The Panama Canal Treaties: How Treaties are Ratified


To give students an understanding of how the executive and legislative branches, influenced by popular opinion, work toward the ratification of a treaty.

Correlation to Georgia GPS Standards:

9-12th American Government

  • Identifies the influences and impact of lobbying, special interests, constituent demand and pork-barreling in the legislative process
  • Identifies and illustrates the various roles a president must simultaneously fulfill while in office
  • Identifies and analyzes the constitutional process a president has at his/her disposal and how various presidents have used or been unable to use these powers


  • Analyzes interpretations of same event from different sources
  • Distinguishes between fact and opinion
  • Determines the sequence of events required for a given historical interpretation
  • Collects evidence using appropriate, reliable data
  • Cites short and long range positive and negative consequences of alternatives


Introduction: Searching for History (Sheet 1)

Background Information for Teachers

Student Materials:


The Document Files (List of Documents) are in PDF format. You may view the pages either in your browser with Adobe’s Acrobat plug-in, or downloaded and viewed with Adobe’s Acrobat Reader. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat, you can get both the plug-in and the viewer by following this Acrobat link.

  • Document Analysis

    Provide students with copies of Documents 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 12, 14, 15, 16; List 1, Sheet 2, and the Time Line. Allow students time to read and study the document(s).
    Instruct students to respond to the following:

    • Document 1 and 2
      What are the writers of these letters trying to tell the President? What key phrases or sentences do these writers use to get their point across? How are their views different? Read Document 3 and 4, then write a response to either Document 1 or 2.

    • Document 4
      Use Sheet 2 to analyze this document. When finished, write a letter to your newspaper editor in response to the two-column article that Ronald Reagan wrote.

    • Document 5, 12, and 16
      Compare these three letters from President Carter. What are the differences and similarities between them? If you received these letters, what would your response be? Note the dates of the letters and place them in the Time Line. Compare the letters to what was going on at the time.

    • Document 6
      Use Sheet 2 to analyze this document. Upon completion of the analysis, read Document 14. How does Document 6 tie in with Document 14?

    • Document 15
      Using the Note for this document and List 1, identify the people mentioned. Use Sheet 2 to analyze these documents.

  • Persuasion and Politics - role play debate exercise


    • nametags for each role
    • copies of Documents 5, 6, 7, 13, 14
    • copies of Lists 1 and 2

    Familiarize students with treaty provisions outlined in Document 5 (Note: even though Document 14 deals with a later date, it provides useful administration strategy information for the students.)

    Have students choose roles from List 1 and List 2

    Instruct Students as follows:

    It is February 1978 and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd announces that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has voted to recommend the Panama Canal Treaties for approval by the complete Senate. You will debate the Neutrality Treaty.

    Refer to Documents 6, 7, 13, and 14 and to Lists 1 and 2 when you are preparing for the Senate debate.

    Extension Activity - As a follow-up to the debate, students will write position papers for or against both of the Panama Canal Treaties.

  • Public Opinion - class discussion


    • copies of Documents 7, 8, 10, 11,
    • copies of Sheets 2 and 3

    Procedure: Distribute Sheets 2 and 3 to each student. Divide the class into 7 groups and assign one document per group. Allow each student 15 minutes to individually analyze the assigned document using the appropriate Sheet (2 or 3). Then allow each group 10 minutes to discuss among themselves the viewpoint of their document. When each group is ready, call for a class discussion between the different viewpoints (15 minutes). At the end of the discussion, summarize the activity by having the class list the advantages and disadvantages of the Panama Canal Treaties (10 minutes).

  • Political Cartoons - class discussion and mini-reports


    • copies of Documents 10 and 10a
    • copies of Sheet 3

    Procedure: Distribute Sheet 3 and Documents. Allow students time to examine the Documents. Lead a discussion focusing on analyzing the two political cartoons using Sheet 3. Compare the cartoonists’ viewpoints and the political climate. Have students write mini-reports on the history of the Panama Canal.