Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Ostend Manifesto

I have this pair of magnets on my fridge. They don’t really belong to me. I confiscated them years ago from a student. He was throwing them up in the air, and as they whizzed past each other they bumped against each other making clicking and zinging noises as they fell back towards his outstretched hands. Over and over he threw them up in the air. The young man throwing them was a very intelligent student. It was possible for him to comprehend every word I said during those few precious minutes of instructional time, BUT there were students around him that weren’t as fortunate. They were being distracted.

So was I for that matter.

I confiscated them because they were disturbing a lesson….I confiscated them because I was protecting the general welfare of my classroom. I simply grabbed them and kept on going with my lesson without missing a beat. While I continued to talk I took the few steps to the back of the room and placed the magnets on my desk.

The young man I took them from never reclaimed them. They remained on my desk for a couple of years before I finally put them in a drawer and then a couple of years after that I brought them home, and they have been on my fridge ever since.

I had to remove the magnets the other day to wipe down the surface of my fridge. Their removal prompted me to think about how they came to be in my possession, and I recalled the lesson I was teaching at the time.

We were talking about the events leading up the Civil War….all of the give and take between the free state folks and the slaveholders. Our time period was the administration of President Franklin Pierce, and I was telling the students about the Doughfaces. I wrote about the lesson some time ago here.

As I moved those magnets from my fridge to the counter I thought about President Pierce, and the American mechant ship, Black Warrior came to mind. It was seized in Havana in March, 1854. Congress saw it as a violation of the worse kind while Spanish officials in Cuba contended the ship violated custom regulations and fined the owners $6, 000. Eventually, Spain released the ship, but the Pierce administration was greatly concerned with the island of Cuba.

Under the direction of President Pierce Pierre Soule, minister to Spain, made an offer to the Spanish to purchase Cuba for $130 million. It was angrily refused.

Spain’s refusal was unfortunate for the Pierce administration. It became one of the deciding factors that led to Pierce’s failure to be elected to a second term.

So…..let me change gears here to the title of this post…..The Ostend Manifesto.

A manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions. Ironically, the word originates from Latin and meant “make public.” This is ironic because the Ostend Manifesto wasn’t meant for public eyes. Once it did become public knowledge President’s Pierce’s hopes for a second term were dashed.

The Ostend Manifesto.

What’s your guess? Does the document name stem from a person’s name or a location? If you guessed location you are most certainly correct.

The manifesto originated on October 9, 1854 and was drafted by Pierre Soule minister of Spain, John Y. Mason minister of France, and James Buchanan minister to Great Britain in Ostend, Belgium.

You’ve never heard of the Ostend Manifesto? I’m not exactly surprised, yet any student of United States diplomacy would tell you that the manifesto was a shift in foreign policy for the United States. It provided for the rationale for the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain, and it also had the audacity to state Cuba should be seized in the name of national security or as the document stated “justified in wresting” the island from Spain if need be.

Just like I seized those magnets for the common good.....many argued how seizing Cuba could be helpful to the United States.

We can’t really blame Franklin Pierce for being interested in Cuba. His wasn’t the first administration to discuss taking control of the island so close to American shores. John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson did so as well. Pierce had even put the American people on notice when he stated during his inaugural address, “The policy of my administration will not be controlled by any timid forebodings of evil from expansion.”

In fact, Pierce did what he could to appoint men in favor of expansion in most every important post throughout Europe. He Sent Pierre Soule to Spain knowing full well that Soule was hoping the United States could annex Cuba at some point in the future.

What really caused Pierce’s downfall had to do with his band of Doughfaces……His cabinet was full of them, and in case you didn’t read through my link I gave above… Doughfaces were northerners with southern sympathies….men like Buchanan and Secretary of State Marcy…..Marcy….the man who directed the three authors of the manifesto to meet and deliver to him their findings upon examining the Cuba situation.

Soule, however, didn’t exactly make the meeting a secret and the media in Europe and the United States took the story and ran with it from the North verses South angle. The House of Representatives finally put enough pressure on the White House to publish the document , and four months later it was released to the press . They are the ones who dubbed it the Ostend Manifesto.

It was just the kind of ammunition Northerners needed in the ever growing debate over slavery. They correctly contended that some Southerners wanted Cuba seized so that it could become a slave state in the ever growing game of slave state/free state. This is true in some respects. The South also favored annexation of Cuba because they felt the Spanish officials were getting ready to free the slaves that already existed on the island. Having freed slaves that close to the United States couldn’t be a good thing…..could it? Of course, there was that economic angle and that was argued as well.

Northerners were outraged by the publication of the manifesto and saw it merely as a way to extend slavery. Soule was eventually forced to resign and of course, Pierce lost hope of staying in the White House.

The question of Cuba did not come up again for almost thirty years well after the Civil War had been fought.

You have to wonder though….what if the United States had purchased Cuba in 1854 from Spain?
Just think about it for a minute…..

This link takes you to an image of President Pierce’s order to affix the seal of the United States on a letter to the Queen of Spain that mentions the recall or resignation of Minister Soule.

1 comment:

Polski3 said...

You learn something new every day! Thank You!