From the Pens of Filibusters, Part Two

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow

James Dunwoody Brownson DeBow

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456

From the Pens of Filibusters: part 1

Samuel R. Walker, one of Cuba filibuster John A. Quitman’s associates, began his case for the expedition in the pages of the November, 1854 DeBow’s Review by laying out the stakes. The future of not just slavery and the white race in Cuba, but also slavery in the American South and thus its future in the Union hung in the balance. Without Cuban slavery secure, American slavery could never be secure. Without American slavery secure, the slave states could not remain in the Union. Without the Union, freedom’s lone hope in the world died. Most nineteenth century white Americans thought similar things about the Union. Most white Southerners thought the same things about slavery. Only the Cuban connection, and how Walker and Louisiana senator John Slidell drew Britain and France into the issue as scheming masterminds, presented substantial controversy within the South.

But Walker skipped over those controversies. “All admit the necessity of action” he began,

but it is as to what manner of action is best calculated to achieve the end in view, that is of the chiefest importance in this matter; and it is to this point that the Cubans, and the friends to the Cuban cause, would ask the attentive consideration of Congress, the Government and the people.

Pierre Soulé

Pierre Soulé

We all know the problem. We only need to find a solution for it. Fortunately, Samuel R. Walker set himself the task of reviewing possible solutions. Did he propose war, as Franklin Pierce had briefly threatened and Pierre Soulé had pursued on his own initiative? Surely not:

No true friend of Cuba will for a moment desire any hostile action at this time, on the part of the United States, towards Spain. It is the opinion of the Cubans, and of our most substantial and influential men here and elsewhere, favorable to this cause, that such a step would be destructive to every hope for the salvation of Cuba. The first gun fired by an American ship of war on the coast of that island, would be the signal for the sacrifice of all property of the Creoles, and all this accomplished by a single decree, which it is is as well known at Washington as here, the Captain-General is authorized at his discretion to promulgate. The United States, taking the island after the promulgation of such a decree, would hold but a worthless wreck. A crown robbed of its jewels, would be all that they would gain by such unfortunate action. Taking it too in such a condition, they could never again return the savage and brutal population to their servile state, for this, if no other reason, that the fanaticism of the North would rear the banner of civil war to prevent such a consummation. All the Compromise and Nebraska Bills in the world would not create such discussion and distraction. A contest would commence, which would end in the dismemberment of the Union.

Walker thought much better of the North than the evidence probably warrants. I don’t know that if the emancipation genie got out of the bottle in Cuba, the slaves could not be forced back into slavery. Emancipation could prove fleeting, a decree quickly issued and quickly repudiated. Furthermore, Cuba had slavery already and so might fit into northern minds as not a territory taken from them, as the Slave Power had purloined Nebraska, but rather as an established slave regime which antislavery men routinely made no direct efforts to threaten. Perhaps annexation would have driven more antislavery men over into abolition and raised the political stock of the antislavery movement in the North, as Nebraska did, but the two situations do not seem all that similar. Precious few Northerners grew up thinking that they had a future in Cuba some years down the road.

But as disrupted slave system would be very dangerous for the South. The expansionists wanted Cuba to make it a new slave state. If its native slaveholders fled or suffered dispossession, they could not ally with the slaveholding white South and help redress its reverses in Congress. Likewise without slavery on sound footing in Cuba, why would slaveholders move there when they had safer bets expanding in Arkansas and Texas? Such doubts kept them from Kansas far nearer to home.

That ruled out taking the Cuba by conventional war.

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