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In June, 1848, under the administration of President Polk, Mr. Buchanan, secretary of state, wrote to our minister at Madrid, directing him to open negotiations with the Spanish government for the purchase of Cuba. After referring to the dangers of British occupation and to the advantages of annexation, he said: "Desirable, however, as this island may be to the United States, we would not acquire it except by the free will of Spain. Any acquisition not sanctioned by justice and honor would be too dearly purchased.' He stated that the President would stipulate for the payment of $100,000,000, as a maximum price. This offer was rejected by the Spanish government. The minister of state after several months' delay finally replied "that it was more than any minister dare to entertain any such proposition; that he believed such to be the feeling of the country, that sooner than see the island transferred to any power, they would prefer seeing it sunk in the ocean."
Under the Whig administration of Taylor and Fillmore no effort was made for the purchase of Cuba. On August 2, 1849, Mr. Clayton wrote to Mr. Barringer that the government did not desire to renew the negotiation for the purchase of Cuba made by the late administration, since the proposition had been considered by the Spanish government as a national indignity; that should Spain desire to part with Cuba, the proposal must come from her.
About this time active preparations were going on for the invasion of Cuba by an armed expedition under the Cuban patriot Narciso Lopez. On August
1 Mr. Buchanan to Mr. Saunders, June 17, 1848. H. Ex Doc. No. 121, Thirty second Cong., First Sess.; also Brit. and For. St. Pap., Vol. XXVI.
11, 1849. President Taylor issued a proclamation warning all citizens of the United States against taking part in such expedition and saying, "No such persons must expect the interference of this government in any form on their behalf, no matter to what extremities they may be reduced in consequence of their conduct." A few days later the entire force of Lopez was arrested by the United States marshal just as it was on the point of leaving New York.
Nothing daunted, Lopez traveled through the southern and southwestern states secretly enlisting men and making arrangements for their transportation to Cuba. Many men of prominence at the South were in open and avowed sympathy with the enterprise. In the spring of 1850, Lopez called upon Gen. John A. Quitman, governor of Mississippi, who had served with great distinction in the Mexican war, and offered him, in the name of his compatriots, the leadership of the revolution and the supreme command of the army. Quitman's sympathies were thoroughly enlisted in the movement, but he declined the honor on account of the serious aspect of political affairs, particularly what he considered the encroachments of the federal government upon the rights of the states. He made liberal contributions of money, however, and gave Lopez sound advice about his undertaking, insisting that he must have an advance column of at least 2,000 men to maintain a footing on the island until reinforcements could go to their aid.21
20 "Messages and Papers of the Presidents," Vol. V, p. 7.
21 J. F. H. Claiborne," Life and Corresp. of John A. Quitman," Vol. II, PP. 55-56, and Appendix, p. 385.
In June the Grand Jury of the United States Circuit Court at New Orleans found a bill against John A. Quitman, John Henderson, Governor of Louisiana, and others, for setting on foot the invasion of Cuba. Quitman's
Unfortunately for Lopez he did not follow the advice of Quitman. A company of volunteers altogether inadequate for the successful accomplishment of the enterprise was collected at New Orleans. There Lopez chartered a steamer, the Creole, and two barks, the Georgiana and the Susan Loud. Three-fourths of the volunteers had served in the Mexican war. The first detachment comprising 250 men left New Orleans in the bark Georgiana, April 25, 1850, under the command of Col. Theodore O'Hara. They proceeded to the island of Contoy off the coast of Yucatan in the territory of Mexico. There they were joined three weeks later by Lopez and 450 followers in the Creole. The entire command, with the exception of the crews of the two barks and a few others to guard the stores, embarked in the Creole and effected a landing at Cardenas, but the natives did not come to the aid of Lopez and after holding the town for twelve hours he reluctantly reëmbarked and headed for Key West. The Creole was pursued by the Pizarro, a Spanish war vessel, which steamed into the harbor just as she cast anchor. For a few moments the Spaniards seemed to be on the point of preparing to open fire on the Creole, but when they saw the United States custom-house of
view of state sovereignty did not admit the right of the United States Courts to proceed against the chief executive of a sovereign state. He sought the advice of friends throughout the South as to what course he should pursue. None of them admitted the right of the United States Courts to indict him and several of them advised him that it was his duty to assert the principle of state sovereignty even to the point of calling out the state militia to protect him against arrest. Others advised him to submit under protest so as to avoid an open breach. This course was finally adopted, and when the United States marshal appeared on the 3rd of February, 1851, to take him into custody, he yielded, causing at the same time an address to be issued to the people of Mississippi, in which he resigned the office of governor. After proceedings which lasted two months, Henderson was acquitted and the charges against Quitman and the others dismissed.
ficers take possession of her they changed their minds and left the harbor.
The two barks, which had been left with a small guard at the island of Contoy, were captured by Spanish warships, taken to Havana, condemned as prizes and the men put on trial for participation in the Lopez expedition. As these men had committed no act of hostility against Spain, and had, moreover, been seized on neutral territory, the United States government at once issued its protest and demanded their release. The Spanish government replied that these men had been described as pirates by the President of the United States in his proclamation warning citizens against joining the expedition and were, therefore, beyond the pale of the protection of the United States. After heated negotiations which lasted several months and seriously threatened the peace of the two countries, the prisoners were released, but it was declared to be an act of grace on the part of the Queen and not a concession to the demands of the United States.22
Lopez was prosecuted by the United States government for violation of the neutrality laws, but escaped conviction and at once set about organizing another expedition. On August 3, 1851, the third and last expedition of Lopez, consisting of over 400 men, left New Orleans. After touching at Key West the steamer proceeded to the coast of Cuba and landed the expedition at Bahia Honda. The main body under Lopez proceeded into the country where they had been led to expect a general uprising of the Cubans. Col. W. S. Crittenden, who had served with bravery in the Mexican war, was left in command of a smaller " Sen. Ex. Doc. No. 41, Thirty-first Cong., Second Sess.
body to bring up the baggage. This detachment was attacked on the 13th and forced to retreat to the place where they had landed, where about fifty of them obtained boats and tried to escape. They were, however, intercepted off the coast, taken to Havana, sentenced before a military court, and executed on the 16th.
The main body under Lopez was overcome and dispersed by Spanish troops on the 24th. Lopez was taken prisoner, tried, and executed. Many of his followers were killed or died of hunger and fatigue and the rest made prisoners. Upon receipt of this news Commodore Parker was at once ordered to proceed in a frigate to Havana to inquire into the charges against the prisoners executed, and the circumstances of their capture, trial, and sentence. To these inquiries the captain-general replied that he considered those executed as pirates, that they had been so denounced by the President of the United States in his proclamation, that he was not at liberty to furnish a copy of the court records, but would send them to Madrid and to the Spanish minister at Washington.23
When the news of the executions at Havana reached New Orleans the excitement was intense. The office of the Spanish consul was broken into, portraits of the Queen and Captain-General of Cuba defaced, the Spanish flag torn in pieces, and the consul burned in effigy in LaFayette Square. The consul had to flee from the city for safety and the property of certain Spaniards residing in New Orleans was destroyed. long correspondence ensued between the two governments. The United States agreed to pay an indemnity
23 H. Ex. Doc. No. 1, Thirty-second Cong., First Sess.: also 2d Annual Message of Fillmore, December 2, 1851. Messages and Papers of the Presidents" Vol. V, p. 113.