The Independence of the Isthmus of Panama: Its Antecedents, Causes and Justification


The Independence of the Isthmus of Panama: Its Antecedents, Causes and Justification is a pamphlet published in late 1903 by the Panama Star and Herald newspaper in Panama City. The purpose of the pamphlet was to justify with arguments from history the breakaway of Panama from Colombia, which had occurred in the course of the year. In January 1903 the representative of the Colombian government in Washington, Tomás Herrán, and John Hay, the United States secretary of state, signed a treaty giving the United States the right to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Public opinion in Colombia regarded the financial terms of the treaty as unsatisfactory and objected to the way in which the agreement impinged upon Colombian sovereignty, and in August 1903 the Colombian Senate voted unanimously against ratification. With U.S. encouragement, the province of Panama subsequently declared its independence from Colombia. The United States and the new republic then concluded a treaty on essentially the same terms as the January 1903 agreement with Colombia. This pamphlet seeks to bolster the case for independence by invoking a historical precedent going back to 1840‒41. Amid a civil war in which many parts of what was then the Republic of New Granada revolted against the central authority in Bogotá, in November 1840 the province of Panama declared independence and constituted itself as the Estado Libre del Istmo (Free State of the Isthmus). The pamphlet contains the text of the “fundamental law” of this new state. Article 1 stipulates that the “Cantons of the former Province of Panama and Veraguas shall compose a sovereign and independent State….” Other articles provide for the negotiation of readmission to New Granada as a state, should “the Government of New Granada be organized according to the federal system and convenient to the Interests of the Isthmus.” This in fact happened as, after 13 months of independence, on December 31, 1841, the Panamanian republic was reunified with New Grenada. The pamphlet also includes later documents relating to the relationship between Panama and Colombia, as well as an introduction and concluding essay. The work was compiled and written by Ramón M. Valdés (1867‒1918), a prominent Panamanian author and politician who in 1916‒18 served as president of Panama.

Last updated: July 12, 2017