CARTER, Jimmy (1924-), President. Autograph letter signed ("Jimmy Carter") as President, to Illinois Senator Charles H. Percy (1919- ), Plains, [Georgia], April 1978. 1¼ pages, 8vo (8½ x 5½ in.), penned in bold brown marker marker on rectos only of two sheets of good quality Strathmore paper, tiny staple holes in upper left corner, verso with traces of mounting, otherwise in fine condition.
CARTER AND THE PANAMA CANAL TREATIES: "AN IMPORTANT ISSUE FRAUGHT WITH SO MUCH POTENTIAL POLITICAL SACRIFICE"
A fine letter in which the President expresses gratitude to Percy for his support in the bitterly contested Senate battle to return the Panama Canal to its host nation. In 1903 negotiations with Colombia over the lease of the Canal Zone had reached an impasse when the district of Panama revolted. The U.S. hastily recognized the new nation's independence and concluded a treaty which granted control of a ten-mile-wide swathe of territory. In the 1960s, though, Panamanian efforts to regain control resulted in riots and the use of U.S. troops. Despite vehement opposition in Washington to relinquishing control of the canal, Carter insisted that a new agreement must be reached: "Our failure to take action after years of promises under five previous Presidents had created something of a diplomatic cancer, which was poisoning our relations with Panama" (Carter, Keeping Faith, p. 159). A new treaty providing for the return of the Canal Zone to Panama encountered staunch opposition in the Senate. The battle for ratification, Carter later wrote, constituted "the most difficult political battle I had ever faced." Ultimately, the Senate ratified the treaty with 64 votes, one more than the necessary two thirds.
Here, Carter thanks Percy for his vote: "As President, I want to express my admiration for your support of the Panama Canal treaties. Rarely is a national leader called upon to act on such an important issue fraught with so much potential political sacrifice. On behalf of the people of the United States, I thank you for your personal demonstration of statesmanship and political courage."
Carter wrote identical handwritten letters to each of the 64 senators who voted to ratify the treaty (see Carter's memoirs, Keeping the Faith, p. 156). But, according to ABPC, not one of these has ever previously been offered at auction. Handwritten letters of President Carter remain very rare, and many known examples are signed "Jimmy" or "Jimmy C." The best known example, a letter to his brother Billy regarding the Iran crisis, was part of the Kantor Collection (sold at Christie's, 16 October 1996, lot 9, $29,900). In the last 25 years, only three Carter ALSs while in office have been offered at auction.