Information about the Ostend Manifesto

In 1845 the election of James K. Polk for president set the political direction for the following years. Polk and his Secretary of State, James Buchanan, were both men of Southern, proslavery and expansionist proclivities. Romulus M. Saunders, the American Minister to Spain, was also a proslavery expansionist.

Saunders was instructed by the president to inquire the conditions under which Spain would be willing to sell off Cuba to the United States. He reported of the clear position Spain held: Cuba was not for sale. The island represented the last remnant of the once outstanding power of the Spanish in America, and Spain was not willing to hand this precious memento to the United States under any circumstances. For the time being, the States considered it best to respect this and consequently gave up its plans to acquire the island.

Under the next presidency of Franklin Pierce, however, the plan was picked up again. William L. Marcy became his Secretary of State -- a man who was known as an aggressive expansionist, and who was expected to propagate the annexation of Cuba. Marcy turned out to be a considerate statesman, however, who contemplated various diplomatic possibilities rather than using military force.

To his dislike, Marcy could not prevent the appointment of Pierre Soule as the Minister to Spain. Soule was an exiled Frenchman who had settled in New Orleans. There, he had been an active supporter of actions against the Spanish rule in Cuba. He had been suspected of inciting an anti-Spanish mob in New Orleans, and he was known as an advocate of the annexation of Cuba by any means. Because his biographical background was not an ideal prerequisite for negotiating Cuban matters with Spain, Soule's rude and undiplomatic character added to the worsening diplomatic relations between Spain and the United States.

At the beginning of 1854, Marcy -- who did not consider the use of military force to acquire Cuba -- directed the United States Ministers to Spain, France and Great Britain to confer among themselves and decide if it was feasible to persuade Spain to sell Cuba to the States, while avoiding dissonances with France and Great Britain. While this proposal was legitimate, the people working on it were not well suited for the task. James M. Mason, a Virginian and one of the most extreme Southern advocates of the extension of slavery, was Minister to France at the time. Also James Buchanan, the Minister to Great Britain, was a proponent of slavery.

The three men came together at Ostend in the summer of 1854, and they publicly issued their deliberations in October of the same year. The diplomats proposed to threaten Spain with the invasion of Cuba, if Spain was not willing to sell the island to the States. The document known as the Ostend Manifesto was sent to Mr. Marcy and caused enormous disturbances. The United States Department of State repudiated it completely, Spain refused vehemently to even consider the sale of Cuba. Pierre Soule had to resign in December of the same year as a result of his substantial responsibility for this embarrasment of American diplomacy.

Despite the vociferous criticism of the Ostend Manifesto, it represents the forces of Manifest Destiny and Southern imperialism prevalent at the time in the United States.

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Last modified: December 19, 1997