April 26, 2004
HIST 300
Motivations for a Southern Dream
Antebellum American culture was defined by the notion of Manifest
Destiny. Americans felt that it was her divine right to expand borders and
spread her form of democracy. After the war with Mexico and the annexation
of Texas, American dreams of the economic prosperity to be attained by
gaining more land became more prominent. The United States government
tried purchasing lands to the south, particularly Cuba, from European
powers. Some American citizens could not wait for negotiations and began,
what was then called, filibustering. Private militias of American citizens
invaded South American countries with dreams and ambitions. The U.S. had
been at peace with Central America since the end of the Mexican wars and
these movements only caused chaos with foreign policies, thus it was made
illegal to filibuster. Despite the repercussions many men from all over
the U.S., of all ages, and classes still gathered arms and joined the ranks
to fight in these filibuster movements.

Motivated by economic ambitions Americans insisted on expanding its
boarders. The weak condition of Mexico after the overthrow of Santa Anna
in 1855 made annexation appealing.1 Routes to the pacific could be made
quicker with use of the state. Duff Green’s railroad idea linking
Washington with the Pacific coast through Mexico City was one idea
provoking expansionists. Another was the plan for a railway or canal
across the Isthmus of Theuantepec to compete with central American routes
to the pacific.2 Trade in the pacific was important and commercial
careers were being built every day. Industrialization in the east required
more urban sprawl.

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Most of the recruiting offices for the movement were based in major
cities ripe with unemployed, immigrants and ambitious young men. The
availability of docks, shipping and capital in the major port cities such
as New Orleans and New York made them great starting points for many
movements.3 Lopez began his movement to liberate Cuba in New York after
he was exiled there. Lopez’s Round Island plot in 1849 gathered numerous
urban youth easily from New York’s abundance of unemployed.

New Orleans was abundant with recruiters for William Walkers forces
easily intriguing young men with no prospects of their own. “During the pre-
Civil War period, America’s urban population increased about three times as
fast as the country’s population as a whole.”4 Skilled workers and their
apprentices, now unemployed due to industrialization, were ready for any
opportunity. Youthful males migrated to the cities in search of employment
and with secrecy joined filibuster movements. Many young men hid their
intentions to join from their parents. James C. Pickett’s son was linked to
filibustering movements, an embarrassment to him. Pickett later publicly
denounced any involvement and claimed to not care as to whether they
succeeded in their ventures. Some parents were proud of their children. A
well-known planter in Mississippi, F.L. Claiborne, offered up his son to a
Quitman expedition in Cuba.5 Reasons vary, but the majority of men
joining these movements were under the age of 25 and many of them died for
a cause that they may not have believed in but were driven to support due
to their own personal struggles. The amount of younger males outweighed the
older in the militias. In a letter shared with the Fillmore administration
an older soldier of a filibustering movement claimed that many of the
younger men simply joined because they were under age to join the U.S.

Immigrants were on the low end of the wage scale and faced much
discrimination in the job market were driven to joining the militias.7
Most immigrants who joined were starving and living on the streets. It is
also speculated that many immigrants fled to the U.S. in exile from the
European revolutions of 1848 and joined to regain the glory of their former
military or political careers. “Louis Schlesinger, a officer in Louis
Kossuth’s failed Hungarian rebellion against Austrian rule, became one of
the most publicized of the revolutionary exiles who took up
filibustering.”8 Charles Frederick Henningsen was an Englishman who
fought with the Carlists in Spain, then for Hungarian independence in 1849,
and finally drifted to Central America to join Walker in 1856. Henningsen
became one of Walker’s generals and was purely seeking adventure.9 Men
with military experience were very welcomed by Narcisco Lopez and William
Walker in their expeditions.10
In the west there was a labor surplus of failed miners from the Gold
Rush in California.11 One of the most notable was David Deaderick who
joined William Walker on his mission to Nicaragua after failing as a gold
miner in California. Deadrick, like many others, used an alternate name.

He published his memoirs in the Atlantic Monthly aptly titled “The
experience of Samuel Absolom, Filibuster.”12 In his memoir he describes
the increasing class stratifications in California and that men are judged
accordingly. He was offered land and a large sum to join Walker in
Nicaragua.13 At the time it was an offer that he could not refuse.

Deaderick wanted to prove that “…inward character counts more than
appearance in determining a man’s fate,” in a time that there was a crisis
in American culture between character and appearance.

It was hard for a man to become universally known and in Deaderick’s
experience good character was based on outward appearance rather than his
true nature. He hoped that he would be able to resolve his internal
conflict between character and the inward man by joining Walker. He was
disillusioned by tales of honor and came to find that his conflict was no
more easily resolved in Nicaragua. Every one there dressed poorly, and the
severely 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 down
with one glance. He is forced to steal to survive, degrading his character
further. Yet he still feels that he can reclaim his good character through
his manly acts. In the end he deserts and goes home, meanwhile tearing the
letters off his uniform signifying he is a soldier. He proves that a man’s
character could be reduced to a pair of letters on a uniform.14
Deaderick’s story is a very compelling account of his motivations for
joining Walker’s campaign. He describes it as a cultural phenomenon in
antebellum America for young men to be struggling with their inner
character to prove themselves a man.15 Apparently this was a major
crisis that young men were dealing with. In an address to a committee on
problems with spain printed in the Washington Globe on June 14, 1854, Mr.

Singleton expresses that “…too many men among us, whose prurient ambition
will stop at nothing, and whose ‘longing after immortality’ can only be
satisfied by seeing their names in public print.” Unemployment contributed
to this feeling of worthlessness, but it’s the inward feeling to prove
oneself that is the stronger motivation.

After the Mexican Wars the major dispute over expansion was between
the Whigs and the Democrats. The Whigs were fearful of expanding boarders
too far and the northern Whigs were hostile to slavery expansion. The
Democrats “…believed that young American leaders had a mission to spread
freedom and democracy in both the New and Old World.” Filibusters were
mainly democratic for this reason. They were worried about European
involvement in the south and protection of U.S. borders. They believed
that western hemisphere should be dominated by the United States.

By the early 1850’s the movement for expansion became more of a
sectional divide between North and South than a political movement. The
Kansas-Nebraska act in 1854 fueled southern motivations for new slave
states in Central America. Southerners felt a severe lack of
representatives in the government and felt that they were outweighed by
free states. Northern industrial states had larger population densities
than the southern plantation states. Since slaves were not regarded as
voting citizens, the south have very little representation in the House of
Representatives since participation was based on population. Northern
antislavery leaders were against further expansion of slave states and saw
filibustering movements solely as a way for southerners to expand slavery.

This sectionalism is seen as one factor leading to the Civil War.16
Americans were divided over expansionism, it was seen as both immoral
to those who opposed and moral to those who saw the lands to be conquered
as inferior. Many saw it as an agenda of the South to gain new slave
states. Southerners, especially Texans, feared Mexico’s open door policy
for runaway slaves. While many petitioned Washington to obtain treaties
with Mexico for the return of slaves, others turned to filibustering. A
Texan filibuster was launched by James C. Callahan, a Texas Ranger, in 1855
to recover lost slaves and was ended by a Mexican-Indian ambush.17
Aiding the previous views of racism and superiority of the white race, it
was also thought that every Mexican in the state of Texas was plotting to
aid runaway slaves. Natives, mestizos, and even Spaniards were seen as
inferiors, and many “…young Americans could not help but absorb the
lessons of their country’s history of subjugating and exploiting darker
skinned people in the name of progress.”18 Other southern states were
just as threatened as Texas. It was a shorter route for some slaves to
escape through Texas to Mexico rather than travel north to the free states
and there were policies for the return of runaway slaves in the north, but
Mexico protected them. When William Walker discovered he needed more
support as president in Nicaragua he appealed to the Southern United States
by re-instituting slavery.19 His country was still in turmoil and the
United States government would not at first recognize him as the legitimate
president. Support was waning and the some in the United States blamed the
filibustering expeditions for the failed purchase attempts of Cuba.

Mexico was also viewed as a threat to national security. Mexico’s
weak government was ripe for invasion and it was believed that the European
powers would gobble it up in a heartbeat if they could. British and French
warships had once threatened to shell Vera Cruz using outstanding claims
against Mexico as an excuse. Spain also threatened the United States
claiming that she must protect her subjects still residing in Mexico from
the United States filibusters. John Quitman tried to rally the House of
Representatives to annex Mexico claiming that she was simply waiting for a
stronger power to take her over and that the U.S. must do it before the
Europeans did. Governor Sam Houston of Texas claimed that as a border state
it’s national security rested on order and good government in Mexico, for
which it was without. Houston pleaded with the U.S. government for more
support and protection of the Texan borders. When support was not received
he planned his own filibuster to Mexico. Houston wrote to a correspondent
to Duff Green on his intentions to punish the Mexican enemy. He even tried
to enlist the services of Colonel Robert E. Lee, who declined on account he
had no federal authorization. Even President Buchanan stressed American
intervention in Mexico, claiming it owed the U.S. over ten million dollars.

Imperialistic motivations in Manifest Destiny encouraged men as early
as 1814 when John H. Robinson led a group of filibusters in to Texas
stating that U.S. citizens have a right to migrate where ever they wish and
it is beyond the government’s power to prevent them.21 Robinson supported
James Long’s later ambitions toward annexing Texas in 1819 when Long
launched his own filibuster movement in spite of the Adams-Onis Treaty.

His contemporaries viewed the treaty as an injustice because it surrendered
American claims to Texas.22
It was believed that the inferior cultures of the south were incapable
of self-government. John H. Wheeler, U.S. Minister to Nicaragua in 1854,
“…firmly believed that the United States was manifestly destined…to
guide the people of those areas toward decent government and a better
Many of Walker’s men in Nicaragua were Mexican war veterans, and
“…many were in Central America for all the loot, adventure, liquor and
women they could find.”24 Some of these War Veterans had nothing else to
do since the army greatly reduced its size after the Mexican Wars.

Enlisted men in the 1850’s quickly deserted and joined Walker, Lopez, and
Quitman expeditions in Central America for various reasons. Some were
glory seekers and others sought their fortune in the militias. Both Walker
and Quitman expeditions usually offered more money than the military did
and 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 personnel
was to protect western borders from Native American insurrections.

Newspapers at this time had quit glorifying military halts to Indian
revolts and therefore quit glorifying the military. Articles focused
mainly on expansionism in Central America and the filibusters. Some men
found it more appealing to seek glory in the south than to be stationed in
the west watching Indians.25
The varying reasons for joining such militia’s explains the popularity
of the movements. The media’s involvement in, first honoring filibuster
then denouncing them, made the movements both strong and weak. The
popularization of the movement first came from the media’s portrayal of
glory and riches in the Caribbean. When William Walker finally gained
control of Nicaragua he was considered a hero of the South, only after he
re-institutionalized slavery. The reestablishment of slavery lost him all
his support in the north and any chance of the U.S. Government to
recognized him as president. After the reports of death and famine reached
the papers and the lost opportunity to purchase Cuba from Spain, support
began to crumble. The media did play a strong role in motivations, but that
was not the only factor. Unemployment, social status, glory seeking,
economics, and national security all play a role in motivating the nation
to filibustering.

1 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973. pg. 139
2 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. Pg.

3 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Chapel Hill: The University
of North Carolina Press, 2002. Pg. 94
4 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 94
5 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 95
6 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 95
7 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 97
8 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 98
9 Cochran, Robert. “Cold-Eyed Soldier of Fortune Who Became a
‘President’.” Smithsonian 12 (1981): 117-128
10 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 98
11 May, Robert. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld. Pg. 101
12 Greenberg, Amy. “A Grey-Eyed Man: Character, Appearance, and
Filibustering.” Journal of the Early Republic 20 (2000): 673-699
13 Greenberg, Amy
14 Greenberg, Amy
15 Greenberg, Amy
16 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. Pgs.

17 Kelley, Sean. “Mexico in His Head: Slavery and the Texas-Mexico
Border.” Journal of Social History 27 (2004): 709-734
18 May, Robert. “Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age of
Manifest Destiny: The United States army as a cultural mirror.” The Journal
of American History 78 (Dec. 1991): 857-886
19 Cochran, Robert.

20 May, Robert. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire 1854-1861. Pg.

21 Bradley, Ed. “Filibuster James Long and the Monroe Administration.”
Southwestern Historical Quarterly 102 (1999): 322-342
22 Bradley, Ed
23 Hudson, Randall. “The Filibuster Minister: The Career of John Hill
Wheeler as United States Minister to Nicaragua, 1854-1856.” North Carolina
Historical Review 49 (1972): 280-297
24 Cochran, Robert.

25 May, Robert. “Young American Males and Filibustering in the Age of
Manifest Destiny: The United States army as a cultural mirror.”