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Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1887-1889 and 1999. Virtualology.com warns that these 19th Century biographies contain errors and bias. We rely on volunteers to edit the historic biographies on a continual basis. If you would like to edit this biography please submit a rewritten biography in text form . If acceptable, the new biography will be published above the 19th Century Appleton's Cyclopedia Biography citing the volunteer editor





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Ferdinand Marie Lesseps

LESSEPS, Ferdinand Marie, Viscount de, French diplomat, born in Versailles, 11 November, 1805. He received his early education in Paris, but finished it with his father, a consular agent, and lived with him in Philadelphia in 1819-'22, where he acquired, as he said, at a dinner given to him in that city in 1880, the qualities of pluck and tenacity. He was consular agent at Lisbon in 1825-'7, when he received an appointment in the division of commerce. In 1828 he was attached to the consulate at Tunis, and three years later became vice-consul at Alexandria and consul at Cairo, where he remained till 1838, when he was sent to Rotterdam, afterward to Malaga and to Barcelona. After the downfall of Louis Philippe he was appointed minister to Spain and afterward to Rome. After 1850 he devoted his energy to the opening of the Suez canal, the idea of which he had conceived during his sojourn in Egypt. While on a visit in Egypt in 1854 he disclosed the project to Said Pacha, who invited him to draw up a memorial on the subject, which was done, with full details. Said Pacha issued a firman sanctioning the enterprise in 1854, granted a letter of concession in January, 1856, and took a large number of shares, and after many difficulties Lesseps formed a company in Paris in 1858. Work on the canal was begun in the spring of 1859. A canal for steamboats of light draught was opened on 15 August, 1865. Its bed was enlarged so that schooners could pass through in March, 1867, and the completed canal was formally opened amid festivities at Port Sa/d on 17 November, 1869. Lesseps directed his attention to the Sahara desert, proposing to flood a portion of it, and afterward presented a plan for a railway through Asia. Since 1873 he has concentrated his energy on the Panama canal. In 1874 the project was vigorously advocated in the French financial press, and at the meeting of the congress of the geographical sciences, held in Paris in 1875, Lesseps formally proposed to cut a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. In the following year he formed a company, with a capital of $20,000, to make the preliminary surveys. He visited Germany, England, and Belgium, to secure support among the financiers, and in 1879 obtained from the Colombian government the exclusive privilege of constructing a canal between the two oceans through the Colombian territory. On his return to Paris he began a subscription for a company with a capital of $120,000,000, which proved a failure. Going again to the United States, he visited the principal cities, making speeches, and called a congress of engineers to meet in Paris and discuss the merits of the proposed routes. That of Panama having been approved, he again began a subscription for a company with a capital of $100,000,000, which was successful; but only half of the capital is paid up. The United States government desired that the neutrality of the canal should be jointly guaranteed by the United States and Colombia under a treaty with New Granada concluded in 1816, and that the war vessels of no other power should have the right of passage except by permission. A diplomatic correspondence was carried on with the government of Great Britain, which declined to modify the Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850 providing for a joint English and American guarantee of any prospective interoceanic canal or railway. The company was definitively constituted on 31 January, 1881, and the work began in October. Much money has been wasted, and new loans asked for. Lesseps has repeatedly asserted that the canal will be completed by 1889 and that the total expenditure will not exceed $220,000,000.

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