Ostend Manifesto of 1854: Summary & Explanation

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  • 0:02 The US and Manifest Destiny
  • 0:46 Expanding Across the Seas
  • 1:55 Acquiring Cuba
  • 3:19 Reaction and Legacy
  • 4:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The Ostend Manifesto of 1854 was an intimidation ploy used by American diplomats in the international arena. Learn about the controversial document and its effect on the sectional conflict in the United States.

The US and Manifest Destiny

Manifest Destiny, slavery, and the sectional crisis had all reached their climax in the United States during the 1850s. The Compromise of 1850 had deepened the division between pro-slavery and anti-slavery adherents. In an attempt to divert attention away from the issue of slavery in the United States, President Franklin Pierce turned toward the rallying call of Manifest Destiny. This time, instead of expanding to the West, Pierce envisioned acquiring the small island of Cuba from Spain. The Ostend Manifesto of 1854, as it came to be known, was the byproduct of this attempt at expanding into the Caribbean.

Expanding Across the Seas

By 1852, the United States had managed to expand to its western-most coast. It had seemed as if though the notion of Manifest Destiny had reached its limits. However, President Pierce, who was elected in 1852, decided that Manifest Destiny and the right to expand should not be confined to within the borders of the nation. Instead, he envisioned a world that was modeled from the democracy found in the United States. The only way to install that democracy was to acquire international land.

Pierce's campaign to acquire Cuba was well-received in the South. First, Pierce was a member of the Democratic Party; the prominent party of the South. Second, southern slave owners knew that Cuba, at the time, was comprised largely of slaves. In fact, Cuba's sugar production benefited greatly from the archaic form of labor. One of Pierce's largest supporters was none other than Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederate States of America. Pierce realized that he had to keep the attempted acquisition under tight wraps to avoid upsetting those who were adamantly against the expansion of slavery.

Acquiring Cuba

Pierce had managed to maintain the secrecy of his proposed plan to acquire Cuba. He realized that President James K. Polk had attempted to purchase the island during his tenure and failed. The price Polk was willing to pay hovered around $100 million. Pierced decided to up the offer to the Spanish. He approved an offer of $130 million to be presented to the Spanish by Pierre Soulé, United States Minister to Spain.

The meeting between Spanish representatives and Pierre Soulé, James Buchanan (Minister to Britain), and John Mason (Minister to France) took place in Ostend, Belgium, in October of 1854. Prior to presenting the Spanish with Pierce's monetary offer, Soulé encouraged Buchanan and Mason to approve of a document, the Ostend Manifesto, that essentially threatened war against Spain if the empire refused to relinquish Cuba.

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