The British Plot Against America, Part Three

John Slidell

John Slidell (D-LA)

Parts 1, 2

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456

John Slidell presented the Senate with the facts: Everyone knew that England saw abolition as a national priority. England clearly connived with France to preserve Cuba in Spanish hands. England clearly put pressure on Spain to emancipate Cuba’s slaves as a way to grease the wheels to further protection. Furthermore, the participation of British ambassador Lord Hodwen on the opposing side in a duel against American minister Pierre Soulé in Madrid strongly suggested that the plot had moved into a new phase. Before, the United Kingdom had confined itself to diplomatic overtures. Now, riding high on its new alliance with France, what else could conniving minds in London have ready to hatch? Slidell thought a race war on the way to some sham republic led by freedmen who would serve British imperial interests. The Louisiana legislature unanimously called Cuban emancipation only possible with the extinction there of the white race. To prevent that humanitarian catastrophe, Slidell and Louisiana asked that the Congress suspend the Neutrality Laws and let John A. Quitman and his filibusters descend on the island.

The supposed British plot, however, did require the Spanish signing on. They owned and ran Cuba, after all. There too, Slidell had his facts in order. The Spanish colonial officials had declared themselves for it. Captain-General Pezuela came into office on December 8, 1853, and on the 28th the heavily censored Cuban papers opined on the need for a new labor system:

It being understood that what we have in view is to make a transition from labor that is entirely compulsory to the organization of labor under the system of complete freedom which prevails in other countries, it is necessary, prudent, and just that we shall conciliate as far as possible the exigencies of both extremes. The contract system, which establishes for a fixed period, a reciprocal servitude and a reciprocal mastership, is the only possible solution of so delicate a problem.

Marqués de la Pezuela, Captain-General of Cuba

Marqués de la Pezuela, Captain-General of Cuba

The new labor system involved importing apprentices to work the fields. Apprentices you could buy and sell who came in the holds of ships, stacked like so much firewood. Odd thing for Slidell to object to on its face, but remember that the Atlantic slave trade scandalized just about every American of the time. Furthermore, newly arrived apprentices could turn swiftly into the footsoldiers of an emancipating army, adding their numbers to Cuba’s longer-serving slaves. Horror of horrors, Spanish law even made it easy for those slaves to free themselves:

To cap the climax of usurpation and oppression, an order has been issued allowing all slaves to hire their time at eight dollars per month. The Spanish law has always favored the emancipation of the slave, and to enable him to acquire his liberty by a tariff that has been placed on his labor according to his convertible value, or the price paid for him. This was ten cents per day on every $100 value. Thus: a slave worth $500,  by paying his master fifty cents per day, or fifteen dollars per month, could apply the balance of his earnings to the accumulation of a fund for the purchase of his liberty. Six hundred dollars is the minimum price of a healthys lave, so that the master, by being reduced from a monthly compensation of eighteen dollars to eight dollars is deprived, by the stroke of a pen, of more than half his revenue.

With a built-in compensated emancipation, which had to arouse fears of similar schemes in the United States, all those incoming slaves could turn into freedpeople in just a few years. Delaware and Kentucky refused compensated emancipation even during the Civil War. Resistance to emancipation ran bone-deep in the remaining slave states. Now the Spaniards would not just have a genocidal race war in Cuba when they emancipated, they would do it with a technique preferred by antislavery moderates up to and including that obscure nobody elected president in 1860. To men like Slidell, it sounded all too much like picking their pockets to fund their extermination.

Worse still, this did not come off as a policy of circumstance, but rather as the next logical step in Spanish policy:

It is a matter of notoriety that the Spanish officials there have repeatedly and openly declared that, in the event of the insurrection of the Creole population, they would not only emancipate the slaves, but arm them against their masters; but, until very lately, nothing had been done towards the realization of this threat, and utterance had not been given to it in any official form. The Creoles of the white race are the great slave proprietors, and whatever may be said to the contrary, are, with entire unanimity, opposed to the Spanish domination, and desire, either by revolution and subsequent annexation, or by purchase, to enter into our Confederacy.

There you have it, senators: the Cubans want us to come and rescue them from racial Armageddon. Spanish policy has written us the invitation. For America, for the white race, for the greater expansion of slavery, untie Quitman’s hands and let him go.

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