Borland on Borland, Part One

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, behind the scenes

Seven days of Greytown probably suffices, but it wouldn’t do to leave Solon Borland without a chance to defend himself.  However disagreeable a personality he had, and apparently he ended up in Central America in part because Arkansas had enough of him, he deserves a chance to have his side heard. 

Borland declined to give his own version of events, instead attaching two newspaper accounts. Greeley elected not to print those, s0 to recap: Solon Borland of Arkansas, lately American Minister to Central America interfered in the arrest, by the authorities at the free port of Greytown,  of a captain of the Accessory Transit Company who had killed a black pilot . His involvement included his brief arrest and his brandishing a pistol at the local constabulary. When Borland took it on himself to lecture the Greytowners about how they should not arrest murderers in the future, one threw a broken bottle and hit him on the head.

Why did Borland concern himself with the arrest? Did he just see an angry mob and step in innocently? Not so much:

I deem it proper to remark, that although I was personally cognizant of the conduct of Capt. Smith, for which he was charged with murder, and sought to be arrested by the so called authorities of San Juan or Greytown, and was (as I now am) clearly and decidedly of the opinion that he was justifiable in all he did, the question of his guilt or innocence did not enter into the consideration for which I interposed to protect him. He was a citizen of the United Sates, and the persons who sought to arrest, and claimed the right to punish him, were not recognized by the United States as a Government possessed of the right or invested with the power, to exercise jurisdiction over any portion of Central America, or to determine any question involving the persons or property of our citizens.

So Borland knew that he stepped in to stop a man accused of murder from facing arrest. He thought the man innocent, but didn’t actually care either way at the time. American citizens, to hear Borland tell it, have every right to expect consular protection when they do murder abroad. Furthermore, the United States did not recognize the authority of the men seizing Smith.

But what if they did, in fact, act as a government?

even supposing the so called authorities of San Juan or Greytown to be a government invested with the rights and powers I have denied over the territory embraced within their town limits, they certainly had no jurisdiction over that portion of the territory upon which the obnoxious act of Captain Smith had been done; as that was, although on the north bank, and yet some ten or twelve miles above the mouth of the San Juan River: so of the place where his arrest was attempted, Punta Arenas, on the south bank of the San Juan River, and the opposite side of the bay from San Juan or Greytown.

If Greytown had a legitimate government, that government’s reach simply did not extend to the area in question. If anything, the land in question belonged to Nicaragua. Borland skipped over the part about how Greytown viewed Punta Arenas as within its jurisdiction and had an ongoing dispute with the Accessory Transit Company over that fact. One might forgive him for letting the technicalities slide, but in the same breath as he points out that Greytown’s power did not legally reach to Punta Arenas he declares that Nicaragua and Costa Rica then had a separate dispute over just that land.

This all looks very hair-splitting. Borland doesn’t care if Smith did the murder or not, does not care about the ambiguous situation over Punta Arenas, but does very much care about a  more tangential dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. He brings it up to put jurisdiction in their hands, if anywhere, and then goes on to say

no legal process, civil or criminal, could rightfully be executed there, unless by authority of one or the other of those powers.

Neither country had effective power on the ground in the area and Borland denied the right of the authority that actually did have power on the ground to use it. No wonder he didn’t worry about whether or not Smith really murdered anybody.

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The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Seven

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, behind the scenes

I must begin with a correction: I have in the past referred to the USS Cyane steaming here and there. She had only sails for propulsion. Sorry about that.

The wider implications of destroying Greytown, a free port within an at least notional British protectorate that already caused tension between the United States and United Kingdom over their differing reads of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty hardly went unnoticed in Washington. Nor did the British connection go unnoticed in Greytown at the time. George N. Hollins notified the commander of a British ship in the harbor of his intentions. Greytown had offended against American property, persons, and one obnoxious American diplomat. As Greytown would give no satisfaction for the offenses, either to the Accessory Transit Company or to Solon Borland, the United States Navy would extract its satisfaction by force. 

Lieutenant W.D. Jolley of the HMS Bermuda had the questionable honor of receiving the news. He answered Hollins with a protest:

I consider it my duty to enter my most solemn protest against the course you then intimated to me that you intend to pursue towards the city of Greytown.

The inhabitants of this city, as well as the houses and property, are entirely defenseless and quite at your mercy. I do therefore notify you that such an act will be without precedent among civilized nations; and I bet to call your attention to the fact that a large amount of property of British subjects, as well as others, which it is my duty to protect, will be destroyed; but the force under my command is so totally inadequate for this protection against the Cyane, I can only enter this my protest.

USS Cyane

USS Cyane

Pretty cheeky of the Americans to answer offenses against American property in Greytown by destroying British property in Greytown, but Hollins did it. In an odd bit of nineteenth century courtesy, Hollins offered his regrets to Jolley that the Bermuda lacked the firepower to challenge the Cyane’s twenty-four guns.

Jolley does not reference Britain’s protectorate over the Mosquito Coast in his protest, but he hardly needed to. Regardless of the region and the port’s anomalous status, Hollins acted intentionally to destroy British property on the most dubious of grounds. Even if Hollins saw this as an isolated event, the rest of the world need not agree with him. With elements of the Democracy at home arguing that the nation should repudiate Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, his act at the order of a Democratic administration could look very easily like a power play. Solon Borland’s involvement as a partisan for just that cause could only make that impression harder to resist.

Meanwhile, the Accessory Transit Company got everything it wanted. The removal of Greytown meant the end of any dispute with its authorities. As an organization on the ground handy for any rebuilding, the company could very easily improve its standing and resolve its property disputes in its favor. Picking the quarrel worked famously for the commercial interests, even if it made the Americans in general look like irresponsible, wrathful maniacs.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Six

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, behind the scenes

Writing a series titled The Bombardment of Greytown might inspire one to think a description of the event itself in order. Hollins provided just that in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, James Cochran Dobbins, which Horace Greeley kindly reprinted on August 2, 1854.

Hollins begins with the familiar preliminaries: consulting with Joseph Fabens, putting out a proclamation warning the people of Greytown that he will soon open fire on them, informing the commander of a British ship in the harbor of his intentions, and making preparations to help evacuate people to a safe distance. Hollins gave them twenty-four hours notice, as he

hoped the show of determination on the part of the ship would, at this stage of the proceedings, have brought about a satisfactory adjustment of the differences in question, but a total disregard and contempt toward the Government of the United States determined me to execute my threat to the letter.

It does little to mitigate against the wildly disproportionate response of shooting up and burning the whole town to the ground, but at least Hollins didn’t come desperate for a chance to work ruin. He held out hope even after the battery began firing:

At 9 A.M., on the morning of the 13th inst., our batteries were opened on the town, with shot and shells, for three quarters of an hour, followed by an intermission of the same time, when they were opened again for half an hour, followed by a second intermission of three hours, at the expiration of this interval the firing was recommenced and continued for 20 minutes, when the bombardment ceased. The object of those several intervals in the bombardment, was that an opportunity to treat and satisfactorily arrange matters might be furnished the inhabitants of the town. No advantage was taken of the consideration shown them, and at 4 o’ clock, P.M., a command under Lieuts Pickering and Fauntleroy was sent on shore with orders to complete the destruction of the town by fire.

[…]

The town was thus destroyed for the greater part in the short pace of two hours. No lives were lost, although an attack was made by an armed party on the command of Lieutenants Pickering and Fauntleroy, but on the volley being returned the attacking party fled. The shots were returned more for the purpose of frightening than destroying life, and had the desired effect. The execution done by our shot and shells amounted to the almost total destruction of the buildings, but it was thought best to make the punishment of such a character as to inculcate a lesson never to be forgotten by those who have for so long a time set at defiance all warnings, and satisfy the whole world that the United States had the power and determination to enforce that reparation and respect due them as a Government, in whatever quarter the outrages may be committed.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Hollins’ account hints at the wider implications of the bombardment. Completely aside any injury to the Accessory Transit Company or to Solon Borland, Greytown sat at the far southern end of the United Kingdom’s Mosquito Coast protectorate. The United States saw British involvement there as contrary to the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty. That context surely occurred to Marcy back in Washington when he sent instructions, but nothing in his letters to Fabens suggests that either Fabens or Hollins should use the Greytown affair to advance the American interpretation of the treaty.

Intended or not, and to the shock and embarrassment of the government back in Washington, George N. Hollins took it on himself to lay down a marker at Greytown.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Five

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, 4, behind the scenes

George N. Hollins had his orders from Washington. He needed to make whole the Accessory Transit Company and receive some kind of apology and indemnity for Solon Borlond’s injured head. But in an era before telephones, communications satellites, or the internet, Hollins would need to take pains to get the latest news on the ground when he arrived. To that end, his orders referred him to Joseph Fabens, the American commercial agent and ex officio agent of the Accessory Transit Company. Hollins did so and his exchange with Fabens appears in the letters Horace Greeley printed on the second of August, 1854.

Fabens told Hollins that he’d posted notice that the United States wanted satisfaction twice, on June 24 and July 11. Ever the diplomat, Faben’s first notice addressed “those now or lately pretending to and exercising authority and to the people of San Juan del Norte” and

demand[ed] of you immediate restoration of the aforesaid property. I am not prepared to put an estimate upon it at this moment, or to guess the amount of damages suffered by the Transit Company in consequence of your outrageous conduct toward their agent and employees while endeavoring to retake possession of the same, and upon subsequent occasions connected therewith. It is expected that for this, as well as for their conduct in other respects toward American citizens, the people of the town will be prepared to afford redress in a satisfactory manner.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Notice the absence of any mention of Borland’s injury. We have only wrongs done to American citizens, not to American officials or offenses against the flag. Borland caught his fateful bottle on May 16. Fabens knew very well what he omitted. He had instructions from Marcy regarding Borland dated June 9th and presumably in his hands by then. Yet the actual reason that a ship steamed for Greytown did not enter into his first proclamation. In the second, it came only after two paragraphs about the Accessory Transit Company’s grievances. Greytown owed the Company money, land, and by the way maybe they should do something to make right this little matter of an injured diplomat if they had the time.

This stands in marked contrast to Hollins’ proclamation warning of the impending bombardment, which mentioned both the commercial disputes and Borland virtually in the same breath:

whereas certain gross outrages have at sundry times been perpetrated by the “authorities” (so called) and people of San Juan del Norte upon the persons and property of American citizens at that place and vicinity; and, whereas, a serious insult and indignity has been offered to the United States in the conduct of the said authorities and people toward Mr. Borland, United States Minister to Central America, for which outrage and insult no indemnity has been given

Hollins’ report to James Cochran Dobbins, Secretary of the Navy, proceeds much in the same manner.

One can read too much into this kind of thing, but Fabens looks very much like he cares a great deal about the Accessory Transit Company and rather less about Solon Borland.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Four

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, 3, behind the scenes

On July 13, 1854, George N. Hollins, United States Navy, ordered the shelling of Greytown, a free port on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, or within the United Kingdom’s Mosquito Coast protectorate, or within its own anomalous jurisdiction and outside the control of any nation. Depending on who one asked at the time, and when, any of those descriptions could apply. Setting aside the legal and direct political issues, Greytown ran itself. As a practical matter, the nations concerned recognized it as something more than property of another nation, but less than a nation of its own. Thus the United States appointed no ambassador or minister, but did dispatch a commercial agent named Joseph Fabens to look after American interests at the eastern end of the route across Nicaragua to the Pacific.

Fabens, as I’ve said before, very probably worked at least as much for the Accessory Transit Company as he did for the United States. In that capacity he sent letters back to Washington about how the local authorities seized some company property over a dispute over land use. This did not amount to a great deal of wealth, but apparently the company considered the Greytown authorities a substantial impediment to doing business as they preferred and wanted rid of them. Fabens’ dispatches on that matter failed to bring about any action on Washington’s part, but when Solon Borland intervened to save a Company captain and murderer from justice and caught a bottle to the face for his trouble, things changed.

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley’s New York Daily Tribune printed correspondence about Greytown on August 2 and 3, 1854. He had it because Congress demanded the documents from Franklin Pierce and Pierce obliged. Those documents include two letters from William L. Marcy, Secretary of State, to Fabens. The first mentions only the Transit Company’s difficulties but promises fuller instructions on a later ship. The second letter invokes both the Company’s dispute:

notify the people of San Juan to repair the injury they have caused to the Accessory Transit Company by withholding from it the property which had been stolen and taken to San Juan, and by protecting the persons who were guilty of the felony.

and the matter that finally got a warship moving, Solon Borland’s injury:

Mr. Borland, our Minister to Central America, has represented to this Government that, while recently in San Juan, he was insulted by the authorities or people of that place. An indignity offered to the nation, as well as to him individually, cannot be permitted to pass unnoticed. If done by order of the authorities of the place, they must answer for it in their assumed political character. Nothing short of an apology for the outrage will save the place from the infliction that such an act justly merits. It is expected that this apology will be promptly made, and satisfactory assurance given to Commander Hollins of future good conduct toward the United States and public functionaries who may in future be at that place.

The orders that James Cochran Dobbins, Secretary of the Navy, gave Hollins repeat both concerns:

The property of the American citizens interested in the Accessory Transit Company, it is said, has been unlawfully detained by persons residing in Greytown. Apprehension is felt that further outrages will be committed. Our Minister, Mr. Borland, has been treated with rudeness and disrespect.

Maybe Washington wouldn’t send a ship just to settle things up for the Transit Company, but it would settle things for the Transit Company once it arrived to get some kind of reckoning for the attack on Borland. Thus the Transit Company’s dispute with Greytown and Solon Borland’s injured face come together as the USS Cyane arrives in Greytown’s harbor. The Company men must have smiled when they heard the news.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Three

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, parts 1, 2, behind the scenes

Horace Greeley concluded his July 26, 1854 article on the destruction of Greytown with a demand for reparations, apologies, and the expectation that neither would come from the Pierce administration. That that situation, he advised, would find its best remedy in properly informed voting come November. Along the way, he added his voice to the congressional demand for the papers relating to the affair. When Pierce had not coughed up the papers by July 29th, Greeley presented his take on events again and took the silence as admission of guilt in an affair so notorious that

We cannot recall any other public question with regard to which there has been such unity of opinion. Journals habitually opposed on every other subject representing every shade of party feeling, every divergence of interest, and every antagonism of nationality concur to declare the destruction of San Juan a needless, unjustifiable, inhuman exercise of warlike force. Conservatives and radicals, Whigs and Democrats, Americans and Foreigners all agree in this one thing-all express the same horror and disgust. Indeed, among all the papers which have yet spoken, we know of but one, and that an obscure and scurrilous sheet in this City, which has attempted to find an excuse for the measure.

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

One can call Greeley a partisan hack, but one does not make that strong of a claim about the writing of other papers lightly if one expects to maintain one’s credibility. Allen Nevins quotes the passage as evidence of a broad revulsion at George N. Hollins’ destruction of the town and given the previous, I take him at his word. However openly partisan, Greeley took his paper seriously and saw it taken seriously by others. Inventing a broad disapproval where none existed would have undermined his credibility as surely as reporting that he had the moon in his pocket and just kindly let it out every night for exercise.

But Pierce did eventually oblige Congress by giving up the correspondence on Greytown. Greeley dutifully printed the lot on the third of August. They did not much help the administration’s case, as Greeley saw it. He devotes most of two columns on the second to repeating his account of the affair and, with good reason, declaring himself vindicated:

They [the documents] contain nothing that in the least relieves the enormity of the transaction, nor anything that removes the responsibility of it from the Administration. It is plain, from the orders of the Secretary of the Navy to Commander Hollins that the extremity of destroying the place was contemplated by those sending the Cyane on her mission.

James Cochran Dobbin, Secretary of the Navy

James Cochran Dobbin, Secretary of the Navy

Greeley does allow that the orders ask Hollins to tread lightly:

“It is, however,” says the Secretary, “very much to be hoped that you can effect the purpose of your visit without resort to violence and destruction of property and loss of life.

But note, as Greeley did, the language used. The Secretary of the Navy hopes that Hollins can complete his mission without working violence or ruin on anything or anyone. He hopes, but does not require. From this, Greeley takes that Washington foresaw the possibility of violence and counted it an acceptable, if not the preferred or ideal, outcome. James Dobbin could have written more pacific orders, specifying the use of force only in certain circumstances. He settled for a vague hope.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part Two

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

The Bombardment of Greytown, part 1, behind the scenes

Horace Greeley took to the pages of his New York Tribune to excoriate Solon Borland and condemn the destruction of Greytown by the USS Cyane on July 13, 1854. Borland meddled in an ordinary arrest of a man for murder, something well outside his official duties. His obnoxious personality only made things worse. Thus the people of Greytown quite reasonably assembled an angry mob interested in righting the wrongs he had done to them. If the American minister could save a murderer from prosecution, Americans might very well murder with impunity thereafter.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

But Greeley had not finished with Borland. He would not, in fact, finish at least until August 3 when he concluded publishing the official correspondence on the affair. Thanks, Horace. I’ll find use for those documents.

But even admitting that the insult to Borland was grave and needed reparation, there is nobody who can pretend that it called for so extreme a measure as the destruction of the town. Including the warehouses of unoffending merchants and the official residences of Consuls. Indeed the disproportion of the punishment to the offense seems quite unparalleled in civilized history; and were the event not one of loss and ruin to many innocent persons, and of disgrace and shame to the country, it would be [ludicrous?]. Why burn a whole city for the fault of a few of the residents? Why bombard and destroy the property of men who had no hand in any part of the offensive proceedings? Why not confine the act of vengeance to the public offices of the place, [leaving?] private residents uninjured? And why destroy goods lying there temporarily on the way to market and belonging to distant owners, citizens of Nicaragua, the United States, or other countries? Or why, after firing two hundred cannonballs through the buildings land a squad of pillagers to lay the whole in flames, and leave the houses and places of business of a thousand people nothing but ashes?

Look at the act in whatever light you will, it can inspire no other feeling than one of shame and disgust at such wanton barbarity. It was nothing less than an assault on the civilization and the American institutions that had been successfully planted in that remote and undeveloped region.

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Bombardment alone would exceed any punishment warranted. Bombardment and burning? Greeley lays it on a bit thick about how Greytown had developed. At most maybe five hundred lived there. But they lost their homes and businesses all the same.

Greeley also speaks from that patronizing nineteenth century missionary view of America. The Nicaraguans suffer injury not just in having a town ruined and the loss of property. They’ve also now taken a bad example from the Americans, from whom they had presumably learned their arts of self-government. The bombardment made Americans into hypocrites and undermined all the good work they did as the shining city on the hill for the benighted lands south of the border. Way to go, America.

The Bombardment of Greytown, Part One

The Mosquito Coast (via Wikipedia)

The Mosquito Coast
(via Wikipedia). Greytown sat at the mouth of the San Juan river.

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3, 4

I’ve decided that I wish to delve into the bombardment of Greytown in greater detail and this seems an ideal time to do so. The matter will eventually work back into the connection with Cuban filibustering, but the change of topic calls for a change of title as well.

Commander George N. Hollins, United States Navy, gave the free port of Greytown within Nicaragua’s or the United Kingdom’s Mosquito Coast (depending on who one asked) twenty-four hours notice and then bombarded the place with his ship’s guns in retaliation for the wounding of American minister to Nicaragua Solon Borland. Borland put himself in a position to catch the bottle to his face by intervening to protect a captain of the Accessory Transit Company who had murdered a black pilot. The Greytown authorities, answerable to neither Nicaragua nor the United Kingdom, came to arrest the captain and Borland got in the way with gun in hand.

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

That offense could not go unpunished and thence came Hollins to Greytown. He came, however, with orders to avoid loss of life or destruction of property. Getting it half right did not please William L. Marcy, who sent him down with those orders. Marcy wanted some financial reparations and an apology, nothing more. Nor did displeasure over the shelling and burning of Greytown confine itself to the rarefied circles of the American diplomatic establishment or Washington society. In New York, Horace Greeley laid into the Pierce administration in the pages of his New York Daily Tribune beginning on July 26, 1854.

The more this memorable act, ordered by President Pierce and executed by Commodore Hollins, is examined, the more unaccountable, unjustifiable and base does it appear. And apart from the fact that the town had no means of resistance, and that its overthrow could yield no other glory than may be reaped by any big bully who will beset and beat a defenseless woman or little child, the origin of the whole difficulty is one which gives to the final event a disreputable and monstrous character. 

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Borland had, after all, intervened to protect a man accused of murder. While a diplomat might protect citizens of the mother country in times of civil unrest, this did go beyond that. Greeley goes on to comment on Borland’s character:

It is true that Mr. Solon Borland, an Arkansas man of notorious pugilistic propensities, clothed by the American Government with the character of an Envoy Extraordinary was accidentally present and undertook to use his diplomatic prerogatives to protect the alleged murderer from arrest; it is also true that when Borland went ashore at San Juan and made foolish and abusive speeches concerning the town, some natural indignation was felt by the people at so gross and outrageous an interruption of the regular course of justice, and that they gathered around the house where he was, using disrespectful language in turn perhaps and that some person unknown event went so far as to fling a bottle at his head which did him no injury. And even this assemblage around the house took place as respectable citizens of the town aver from the impression that the alleged murderer was there, under Borland’s protection, and might still be arrested for trial. But these things, we say, are of comparatively little moment; the bitter, the blasting fact is that San Juan has been burned, and hundreds of innocent persons stripped and ruined in consequence of her endeavor the execute a necessary law and bring an accused murderer to justice!

His denial of Borland’s injury aside, Greeley takes the side of sanity and proportion. Borland behaved at least very questionably and that alone makes the bombardment and burning of Greytown a dubious act of retaliation. But Greeley presses on:

But we shall perhaps be told that the insult to Mr. Embassador Borland was ground enough for this terrible stretch of vengeance. As if such a blackguard as Borland, a man whose only other official acts the Government has disclaimed and consigned to merited oblivion could by any possibility be insulted up to that point? We apprehend that the common sense of the American people will not be deluded into the idea that the acts of seeming incivility offered to this traveling embassador, who with rifle in hand stands up to protect homicides against lawful arrest, were of a stature to require even an apology.

Horace Greeley

Horace Greeley

In other words, Borland got what he had coming. What, Greeley argued, would Americans say if the British ambassador went out in New York with a big knife and pistol and stopped the police from arresting a murderer or burglar? Would New Yorkers really take that laying down, or would they form a mob and protest at the very least? And would Washington compose apologies and offer reparations?

By no means. They would not only refuse all apologies, but would give him his passports and pack him out of the country the very next day.This City of San Juan could not do in the case of Borland; but if the officer whose warrant he nullified had shot him down on the spot nothing improper would have been done, and there is not a journal in the country, save perhaps The Union, which would not have said he had got his deserts. Certainly he got a great deal less than his deserts when only an empty bottle was hurled at him, but did not hit him even on the nose.

The Washington Union served as the Pierce administration’s mouthpiece, essentially the same role that Greeley cast himself in for the Republicans.

Greeley might have oversold his point in implying that the American papers would take the killing of one of an American diplomat as entirely proper under any circumstances, but Borland very far exceeded his authority and essentially created the incident that led to his catching a bottle to the face.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection, Part Four

The Mosquito Coast (via Wikipedia)

The Mosquito Coast
(via Wikipedia). Greytown sat at the mouth of the San Juan river.

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2, 3

Solon Borland, Southern radical and American minister to Central America, took a bottle to the face from an angry mob for his trouble intervening to prevent the arrest of a murderous American captain working for the Accessory Transit Company in Nicaragua. The attack happened in Greytown, a town that the British founded but had operated for some years as a free port answerable only to itself. Now some people there had attacked and injured an American diplomat, who rushed off to Washington to tell his story.

Though never much of an enthusiast for the theatrical, reckless side of diplomacy, Secretary of State William L. Marcy saw far too much in Borland’s story to just let it blow over. Pierre Soulé brought a duel upon himself and won no sympathy for it. Borland acted, at least in principle, entirely within his normal capacity as an American diplomat. Someone had to answer for this, and Marcy knew very well that Nicaragua did not hold any blame for an attack within the Mosquito Coast that it did not control. Nor could he quite pin the blame on the United Kingdom, which had only a sketchy protectorate over the area in question. However much that might have appealed given the friction over its violation of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty by expanding into the Bay Islands of Honduras.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Who could the American government hold responsible? The people of Greytown attacked Solon Borland, so the people of Greytown could pay. The USS Cyane made her way to the free port. Commander George N. Hollins, a Marylander who went South in 1861, had orders to teach Greytown a lesson but that he should avoid destruction of property or loss of life in so doing. He should also consult with a commercial agent on the ground, Joseph W. Fabens. Fabens had close ties to the Accessory Transit Company, which almost surely flowed from their payroll to his pocket. Fabens encouraged Hollins to demand $24,000, a sum completely out of proportion to the offense, and an apology.

George N. Hollins

George N. Hollins

Greytown did not oblige. Hollins, under orders to avoid death and destruction, hewed to the former and ignored the latter. He gave twenty-four hours’ notice and provided help for the evacuation of the town in that time. Hollins aimed to bombard the place. The British naval officer on the scene protested that Hollins would destroy the property and homes of innocents. The Greytowners pled and then fled. Unmoved, Hollins opened fire on July 13, 1854. The New York Times carried the report of a Greytown resident on July 26th:

on the morning of the 13th inst., at 9 A. M., he opened his battery on the town, and after discharging one hundred and thirty shot and shell into the town, landed a party of marines and sailors and set fire to the town.

[…]

I think now that the nest of land pirates, which were located at San Juan, is now broken up, and they will also learn that American citizens must and will be protected.

No one died, but the United States had destroyed a free port with reckless disregard for the property of both the locals and foreign citizens alike for the actions, at most, of a mob under the control of neither foreign agents nor the local authorities.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection, Part Three

The Mosquito Coast (via Wikipedia)

The Mosquito Coast
(via Wikipedia). Greytown sat at the mouth of the San Juan river.

Original Stealing Cuba: parts 123456 and revisited.

The Nicaragua-Cuba Connection: parts 1, 2

The British and Americans agreed that neither power should dominate Central America or any future Nicaraguan canal. Instead, they foresaw a neutral canal where both nations could enjoy the flow of commerce without troubling one another. The British could have their British Honduras, now Belize, but no more. So they agreed in the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.

To hear the Americans tell it, Britain’s expanding into islands in the Bay of Honduras violated that understanding. They had Belize and should settle for that. To the British, the Bay Islands formed no more than an extension of Belize, to which the United States had already consented by accepting the presence of British Honduras. Furthermore, the Americans had it wrong regardless as the treaty looked forward, coming fully into effect only when someone set to building the Nicaragua canal.

Here London proved the equal of any dissembling American diplomat. The British had, at absolute minimum, expanded British Honduras by establishing their control over the Bay Islands. Though the British had past dealings with and attempted settlements upon the islands, they went to the United Provinces of Central America on that nation’s independence. The Hondurans inherited the islands on their independence. They protested when British settlers came squatting, but had no means to evict them at the time. When those settlers asked for British protection, the British obliged and then set up the crown colony. All of this looks, in the broad strokes, very like the kind of thing that the Americans wanted to do to Cuba and had done, over a longer time, to Mexican Texas.

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Cornelius Vanderbilt

Matters might have remained in that state, a cause of some tension but otherwise an interesting footnote at best. But Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Accessory Transit Company ran the steamers over the Nicaragua route, linking the American East to the new American Far West. Vanderbilt went off to Europe and with him safely gone, two unscrupulous businessmen stole the company out from under him. When he returned, Vanderbilt resolved to ruin the men and threw his cash behind a route across the isthmus of Panama.

Meanwhile, in Greytown at the eastern end of the Nicaragua route, the Accessory Transit Company took charge of some land by the harbor. The free port’s officials wanted that land turned into a quarantine station. The company refused. The officials might have made off with some company property during the dispute. With things heating up, an American agent with close ties to the Company, Joseph W. Fabens, sent off dispatches to Washington about how out of control things had become.  Along the way, a Company captain brutally murdered a black pilot.

Solon Borland (D-AR)

Solon Borland (D-AR)

You can get away with a lot in a free port, but blatant murder asked too much latitude of Greytown’s government. They sent a man to arrest the captain. Here the American captain’s story comes together with another American in extreme southeastern Nicaragua, Arkansan Solon Borland. A former senator who physically attacked Henry S. Foote back in 1850, Borland had a radical pedigree a bit too hot for Arkansas. He resigned in 1853 and ended up posted to Managua as the American minister. There he won friends and influenced people by lobbying for the United States to take up the Honduran side in the Bay Islands dispute and giving a public speech about how he hoped to see Nicaragua soon annexed to the United States. He’d have done better to wait a year until William Walker (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) ran the nation.

Passing through Greytown in May of 1854, Borland stepped up with gun in hand to stop the arrest. Instead he got arrested. Protesting his arrest got Borland a broken bottle tossed in his face by the unfriendly crowd. His diplomatic immunity got Borland freed and he returned to Washington to tell his story. If this kind of thing had happened in Cuba, a war might very well have erupted. But the Mosquito Coast lived in a legal limbo, Greytown especially. No one could plausibly blame Nicaragua, or even the United Kingdom, for the act of an unruly mob in a fairly lawless town of five hundred outside the reach of both. That said, someone had to pay. The mob assaulted and injured an American diplomat. Even calm old William L. Marcy would not take that sitting down.