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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.
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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
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.
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.
Unfortunately for Soulé, the news of his pompous attempt to acquire Cuba reached the United States. Abolitionists exploded in fury and charged the Pierce administration with attempting to add Cuba to the United States as a slave state. The entirety of the acquisition immediately fell apart. Antislavery members of Congress refused to ratify any treaty adding Cuba as a slave state, and pro-slavery Democrats rejected a Cuban state that was free from slavery.
Reaction and Legacy
The offer to the Spanish was immediately rescinded by the Pierce administration. During the bloodshed that occurred in Kansas and Nebraska in 1854, abolitionists used the attempted expansion of slavery into Cuba as a propaganda tool to approve the destruction of the institution of slavery.
Pierce's presidency was ruined by the issue of the Ostend Manifesto and his support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He had hoped to sway America's attention away from slavery to ease the sectional tension. Yet Pierce managed to further fracture the United States over the heated issue. The effects were immediately felt as Pierce was crushed in the 1856 presidential election by James Buchanan. President Franklin Pierce and the Ostend Manifesto of 1854 brought the nation one step closer to civil war.
In an attempt to divert U.S. citizens from slavery issues, President Pierce focused on expanding the scope of Manifest Destiny and spreading American democracy across the sea to Cuba. While slave owners in the South supported the potential acquisition, northern abolitionists opposed it.
In October 1854, Pierre Soulé crafted the Ostend Manifesto, which virtually threatened Spain with war if it refused to sell Cuba to the U.S. When the Ostend Manifesto became public, the outcry against President Pierce was brutal. The tensions aroused by slavery issues were further enflamed, and Pierce's largely unsuccessful presidency came to an end.
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Ostend Manifesto of 1854: Summary & Explanation
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