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Xix. Our foreign policy—Cuba.

the foundations of our foreign policy were firmly and strongly laid during the Presidency, and under the councils, of Washington. To mind our own business, and leave other nations to manage their affairs, and to preserve, recast, or modify their respective governments, as to them shall seem fit and advantageous — to regard the rule actually established and operative in any nation as the rightful government of that nation, however widely divergent it may be from our own notions of what is wisest and most beneficent: such are its great cardinal principles. To Washington and his eminent compatriots in our Revolutionary struggle, and in the framing of our Federal Union, is the credit justly due of having originated and firmly upheld this policy, in defiance of popular passion, and under circumstances of great difficulty and embarrassment. But Jefferson, Madison, George Clinton, Gerry, and their associate founders of the Republican party, very generally yielded to this policy a tacit, if not positive and emphatic, approval. The mob of the seaboard cities, who shouted beneath the windows of Citizen Genet, [265] burned Jay's treaty in the streets, and clamored violently for alliance with revolutionary France and war upon Tory England, were, of course, anti-Federal; and their voices and votes helped to strengthen the Republican opposition in Congress, and to swell the steadily-growing host that, in due time, ousted the Federalists from power, by electing Mr. Jefferson to the Presidency.

But Mr. Jefferson himself never shared in the blind passions by which he so largely profited. An earnest and unchanging devotee of cheap, simple, and frugal government, he profoundly realized that wars were costly, and alliances perilous; and, while he hated the British Government as embodying whatever was, at the same time, most pernicious to our country, and most seductive to her wealthy and commercial classes, he never, after our independence was achieved, was eager to tempt again the desperate chances, the certain devastations and enduring burdens, of war with Great Britain. Before the close of his Presidency,1 the popular feeling would have fully justified and sustained him in declaring war, but he wisely forbore; and it was only after the strong infusion of young blood into the councils of the Republican party, through the election of Messrs. Clay, Grundy, Calhoun, John Holmes, etc., to Congress, that the hesitation of the cautious and philosophic Madison was overborne by their impetuosity, and war actually proclaimed.

When Washington and his advisers definitively resolved on preserving a strict neutrality between revolutionary France and the banded despots who assailed her, they did not entirely escape the imputation of ingratitude, if not positive bad faith. Our country was deeply indebted to France for the generous and vitally important assistance received from her in our Revolutionary struggle; and, although France was not — as nations, like individuals, seldom are — entirely disinterested in rendering that assistance, the advantage accruing to and the obligation incurred by us were scarcely lessened by that consideration. When barely two of our seven years arduous struggle had passed, Louis XVI. decided to acknowledge our independence; and his minister soon after2 united with our envoys in a treaty of alliance, whereof the preponderance of benefits was very greatly on our side. And among the stipulations of that treaty — a treaty whereby we profited too much in the general to be fastidious as to the particulars — was the following:

Art. XI. The two parties guarantee mutually, from the present time and forever, against all other powers, to wit: The United States, to his Most Christian Majesty, tile present possessions of the crown of France in America, as well as those which it may acquire by the future treaty of peace: And his Most Christian Majesty guarantees on his part to the United States their liberty, sovereignty, and independence, absolute and unlimited, as well in matters of government as commerce, and also their possessions, and the additions or conquests that their confederation may obtain during the war, from any of the dominions now or heretofore possessed by Great Britain in North America, conformably to the 5th and 6th articles above written, the whole as their possessions shall be fixed and assured to the said States, at the moment of the [266] cessation of their present war with England.

Such a guarantee could not, in the nature of things, endure and be fulfilled, unless the contracting parties were to become, in effect, one nation; or, at least, to be partners or confederates in all their future wars. In the case actually presented, the monarch with whom we made this treaty had been the enemy and the victim of the Jacobins, who claimed of us the fulfillment of this grave compact.

President Washington, in his Fare-well Address3 to his countrymen on taking leave of public life, thus summed up his convictions on the subject under contemplation:

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote, relation. Hence, she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality we may at any time resolve upon to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions from us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interests, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand on foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalships, interests, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world, so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy. I repeat, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

No decided — at least no avowed — departure from this policy had occurred down to 1823, when President Monroe was required to address a new Congress under peculiar circumstances. The Spanish people had revolted against the despotism of their imbecile, treacherous monarch, Ferdinand VII., and had established a Constitution which left him still in possession of the trappings, but with little of the substance, of royalty. He was, of course, profoundly hostile to this change, though affecting to acquiesce in it. A congress4 of the great powers of continental Europe, then united in a league, known as the “Holy alliance,” for the maintenance of their despotic authority and the repression of popular aspirations, had decreed the overthrow of this dangerous example; and, under its auspices, a French army of 100,000 men, led by the Duke d'angouleme, a prince of the blood royal, had invaded Spain, and, meeting with little serious resistance, over-thrown the Constitution and the Cortes, and restored to Ferdinand his beloved and grossly abused autocracy. Apprehensions were entertained that the discipline thus bestowed on Spain was about to [267] be extended to her revolted and nearly independent American colonies, whereby they should be reduced to abject servitude to their mother country, and to the despotism that now enthralled her. To such a consummation, Great Britain, as well as this country, was intensely opposed — quite as much, probably, for commercial as for political reasons. Mr. Canning, then the master-spirit of the British Cabinet, at least with respect to foreign affairs, hinted to our Government the expediency of a moral demonstration against the apprehended design of the Holy Alliance with regard to this Continent — a demonstration which could be made with less offense, yet with no less efficiency, from this side of the Atlantic than from the other. Thus prompted, Mr. Monroe spoke as follows:5

Of events in that quarter of the globe with which we have so much intercourse, and from which we derive our origin, we have always been anxious and interested spectators. The citizens of the United States cherish sentiments the most friendly in favor of the liberty and happiness of their fellow-men on that side of the Atlantic. In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded or seriously menaced, that we resent injuries, or make preparation for our defense. With the movements in this hemisphere, we are of necessity more immediately connected, and by causes which must be obvious to all enlightened and impartial observers. The political system of the Allied Powers is essentially different in this respect from that of America. This difference proceeds from that which exists in their respective governments. And to the defense of our own, which has been achieved by the loss of so much blood and treasure, and matured by the wisdom of their most enlightened citizens, and under which we have enjoyed unexampled felicity, this whole nation is devoted. We owe it, therefore, to candor, and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers, to declare, that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.

With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power, we have not interfered, and shall not interfere. But with the governments which have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power, in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States. * * * * Our policy in regard to Europe, which was adopted at an early stage of the wars which have so long agitated that quarter of the globe, nevertheless, remains the same: which is, not to interfere in the internal concerns of any of its powers; to consider the government de facto as the legitimate government for us; to cultivate friendly relations with it; and to preserve those relations by a frank, firm, and manly policy; meeting, in all instances, the just claims of every power, submitting to injuries from none.

But, in regard to these continents, circumstances are eminently and conspicuously different. It is impossible that the Allied Powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can any one believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord. It is equally impossible, therefore, that we should behold such interposition, in any form, with indifference. If we look to the comparative strength and resources of Spain and those new governments, and their distance from each other, it must be obvious that she can never subdue them. It is still the true policy of the United States to leave the parties to themselves, in the hope that other powers will pursue the same course.

In this remarkable passage, may probably be found the impulse to the invitation from several of the South American Republics to that Congress at Panama of representatives of American Republics, which Messrs. Adams and Clay so promptly and heartily accepted, and which the Opposition or Jackson party of 1825-6 [268] so generally and resolutely opposed. That Congress proved, practically, a failure, whether through European intrigue, or Spanish-American jealousy and indolence, is not apparent. Our envoys6 were duly appointed; but the strenuous opposition in our Senate7 had so protracted the discussion that it was found too late for Mr. Sergeant to reach Panama at the time appointed for the meeting of the Congress;8 and Mr. Anderson, then Minister to Colombia, when at Carthagena on his way to Panama, was attacked by a malignant fever, whereof he died.

But, long ere this, the jealousy of the slaveholders had been aroused, and their malign influence upon the course of our Government made manifest. Among the means employed to render the Panama Congress odious at the South, was the fact that John Sergeant, the more conspicuous of our envoys, had sternly opposed the admission of Missouri as a Slave State.9

The Spanish-American Republics had already decreed general emancipation; and fears were naturally expressed that they would extend this policy to Cuba, should they, as was then contemplated, combine to invade and conquer that island. Mr. Clay had already10 written as Secretary of State to Mr. Alexander H. Everett, our Minister at Madrid, instructing him to urge upon Spain the expediency of acknowledging the independence of her lost colonies. He said:

It is not for the new Republics that the President wishes to urge upon Spain the expediency of concluding the war. If the war should continue between Spain and the new Republics, and those islands [Cuba and Porto Rico] should become the object and theater of it, their fortunes have such a connection with the people of the United States, that they could not be indifferent spectators; and the possible contingencies of a protracted war might bring upon the Government [269] of the United States duties and obligations, the performance of which, however painful it should be, they might not be at liberty to decline.

In the same spirit, his instructions to Messrs. Anderson and Sergeant11 contained the following passage:

It is required by the frank and friendly relations which we most earnestly desire ever to cherish with the new Republics, that you should, without reserve, explicitly state that the United States have too much at stake in the fortunes of Cuba, to allow them to see with indifference a war of invasion prosecuted in a desolating manner, or to see employed, in the purposes of such a war, one race of the inhabitants combating against another, upon principles and with motives that must inevitably lead, if not to the extermination of one party or the other, to the almost shocking excesses. The humanity of the United States in respect to the weaker, and which, in such a terrible struggle, would probably be the suffering, portion, and the duty to defend themselves against the contagion of such near and dangerous examples, would constrain them. even at the hazard of losing the friendship of Mexico and Colombia, to employ all the means necessary to their security.

Several years later, Mr. Van Buren, writing as Gen. Jackson's premier to Mr. C. P. Van Ness, our then Minister at Madrid, urges upon Spain, through him, the acknowledgment of South American independence, on this among other grounds:

Considerations connected with a certain class of our population make it the interest of the Southern section of the Union that no attempt should be made in that island [Cuba] to throw off the yoke of Spanish dependence; the first effect of which would be the sudden emancipation of a numerous slave population, whose result could not but be very sensibly felt upon the adjacent shores of the United States.

Thus, so long as any revolution in Cuba, or displacement of the Spanish authority there, seemed likely to affect the stability or perpetuity of Slavery, our Government steadily, officiously opposed such revolution; and, while refusing, so early as 1825, to guarantee the possession of that island to Spain, and informally giving notice that we would never consent to its transfer to any more formidable power, seemed entirely satisfied with, and anxious for, its retention by Spain as her most precious and valued dependency--“ The Queen of the Antilles.”

But, at length, having reannexed Texas, the Slave Power fixed covetous eyes on this fertile, prolific island. In 1848, our Minister, under instructions from President Polk, made an offer of $100,000,000 for it, which was peremptorily, conclusively rejected. Directly thereafter, the South became agitated by “fillibustering” plots for the invasion and conquest of that island, wherein real or pretended Cubans by nativity were prominent as leaders. President Taylor was hardly warm in the White House before he was made aware that these schemes were on the point of realization, and compelled to issue his proclamation12 against them in these words:

There is reason to believe that an armed expedition is about to be fitted out in the United States with an intention to invade the island of Cuba, or some of the provinces of Mexico. The best information which the Executive has been able to obtain points to the island of Cuba as the object of this expedition. It is the duty of this Government to observe the faith of treaties, and to prevent any aggression by our citizens upon the territories of friendly nations. I have, therefore, thought it necessary and proper to issue this Proclamation, to warn all citizens of the United States, who shall connect themselves with any enterprise so grossly in violation of our laws and our treaty obligations, that they will thereby subject themselves to the heavy penalties denounced against them by our acts of Congress, and will forfeit their claim to the protection of their country. No such persons must expect [270] the interference of this Government, in any form, on their behalf, no matter to what extremities they may be reduced in consequence of their conduct. An enterprise to invade the territories of a friendly nation, set on foot and prosecuted within the limits of the United States, is, in the highest degree, criminal, as tending to endanger the peace, and compromit the honor, of this nation; and, therefore, I exhort all good citizens, as they regard our national reputation, as they respect their own laws and the Law of Nations, as they value the blessings of peace and the welfare of their country, to discountenance and prevent, by all lawful means, any such enterprise; and I call upon every officer of this Government, civil or military, to use all efforts in his power to arrest, for trial and punishment, every such offender against the laws providing for the performance of our sacred obligations to foreign powers.

This emphatic warning probably embarrassed and delayed the execution of the plot, but did not defeat it. Early in August, 1851--or soon after Gen. Taylor's death — an expedition under Lopez, a Cuban adventurer, sailed in a steamer from New Orleans — always the hotbed of the projects of the Slavery propagandists. About five hundred men embarked in this desperate enterprise, by which a landing was effected on the island of Cuba. All its expectations, however, of a rising in its behalf, or of any manifestation of sympathy on the part of the Cubans, were utterly disappointed. The invaders were easily defeated and made prisoners, when their leader was promptly garroted at Havana,13 and a few of his comrades shot; but the greater number were sentenced to penal servitude in a distant Spanish possession, whence they were ultimately liberated by pardon.

The discipline proved effective. There was much talk of further expeditions against Cuba from one or another Southern city. A secret cabal, known as the “Order of the Lone Star,” recruited adventurers and tried to raise funds through all the sea-board cities of the Union, and it was understood that Gen. John A. Quit-man, of Mississippi, one of the ablest and strongest of Mr. Calhoun's disciples, had consented to lead the next expedition against Cuba; but none ever sailed. The “Order of the Lone Star” proved useful to Gen. Pierce in swelling his vote for President in 1852, and soon after subsided into nothingness.

As our Government had long expressed satisfaction with the possession of Cuba by Spain, while proclaiming hostility to its transfer to any other power, Great Britain and France determined to put our sincerity to the test; and, accordingly, in 1852, proposed to unite with us in a treaty mutually guaranteeing that island to Spain.14 But Mr. Edward Everett, as Secretary of State to Mr. Fillmore, rejected the overture in an exceedingly smart dispatch.

The formal proposition for a joint agreement of perpetual renunciation, on the part of Great Britain, France, and the United States, respectively, of any covetous designs on Cuba, [271] was presented, on the 23d of April, to Mr. Webster, then our Secretary of State, and by him courteously acknowledged, six days later, in a note which, though not without demur, expressed the acquiescence of our Government in the general views expressed by France and England with reference to Cuba, and gave assurances that, “The President will take M. de Sartiges' communication into consideration, and give it his best reflections.”

Mr. Webster being dead15 and Mr. Everett duly installed as his successor, the latter answered16 a note of M. de Sartiges, recalling Mr. Webster's attention to this subject, under date of July 8th. In this answer, our Government peremptorily declines, for various and elaborately stated reasons, any such convention or compact as that proposed to it by France and England. While still disclaiming, pro forma, any desire or intention on our part of acquiring Cuba, this document affords the strongest evidence of a contrary disposition. It assumes that the Senate would inevitably refuse its assent to the treaty proposed, and adds: “its certain rejection by that body would leave the question of Cuba in a more unsettled position than it is now.” It doubts the constitutional power “to impose a permanent disability on the American Government for all coming time.” It parades, with significant emphasis, the repeated and important acquisitions of territory by our Government, through the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, and of Florida in 1819, as also through the annexation of Texas; as to which, Mr. Everett--overdoing his part, as is natural in a Federalist turned fillibuster — volunteers the wholly gratuitous assertion that “there never was an extension of territory more naturally or justifiably made.” Ignoring the fact that Great Britain las still possessions in this hemisphere nearly, if not quite, equal in extent to those of our own country, and that her important island of Jamaica is quite as near to Cuba as is any portion of our Southern coast, Mr. Everett says:

The President does not covet the acquisition of Cuba for the United States; at the same time, he considers the acquisition of Cuba as mainly an American question. The proposed convention proceeds on a different principle. It assumes that the United States have no other or greater interest in the question than France or England; whereas, it is necessary only to cast one's eye on the map to see how remote are the relations of Europe, and how intimate those of the United States, with this island.

If three strong men were traversing a desert in company with a fourth rich, but weak, companion, and two of them should propose to the other a mutual stipulation not to rob or. otherwise abuse their weak brother, it could hardly fail to astonish them to hear their proposition declined, as contemplating an “entangling alliance” --a perplexing and troublesome undertaking, whereof no one could fully calculate the scope and ultimate consequences. Yet Mr. Everett sees fit to say that

There is another strong objection to the proposed agreement. Among the oldest traditions of the Federal Government is an aversion to political alliances with European powers. In his memorable Farewell Address, President Washington says: “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial [272] relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.” President Jefferson, in his Inaugural Address in 1801, warned the country against “entangling alliances.” This expression, now become proverbial, was unquestionably used by Mr. Jefferson in reference to the alliance with France of 1778--an alliance, at the time, of incalculable benefit to the United States; but which, in less than twenty years, came near involving us in the wars of the French Revolution, and laid the foundation of heavy claims upon Congress, not extinguished to the present day. It is a significant coincidence, that the particular provision of the alliance which occasioned these evils was that under which France called upon us to aid her in defending her West Indian possessions against England. Nothing less than the unbounded influence of Washington rescued the Union from the perils of that crisis, and preserved our neutrality.

Mr. Everett proceeds:

But the President has a graver objection to entering into the proposed convention. He has no wish to disguise the feeling that the compact, although equal in its terms, would be very unequal in substance. France and England, by entering into it, would disable themselves from obtaining possession of an island remote from their seats of government, belonging to another European power, whose natural right to possess it must always be as good as their own — a distant island in another hemisphere, and one which, by no ordinary or peaceful course of things, could ever belong to either of them. * * * The United States, on the other hand, would, by the proposed convention, disable themselves from making an acquisition which might take place without any disturbance of existing foreign relations, and in the natural order of things. The island of Cuba lies at our doors. It commands the approach to the Gulf of Mexico, which washes the shores of five of our States. It bars the entrance of that great river which drains half the North American continent, and with its tributaries forms the largest system of internal water communication in the world. It keeps watch at the doorway of our intercourse with California by the Isthmus route. If an island like Cuba, belonging to the Spanish crown, guarded the entrance of the Thames and the Seine, and the United States should propose a convention like this to France and England, those powers would assuredly feel that the disability assumed by ourselves was far less serious than that which we asked them to assume.

Mr. Everett, having thus, in effect, apprised the civilized world that the acquisition of Cuba is essential to our independence, and that we shall proceed in our own time to appropriate it, turns to give our slaveholders a meaning hint that they must not be too eager in the pursuit, or they will overreach themselves. He says:

The opinions of American statesmen, at different times, and under varying circumstances, have differed as to the desirableness of the acquisition of Cuba by the United States. Territorially and commercially, it would, in our hands, be an extremely valuable possession. Under certain contingencies, it might be almost essential to our safety. Still, for domestic reasons, on which, in a communication of this kind, it might not be proper to dwell, the President thinks that the incorporation of the island into the Union at the present time, although effected with the consent of Spain, would be a hazardous measure; and he would consider its acquisition by force, except in a just war with Spain (should an event so greatly to be deprecated take place), as a disgrace to the civilization of the age.

In another place, he gives them another intimation of the solicitude with which our Government watches and wards against any subversion of Slavery in Cuba; saying:

Even now, the President cannot doubt that both France and England would prefer any change in the condition of Cuba to that which is most to be apprehended, viz.: an internal convulsion which should renew the horrors and the fate of San Domingo

But Cuba, it seems, is not merely a slaveholding, but a slave-trading dependency, which affords still another reason why Spain should lose and we gain it. Says Mr. Everett:

I will intimate a final objection to the proposed convention. M. de Turgot and Lord Malmesbury put forward, as the reason for entering into such a compact, “the attacks which have lately been made on the island of Cuba by lawless bands of adventurers from the United States, with the avowed design of taking possession of that [273] island.” The President is convinced that the conclusion of such a treaty, instead of putting a stop to these lawless proceedings, would give a new and powerful impetus to them. It would strike a death-blow to the conservative policy hitherto pursued in this country toward Cuba. No administration of this Government, however strong in the public confidence in other respects, could stand a day under the odium of having stipulated with the Great Powers of Europe, that, in no future time, under no change of circumstances, by no amicable arrangement with Spain, by no act of lawful war (should that calamity unfortunately occur), by no consent of the inhabitants, should they, like the possessions of Spain on the American continent, succeed in rendering themselves independent; in fine, by no overruling necessity of self-preservation, should the United States ever make the acquisition of Cuba.

After all this, and much more of the same purport, a smile must have irradiated the countenance of even the most impassive European diplomatist on reading the concluding paragraph of Mr. Everett's dispatch, viz.:

For these reasons, which the President has thought advisable, considering the importance of the subject, to direct me to unfold at some length, he feels constrained to decline respectfully the invitation of France and England to become parties to the proposed convention. He is persuaded that these friendly powers will not attribute this refusal to any insensibility on his part to the advantages of the utmost harmony between the great maritime States on a subject of such importance. As little will Spain draw any unfavorable inference from this refusal; the rather, as the emphatic disclaimer of any designs against Cuba on the part of this Government, contained in the present note, affords all the assurance which the President can constitutionally, or to any useful purpose, give, of a practical concurrence with France and England in the wish not to disturb the possession of that island by Spain.

Soon after the passage of the Nebraska bill, President Pierce, through a dispatch from Gov. Marcy as Secretary of State,17 directed Messrs. James Buchanan, John Y. Mason, and Pierre Soule, our Embassadors at London, Paris, and Madrid respectively, to convene in some European city, there to confer with regard to the best means of getting possession of Cuba. They met accordingly at Ostend,18 and sat three days; adjourning thence to Aix-la-Chapelle, where they held sweet council together for several days more, and the result of their deliberations was transmitted to our Government in a dispatch known as the “Ostend Manifesto.” In that dispatch, they say:

We firmly believe that, in the course of human events, the time has arrived when the vital interests of Spain are as seriously involved in the sale, as those of the United States in the purchase, of the island, and that the transaction will prove equally honorable to both nations.

Under these circumstances, we cannot anticipate a failure, unless, possibly, through the malign influence of foreign powers, who possess no right whatever to interfere in the matter.

We proceed to state some of the reasons which have brought us to this conclusion; and, for the sake of clearness, we shall specify them under two distinct heads:

1. The United States ought, if practicable, to purchase Cuba with as little delay as possible.

2. The probability is great that the Government and Cortes of Spain will prove willing to sell it; because this would essentially promote the highest and best interests of the Spanish people.

Then, 1. It must be clear to every reflecting mind that, from the peculiarity of its geographical position, and the considerations attendant on it, Cuba is as necessary to the North American republic as any of its present members, and that it belongs naturally to that great family of States of which the Union is the providential nursery.

From its locality, it commands the mouth of the Mississippi, and the immense and annually increasing trade which must seek this avenue to the ocean.

On the numerous navigable streams, measuring an aggregate course of some thirty thousand miles, which disembogue themselves through this magnificent river [274] into the Gulf of Mexico, the increase of the population within the last ten years amounts to more than that of the entire Union at the time Louisiana was annexed to it.

The natural and main outlet to the products of this entire population, the highway of their direct water-course with the Atlantic and the Pacific States, can never be secure, but must ever be endangered, whilst Cuba is a dependency of a distant power, in whose possession it has proved to be a source of constant annoyance and embarrassment to their interests.

Indeed, the Union can never enjoy repose, nor possess reliable security, as long as Cuba is not embraced within its boundaries.

These arguments for the necessity of acquiring Cuba on our part, though not so strong intrinsically as might be adduced to justify the acquisition of Great Britain by France, are still further amplified; intermingled with demonstrations that Spain would be, pecuniarily, the gainer by the sale, and insults which would seem offered on purpose to render her compliance impossible. Witness these specimens:

Such is her present wretched financial condition, that her best bonds are sold upon her own Bourse at about one-third of their par value; whilst another class, on which she pays no interest, have but a nominal value, and are quoted at about one-sixth the amount for which they were issued. Besides, these latter are held principally by British creditors, who may, from day to day, obtain the effective interposition of their own Government for the purpose of coercing payment. Intimations to that effect have been already thrown out from high quarters; and, unless some new source of revenue shall enable Spain to provide for such exigencies, it is not improbable that they may be realized.

Extreme oppression, it is now universally admitted, justifies any people in endeavoring to relieve themselves from the yoke of their oppressors. The sufferings which the corrupt, arbitrary, and unrelenting local administration necessarily entails upon the inhabitants of Cuba, cannot fail to stimulate and keep alive that spirit of resistance and revolution against Spain, which has of late years been so often manifested. In this condition of affairs, it is vain to expect that the sympathies of the people of the United States will not be warmly enlisted in favor of their oppressed neighbors.

We know that the President is justly inflexible in his determination to execute the neutrality laws; but, should the Cubans themselves rise in revolt against the oppression which they suffer, no human power could prevent citizens of the United States, and liberal-minded men of other countries, from rushing to their assistance. Besides~ the present is an age of adventure, in which restless and daring spirits abound in every portion of the world.

It is not improbable, therefore, that Cuba may be wrested from Spain by a successful revolution: and, in that event, she will lose both the island and the price which we are now willing to pay for it — a price far beyond what was ever paid by one people to another for any province.

Finally, Spain is frankly told by our model diplomatists that we will have Cuba at any rate; that resistance on her part will only serve to deprive her of the liberal bonus we are prepared to pay for its peaceful cession. Here is the language:

But if Spain, dead to the voice of her own interest, and actuated by stubborn pride and a false sense of honor, should refuse to sell Cuba to the United States, then the question will arise, What ought to be the course of the American Government under such circumstances?

Self-preservation is the first law of nature, with States as well as with individuals. All nations have, at different periods, acted upon this maxim. Although it has been made the pretext for committing flagrant injustice, as in the partition of Poland and other similar cases which history records, yet the principle itself, though often abused, has always been recognized. * * * * After we shall have offered Spain a price for Cuba far beyond its present value, and this shall have been refused, then it will be time to consider the question, Does Cuba, in the possession of Spain, seriously endanger our internal peace and the existence of our cherished Union?

Should this question be answered in the affirmative, then, by every law, human and divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain, if we possess the power: and this upon the very same principle that would justify an individual in tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there was no other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home.

Under such circumstances, we ought [275] neither to count the cost nor regard the odds which Spain might enlist against us. We forbear to enter into the question whether the present condition of the island would justify such a measure. We should, however, be recreant to our duty, be unworthy of our gallant forefathers, and commit base treason against our posterity, should we permit Cuba to be Africanized and become a second St. Domingo, with all its attendant horrors to the white race, and suffer the flames to extend to our own neighboring shores, seriously to endanger, or actually to consume, the fair fabric of our Union.

We fear that the course and current of events are rapidly tending toward such a catastrophe. We, however, hope for the best, though we ought certainly to be prepared for the worst.

When this dispatch was made public in Europe through the newspapers, the first sensation created by it was one of stubborn incredulity. The journal which contained it having a far higher reputation for enterprise than for accuracy, our minister at one of the minor courts did not hesitate at once to assure the diplomatic circle that it was a transparent and unquestionable hoax; and such it was quite commonly adjudged until later advices had left no room for doubt.

The civilized world, unhappily, was not now for the first time to make the acquaintance of the rule of the strongest. The partition of Poland, Napoleon's perfidious clutch of Spain and her royal Bourbons, with a portion of the doings of the triumphant despots who resettled Europe by dividing it among themselves at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and several less conspicuous examples, had already guarded the intelligent classes against the delusion that, in Christendom any more than out of it, temptations to gigantic robbery will be uniformly resisted even by nations and their rulers — that rapacity ever needs any other excuse than the proximity and defenselessness of its prey. But, though the exactions of morality are often disregarded by monarchs and cabinets in our day, the requirements of decorum are very rarely defied and derided by any power north of the Mediterranean; and the blackest political crimes of the present age have usually been perpetrated in the abused names of Order, of Legitimacy, and of Religion. That the United States should covet Cuba, and seek by any means to acquire it, did not severely shock Europe's sense of decency; that we should openly, boldly, set forth such justifications of our lust, clearly did. The coarseness, the effrontery, and the shamelssness of the Ostend Manifesto seemed to carry the world back to the days of Attila or Genghis Khan, and to threaten the centers of civilization and refinement, the trophies of art and the accumulations of wealth, with a new irruption of barbarians from the remote, forbidding West. No other document that ever emanated from our Government was so well calculated to deepen and diffuse the distrust and apprehension wherewith the growth and power of our country had already come to be regarded by the more polite, intelligent, and influential classes of the Old World.

The doctrines of this Manifesto were in no respect disavowed, modified, or explained, by our Government. None of our citizens who had openly, notoriously contributed to fit out and man the Lopez expedition were brought to justice, or exposed to any punishment whatever. While strenuous efforts were made to procure the pardon and release of such Americans as had been captured while participating in that ill-fated adventure, evidence was [276] soon afforded that the spirit which impelled to that crime would find aliment, but not satiety, in the conquest of Cuba. Very soon after the appearance of the Ostend Circular, one William Walker, a Tennessean, recently resident in California, left that State, at the head of a band as reckless and desperate as himself, for Nicaragua, which he entered in the character of ally to one of the factions habitually disputing the mastery of that, as well as of most other Spanish American countries. Though he never evinced much military or other capacity, Walker, so long as he acted under color of authority from the chiefs of the faction he patronized, was generally successful against the pitiful rabble styled soldiers by whom his progress was resisted, capturing19 at last by surprise the important city of Granada, which was deemed the stronghold of the adverse faction, and assuming thereon the rank of General. But his very successes proved the ruin of the faction to which he had attached himself, by exciting the natural jealousy and alarm of the natives who mainly composed it; and his assumption, soon afterward, of the title of President of Nicaragua, speedily followed by a decree reestablishing Slavery in that country, exposed his purpose and insured his downfall. As if madly bent on ruin, he proceeded to confiscate the steamboats and other property of the Nicaragua Transit Company, thereby arresting all American travel to and from California through that country, and cutting himself off from all hope of further recruiting his forces from the throngs of sanguine or of baffled gold-seekers, who might otherwise have been attracted to his standard. Yet he maintained the unequal contest for about two years, succumbing at last to a coalition of the Central American States, and surrendering his remnant of some two hundred men at Rivas20 By the interposition of Commander C. H. Davis, of our sloop of war St. Mary's, on the Pacific coast, he and sixteen of his party were brought away unharmed, and landed at Panama, whence he returned to this country, and immediately commenced at New Orleans the fitting out of a new Nicaraguan military expedition. Here he was arrested, and compelled to give bonds in the sum of two thousand dollars to desist from unlawful enterprises; notwithstanding which, he very soon left that city on a steamboat freighted with armed men and military stores, ostensibly for Mobile, but which, once at sea, headed for Nicaragua, landing him and his followers at Punta Arenas, Nov. 25th. Here Commodore Paulding of our Navy compelled him to surrender,21 with one hundred and thirty-two of his followers, bringing him to New-York as a prisoner. President Buchanan, by Special Message to Congress,22 condemned the Commodore for thus violating the sovereignty of a foreign country! and declined to hold Walker as a prisoner. Being thus set at liberty, the “gray-eyed Man of Destiny” traversed the South, exciting the more fanatical Slavery propagandists to aid him in fitting out a third expedition, with which he got off from Mobile ;23 but was arrested near the [277] mouths of the Mississippi for having left port without a clearance. Being taken to New Orleans, he and his associates were tried before the Federal Court and all acquitted; when he immediately recommenced his operations, so that in June, 1860, he was again afloat, with an expedition bound to Central America. He, this time, landed on the island of Ruatan,24 and finally at Truxillo,25 which he took with little loss, thence issuing a proclamation to the people, assuring them, in the usual fashion, that he did not come to make war on them, but on their Government. Very soon, the President of Honduras appeared,26 at the head of seven hundred men, while the commander of an English man-of-war in the harbor ordered Walker to decamp. He obeyed, marching with eighty men southward along the coast, and was soon captured,27 brought back to Truxillo, tried by court-martial, condemned, and shot. He was small in size, cold in demeanor, of light complexion, slow of speech, and unimpressive in manner, and was often accused by his followers of utter recklessness as to their sufferings or perils. His death put a decided damper on the spirit whereof his later life was so striking a manifestation.

In the heyday of Walker's career, and while it was exciting much admiration among the more reckless youth of our great cities, especially at the South, the Democratic National Convention, which nominated Mr. Buchanan at Cincinnati, unanimously adopted the following:28

1. Resolved, That there are questions connected with the foreign policy of this country, which are inferior to no domestic question whatever. The time has come for the people of the United States to declare themselves in favor of free seas, and progressive free-trade throughout the world, and, by solemn manifestations, to place their moral influence at the side of their successful example.

2. Resolved, That our geographical and political position with reference to the other States of this continent, no less than the interest of our commerce, and the development of our growing power, requires that we should hold sacred the principles of the Monroe doctrine.

3. Resolved, That the great highway which nature, as well as the States most immediately interested in its maintenance, has marked out for free communication between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, constitutes one of the most important achievements realized by the spirit of modern times, in the unconquerable energy of our people; and that result would be secured by a timely and efficient exertion of the control which we have the right to claim over it; and no power on earth should be suffered to impede or clog its progress by any interference with relations that it may suit our policy to establish between our Government and the Government of the States within whose dominions it lies; we can under no circumstances surrender our preponderance in the adjustment of all questions arising out of it.

4. Resolved, That, in view of so commanding an interest, the people of the United States cannot but sympathize with the efforts which are being made by the people of Central America to regenerate29 that portion of the continent which covers the passage across the inter-oceanic isthmus.

5. Resolved, That the Democratic party will expect of the next Administration that every proper effort be made to insure our ascendency in the Gulf of Mexico, and to maintain permanent protection to the great outlets through which are emptied into its waters the products raised out of the soil and the commodities created by the industry of the people of our western valleys and of the Union at large.

Hon. Albert G. Brown, Senator from Mississippi, visited Mr. Buchanan at Lancaster soon after his nomination for President in 1856, as one of the Committee appointed by the Convention to apprise him officially [278] of the fact, and was, of course, very cordially received. After his return to Washington, he wrote30 to his friend and constituent, Hon. S. R. Adams, an account of his interview, mainly devoted to a report of Mr. Buchanan's sayings on that occasion. Of these, the material portion is as follows:

After thus speaking of Kansas and the Slavery issue, Mr. Buchanan passed to our foreign policy. He approved, in general terms, of the Cincinnati resolutions on this subject, but said that, while enforcing our own policy, we must at all times scrupulously regard the just rights and proper policy of other nations. He was not opposed to territorial extension. All our acquisitions had been fairly and honorably made. Our necessities might require us to make other acquisitions. He regarded the acquisition of Cuba as very desirable now, and it was likely to become a National necessity. Whenever we could obtain the island on fair, honorable terms, he was for taking it. But, he added, it must be a terrible necessity that would induce me to sanction any movement that would bring reproach upon us, or tarnish the honor and glory of our beloved country.

After the formal interview was over, Mr. Buchanan said playfully, but in the presence of the whole audience, “If I can be instrumental in settling the Slavery question upon the terms I have mentioned, and then add Cuba to the Union, I shall, if President, be willing to give up the ghost, and let Breckinridge take the Government.” Could there be a more noble ambition? * * * In my judgment, he is as worthy of Southern confidence and Southern votes as ever Mr. Calhoun was.31

The Republican National Convention of 1856, in the platform of principles framed and adopted by it, alluded to this subject as follows:

Resolved, That the highwayman's plea that “might makes right,” embodied in the Ostend Circular, was in every respect unworthy of American diplomacy, and would bring shame and dishonor on any government or people that gave it their sanction.

At the last Democratic National Convention, which met at Charleston, April 23, 1860, while discord reigned with regard to candidates and the domestic planks of their platform, there was one topic whereon a perfect unanimity was demonstrated. In the brief platform of the majority was embodied the following:

Resolved, That the Democratic party are in favor of the acquisition of the island of Cuba, on such terms as shall be honorable to ourselves and just to Spain.

This resolve was first reported to the Convention by Mr. Avery, of N. C., from the majority of the grand Committee, was accepted on all hands, and was unanimously adopted by the bolting, or Breckinridge, as well as by the Douglas, or majority, Convention. It thus forms about the only surviving and authentic article of the Democratic creed, and may serve as the nucleus of a grand “reconstruction.”

1 On the occasion of the outrageous attack on the frigate Chesapeake by the Leopard.

2 February 6, 1778. This treaty was kept secret for several months.

3 September 17, 1796.

4 Held at Verona, Italy, in 1822.

5 Seventh Annual Message, December 2, 1823.

6 John Sergeant, of Pennsylvania, and Richard C. Anderson, of Kentucky.

7 In the course of the debate, Mr. John Randolph, of Virginia, said:

Cuba possesses an immense negro population. In case those States [Mexico and Colombia] should invade Cuba at all, it is unquestionable that this invasion will be made with this principle,--the genius of universal emancipation,--this sweeping anathema against the white population in front,--and then, Sir, what is the situation of the Southern States?

Mr. John M. Berrien, of Georgia, said:

The question to be determined is this: with a due regard to the safety of the Southern States, can you suffer these islands (Cuba and Porto Rico) to pass into the hands of buccaneers drunk with their new-born liberty? If our interest and our safety shall require us to say to these new republics, “Cuba and Porto Rico must remain as they are,” we are free to say it, and, by the blessing of God, and the strength of our arms, to enforce the declaration; and let me say to gentlemen, these high considerations do require it. The vital interests of the South demand it.

Mr. John Floyd, of Virginia, said [in the House]

So far as I can see, in all its bearings, it [the Panama Congress] looks to the conquest of Cuba and Porto Rico; or, at all events, of tearing them from the crown of Spain. The interests, if not safety, of our own country, would rather require us to interpose to prevent such an event; and I would rather take up arms to prevent than to accelerate such an occurrence.

Mr. Josiah S. Johnston, of Louisiana, a friend of the Administration, parried these attacks as follows:

We know that Colombia and Mexico have long contemplated the independence of the island [Cuba]. The final decision is now to be made, and the combination of forces and the plan of attack to be formed. What, then, at such a crisis, becomes the duty of the Government? Send your ministers instantly to the diplomatic assembly, where the measure is maturing. Advise with them — remonstrate--menace, if necessary — against a step so dangerous to us, and perhaps fatal to them.

8 June 22, 1826.


And then, to cap the climax,
John Sergeant, too, must go--
A chief who wants the darkies free--
John Adams' son, my Jo!

--“Federal song” in The Richmond Enquirer.

10 April 27, 1825.

11 May 8, 1826.

12 August 11, 1849.

13 August 16th.

14 The body of the Convention proposed to us, on the part of Great Britain and France, was in the following words:

The high contracting parties hereby severally and collectively disclaim, both now and for hereafter, all intention to obtain possession of the island of Cuba; and they respectively bind themselves to discountenance all attempts to that effect on the part of any power or individuals whatever.

The high contracting parties declare, severally and collectively, that they will not obtain or maintain, for themselves, or for any one of themselves, any exclusive control over the said island, nor assume nor exercise any dominion over the same.

15 Oct. 24th, 1852.

16 December 1, 1852.

17 Dated Washington, August 16, 1854.

18 October 9, 1854.

19 October 13, 1855.

20 May 1, 1857.

21 December 8th.

22 January 7, 1858.

23 October 7th.

24 June 25th.

25 June 27th.

26 August 23d.

27 September 3d.

28 May 22, 1856.

29 Alluding to Walker, then militant in Central America.

30 June 18, 1856.

31 Among the letters found by the Union soldiers at the residence of Jefferson Davis, in Mississippi, when in 1863 they advanced, under Gen. Grant, into the heart of that State, was the following from a prominent Democratic politician of Pennsylvania:

Philadelphia, March 7, 1850.
Mr. Jefferson Davis,--My Dear Sir: Can you tell me if Gen. Larmon is likely to remain much longer in Nicaragua? I should like to go to that country, and help open it to civilization and niggers. I could get strong recommendations from the President's special friends in Pennsylvania for the place were the mission vacant, and, I think, I would prove a live Minister.

I am tired of being a white slave at the North, and long for a home in the sunny South.

Please let me hear from you when you have leisure.

Mrs. Brodhead joins me in sending kind remembrances to Mrs. Davis and yourself.

Sincerely and gratefully your friend,

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