Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




In 1912, the United States Congress passed a measure which granted free use of the Panama Canal to ships engaged in the coastwise shipping of the United States. Although Great Britain protested that the measure was a violation of the Hay-Pauncefote treaty of 1901, President Taft signed the bill into law. Two years later, newly elected President Woodrow Wilson appeared before a joint session of Congress and requested repeal of the disputed clause. Several months later, Congress concurred in this point of view and repealed the exemption clause. The question arises: What was the reaction of the upper midwest to such a reversal of policy?

In determining midwestern public opinion regarding the exemption clause, editorial comment was examined in a random sample of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota newspapers. In this examination, particular attention was paid to the various arguments advanced, and an effort was made to determine whether there was any one regional argument advanced. Within this random sample, an effort was made to examine the weekly press of the region to determine the extent to which they covered foreign affairs.

In an addition to an examination of press comment, the position of the region's Congressional delegation was also noted to determine whether there was any variation between the way the editors viewed the issue and the way the region's Congressmen voted. Attention was also paid to the arguments advanced by these Congressmen to determine if they were similar to those advanced in the region's press.

From the examination of the random sample of newspapers and the position of the upper-midwestern Congressmen, it is concluded that the people of this region were overwhelmingly opposed to the exemption clause in 1912 and supported strongly the repeal movement of 1914. To the people of this region, the exemption clause appeared to be a move by the coastal states to secure an economic advantage. The upper midwest was opposed to being taxed for a benefit it did not receive.

Contrary to the widely held opinion, the upper midwest was both informed on and interested in the tolls question. This region took an active part in the exemption clause debate and strongly voiced its opposition to the measure. Little evidence was found, however, to support the contention that the upper midwest was an outspoken opponent of Great Britain. Very little Anglophobia was expressed in the papers examined. To the people of this region, this was an economic, not an ethnic, question.