April 26, 2004HIST 300 Motivations for a Southern DreamAntebellum American culture was defined by the notion of ManifestDestiny.
Americans felt that it was her divine right to expand borders andspread her form of democracy. After the war with Mexico and the annexationof Texas, American dreams of the economic prosperity to be attained bygaining more land became more prominent. The United States governmenttried purchasing lands to the south, particularly Cuba, from Europeanpowers. Some American citizens could not wait for negotiations and began,what was then called, filibustering.
Private militias of American citizensinvaded South American countries with dreams and ambitions. The U.S.
hadbeen at peace with Central America since the end of the Mexican wars andthese movements only caused chaos with foreign policies, thus it was madeillegal to filibuster. Despite the repercussions many men from all overthe U.S., of all ages, and classes still gathered arms and joined the ranksto fight in these filibuster movements.Motivated by economic ambitions Americans insisted on expanding itsboarders.
The weak condition of Mexico after the overthrow of Santa Annain 1855 made annexation appealing.1 Routes to the pacific could be madequicker with use of the state. Duff Green’s railroad idea linkingWashington with the Pacific coast through Mexico City was one ideaprovoking expansionists. Another was the plan for a railway or canalacross the Isthmus of Theuantepec to compete with central American routesto the pacific.
2 Trade in the pacific was important and commercialcareers were being built every day. Industrialization in the east requiredmore urban sprawl.Most of the recruiting offices for the movement were based in majorcities ripe with unemployed, immigrants and ambitious young men. Theavailability of docks, shipping and capital in the major port cities suchas New Orleans and New York made them great starting points for manymovements.3 Lopez began his movement to liberate Cuba in New York afterhe was exiled there. Lopez’s Round Island plot in 1849 gathered numerousurban youth easily from New York’s abundance of unemployed.New Orleans was abundant with recruiters for William Walkers forceseasily intriguing young men with no prospects of their own.
“During the pre-Civil War period, America’s urban population increased about three times asfast as the country’s population as a whole.”4 Skilled workers and theirapprentices, now unemployed due to industrialization, were ready for anyopportunity. Youthful males migrated to the cities in search of employmentand with secrecy joined filibuster movements.
Many young men hid theirintentions to join from their parents. James C. Pickett’s son was linked tofilibustering movements, an embarrassment to him. Pickett later publiclydenounced any involvement and claimed to not care as to whether theysucceeded in their ventures. Some parents were proud of their children. Awell-known planter in Mississippi, F.L. Claiborne, offered up his son to aQuitman expedition in Cuba.
5 Reasons vary, but the majority of menjoining these movements were under the age of 25 and many of them died fora cause that they may not have believed in but were driven to support dueto their own personal struggles. The amount of younger males outweighed theolder in the militias. In a letter shared with the Fillmore administrationan older soldier of a filibustering movement claimed that many of theyounger men simply joined because they were under age to join the U.S.military.6Immigrants were on the low end of the wage scale and faced muchdiscrimination in the job market were driven to joining the militias.7Most immigrants who joined were starving and living on the streets. It isalso speculated that many immigrants fled to the U.
S. in exile from theEuropean revolutions of 1848 and joined to regain the glory of their formermilitary or political careers. “Louis Schlesinger, a officer in LouisKossuth’s failed Hungarian rebellion against Austrian rule, became one ofthe most publicized of the revolutionary exiles who took upfilibustering.”8 Charles Frederick Henningsen was an Englishman whofought with the Carlists in Spain, then for Hungarian independence in 1849,and finally drifted to Central America to join Walker in 1856. Henningsenbecame one of Walker’s generals and was purely seeking adventure.9 Menwith military experience were very welcomed by Narcisco Lopez and WilliamWalker in their expeditions.
10In the west there was a labor surplus of failed miners from the GoldRush in California.11 One of the most notable was David Deaderick whojoined William Walker on his mission to Nicaragua after failing as a goldminer in California. Deadrick, like many others, used an alternate name.He published his memoirs in the Atlantic Monthly aptly titled “Theexperience of Samuel Absolom, Filibuster.”12 In his memoir he describesthe increasing class stratifications in California and that men are judgedaccordingly. He was offered land and a large sum to join Walker inNicaragua.
13 At the time it was an offer that he could not refuse.Deaderick wanted to prove that “…inward character counts more thanappearance in determining a man’s fate,” in a time that there was a crisisin American culture between character and appearance.It was hard for a man to become universally known and in Deaderick’sexperience good character was based on outward appearance rather than histrue nature.
He hoped that he would be able to resolve his internalconflict between character and the inward man by joining Walker. He wasdisillusioned by tales of honor and came to find that his conflict was nomore easily resolved in Nicaragua. Every one there dressed poorly, and theseverely impoverished troops that he came to join looked as bad as he felt.His hopes for the more improved wardrobe of a soldier were struck downwith one glance. He is forced to steal to survive, degrading his characterfurther. Yet he still feels that he can reclaim his good character throughhis manly acts. In the end he deserts and goes home, meanwhile tearing theletters off his uniform signifying he is a soldier.
He proves that a man’scharacter could be reduced to a pair of letters on a uniform.14Deaderick’s story is a very compelling account of his motivations forjoining Walker’s campaign. He describes it as a cultural phenomenon inantebellum America for young men to be struggling with their innercharacter to prove themselves a man.
15 Apparently this was a majorcrisis that young men were dealing with. In an address to a committee onproblems with spain printed in the Washington Globe on June 14, 1854, Mr.Singleton expresses that “…too many men among us, whose prurient ambitionwill stop at nothing, and whose ‘longing after immortality’ can only besatisfied by seeing their names in public print.” Unemployment contributedto this feeling of worthlessness, but it’s the inward feeling to proveoneself that is the stronger motivation.After the Mexican Wars the major dispute over expansion was betweenthe Whigs and the Democrats.
The Whigs were fearful of expanding boarderstoo far and the northern Whigs were hostile to slavery expansion. TheDemocrats “…believed that young American leaders had a mission to spreadfreedom and democracy in both the New and Old World.” Filibusters weremainly democratic for this reason.
They were worried about Europeaninvolvement in the south and protection of U.S. borders. They believedthat western hemisphere should be dominated by the United States.By the early 1850’s the movement for expansion became more of asectional divide between North and South than a political movement. TheKansas-Nebraska act in 1854 fueled southern motivations for new slavestates in Central America. Southerners felt a severe lack ofrepresentatives in the government and felt that they were outweighed byfree states.
Northern industrial states had larger population densitiesthan the southern plantation states. Since slaves were not regarded asvoting citizens, the south have very little representation in the House ofRepresentatives since participation was based on population. Northernantislavery leaders were against further expansion of slave states and sawfilibustering movements solely as a way for southerners to expand slavery.This sectionalism is seen as one factor leading to the Civil War.
16Americans were divided over expansionism, it was seen as both immoralto those who opposed and moral to those who saw the lands to be conqueredas inferior. Many saw it as an agenda of the South to gain new slavestates. Southerners, especially Texans, feared Mexico’s open door policyfor runaway slaves. While many petitioned Washington to obtain treatieswith Mexico for the return of slaves, others turned to filibustering. ATexan filibuster was launched by James C. Callahan, a Texas Ranger, in 1855to recover lost slaves and was ended by a Mexican-Indian ambush.17Aiding the previous views of racism and superiority of the white race, itwas also thought that every Mexican in the state of Texas was plotting toaid runaway slaves. Natives, mestizos, and even Spaniards were seen asinferiors, and many “.
..young Americans could not help but absorb thelessons of their country’s history of subjugating and exploiting darkerskinned people in the name of progress.”18 Other southern states werejust as threatened as Texas. It was a shorter route for some slaves toescape through Texas to Mexico rather than travel north to the free statesand there were policies for the return of runaway slaves in the north, butMexico protected them.
When William Walker discovered he needed moresupport as president in Nicaragua he appealed to the Southern United Statesby re-instituting slavery.19 His country was still in turmoil and theUnited States government would not at first recognize him as the legitimatepresident. Support was waning and the some in the United States blamed thefilibustering expeditions for the failed purchase attempts of Cuba.Mexico was also viewed as a threat to national security. Mexico’sweak government was ripe for invasion and it was believed that the Europeanpowers would gobble it up in a heartbeat if they could. British and Frenchwarships had once threatened to shell Vera Cruz using outstanding claimsagainst Mexico as an excuse.
Spain also threatened the United Statesclaiming that she must protect her subjects still residing in Mexico fromthe United States filibusters. John Quitman tried to rally the House ofRepresentatives to annex Mexico claiming that she was simply waiting for astronger power to take her over and that the U.S. must do it before theEuropeans did. Governor Sam Houston of Texas claimed that as a border stateit’s national security rested on order and good government in Mexico, forwhich it was without. Houston pleaded with the U.S. government for moresupport and protection of the Texan borders.
When support was not receivedhe planned his own filibuster to Mexico. Houston wrote to a correspondentto Duff Green on his intentions to punish the Mexican enemy. He even triedto enlist the services of Colonel Robert E. Lee, who declined on account hehad no federal authorization.
Even President Buchanan stressed Americanintervention in Mexico, claiming it owed the U.S. over ten million dollars.20Imperialistic motivations in Manifest Destiny encouraged men as earlyas 1814 when John H. Robinson led a group of filibusters in to Texasstating that U.S.
citizens have a right to migrate where ever they wish andit is beyond the government’s power to prevent them.21 Robinson supportedJames Long’s later ambitions toward annexing Texas in 1819 when Longlaunched his own filibuster movement in spite of the Adams-Onis Treaty.His contemporaries viewed the treaty as an injustice because it surrenderedAmerican claims to Texas.
22It was believed that the inferior cultures of the south were incapableof self-government. John H. Wheeler, U.S. Minister to Nicaragua in 1854,”..
.firmly believed that the United States was manifestly destined…toguide the people of those areas toward decent government and a betterlife.”23Many of Walker’s men in Nicaragua were Mexican war veterans, and”.
..many were in Central America for all the loot, adventure, liquor andwomen they could find.
“24 Some of these War Veterans had nothing else todo since the army greatly reduced its size after the Mexican Wars.Enlisted men in the 1850’s quickly deserted and joined Walker, Lopez, andQuitman expeditions in Central America for various reasons. Some wereglory seekers and others sought their fortune in the militias. Both Walkerand Quitman expeditions usually offered more money than the military didand offered a plot of land too. These expeditions also offered excitement.During this time of peace in the U.S.
the only job for military personnelwas to protect western borders from Native American insurrections.Newspapers at this time had quit glorifying military halts to Indianrevolts and therefore quit glorifying the military. Articles focusedmainly on expansionism in Central America and the filibusters. Some menfound it more appealing to seek glory in the south than to be stationed inthe west watching Indians.25The varying reasons for joining such militia’s explains the popularityof the movements. The media’s involvement in, first honoring filibusterthen denouncing them, made the movements both strong and weak.
Thepopularization of the movement first came from the media’s portrayal ofglory and riches in the Caribbean. When William Walker finally gainedcontrol of Nicaragua he was considered a hero of the South, only after here-institutionalized slavery. The reestablishment of slavery lost him allhis support in the north and any chance of the U.S. Government torecognized him as president.
After the reports of death and famine reachedthe papers and the lost opportunity to purchase Cuba from Spain, supportbegan to crumble. The media did play a strong role in motivations, but thatwas not the only factor. Unemployment, social status, glory seeking,economics, and national security all play a role in motivating the nationto filibustering.
———————–1 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. BatonRouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973. pg. 1392 May, Robert.
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Pg. 9811 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 10112 Greenberg, Amy. “A Grey-Eyed Man: Character, Appearance, andFilibustering.
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1991): 857-88619 Cochran, Robert.20 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. Pg.14121 Bradley, Ed. “Filibuster James Long and the Monroe Administration.”Southwestern Historical Quarterly 102 (1999): 322-34222 Bradley, Ed23 Hudson, Randall.
“The Filibuster Minister: The Career of John HillWheeler as United States Minister to Nicaragua, 1854-1856.” North CarolinaHistorical Review 49 (1972): 280-29724 Cochran, Robert.25 May, Robert. “Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age ofManifest Destiny: The United States army as a cultural mirror.”