When mentioning southern expansion in the years prior to the American Civil War, what places come to mind? While most people think of the west as the closest and quickest place the southern states could have expanded the institution of slavery, one does not typically consider Cuba as a likely location. The island of Cuba served as a valid choice for many southern expansionists in the name of slavery, not only because its land was well suited and had been exposed to slavery, but also it was believed that Cuban planters would be open to United States intervention.
However, it was because of the efforts on the part of the Democrats and the Pierce Administration that made purchasing/taking the territory impossible, and further led to hostilities that upset the balance between slave and free states, heightening tensions just ten years before the breakout of the Civil War. To start with, northern and southern states did not see eye to eye on the issue of slavery. This, however, was not always the case. As a matter of fact, pro-slavery forces began to see slavery as less needed following the significant decline in the growth of tobacco and even considered the process of manumission.
Even so, while northern states were beginning to abolish slavery in the north, one invention changed everything: the cotton gin. Eli Whitney, “the son of a Massachusetts farmer, perceived that if machinery could be contrived for the separation of the green seed cotton from its seed it could be made an article of vast commerce. ” This was the birth of the “Cotton Gin, an instrument which has given impetus to the commerce of the world, and more, perhaps than any other cause, riveted slavery upon the negro race. ” What this did for the southern economy was a rapid change of the South’s outlook at slavery from, what John C.
Calhoun from South Carolina described as “instead of an evil, a good-a positive good that… has led to a wealthy and civilized society. ” As a result, the south produced cotton revenue “for 1852 [that] was valued at no less than $129,000,000. Our exports of raw cotton for 1854… $9,500,000 and of manufactured cotton to more than $9,500,000. ” Thus, by making American cotton a staple all across the world, the market of the South was able to “turn its back on the tendencies to his emancipation,” a reference to African-American slaves.
As a result, there now existed two primary economic industries now set up in the United States, creating two diverse socio-economic spheres. In the Old Northwest, “the contemporary name for the region north of the Ohio River and west of the Appalachian Mountains” an economy based on foodstuffs with a heavy center in the east focused on the consumption and manufacturing of goods. How did this differ from the southern half of the United States? The economy of the southern states lived by the motto where “Cotton was King.
Furthermore, the South was notable for its soil, climate and labor system, and specifically African-American slaves, as a central part of southern society as well as a critical piece in the southern way of life. It is here we start to see differing ways of life between the northern and southern halves of the country. In relation to the years prior to the Civil War, though, both the north and the south feared the other half’s way of life as a threat. It was southern fear that northern states were gaining an advantage in the number of free states, as well as representation in Congress.
Running the numbers, it can be ascertained that out of the twenty-seven states in the Union by 1850, fifteen registered as free states while twelve were slave states. Out of the twenty-seven total states, there were 144 representatives of the northern states, with 82 for the southern states. Numerically we can see how the advantage clearly rests with the northern states in the House of Representatives, the key house of Congress for Democrats, where slave states had one chance to deny anti-slavery legislation.
It was these little statistics that drove fear into the hearts of many southerners of a northern driven limit on the expansion of slavery through the admission of new states. It was because of this that many southern states began searching for new territories that could sustain slavery. But why was this done? The answer to this question lies with the geography of the south. Although slavery was seen as a central part of the South’s society and the economy, it seriously damaged the development of industry and exhausted the soil.
After all, it was the great philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, who boldly stated how slavery “is no scholar, no improver; it does not love the whistle of the railroad; it does not love the newspaper, the mail-bag, a college, a book or a preacher who has the absurd whim of saying what he thinks; it does not increase the white population; it does not improve the soil; everything goes to decay. ” Accordingly, as soil erosion and exhaustion continued to diminish the soil of the south, and thus cotton could not further grow, the demand for land increased.
Despite establishing a western territory in favor of slavery being difficult, due to the discontent that would blow over with northerners over a fear of expanding slavery where it should not, there was one territorial trophy southern politicians coveted: Cuba. Cuba was a closer region where slavery already existed, as oppose to territories in the west where one would have to go through the painstakingly long process of legislating slavery into a state constitution, and was “enjoying an economic boom based on slave-grown sugar. ” What’s more, notable southern Congressmen voiced intense support for an American conquest of the territory.
One such was Senator Jefferson Davis, a Democrat from Mississippi, who declared, “Cuba must be ours. ” Similarly, perhaps the most fervent of southern politicians, was Davis’s Mississippi colleague, Albert Gallatin Brown, who was more explicit: I want Cuba, and I know that sooner or later we must have it. If the worm-eaten throne of Spain is willing to give it up for a fair equivalent, well – if not, we must take it… I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States…And a footing in Central America will powerfully aid us in acquiring those other States… Yes, I want these Countries for the spread of slavery.
I would spread the blessing of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the utmost ends of the earth. Even President James K. Polk, the U. S. President at this time, was in favor of the purchase, but, when Polk tried to purchase the territory of Cuba for $100 million, the Spanish Foreign Minister refused. Polk wrote in his diary that “he [Mr. Saunders, the U. S. Minister to Spain] was authorized to inform him [the Secretary of State for the United States] in conversation that the U. S. ould never permit Cuba into to pass into the hands of any European Power, and that whilst the Island remained a possession of Spain the U. S. would in no way interfere with it. ”
When money would not work in the acquisition of Cuba, American expansionists resorted to fomenting an uprising, similar to how it was done in “Florida, Texas and California. ” The first of these major uprisings was Narcisco Lopez who was a “Venezuelan soldier of fortune” who recruited several hundred American adventures for the “first filibustering expedition against Cuba. Filibustering derives from the Spanish word “Filibustero, which refers to a freebooter or pirate,” not to be confused with the American political term. When U. S. President Zachary Taylor, who opposed further expansion, ordered the U. S. Navy to prevent Lopez from leaving New York, the Venezuelan filibusterer moved his operations to New Orleans where he raised another force.
Louis Schlesinger, one of the many soldiers who accompanied Lopez on his following expedition to Cuba, noted how the general, upon reaching the shores of Cuba, knelt on the ground and kissed the soil, shouting “querida Cuba,” translating to “beloved Cuba. Schlesinger notes how these were the words of the first salutation, and “how soon were the same to be those of his last farewell to the to the country he hoped to redeem, but could only die for! ” Although optimism can be found brimming in the rest of the pages in Schlesinger’s accounts, Lopez was finally captured in 1851 and executed. Following the failed attempt of Lopez attempts to claim the peninsula of Cuba were dampened for a time. Not until the Presidential Election of 1852 did attempts to conquer the peninsula resurge.
It was that very same election in which Franklin Pierce, a Democrat who had a reputation as a “doughface – a northern man with southern principles. ” Pierce allowed for the greater support in the annexation of Cuba through filibuster movements and even encouraged some expeditions. Former governor John A. Quitman of Mississippi led one such in 1854. Quitman was a “veteran of the U. S. -Mexican War who had served as military governor of the Mexican capital” and agreed to lead an attack on Cuba, cutting “a deal for financial support from the New York-based Cuban Junta.
Unlike Lopez, Quitman hoped to strengthen the south with Cuba’s entrance into the Union, but unfortunately his plans unraveled when the Pierce administration opposed the expedition and Quitman never even left American soil. One of the last attempts by a filibuster, in fact, doesn’t even relate to Cuba. William Walker, “a shy, Tennessee-born, five-foot-five 120-pound, grey-eyed man of destiny” led another filibuster attempt, only this time in Nicaragua. While irrelevant to the area of Cuban conquest by Americans, Walker’s case is notable specifically in this late stage of the 1850s.
Walker, with a small “American Phalanx,” was able to mount a successful revolution in 1855, successfully capturing the capital of Nicaragua as well as re-legalizing slavery. ” Surprisingly, Walker held the city for two years before meeting his destiny before a firing squad in 1860. Again, amongst all the previous failed attempts at conquest, what strikes Walker’s case as stimulating is how the American public reacted.
For example, the Albion, a journal of news, politics, and literature, published a piece on December 26, 1857 both applauding and criticizing the filibuster. General William Walker’s triumphant march to the capital of Nicaragua… is no such very difficult task to hoax a Secretary of State, a District Attorney, and a Marshal of the United States! We should be ashamed to state so disreputable a supposition! ” As a last ditch attempt to gain the territory, Pierce again tried to encourage an insurrection on the island, instead working through bribes and diplomacy. Pierce instructed the American Minister to Madrid, Pierre Soule, to offer Spain $130 million in the city of Ostend, Belgium.
However, Pierce had been receiving Pierce back in the United States had been receiving negative criticisms from both the Democrats and Congress over the failed territorial acquisition attempts. Soule, a flamboyant American minister who completely alienated the government in Madrid, worked with the American ministers to France and England and drafted a memorandum now commonly referred to as the Ostend Manifesto. The manifesto declared that if Spain persisted to sell Cuba, the United States would “by every law, human and divine, we [the Americans] shall be justified in wresting it from Spain.
But when the Ostend Manifesto was leaked to the public towards the end of 1854, editors like Horace Greeley, of the New York Tribune, denounced it as the “Manifesto of the Brigands. ” Pierce was forced to recall Soule, repudiate the Ostend Manifesto and had to pressure Governor Quitman into “disbanding his well financed and heavily manned filibustering expedition against the island. ” Thus, it can be firmly stated that the Pierce Democrats miscalculated in their attempts to acquire Cuba; not only in taking away from the South’s last best chance to acquire more slave territory, but also because American diplomacy was made a mockery.
Nevertheless, attempts by southerners only expanded Northern fear of an increase in the amount of slave territory and political power in Congress. It was because of these two attempts, filibustering attempts and diplomatic bribery, which resulted in a failure to gain more territory for the expansion of slavery and dealt a significant blow to the Pierce Administration. This disaster on the part of the Democrats further led to trouble back in the United States, as Democrats were dealing with the storm they helped raise over Kansas.
In the end, southerners got neither the territory they craved nor the representation in Congress they felt they deserved. Whether it was due to the aggressiveness of filibusters or the lack of effort on the part of the Pierce administration to push for a mounted insurrection cannot be determined. That being said, however, the crisis in Cuba itself led to further tension in Kansas and strengthened the fears of both southerners and northerners, resulting in the eruption of Civil War.