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The Cowboy and the Canal: How Theodore Roosevelt Cheated Colombia, Stole Panama, and Bamboozled America

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Within a richly layered context, The Cowboy and the Canal probes the intrigue behind Roosevelt's decision to purchase the expiring concession, rotting machinery, and dilapidated buildings from the bankrupt French Panama Canal Company and dig the interoceanic canal in Panama instead of the favored site, Nicaragua. Drawing from primary sources-newspaper stories, editorials, Within a richly layered context, The Cowboy and the Canal probes the intrigue behind Roosevelt's decision to purchase the expiring concession, rotting machinery, and dilapidated buildings from the bankrupt French Panama Canal Company and dig the interoceanic canal in Panama instead of the favored site, Nicaragua. Drawing from primary sources-newspaper stories, editorials, political cartoons, the Congressional record, books, magazines, journals, and letters-The Cowboy and the Canal reintroduces the voices who criticized Roosevelt's actions and questioned his motives, that through time and historical homogenization, have removed from what was at the time, a heated national conversation. These voices add a balance to what has been a one-sided conversation that lauds Roosevelt for "taking Panama" and ignores his indispensible role in manufacturing a rebellion within the country of an ally, Columbia, and in creating one of the biggest frauds of its kind ever perpetrated upon the American public. The villains who abetted, encouraged and facilitated Roosevelt's behind-the-scenes American takeover of the Columbian province of Panama and the subsequent diversion of millions of American taxpayer dollars into the hands of a few capitalists and financiers are varied. They range all the way from Roosevelt's youngest sister Corrine and her husband Douglas Robinson, to the scheming would-be French aristocrat, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a slick New York corporate lawyer, William Nelson Cromwell, and the venerable John Hay, Roosevelt administration Secretary of State. Some of the most prominent industrialists and capitalists of the day, including financier J.P. Morgan, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, J. Edward Simmons, railroad magnate C. P. Huntington, and Charles Taft, multimillionaire older brother of the soon to become U.S. president, William Howard Taft, played supporting roles in this saga. An ex-Confederate general, Democratic Senator John Tyler Morgan, and an ailing but indomitable Joseph Pulitzer, and Pulitzer's editorial staff of his The World newspaper are among the unlikely heroes in this political drama.


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Within a richly layered context, The Cowboy and the Canal probes the intrigue behind Roosevelt's decision to purchase the expiring concession, rotting machinery, and dilapidated buildings from the bankrupt French Panama Canal Company and dig the interoceanic canal in Panama instead of the favored site, Nicaragua. Drawing from primary sources-newspaper stories, editorials, Within a richly layered context, The Cowboy and the Canal probes the intrigue behind Roosevelt's decision to purchase the expiring concession, rotting machinery, and dilapidated buildings from the bankrupt French Panama Canal Company and dig the interoceanic canal in Panama instead of the favored site, Nicaragua. Drawing from primary sources-newspaper stories, editorials, political cartoons, the Congressional record, books, magazines, journals, and letters-The Cowboy and the Canal reintroduces the voices who criticized Roosevelt's actions and questioned his motives, that through time and historical homogenization, have removed from what was at the time, a heated national conversation. These voices add a balance to what has been a one-sided conversation that lauds Roosevelt for "taking Panama" and ignores his indispensible role in manufacturing a rebellion within the country of an ally, Columbia, and in creating one of the biggest frauds of its kind ever perpetrated upon the American public. The villains who abetted, encouraged and facilitated Roosevelt's behind-the-scenes American takeover of the Columbian province of Panama and the subsequent diversion of millions of American taxpayer dollars into the hands of a few capitalists and financiers are varied. They range all the way from Roosevelt's youngest sister Corrine and her husband Douglas Robinson, to the scheming would-be French aristocrat, Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a slick New York corporate lawyer, William Nelson Cromwell, and the venerable John Hay, Roosevelt administration Secretary of State. Some of the most prominent industrialists and capitalists of the day, including financier J.P. Morgan, former president of the New York Stock Exchange, J. Edward Simmons, railroad magnate C. P. Huntington, and Charles Taft, multimillionaire older brother of the soon to become U.S. president, William Howard Taft, played supporting roles in this saga. An ex-Confederate general, Democratic Senator John Tyler Morgan, and an ailing but indomitable Joseph Pulitzer, and Pulitzer's editorial staff of his The World newspaper are among the unlikely heroes in this political drama.

37 review for The Cowboy and the Canal: How Theodore Roosevelt Cheated Colombia, Stole Panama, and Bamboozled America

  1. 5 out of 5

    Liz Vinc

    In "The Cowboy and the Canal," J.M. Carlisle masterfully provides eye-opening evidence for the true reason behind Roosevelt's decision to build the inter-oceanic canal in Panama (just a forewarning: it's not because it was the better location). The book is organized chronologically, beginning in 1513 with a background on the location where the Panama canal would be built many years later. Carlisle continues to give a tremendous amount of historical context for the canal decision throughout the b In "The Cowboy and the Canal," J.M. Carlisle masterfully provides eye-opening evidence for the true reason behind Roosevelt's decision to build the inter-oceanic canal in Panama (just a forewarning: it's not because it was the better location). The book is organized chronologically, beginning in 1513 with a background on the location where the Panama canal would be built many years later. Carlisle continues to give a tremendous amount of historical context for the canal decision throughout the book and delves into the motives of each of the "characters" who had a role in the decision. The information is well-organized and presented logically. Additionally, there are historical images, illustrations, etc that complement the text nicely. If you're someone who enjoys learning about American history, this thought-provoking book is a must read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    Full disclosure: I won a free copy of this book in a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. "This is not a story about the building of the Panama Canal," is the opening sentence of J.M. Carlisle's The Cowboy and the Canal. I agree. And I suggest that anyone who is interested in reading about the building of the Panama Canal should pick up a copy of David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas. For anyone looking for an extensive account of Theodore Roosevelt's life, I Full disclosure: I won a free copy of this book in a Goodreads Firstreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. "This is not a story about the building of the Panama Canal," is the opening sentence of J.M. Carlisle's The Cowboy and the Canal. I agree. And I suggest that anyone who is interested in reading about the building of the Panama Canal should pick up a copy of David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas. For anyone looking for an extensive account of Theodore Roosevelt's life, I recommend Edmund Morris' excellent three volume biography. For anyone looking for a narrowly-focused revisionist view of Theodore Roosevelt's role in the creation of the Panama Canal, I guess this book will do. Carlisle makes the claim that Roosevelt changed the location of America's proposed isthmian canal from the long-established first choice of Nicaragua (McKinley's route) to the failed French excavation at Panama simply because his brother-in-law, Douglas Robinson, allegedly had an investment in the reorganized American venture that sought to resume digging there, and because he saw it as a way to assert his Presidential authority and get out from under the shadow of the slain President McKinley and increase his odds of being elected President in his own right. In my opinion, the argument is not a strong one. There's no proof that Roosevelt knew about his brother-in-law's investment in the company (although it is likely that he knew) and the "proof" of Robinson's investment is not documented as to the amount (if any) invested in the venture. The second motive presented for changing the location of the canal (Presidential election aims) is a theory that cannot be proven and discounts too many other circumstances in the way in which the canal saga unfolded. The author says that "The perspective of this book is atypical in that it is predominantly informed by a collection of writings by commentators, historians, editors, politicians, public figures, and newspaper reporters that were contemporaries with the events--actually living through, alongside, and with the events--rather than a reliance on upon reinterpretation of modern historians and thinkers comfortably removed from the events by time." While that is what historian's do in general, imagine a book written 100 years from now about Barrack Obama where the source material used was limited to Fox News, Wall Street Journal editorials, and conservative commentators. This book has the feel to it that the author had arrived at her conclusion and then sought out sources that agreed with that conclusion and dismissed or ignored contradictory sources. That there would be source material critical of Roosevelt should not be a surprise. And it should especially not be surprising to find much of it emanating from Democrat Joseph Pulitzer's newspaper. Roosevelt's attempt to use the Federal courts to prosecute Pulitzer was an abuse of power and a disgrace, but does not prove the author's conclusion. The case was thrown out based on jurisdictional matters and the veracity of Pulitzer's charges was never examined in court. While I disagree with the author's conclusions, my bigger problem with this book is that it is poorly written. There's nothing indicating that the book is an uncorrected proof, so it must be the final version. There are no acknowledgements in the book thanking an editor and I believe this is because there wasn't one. I also question whether the book was even proof read. There are scores of sentences like: "Together, Roosevelt, his family, and the 'Panama Lobby' created became an unstoppable force" and "A guarantee that the United States would not permit any fighting around the railroad obviously meant there would be some force would be brought to bear to backup that statement." And then there is this from page 165: "Because Fletcher was one of only two members of the House who voted against the Nicaragua Canal in January, Henderson's choice of Fletcher was 44444444444interesting to say the least." There seems to be a typo, missing word, grammatical error, or some other issue about every four or five pages. This becomes distracting rather quickly. I gave the book 2 stars because some people may find the revisionist history aspect of it interesting. (Or should I say 44444444444intersting?) If I had paid for the book, I would have given it 1 star. I think most readers will enjoy the McCullough book much more than this one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I received this book as part of GoodReads First Reads giveaway. The Cowboy and the Canal was a fascinating book. And also a vaguely irritating (in a good way) book because it challenged what I thought I knew before reading this book. Fair warning, this book is about American history so I may get somewhat jingoistic below. It tells the story that lead up to the United States acquiring the land where the Panama Canal was built and then some of the after effects. Especially pertaining to the actions I received this book as part of GoodReads First Reads giveaway. The Cowboy and the Canal was a fascinating book. And also a vaguely irritating (in a good way) book because it challenged what I thought I knew before reading this book. Fair warning, this book is about American history so I may get somewhat jingoistic below. It tells the story that lead up to the United States acquiring the land where the Panama Canal was built and then some of the after effects. Especially pertaining to the actions of William Cromwell (a New York lawyer), Phillip Bunau-Varilla (a French engineer), John Tyler Morgan (an Alabama senator) and Theodore Roosevelt. Not to go into the details too much but in the late 19th century there was a big push for the US to build a canal across Central America but the preferred route was through Nicaragua. On the other hand, a French company tried digging a canal through Panama but went bankrupt fast (apparently Panama is a hot bed of disease, is geographically not suitable for canal digging (Americans are awesome so we managed it anyway) and is a million miles from anything useful like food, lumber or clean water). Then the French decided to cut their losses by selling their rights to the Americans so they hired Cromwell to convince the Americans to buy the Panama route instead of pursuing the superior Nicaragua route. To make a long story short, Cromwell succeeded due to some great luck for the pro Panama lobby, some horrendous luck for the pro Nicaragua lobby and the fact that President Roosevelt's family stood to make bank if the Panama route was chosen (I'm walking away from this with my opinion of Roosevelt in the gutter). The whole book was interesting but the thing that hit me the most was the way the US acquired the rights to the canal. In school I was taught that the Colombians didn't want to allow a canal to be built and the Panamanians did so the Panamanians rebelled and the US supported them. Lies! Apparently the Colombians very much wanted to play ball but the US presented a treaty that would basically cede control of Panama to the US at no gain to Colombia. Naturally Colombia refused so the US instigated a rebellion (apparently lead by 8 people employed by an American company) and sent a fleet to prevent the Colombians from putting down the rebellion. And then we thumped our chest about the progress of collective civilization or some nebulous crap like that. Is that really the kind of crap we Americans pulled in Central and South America? No wonder people like Hugo Chavez came to power on a platform of hating America. I'm kind of hating America right now (don't worry, it'll pass). So, irritation at my nation's history aside, I really enjoyed this book. One of my favorite things about history is that it just exposes more stuff I don't know. For example, I'd like to see an explanation of why the Nicaragua route was superior to the Panama route (especially geology wise), how was the Suez canal built? how was the Panama Canal itself built? Seriously, the greatest thing about history is that there are thousands of stories that I never realized existed and every story intersects with a thousand more. Reading about history means I am always learning something new and learning a thousand more things I don't know. :) And fun fact, a Nicaragua Canal is planned to be built starting in December 2014 and finishing by 2020.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Liz Vinc

    In "The Cowboy and the Canal," J.M. Carlisle masterfully provides eye-opening evidence for the true reason behind Roosevelt's decision to build the inter-oceanic canal in Panama (just a forewarning: it's not because it was the better location). The book is organized chronologically, beginning in 1513 with a background on the location where the Panama canal would be built many years later. Carlisle continues to give a tremendous amount of historical context for the canal decision throughout the b In "The Cowboy and the Canal," J.M. Carlisle masterfully provides eye-opening evidence for the true reason behind Roosevelt's decision to build the inter-oceanic canal in Panama (just a forewarning: it's not because it was the better location). The book is organized chronologically, beginning in 1513 with a background on the location where the Panama canal would be built many years later. Carlisle continues to give a tremendous amount of historical context for the canal decision throughout the book and delves into the motives of each of the "characters" who had a role in the decision. The information is well-organized and presented logically. Additionally, there are historical images, illustrations, etc that complement the text nicely. If you're someone who enjoys learning about American history, this thought-provoking book is a must read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ellen Tillman

  6. 5 out of 5

    Russ Noland

  7. 4 out of 5

    Russ Noland

  8. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Ennis

  9. 5 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Huether

  11. 4 out of 5

    K.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kara

  14. 4 out of 5

    Vykki

  15. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

  16. 5 out of 5

    Gordon Bingham

  17. 5 out of 5

    Emily

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Staughton

  19. 5 out of 5

    Pam

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joy Adams

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bert

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sherry

  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie Harder-schauer

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim Myers

  25. 4 out of 5

    Cody

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

  27. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Todd

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amberle Husbands

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kim Hathorn

  30. 4 out of 5

    Wendi Dusek

  31. 4 out of 5

    Christian Shute

  32. 5 out of 5

    Cat

  33. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Reader

  34. 5 out of 5

    Raymond Stone

  35. 5 out of 5

    Bettye Short

  36. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Beck

  37. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

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