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Historical letter on the Panama Canal scandal (1893)

Historical letter on the Panama Canal scandal (1893)

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The only convict in the Panama Canal scandal expresses his feelings about jail and justice.

  • Historic letter from deputy Charles Baïhaut, imprisoned in Etampes prison, to a friend.
  • Four pages.
  • In French.
  • 13 cm x 20 cm.
  • Etampes, August 12, 1893.
  • Excellent condition.
  • Unique piece.


(...) I had, I admit, in 1886, an hour of failure, when I violated the law. I did not deceive anyone, I did not sell false values, I did not make any mistakes, I was not a blackmailer, I am not guilty of fraud, I concluded, without partiality, and without hypocrisy, a free contract: an illegal contract, but not a shameful bargain , an agreement prohibited by the code, but what can explain consciousness, if not for absurdity. This is the fault.

(…) I will fully reimburse the amount received, the rest of my money will go to the IRS, I lose my rights, my status, my career, I spent long months away from those I love, I suffered all the outrages and all the tortures, I suffered and cried.

(…) This is my opinion. Let us compare to others. Perhaps I could consider myself left aside by human society, this society is very difficult to maintain respect for, since it reaches one without hitting all the culprits, since the alleged application of the law is a parody of absolute justice.

The Panama scandal is a case of corruption related to the construction of the Panama Canal in the late 19th century. The objective of the work was to facilitate the movement of goods and people between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, without boats having to go around South America. In 1879, Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, famous for creating the Suez Canal, is chosen by an international committee to start the 75 km project in Panama.

Started in 1881, the work was quickly delayed due to tropical diseases and many accidents. Lesseps then organized public subscriptions to finance his increasingly expensive project. Under pressure, he diverted part of these funds to bribe journalists and politicians who could hide the shipyard's difficulties and vote for new laws to issue a loan. The strategy failed and the Company was placed in liquidation on February 4, 1889, causing the bankruptcy of 85,000 shareholders. The United States of America finally finished the canal in 1914.

In 1892, a journalist reported the case, placing dozens of deputies and ministers under suspicion of corruption; Charles Baïhaut (1843 - 1917) was the only one who admitted the crime and was sentenced to five years in prison in Etampes, from where he wrote this moving letter.

The unprecedented and extensive content of this letter by Charles Baïhaut is a historical witness to the first major public corruption scandal, caused by the construction of a gigantic project, the Panama Canal, which would definitively change world trade.

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