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Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama, photograph by George Prince, ca. 1901

Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama served in the U.S. Senate for 30 years. An ardent expansionist, he chaired the Senate Committee on Interoceanic Canals. Morgan’s advocacy for a Nicaraguan route was unsuccessful, and he died before the canal’s completion. His tireless efforts to create the waterway, however, made him known as “the ideological father of the Panama Canal.”

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Senate . . . is convinced that a canal is an indispensable, national necessity, and that the people . . . are demanding it for that reason and . . . that it will remove the obstructions to industry and commerce that have so long chained the right arm of their strength in almost helpless paralysis.

Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama, Speech to the U.S. Senate, April 17, 1902

Senator John T. Morgan of Alabama, photograph by George Prince, ca. 1901

Creating the Panama Canal

Congress was central to creating the Panama Canal, one of the Progressive Era’s furthest-reaching strategic, trade, and technological achievements. In the 1890s Congress investigated potential routes for a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, deeming it essential for commerce and defense. After Congress authorized the purchase of a canal project initiated by France on the Isthmus of Panama, the Senate approved a treaty to acquire the Canal Zone in 1904. Appropriating $375 million for construction, Congress established a commission to oversee the project, which was completed in 1914.