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The Ostend Manifesto was yet another thing that helped to push the North and the South apart in the time before the Civil War. In this case, it made the North more suspicious of the South's desire to expand slavery. (Incidentally, it might also have helped to lead to the Spanish-American War some 40 years later.)
The Ostend Manifesto stated that the US should take Cuba away from Spain. This was controversial in the US at the time (1854) because it was clear that Cuba, if taken by the US, would become a slave territory. This made the North feel as if the South was going to try to push the US into war for the purpose of expanding slave territory.
This perception made the North more angry at the South and the North's reaction annoyed the South. This pushed the two sections farther apart.
The Ostend Manifesto was a document intended to remain secret from the U.S. ministers, or ambassadors, to Great Britain, Spain and France, James Buchanan, Pierre Soule, and J.Y. Mason, respectively, to President Franklin Pierce laying out the rationale for a U.S. seizure of Cuba from Spain in the event the latter refuses to sell its territory to the United States. Named for the Belgian town where the three diplomats, one a future president himself, met to discuss the status of Cuba in the context of the ongoing debate about the future of slavery in the United States, the manifesto was intended to secure that nearby island nation as a potential bastion for the continued practice of slavery. In its opening paragraphs, it states the three authors’ intentions clearly:
“We have arrived at the conclusion, and are thoroughly convinced, that an immediate and earnest effort ought to be made by the government of the United States to purchase Cuba from Spain at any price for which it can be obtained, not exceeding the sum of $ (this item was left blank).”
The document is a carefully thought-out argument for the purchase of Cuba, presented in geopolitical language emphasizing the island’s proximity to the main waterway servicing the American South:
“From its locality it commands the mouth of the Mississippi and the immense and annually increasing trade which must seek this avenue to the ocean.”
Additionally, the manifesto presents the advantages to Spain of participating in such an exchange, before seguing into a more threatening scenario involving an early-American example of covert operations intended to foment an insurrection in Cuba against Spanish rule – an insurrection into which the United States would then be thrust by the circumstances:
“It is certain that, should the Cubans themselves organize an insurrection against the Spanish government, and should other independent nations come to the aid of Spain in the contest, no human power could, in our opinion, prevent the people and the government of the United States from taking part in such a civil war, in support of their neighbors and friends.”
The importance of Cuba to the flow of commerce, including slaves, to the American South made the island’s acquisition or seizure of paramount importance to these pro-slavery figures in American history. The significance of the Ostend Manifesto was in its intricate articulation of the justification for imperialist expansion and of its declaration of the South’s intention of continuing the practice of trafficking in slaves for the economic benefit of that region.
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