Should the United State of America attempt to purchase Cuba from Spain and make Cuba another southern Slave State?
The year was 1834 and this shocking question was the subject of a secret meeting in an obscure Belgian town.
The American Southern States were the northern tip of the wide practice of slavery, which stretched to Cuba, south throughout the islands of the Caribbean.
By acquiring Cuba and its sugar plantations, the United States could expand its power and expand its form of slavery far south.
Attending the secret Cuba meeting in Ostend, Belgium were politically connected Americans including United States Secretary of State William L. Marcy and American representative to Spain Pierre Soule who was from Louisiana and represented planters interests.
SECRET MEETING LEAKED TO THE PRESS
The meeting was kept a secret by everyone except Pierre Soule. He was so open and brazen about the idea that it was leaked to the press. Appalled, opponents in the United States House of Representatives published the agreement for everyone to see. Once made known to the public, the so called Ostend Manifesto was effectively killed. But the idea was kept alive.
ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO MAKE CUBA A SLAVE STATE
Twenty five years later, in 1859, two years before the U.S. Civil War, a proposal to purchase Cuba from Spain for $30 million was introduced by Senator John Slidell of Louisiana.
Southern tempers were rising. Slidell also wanted to repeal the Missouri Compromise, admit Kansas as a slave state and totally upset the balance of power between the Northern States and slaves states of the South.
Richard Henry Dana, a Northern Abolitionist, was angered by the idea and wondered what slavery in Cuba was like in 1859. He had wide experience dealing with US slavery and escaped slaves. As a lawyer, he represented, free of charge, former slaves who had managed to escape from the South and were recaptured under the Fugitive Slave Act.
RICHARD HENRY DANA GOES TO CUBA
Dana decided to travel to Cuba and see, first hand, how Spain handled slavery. He was on the high seas when Senator John Slidell proposed to acquire Cuba and during his trip the proposal was defeated. When Dana arrived in Cuba he saw how a sophisticated life in Havana was based on the profits from sugar plantation slavery.
Dana wrote a his findings in a book he titled “To Cuba and Back –a Vacation Voyage.” It is quite an adventure that reveals an alarming and complex form of slavery not known in the United States. I have narrated and published Dana’s dramatic and extraordinary experiences as a Listen2Read audiobook which is available wherever you download audiobooks.
You may remember Richard Henry Dana’s name because of a famous book he wrote in 1840 when he was a very young man, ”Two Years Before The Mast” in which Dana revealed to the public the harshness and cruelties of a sailor’s life. His book led to changes in the way sailors were treated under maritime law.
In “To Cuba and Back” Dana contrasts the lush, extravagant tropical city social life, which included Opera, to the harsh sugar plantation life under the humid Caribbean heat. There is a particularly searing chapter where Dana describes the wrenched life on a sugar plantation and why the Master of a plantation of slaves always carries a gun.
The complete 5 ½ hour Listen2Read “To Cuba and Back- a Vacation Voyage in 1859” is available for download wherever you download audiobooks. Here’s a link to one of our retailers:
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