Stealing Cuba, Part Five

Quitman’s delay need not mean the moment passed. A friendly administration and a larger expedition gave him an edge on past filibustering expeditions. Southern racial panic over the proposed Africanization of Cuba gave him an additional recruiting tool. But López required no casus belli at all. The Texans put up only a vague smokescreen over their revolution to save slavery. James K. Polk simply lied. A respectable casus belli might make the whole operation look good, or at least less odious, to the international community but in the mid-1850s, the Great Powers had their eyes fixed on the Crimean. Even aside all of that, it took considerable wooing and more than a few stretches of the truth to prompt enough action for Southerners to claim the United Kingdom wanted to interfere in Texas and those same Great Powers hardly stirred themselves over the American dismemberment of Mexico. Quitman could reasonably miss the ideal moment to strike and still carry off a successful expedition.

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

But the Pierce administration’s support helped ensure his endgame of a swift annexation. Cuba might endure a decade like Texas did, but that tense decade did Texas few favors and carried with it the risk of Mexican armies returning. The Lone Star Republic vacillated between trying to make a serious go as its own nation, annexation by the United States, and even trying to get a British protectorate. Texans had years of their lives invested in their little nation and rebelled to keep living as they had. Quitman and his army did not grow up in Cuba. They did not have entrenched social networks there. Their personal investment as a band of soldiers of fortune largely hinged on the rewards that conquest would bring them and an uneasy decade or so in a foreign land clinging to those concessions by the skin of their teeth meant exposure to a lot of risk. For Quitman’s expedition, annexation had to ride on conquest’s coat tails.

John Slidell

John Slidell

The administration did not stop there. Pierce sent out a proclamation declaring his intent to prosecute anybody, like Quitman, who violated the Neutrality Act. That effectively killed the aim of John Slidell, who now occupied Soulé’s old seat in the Senate and in past adventures tried to buy Mexican territory for the United States right before the war, to repeal the law just as the Foreign Relations Committee stood poised to report it out to the full Senate for passage. To make sure Quitman got the message, Marcy asked Slidell to telegraph him in New Orleans with word that Pierce would acquire the island through diplomacy and his expedition complicated things. Slidell refused, so Marcy stepped up his efforts by reaching out to the US District Attorney in New Orleans, who brought Quitman and five supporters brought up on charges. The grand jury refused to indict, but a judge required from Quitman and two confederates a three thousand dollar bond securing their respect for the Neutrality Act for the next nine months.

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