Skip to Main Content

Jimmy Carter and the Panama Canal Treaty

50 min
  • How did President Jimmy Carter achieve Senate ratification of the unpopular treaties transferring the Panama Canal Zone from the United States back to Panama?

Students will:

  • Understand the issues at stake between the United States and Panama in the Panama Canal Treaties.
  • Trace President Carter’s approach to the questions and controversies that resulted from Panama Canal Treaties.
  • Analyze the roles of the executive and legislative branches in the treatymaking process.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of Carter’s efforts.

  • Handout A: Jimmy Carter and the Panama Canal Treaty

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: The President as Chief Diplomat.

Have students read Handout A: Jimmy Carter and the Panama Canal Treaty and answer the questions.

Divide the class into groups of five for a mock Senate debate. Within each group should be two “Senators Opposed,” two “Senators In Favor,” and one “President.”

Instruct each group to hold their own mock “Senate debate” on the Panama Canal Treaties of 1977. The “President” in each group should not participate in the debate, but listens and takes notes concerning any changes that may need to be made in the treaty. Allow the debates to proceed for about 10 minutes.

Reconvene the class and have students meet in 3 new groups: Senate Treaty Supporters, Senate Treaty Opponents, and Presidents. Give students a few minutes to share ideas that came out of their debates. Remind the Presidents group that any change in a treaty that comes from the Senate is subject to approval by the foreign country’s government.

Ask for volunteers to participate in a “fishbowl debate,” allowing students to help one another in making the best arguments they can for and against the treaty.

Ask the “Senate” to answer this question: “Under what conditions would you vote for the treaty?”

Ask the “Presidents” group to summarize the advice they have compiled by listening to the Senate. Then ask: How can you use the Senate’s debate to:

  • address Senators’ concerns?
  • conduct future conversations with Torrijos?

Call for a vote on the Treaty. Treaty ratification requires a 2/3 majority.

As a large group, discuss how the roles of the executive and legislative branches in the treaty-making process.

Discuss the fact that even though a treaty must be approved by the Senate, history holds the President responsible for the outcome of treaty negotiations. Why is that?

Have students create a T-chart to respond to the questions: What did President Jimmy Carter do effectively in the “advice and consent” part of the Panama Treaty process? What aspects of his approach, if any, needed improvement?

Student Handouts

Related Resources