|Secretary of State
Clayton hoped that his treaty would soothe domestic
controversies about the proper US role in the Caribbean
Basin. Instead, however, debate about whether the United
States should adopt an imperialistic policy in the
region became far more strident, as the next two
documents suggest. The first, the Ostend Manifesto,
introduced in the reading and which called for the US to
exert all possible efforts to annex Cuba, represents
perhaps the most extreme enunciation of an aggressive US
posture in the Caribbean. Note the signatories: James
Buchanan, later president; and two future Southern
senators, James Mason and Pierre Soule.
October 18, 1854
SIR:--The undersigned, in compliance with the
wish expressed by the President in the several confidential
despatches you have addressed to us, respectively, to that effect,
have met in conference, first at Ostend, in Belgium, on the 8th,
10th, and 11th instant, and then at Aix la Chapelle in Prussia, on
the days next following, up to the date hereof.
There has been a full and unresolved
interchange of views and sentiments between us, which we are most
happy to inform you has resulted in a cordial coincidence of opinion
on the grave and important subjects submitted to our consideration.
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 .
[The three ministers then argue that
Cuba is essential for US national security and make the amazing
claim that the US assuming control from the Spanish would be to
Spain's advantage. Here is the
heart of the manifesto.]
The proposal should, in our opinion, be made
in such a manner as to be presented through the necessary diplomatic
forms to the Supreme Constituent Cortes about to assemble. On this
momentous question, in which the people both of Spain and the United
States are so deeply interested, all our proceedings ought to be
open, frank, and public. They should be of such a character as to
challenge the approbation of the world.
We firmly believe that, in the progress of
human events, the time has arrived when the vital interests of Spain
are as seriously involved in the sale, as those of the United States
in the purchase, of the island and that the transaction will prove
equally honorable to both nations.
Under these circumstances we cannot anticipate
a failure, unless possibly through the malign influence of foreign
powers who possess no right whatever to interfere in the matter.
We proceed to state some of the reasons which
have brought us to this conclusion, and, for the sake of clearness,
we shall specify them under two distinct heads:
I. The United States ought, if practicable, to
purchase Cuba with as little delay as possible.
2. The probability is great that the
government and Cortes of Spain will prove willing to sell it,
because this would essentially promote the highest and best
interests of the Spanish people.
Then, I. It must be clear to every reflecting
mind that, from the peculiarity of its geographical position, and
the considerations attendant on it, Cuba is as necessary to the
North American republic as any of its present members, and that it
belongs naturally to that great family of States of which the Union
is the providential nursery.
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.
On the numerous navigable streams, measuring
an aggregate course of some thirty thousand miles, which disembogue
themselves through this magnificent river into the Gulf of Mexico,
the increase of the population within the last ten years amounts to
more than that of the entire Union at the time Louisiana was annexed
The natural and main outlet to the products of
this entire population, the highway of their direct intercourse with
the Atlantic and the Pacific States, can never be secure, but must
ever be endangered whilst Cuba is a dependency of a distant power in
whose possession it has proved to be a source of constant annoyance
and embarrassment to their interests.
Indeed, the Union can never enjoy repose, nor
possess reliable security, as long as Cuba is not embraced within
Its immediate acquisition by our government is
of paramount importance, and we cannot doubt but that it is a
consummation devoutly wished for by its inhabitants.
The intercourse which its proximity to our
coasts begets and encourages between them and the citizens of the
United States, has, in the progress of time, so united their
interests and blended their fortunes that they now look upon each
other as if they were one people and had but one destiny.
Considerations exist which render delay in the
acquisition of this island exceedingly dangerous to the United
The system of immigration and labor lately
organized within its limits, and the tyranny and oppression which
characterize its immediate rulers, threaten an insurrection at every
moment which may result in direful consequences to the American
Cuba has thus become to us an unceasing
danger, and a permanent cause of anxiety and alarm.
But we need not enlarge on these topics. It
can scarcely be apprehended that foreign powers, in violation of
international law, would interpose their influence with Spain to
prevent our acquisition of the island. Its inhabitants are now
suffering under the worst of all possible governments, that of
absolute despotism, delegated by a distant power to irresponsible
agents, who are changed at short intervals, and who are tempted to
improve the brief opportunity thus afforded to accumulate fortunes
by the basest means.
As long as this system shall endure, humanity
may in vain demand the suppression of the African slave trade in the
island. This is rendered impossible whilst that infamous traffic
remains an irresistible temptation and a source of immense profit to
needy and avaricious officials, who, to attain their ends, scruple
not to trample the most sacred principles under foot. The Spanish
government at home may be well disposed, but experience has proved
that it cannot control these remote depositaries of its power.
Besides, the commercial nations of the world
cannot fail to perceive and appreciate the great advantages which
would result to their people from a dissolution of the forced and
unnatural connexion between Spain and Cuba, and the annexation of
the latter to the United States. The trade of England and France
with Cuba would, in that event, assume at once an important and
profitable character, and rapidly extend with the increasing
population and prosperity of the island.
2. But if the United States and every
commercial nation would be benefited by this transfer, the interests
of Spain would also be greatly and essentially promoted.
She cannot but see what such a sum of money as
we are willing to pay for the island would effect in the development
of her vast natural resources.
Two-thirds of this sum, if employed in the
construction of a system of railroads, would ultimately prove a
source of greater wealth to the Spanish people than that opened to
their vision by Cortez. Their prosperity would date from the
ratification of that treaty of cession.
France has already constructed continuous
lines of railways from Havre, Marseilles, Valenciennes, and
Strasbourg, via Paris, to the Spanish frontier, and anxiously
awaits the day when Spain shall find herself in a condition to
extend these roads through her northern provinces to Madrid,
Seville, Cadiz, Malaga, and the frontiers of Portugal.
This object once accomplished, Spain would
become a centre of attraction for the traveling world, and secure a
permanent and profitable market for her various productions. Her
fields, under the stimulus given to industry by remunerating prices,
would teem with cereal grain, and her vineyards would bring forth a
vastly increased quantity of choice wines. Spain would speedily
become, what a bountiful Providence intended she should be, one of
the first nations of Continental Europe--rich, powerful, and
Whilst two-thirds of the price of the island
would be ample for the completion of her most important public
improvements, she might, with the remaining forty millions, satisfy
the demands now pressing so heavily upon her credit, and create a
sinking fund which would gradually relieve her from the overwhelming
debt now paralyzing her energies.
Such is her present wretched financial
condition, that her best bonds are sold upon her own Bourse at about
one-third of their par value; whilst another class, on which she
pays no interest, have but a nominal value, and are quoted at about
one-sixth of the amount for which they were issued.
Besides, these latter are held principally by
British creditors who may, from day to day, obtain the effective
interposition of their own government for the purpose of coercing
payment. Intimations to that effect have been already thrown out
from high quarters, and unless some new source of revenue shall
enable Spain to provide for such exigencies, it is not improbable
that they may be realized.
Should Spain reject the present golden
opportunity for developing her resources, and removing her financial
embarrassments, it may never again return.
Cuba, in its palmiest days, never yielded her
exchequer after deducting the expenses of its government a clear
annual income of more than a million and a half of dollars. These
expenses have increased to such a degree as to leave a deficit
chargeable on the treasury of Spain to the amount of six hundred
In a pecuniary point of view, therefore, the
island is an incumbrance, instead of a source of profit, to the
Under no probable circumstances can Cuba ever
yield to Spain one per cent. on the large amount which the United
States are willing to pay for its acquisition. But Spain is in
imminent danger of losing Cuba, without remuneration.
Extreme oppression, it is now universally
admitted, justifies any people in endeavoring to relieve themselves
from the yoke of their oppressors. The sufferings which the corrupt,
arbitrary, and unrelenting local administration necessarily entails
upon the inhabitants of Cuba, cannot fail to stimulate and keep
alive that spirit of resistance and revolution against Spain, which
has, of late years, been so often manifested. In this condition of
affairs it is vain to expect that the sympathies of the people of
the United States will not be warmly enlisted in favor of their
We know that the President is justly
inflexible in his determination to execute the neutrality laws; but
should the Cubans themselves rise in revolt against the oppression
which they suffer, no human power could prevent citizens of the
United States and liberal minded men of other countries from rushing
to their assistance. Besides, the present is an age of adventure, in
which restless and daring spirits abound in every portion of the
It is not improbable, therefore, that Cuba may
be wrested from Spain by a successful revolution; and in that event
she will lose both the island and the price which we are now willing
to pay for it--a price far beyond what was ever paid by one people
to another for any province.
It may also be remarked that the settlement of
this vexed question, by the cession of Cuba to the United States,
would forever prevent the dangerous complications between nations to
which it may otherwise give birth.
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 government of the United States from taking part in such a civil
war in support of their neighbors and friends.
But if Spain, dead
to the voice of her own interest, and actuated by stubborn pride and
a false sense of honor, should refuse to sell Cuba to the United
States, then the question will arise, What ought to be the course of
the American government under such circumstances? Self-preservation
is the first law of nature, with States as well as with individuals.
All nations have, at different periods, acted upon this maxim.
Although it has been made the pretext for committing flagrant
injustice, as in the partition of Poland and other similar cases
which history records, yet the principle itself, though often
abused, has always been recognized.
The United States have never acquired a foot
of territory except by fair purchase, or, as in the case of Texas,
upon the free and voluntary application of the people of that
independent State, who desired to blend their destinies with our
Even our acquisitions from Mexico are no
exception to this rule, because, although we might have claimed them
by the right of conquest in a just war, yet we purchased them for
what was then considered by both parties a full and ample
Our past history forbids that we should
acquire the island of Cuba without the consent of Spain, unless
justified by the great law of self-preservation. We must, in any
event, preserve our own conscious rectitude and our own
Whilst pursuing this course we can afford to
disregard the censures of the world, to which we have been so often
and so unjustly exposed.
After we shall have offered Spain a price for
Cuba far beyond its present value, and this shall have been refused,
it will then be time to consider the question, does Cuba, in the
possession of Spain, seriously endanger our internal peace and the
existence of our cherished Union?
Should this question be answered in the
affirmative, then, by every law, human und divine, we shall be
justified in wresting it from Spain if we possess the power, and
this upon the very same principle that would justify an individual
in tearing down the burning house of his neighbor if there were no
other means of preventing the flames from destroying his own home.
Under such circumstances we ought neither to
count the cost nor regard the odds which Spain might enlist against
us. We forbear to enter into the question, whether the present
condition of the island would justify such a measure? We should,
however, be recreant to our duty, be unworthy of our gallant
forefathers, and commit base treason against our posterity, should
we permit Cuba to be Africanized and become a second St. Domingo,
with all its attendant horrors to the white race, and suffer the
flames to extend to our own neighboring shores, seriously to
endanger or actually to consume the fair fabric of our Union.
We fear that the course and current of events
are rapidly tending towards such a catastrophe. We, however, hope
for the best, though we ought certainly to be prepared for the
We also forbear to investigate the present
condition of the questions at issue between the United States and
Spain. A long series of injuries to our people have been committed
in Cuba by Spanish officials and are unredressed. But recently a
most flagrant outrage on the rights of American citizens and on the
flag of the United States was perpetrated in the harbor of Havana
under circumstances which, without immediate redress, would have
justified a resort to measures of war in vindication of national
honor. That outrage is not only unatoned, but the Spanish government
has deliberately sanctioned the acts of its subordinates and assumed
the responsibility attaching to them.
Nothing could more impressively teach us the
danger to which those peaceful relations it has ever been the policy
of the United States to cherish with foreign nations are constantly
exposed than the circumstances of that case. Situated as Spain and
the United States are, the latter have forborne to resort to extreme
But this course cannot, with due regard to
their own dignity as an independent nation, continue; and our
recommendations, now submitted, are dictated by the firm belief that
the cession of Cuba to the United States, with stipulations as
beneficial to Spain as those suggested, is the only effective mode
of settling all past differences and of securing the two countries
against future collisions.
We have already witnessed the happy results
for both countries which followed a similar arrangement in regard to
Yours, very respectfully,
J. Y. MASON