where the Chagres River and the canal converge, to Gatun, has four times the curvature of the Suez Canal, and in which at flood stages, under any plan that has been devised for preventing the destruction of the canal by the flood waters of the Chagres River and the other streams emptying into that river, there will be a current of nearly three miles an hour. Such a current in the Suez Canal, with one-fourth of the curvatures, makes the steering of large vessels dangerous, and in this canal, with its great curvature, would make the passage of large vessels impossible.

The lock canal as projected has a width at the bottom of 300 feet for about 25 per cent. of its length, of from 500 to 800 feet for 50 per cent., and of 1,000 feet, or the entire lake width, for the remainder. With such widths the curvature, of course, is immaterial.

In the projected sea-level canal, it would be impossible for vessels safely to pass one another at any speed at all. Therefore one vessel would have to tie up while the other went by. This fact would greatly reduce the speed with which a vessel could pass through the sea-level canal, and the greater the business, the slower would be the passage. As the tonnage increased, therefore, the lock canal of the projected type, in spite of the time taken going through the locks to the 85-foot level and descending from that level, in case of large steamers, would furnish a quicker passage. As business increased, the time taken in going through the sea-level canal and the danger to the vessel would be very considerably greater than in the lock canal. The danger of accidents and of the destruction of the locks, if certain machinery is used and certain precautions are taken in the warping of the vessels into and out of the locks, will be practically nothing. We are able to gage this by the infrequency of dangerous accidents at the "Soo" locks, in which the business is enormous and the size of the locks through which the vessels go is but a small percentage less than that of the locks projected at Panama. The devices for preventing the outflow of the water in case of a destruction of the upper gates are complete, and in the opinion of many engineers unnecessarily elaborate.

Mr. Bunau-Varilla and Mr. Granger and Mr. Lindon Bates have all lent the weight of their voices in denunciation of the present lock type of the canal. In denouncing the type that is under construction, they always compare it with a sea-level canal of a width from 300 to 600 feet; when the actual canal projected for the sea-level is only 150 feet across the bottom in one-half the length, and 200 feet the other half. They always point with severest criticism to the instability and experimental character of the Gatun Dam, but never refer to the Gamboa Dam, which is an essential part of the sea-level plan, and which in its measurements and in the height of the water behind it exceeds the proportions of any dam in the world. In addition to this the sea-level canal involves the construction of three or four other dams in order to turn back the water of streams entering the Chagres Valley over the height of land into other valleys away from the canal. One of these dams is 75 feet high by 4,000 feet in length; another 2,800 feet long; another 1,200 feet; and another 800 feet. No one knows what the character of the foundation is for these dams thus projected in the sea-level plan. No one is able to estimate the cost involved in their construction, because they are anow far away from the railroad and considerable expense would be involved in delivering material for their construction. None of these difficulties connected with the making of the sea-level canal are ever mentioned in the discussion of the comparative merits of the present lock-type canal and the sea-level canal as projected. We can only approximately arrive at the cost of a sea-level canal such as that suggested in the articles of Mr. Granger and Mr. Bunau-Varilla in this wise: Colonel Goethals's estimate of the cost of the sea-level canal exactly as projected is $500,000,000; that is, $477,000,000 with the addition of interest and other items that might bring it up to $500,000,000. This does not include the cost of sanitation, of the Zone government, or the $50,000,000 originally paid.

An estimate was made of the additional cost by the Board of Consulting Engineers of widening the sea-level canal 100 feet. That would make a canal, half of it 250 feet wide, and half of it 300 feet wide. It was said it would cost from $86,000,000 to $100,000,000. Considering now the discrepancy between the estimate and the actual cost of the sea-level canal, that is, between $247,000,000 and $477,000,000, it is certainly not exaggerating to say that the cost of a sea-level canal 300 feet wide from end to end would involve an expenditure of not less than $650,000,000 and probably $700,000,000, and this without including the cost of sanitation, of government, or the $50,000,000 originally paid. As already said, an outside estimate for the present cost of the lock type of canal is $297,000,000, exclusive of the cost of sanitation and of government and of the $50,000,000 originally paid, or $375,000,000 including everything, as against $750,000,000 for such a canal as that advocated by Mr. Bunau-Varilla or Mr. Granger.

I have already commented on the utter impossibility of calculating the time that it would take to construct the sea-level canal. No estimate has been made of the time it would take to construct the Gamboa Dam or other dams and the great diversion channels needed to keep the Chagres River out of a sea-level canal, and no estimate has been made as to the additional time that would be required for the excavations below the sea level and the pumping needed to keep the canal prism in a condition for such excavation. Another difficulty about the sea-level canal, but one rarely referred to, is the obstacle to its construction in the Black Swamp between Gatun and Bohio. This would probably necessitate retaining walls or the draining of the swamp with such an extended area as to make the task a huge one.

Of the critics of the present type of the canal, Mr. Bunau-Varilla and Mr. Lindon Bates were advisers of the consulting board of thirteen engineers appointed to recommend types of a canal. That board divided as between the 85-foot canal, which was adopted, and the sea-level canal 150 feet wide for half of the distance and 200 feet wide for the other half; but they all, whether sea-level or lock-type advocates, united in rejecting the plans of Mr. Bunau-Varilla and Mr. Bates. Those gentlemen are now engaged in criticizing the Gatun Dam and the locks that form part of the approved and adopted type; but if their plans as they recommend them are examined, it will be found that they contemplated dams and locks more in number, with a great deal more uncertainty as to the foundation, than the Gatun Dam and the dams at Miraflores and at Pedro Miguel in the present lock-type. It will be found that in the original plan of Mr. Bunau-Varilla he projected a canal that should have a high level of at least 130 feet to be reached by a series of locks, and that Mr. Bates had a series of lakes to be reached by locks quite like that of the Gatun Dam, although the lakes were not so extended and the locks not so high. Under these circumstances, the criticism of these gentlemen in asserting great danger from earthquakes and other causes to the Gatun Dam and the locks of the adopted type may be received with a measure of caution.

Mr. Bunau-Varilla's chief argument in reference to the speed and ease and economy with which his type of canal could be constructed, ultimately resulting in a sea-level canal, is based on the facility with which a certain Lobnitz process and machine for dredging rock under water can be successfully carried on. This is also one of the bases for the proposition of Mr. Granger that a sea-level canal can be easily constructed. In addition to that, Mr. Granger has invented a machine for the elevation of material in water, to be carried by gravity through a flume a long distance. It has never been tested on any great work of construction, and rests wholly on theory.

The Lobnitz method of excavating rock under water is on trial to-day on the Pacific side of the Isthmus at Panama, and the result of the work there confirms the judgment of practical engineers elsewhere that the machine will work in comparatively soft rock with thin laminations, but that it will not work in hard rock or in rock in which the strata are widely separated, of which there is much to be excavated in constructing the Panama Canal. In other words, the arguments of both these gentlemen advocating the Straits of Panama are either based on theory without practical test of the usefulness of the processes they recommend, or, when practical test has been given, the process has failed to come up to what is claimed for it by these advocates.

Mr. Bunau-Varilla early proclaimed that the heavy machinery of the Americans in the steam shovels at the Isthmus was not accomplishing nearly as much as the lighter machinery of the French. Now we have gone far beyond any record of the French in the excavation in the dry per day, per month, and per year. The lack of soundness in Mr. Bunau-Varilla's conclusions is thus made apparent.

The facts to-day are the same as they were when the lock type was adopted, namely, that it would take at least $200,000,000 more of money and at least five years more of time to construct the sea-level type of canal 150 to 200 feet in width; that the canal when constructed would be dangerous for the passage of the larger vessels; and that the lock type of canal constructed at $200,000,000 less in cost and five years less in time will be a better canal, a safer canal, and one in which the time of passage for large vessels will be even less than in the sea-level type.

For these reasons the administration is proceeding to construct the canal on the type authorized and directed by Congress, and the criticisms of gentlemen who predicate all their arguments on theory and not upon practical tests, who institute comparisons between the present type of canal and the sea-level type of 300 to 600 feet in width that never has been or "will be on sea or land," cannot disturb the even tenor of those charged with the responsibility of constructing the canal, and will only continue to afford to persons who do not understand the situation and are not familiar with the history of the canal and of the various plans proposed for the canal, an unfounded sensation of regret and alarm that the Government is pursuing a foolish and senseless course. Meantime the canal will be built and completed on or before the 1st of January, 1915, and those who are now its severest critics will be glad to have their authorship of recent articles forgotten.

William Howard Taft, Article by the President in McClure's Magazine: "An Answer to the Panama Canal Critics" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365245

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