Henry Nash Smith about the Ostend Manifesto



The only Southern expansionist dream which had imaginative depth led in a different direction. This was the notion of a Caribbean slave empire, which found its most spectacular expression in the Ostend Manifesto of 1854. The Southern diplomats who in this remarkable document threatened forcible con quest of Cuba if Spain refused to sell the island to the United States, were trying to put into effect a geopolitical conception developed in part from the general notion of manifest destiny and in part from the idea of the passage to India. The oceanographer Mathew F. Maury, leading Southern scientist of his day, had called the Gulf of Mexico the American Mediterranean. Into this sea emptied the Mississippi, and the archaic Southern tendency to emphasize the primacy of natural waterways allowed Southern thinkers to conceive of the Gulf as dominating the whole interior valley. On the east the Gulf merged into the Caribbean, which touched the Isthmus of Panama, gateway to the Pacific; control of the Gulf was said to mean mastery of the dominant commercial route to the Indies. Southward the Caribbean led to South America, where the slave empire of Brazil in the fabulous basin of the Amazon offered the world's most promising theater for expansion of the plantation system. The key to all this potential empire was Cuba: ". . . if we hold Cuba," wrote an editorialist in the Richmond Enquirer, "in the next fifty years we will hold the destiny of the richest and most increased commerce that ever dazzled the cupidity of man. And with that commerce we can control the power of the world. Give us this and we can make the public opinion of the world."

Well might a Southerner point out that the South had a manifest destiny different from that of the North. The conception of a tropical empire occupying the basins of the Amazon and the Mississippi and controlling the trade of the Pacific, populated by Negroes brought from Africa through a reopened slave trade-- "the purple dream," as Stephen Vincent Benet calls it,

Of the America we have not been,
The tropic empire, seeking the warm sea,
The last foray of aristocracy,--*

*Copyright, 1927, 1938 by Stephen Vincent Benet

offers a glaring contrast with the myth of the garden of the world which expressed the goals of freesoil expansion into the Mississippi Valley. But the dream was powerful enough to inflame a young printer and newspaperman in Keokuk, Iowa, Sam Clemens by name, who set out down the Mississippi in 1856 on his way to found a coca plantation on the Amazon.

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