More Cuban Adventures Still?

William L. Marcy

William L. Marcy

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456

Secretary of State William Marcy sent new instructions to Pierre Soulé in Madrid. Those instructions told him that he could offer up to $130,000,000 to Spain to buy Cuba, changing the administration’s implicit policy from stealing the island to buying it. The day after Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act he joined in by proclaiming that he would zealously enforce the Neutrality Acts against all offenders. On the face of it, both of these facts suggest that the administration had more than enough “fun” with Kansas-Nebraska and would call it quits on Cuba.

One can, and I certainly have, read the evidence that way. But contrary evidence does exist and presents an equally compelling case. Marcy’s instructions told Soulé to try to buy the island. The previous instructions told him to entertain no such negotiations. Furthermore, they included this telling line:

the next most desirable object [after purchase] which is to detach that island from the Spanish dominion and from all dependence on any European power.

If that didn’t make things clear enough, Marcy pressed on:

If Cuba were relieved from all transatlantic connection and at liberty to dispose of herself as her present interest and prospective welfare would dictate, she would undoubtedly relieve this government from all anxiety in regard to her future condition.

Soulé’s new mission then included purchase negotiations, but if those failed he should strive for Cuban independence. An independent Cuba would, naturally, relieve the United States of all its worries by promptly applying to join the Union. The more things changed, the more policy stayed the same. Marcy saw Cuba as a second Texas, freeing itself with a bit of American help and then rushing to join up with Uncle Sam. This would neutralize many of the objections in America, as the nation itself would not go to war and the independent Cuba would in turn offer itself to the United States. If the Cubans themselves wanted in, would the country really refuse them?

Pierre Soulé

Pierre Soulé

That accounted for Plans A and B, not all that much changed from the original. But Marcy did not elaborate on what methods Soulé should undertake for his end of Plan B. He knew, however, of Soulé’s past revolutionary activities. He also knew, as anybody looking did, that in 1854 Spain teetered on the brink of revolution. Few Spaniards liked their queen. The nation had little money and could only get more at exorbitant rates of interest. The infrastructure withered. The army consumed prodigious amounts of money that Madrid could ill afford, but which it could afford even less to cut. That would almost surely bring armed revolt.

Spain desperately needed the money that purchasing Cuba would bring. It could come through Soulé to the Spanish treasury. Daniel Sickles, who had a prewar adventure so colorful that I don’t feel I can tell it here without it taking over the post, floated the idea of a bribe to the Queen Mother, who owned much of Cuba. Plan B could also come from the fruits of Spanish discord. Soulé intrigued with various revolutionary factions, promising them cash now for Cuba later.

With Marcy’s new instructions, all these options remained on the table.

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