Collection Summary

Creator: McClellan, James B.
Title: The Papers of James B. McClellan on the Panama Canal Treaty Debates
Accession: MSS 83-1
Description: 11 boxes; 4.6 linear feet
Location: This collection is stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections before your visit to ensure your papers are available.
Photograph Collection: View 0 digitized photographs
Digitized Content: 0 objects
Use Restrictions: There are no restrictions.

Collection Description & Arrangement

These papers document James B. McClellan's 1977-1978 tenure as minority counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Separation of Powers. In this capacity, McClellan prepared briefs and memoranda for several senators --Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; James Allen, D-Alabama; and Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina-- taking the minority position throughout the Panama Canal treaty debates. The collection contains manuscript and published materials which document Congressional opposition to the treaties. In addition, there are published political action pamphlets and newsletters designed to coordinate and orchestrate public opposition to the Carter administration's proposed revised Panama Canal treaties.

Biographical & Historical Information

In 1902 the U.S. attempted to purchase the rights to build a canal across the Isthmus of Panama from the Columbian government. When the offer is turned down, Panama (with the encouragement and assistance of the U.S.) revolted against Colombia and signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty (1903), which gave the U.S. exclusive control of a ten-mile wide canal zone. The United States completed the canal in 1914 and the first vessel, the S.S. Ancon, made the transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Panama came to resent America’s control of the Canal Zone and called the 1903 treaty unfair. Riots along the Canal Zone border erupted in 1964, claiming twenty lives. Panama broke diplomatic relations with the U.S., prompting President Lyndon Johnson to begin negotiations for a new treaty.

A 1975 Senate resolution reflected continued congressional opposition to canal negotiations being conducted by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger under the administrations of Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. The challenge President Carter faced was to protect basic U.S. interests in an open and secure canal while honoring Panama’s sovereignty over its own land.

Within days of his inauguration, President Carter ordered a “Policy Review” of canal treaty negotiations that had been proceeding for thirteen years. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown led the review.

President Carter appointed a U.S. team, led by Ellsworth Bunker and Sol Linowitz, to negotiate general terms of the new treaties. In May 1977, the talks stalled when Panama demanded excessive payments by the United States. In July, President Carter broke the stalemate by writing directly to General Torrijos with the final U.S. offer. 

After consulting with other Latin American leaders, Torrijos agreed to the United States’ proposals in mid-August.


Amid low public support for the treaties, the Carter Administration began a public relations campaign to secure their ratification in the U.S. Senate.  Carter and his officials reached out to U.S. Senators, held many public forums in which they explained the Administration’s rationale behind the treaty, and welcomed the support of famed actor John Wayne, who issued his own pro-treaty statement in October 1977.

President Carter joined General Torrijos in Panama on June 16, 1978, to sign the documents concluding the treaty exchange. The ceremony symbolized the beginning of a new era of partnership with Latin America.

As the implementation of Treaty progressed, it became apparent that the transfer of the control of the canal and the US military assets to the Government of Panama was to be a successful enterprise. The concerns raised by the opponents of the Treaty quickly faded. The use of the canal by aggressors became a less and less plausible scenario as the size of naval vessels outgrew the size of the locks. Also, the transfer of the assets was handled on time and in a safe environment which was questioned by many. The US legacy in Panama started with the completion of the canal and ended with the improvements to the Panamanian infrastructure through the Treaty. The ratification of the Treaty demonstrated the good will of the American people for their neighbors in Latin America. The US efforts in shifting control to Panama, from the ratification of the Treaty in 1977 to the final transfer of December 31, 1999, established effective procedures for treaty implementation.



Office of the Historian, “The Panama Canal and the Torrijos-Carter Treaty,” U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian Milestones: 1977-1980, (Accessed October 27, 2015).

Acquisition Information

Date Received 1983

Content List

Box 1:

  • 1977-78; Memoranda to Hatch
  • 1977-78; Correspondence: Constitutional Issues
  • 1977-78; McClellan's Canal Package: Defense and Economic
  • n.d.; Senate Foreign Relations Committee
  • 1977-78; Senator James Allen
  • 1977, August; Hatch's Panama Visit: Packet of Information
  • 1977, August-September; Hatch's Articles
  • 1978, April 3; Hatch's Speech in the Senate

Box 2:

  • 1977-78; Hatch Statements
  • 1977-78; Hatch Speeches
  • 1977-78; Hatch Amendment
  • 1977-78; Helms Material
  • 1977; AIM: Reed Irvine
  • 1977-78; American Conservative Union
  • 1977-78; American Security Council
  • 1977-78; Background Papers CON [2 folders]

Box 3:

  • 1977-78; Banking Interests
  • 1978, January - February; Berger: Correspondence and Testimony
  • 1978, 11 May; Brooke Reservation
  • 1977-78; Canal Modernization
  • 1978, March - July; Canal Zonians
  • 1978; Capt. M. P. DuVal
  • 1977, November; Colombia/Costa Rica Privileges
  • 1977-78; Communist Initiatives
  • 1977; Congressional Research Service
  • 1977-78; Conservative Digest/American Legion Cassette Tape and Correspondence
  • 1977-78; Conservative Caucus

Box 4:

  • 1977-78; Council for Inter-American Security
  • 1977-78; Defense Aspects
  • 1977, 22 December; DOS: Response to Amendments
  • 1978, March; Disposal of Property by Treaty
  • 1978; Drug Traffic in Panama

Box 5:

  • 1977-78; Economic Arrangements with Panama: House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee [2 folders]
  • 1977-78; Economic Aspects [2 folders]
  • 1977; Environmental Aspects
  • n.d.; Fact Sheets
  • 1977; Fediay Proposal
  • 1977-78; Foreign Policy

Box 6:

  • 1977, October; Governors' Disposition
  • 1977, 31 August; Heritage Foundation
  • 1977-78; House Resolutions
  • 1977-78; Human Rights Issues
  • 1978; Implementing Legislation
  • 1977-78; Intelligence Activities
  • 1977; Interpretations of Treaty
  • 1978, 8 March; Intersea
  • n.d.; Kissinger - Tack Agreement
  • 1977-78; Latin American Relations
  • 1978; Lawsuit to Stop Treaties
  • 1978, March; Legal Status of Canal Zone Property
  • 1977-78; Library of Congress: Treaty Issues
  • 1978; Linowitz - Chile1977-78; Linowitz - Treaty
  • 1977; Lucier, Dr. James P.
  • 1977-78; Miscellaneous

Box 7:

  • 1977-78; Naturalization Amendment
  • 1978, March-April; Panama - Freedom of the Press
  • 1977-78; Panama - Escobar
  • 1977; Panama - Treaty Violations
  • 1978; Panama - Constitutions
  • 1977-78; Panama - Interpretations
  • 1977; Panamanian Public Reaction
  • 1978; Panamanian Plebiscite
  • 1977-78; Panama - Torrijos
  • 1977-78; Pollak Exchange
  • 1978; Polls
  • 1977; Port Reactions
  • 1977-78; Pro-Treaty Special Interest Groups
  • 1977-78; Rockefeller
  • 1977-78; Sea Level Canal
  • 1975; Sen. Res. 97
  • 1977-78; Separation of Powers
  • 1977; Sources for Canal Information
  • 1977-78; Spanish Translation of Treaties
  • 1977-78; State Department Memoranda
  • 1978, 28 May; State Legislatures

Box 8:

  • 1977; Suez Parallels
  • 1977; Treaty - Text
  • 1977; Treaty - Hearings
  • 1978; Treaty - Senate Vote
  • 1977-78; Treaty - International Agreements
  • 1978; Treaty - Post-Ratification
  • n.d.; UN Charter
  • 1977-78; White House
  • 1978; Whitman Analysis

Box 9:

  • n.d.; Case Notes: Constitutional Issues
  • 1977-78; Magazines/Periodicals
  • n.d.; Xerox Copies of Relevant Court Cases [3 folders]
  • 1977-78; Clippings [2 folders]

Box 10:

  • 1977-78; Clippings [4 folders]
  • 1978, March; Xerox of Senate Floor Debate on Constitutional Issues
  • 1977-78; Indexed Copies of Xeroxed Pages from the Congressional Record

Box 11:

  • 1977-78; Indexed Copies of Xeroxed Pages from the Congressional Record [5 folders]


Associated People

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Preferred Citation

Papers of James B. McClellan on the Panama Canal Treaty Debates, MSS 83-1, Box Number, Special Collections, University of Virginia Law School Library

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