The British Plot Against America, Part Four

John Slidell

John Slidell (D-LA)

Parts 1, 2, 3

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456

The nation needed a fun little war to distract itself from the brewing war at home over the future of slavery in Kansas. Why not beat up the Spanish and steal their Cuba? The Spanish had it coming for throwing in with the British and French on some strange emancipation scheme that would monstrously murder all the whites on the island and set up some kind of rogue state under British protection from which they would undermine slavery in the American South and so breed another race war there. Best let John A. Quitman go take the island for everyone’s good.

Slidell meant it all, just as the New Orleans legislature had. It dovetailed well with their longstanding admiration of filibustering, but the recent British involvement with Soulé’s duel in Madrid and proclamations in Havana supporting bringing in more “apprentices” who could in time buy their freedom, or just have it given, 1854 looked very much like the critical time. The Black Warrior affair underlined the necessity. If Spain wanted to flex its muscles and harass American shipping, that provided both a casus belli and demonstrated that the United States must act before Spanish strength grew. Otherwise, the deluge:

With these, as I think, conclusive evidences of the intentions of Great Britain and France, intentions which, if realized, will soon, after scenes of blood and horror from every one not blinded by fanaticism must instinctively recoil, convert this fair island into a second Hayti, what course have we to pursue? Shall we remain passive spectators until the fatal blow has been struck, or shall we at once put ourselves in an attitude to repel and avert it. I counsel neither negotiation nor remonstrance on this subject; we have the remedy in our own hands; it is the that indicated in the resolution which I have submitted. Arm the President with the simple power to unfetter the limbs of our people, and the Government will have no occasion to put forth the energies of the nation; individual enterprise and liberality will as once furnish the men and the materiel that will enable the native population of Cuba to shake off the yoke of their trans-Atlantic tyrants.

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Sam Houston (D-TX)

Slidell called on the Senate to remember that they had faced down British meddling before:

We have already had some experience of the emptiness of these menaces of interposition; they tended rather to precipitate than to retard the acquisition of Texas, and will, if persisted in, produce the same effect now. I repeat, I would deprecate any movement not invited by the uprising of the people of Cuba, but if they be driven to it by the conviction that they are doomed by their jailors to the horrors of servile war, then, I say, hands off: the people will not, cannot be prevented from giving them aid more substantial than their prayers. They will not permit a Black empire under a British Protectorate, the key of the Gulf of Mexico, nominally independent, but for every purpose of annoyance and aggression, a British dependency to be established in sight of our own shores.

Back in Texas annexation times, Sam Houston played a complicated double-bluff of seeking a British protectorate that would require abolition in order to spur the annexation movement. If fears of a British takeover of Texas scared Americans into overcoming their divisions to annex the republic, everything worked out. If they did not, and he could get some kind of British protectorate, that would secure his infant nation against Mexico and the United States both at the expense of ending slavery. Houston, perhaps alone of antebellum Southern politicians of his generation, would have taken that outcome too.

Americans have never turned up their noses at territorial expansion, except when they trimmed down the Gadsden Purchase earlier that year. That transaction had none of the imperatives behind it that impelled Cuban annexation and even if it had represented the one time the Senate had refused to take land offered to it free and clear. Surely the stars aligned for a Texas-style rebellion, intervention, and annexation scheme. The popularity of expansion would sweep aside the inevitable griping over one more slave state and national jubilation at victory would soften the blows struck over Kansas. Everyone, except the Spanish and their slaves, would win.

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