In his first speech to Congress as president, Roosevelt called for the United States to build a canal to join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. “No single great material work which remains to be undertaken on this continent is of such consequence to the American people,” he told the lawmakers. President Roosevelt wanted to make the United States a great power that could exert influence around the world. A canal would be a way to achieve this goal. If ships could move between the Atlantic and Pacific, the U.S. navy would be better able to defend the nation’s new territories gained in the Spanish-American War. In addition, businesses would benefit from lower shipping costs.