Even When It Wasn’t About Slavery, It Was About Slavery

courtesy Library of Congress
courtesy Library of Congress

I often hear people say that the Civil War in the US wasn’t about slavery (you may wonder where I am to often hear people go on about slavery), but the more I read history the harder it is to believe. Take the transcontinental railroad, for instance. One of the reasons it took so long in getting started is that everyone (most everyone) had settled on the idea that the federal government should help pay for it. Problem was that the slave state politicians wanted the route through slave country which meant purchasing land from Mexico (would this land be free or slave?). The free state politicians knew their anti-slavery constituents wouldn’t go for that. Everyone was SO TIRED of fighting over slavery every day in Washington for years! So the railroad stood still.

And then there was this sticky situation in Cuba . . . there was a time when Manifest Destiny wasn’t tinged with corruption. It was a brief time, yet most Americans supported the idea of spreading liberty . . . enter the slave states. Some (not all) saw Central and South America as the last beacon of hope for keeping slavery alive. Spain controlled Cuba and Cuba had slaves.

Filibuster William Walker launched several expeditions into Latin America. For a time he ruled Nicaragua, although he was eventually forced to return to the United States. In 1860, he was captured and executed in Honduras. Wikipedia
Filibuster William Walker launched several expeditions into Latin America. For a time he ruled Nicaragua, although he was eventually forced to return to the United States. In 1860, he was captured and executed in Honduras. Wikipedia

Back long ago some men (private citizens) took it upon themselves to gain territory for their country. They spent their days organizing grand and semi-grand plans to capture places. The Americans who did this were called FILLIBUSTERERS.

A Venezuelan-born resident of Cuba, Narciso López, who, like some wealthy Cuban slave-owners, was wary of shaky Spanish rule over the island, and thus sought to have it annexed by the United States in order to ensure slavery’s preservation in Cuba. Cuban property owners were concerned that Spain would give in to British pressure to abolish slavery in Cuba. López organized several failed expeditions to liberate Cuba from Spanish rule, the last resulting in his capture and execution in Havana in 1851. The American public condemned Spanish actions, especially López’s execution without trial, but U.S. President Millard Fillmore did not issue a denunciation. Public anger against Fillmore’s seemingly lukewarm support for expansion contributed to a Whig defeat in 1852.

In an attempt to mollify the Democratic Party’s staunch proslavery wing, the new President, Franklin Pierce, appointed the proslavery politician Pierre Soulé as Minister to Spain in 1853. However, Soulé did not possess a personality well-suited to tactful diplomacy. During his appointment, Soulé disregarded his instructions to preserve Spanish sovereignty and delivered an unauthorized ultimatum to the Spanish Government regarding a seized U.S. merchant ship. Soulé also wounded the French Ambassador in a duel and began to associate with Spanish revolutionaries planning to overthrow the government. In 1854, Soulé met with other U.S. Ministers to draft a document known as the Ostend Manifesto, which outlined U.S. reasons for attempting to purchase Cuba from Spain. Once the documents were publicly released, they proved embarrassing for the Pierce Administration, and U.S. Secretary of State William Marcy implied that Soulé had instigated the meeting. In the meantime, the Spanish Government began to take countermeasures against U.S. interest in Cuba. The Spanish Minister to the United States, Angel Calderón de la Barca, gathered intelligence on planned filibustering expeditions to Cuba. In Cuba, officials took steps to free slaves who had arrived on the island after 1835 and planned to organize a free black militia that would oppose any proslavery invaders. Growing antislavery sentiment in the northern United States and Spanish determination to hold on to Cuba eventually forced U.S. leaders to end attempts to acquire the island.” READ MORE

So was slavery the only reason for war? We could say there were other contributing factors but behind most of them was the country’s wrestling with this core issue. If people took slavery lightly or didn’t find the institution morally repugnant the politicians may not have had so many long and heated battles in the 1850’s.