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What were some economic problems in the 1900's with Teddy Roosevelt and the Panama Canal?

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April 08, 2010 7:16PM

Teddy Roosevelt, Economic Troubles, and the Panama Canal

The main economic problem in the early 1900's were trusts. A trust a combination of firms or corporations for the purpose of reducing competition and controlling prices throughout a business or an industry. By eliminating competition, trusts could charge whatever price they chose. Corporate greed, rather than market demands, determined the price for products. Teddy Roosevelt believed the offending corporations needed to be regulated, not destroyed and thus began the anti-trust movement. Progressives advocated legislation that would break up these trusts, known as "trust busting."

"In 1878 Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French engineer who built the Suez Canal, began to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Panama, which was then part of Colombia. Tropical disease and engineering problems halted construction on the canal, but a French business (the New Panama Canal Company) still held the rights to the project. Roosevelt agreed to pay $40 million for the rights, and he began to negotiate with Colombia for control of the land. He offered $10 million for a fifty-mile strip across the Isthmus. Colombia refused. 'We were dealing with a government of irresponsible bandits,' Roosevelt stormed. 'I was prepared to...at once occupy the Isthmus anyhow, and proceed to dig the canal. But I deemed it likely that there would be a revolution in Panama soon.' Teddy was right. The chief engineer of the New Panama Canal Company organized a local revolt. Roosevelt immediately sent the battleship Nashville and a detachment of marines to Panama to support the new government. Roosevelt ordered army engineers to start digging. Thousands of workers sweated in the malarial heat. They tore up jungles and cut down mountains. Insects thrived in muddy, stagnant pools. 'Mosquitoes get so thick you get a mouthful with every breath,' a worker complained. The mosquitoes also carried yellow fever, and many fell victim to the deadly disease before Dr. William Gorgas found a way to stop it." (Small Planet Communications, The Panama Canal)