Ostend Manifesto

Ostend Manifesto

Ostend Manifesto, document drawn up in Oct., 1854, at Ostend, Belgium, by James Buchanan, American minister to Great Britain, John Y. Mason, minister to France, and Pierre Soulé, minister to Spain. William L. Marcy, Secretary of State under President Pierce, instructed Soulé to try to buy Cuba from Spain, but Soulé antagonized the Spanish by his political intrigues and aggressive threats (he issued an unwarranted ultimatum to the Spanish government on the Black Warrior affair). Pierce then ordered a conference of the three diplomats in Europe, all proslavery Democrats, at Ostend. The resulting manifesto strongly suggested that the United States should take Cuba by force if Spain refused to sell. Southerners, who had long feared that Cuba might become an independent black republic, applauded the document, but it was vigorously denounced by the free-soil press as a plot to extend slavery. Marcy immediately repudiated it for the U.S. government.
The Ostend Manifesto was a secret document written in 1854 by U.S. diplomats at Ostend, Belgium, describing a plan to acquire Cuba from Spain. The document declared that "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."

On orders from U.S. Secretary of State William L. Marcy, three U.S. diplomats (minister to Britain James Buchanan, minister to France John Y. Mason, and minister to Spain Pierre Soulé) devised a plan to purchase Cuba, for $120 million, for the United States. Further, if Spain were to refuse the offer, the manifesto suggested that America would be "justified in wresting" Cuba from Spain. The document was then sent back to the U.S. State Department, but news of it leaked out, and it was soon made public.

The aggressively worded document, and Soulé's advocacy of slavery, caused outrage among Northerners who felt it was a Southern attempt to extend slavery. American free-soilers, just recently stirred with the Fugitive Slave Law passed as part of the Compromise of 1850, decried the manifesto. Thus, Cuba did not become part of the United States.

American intervention in Cuba would next surface near the end of the nineteenth century in the Spanish-American War.

Previous Interests and the Black Warrior

Cuba had been a subject for annexation in several Presidential Administrations prior to the formation of the group of young politicians who presided during the conference at Ostend, Belgium, and Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen), Prussia. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams expressed great interest in the annexation of Cuba. As Secretary of State, Adams had stated that "these islands [referring to Cuba and Puerto Rico], from their local appendages to the North American continent, and one of them (Cuba) almost in sight of our shores...has become an object of transcendent importance to the commercial and political interests of our Union." The acquisition of Cuba would also serve to further isolate European Power interest in the Western Hemisphere and protect the military and economic interests of the Union.

The value of Cuba was of special importance to Southern Democrat economical and political interests; its acquisition would greatly strengthen their current slave-based economy which was under fire from Northern abolitionists.

In March, 1854, the steamer Black Warrior was stopping at the Cuban port of Havana during a regular trading route from New York City to Mobile, Alabama. After failing to provide a cargo manifest Cuban officials at the dock seized the ship, its cargo, and its crew. The incident, called the Black Warrior Affair, was viewed by Congress as a violation of American rights by the Spanish. The matter was given over to William L. Marcy by President Franklin Pierce in the midst of controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.

The "Young American"

Central to the formation of the document was United States minister to Spain Pierre Soulé. Soulé was a former Senator from Louisiana and a budding member of the "Young Americans" who sought a realization of American influence in the Caribbean and Central America. He was very favorable to the expansion of Southern influence outside of the current Union of States; he held a plain belief in Manifest Destiny and a foretold "absorption of the entire continent and its island appendages." He was also an active supporter of American expansionism in Central America leading to a Southern-influenced isthmian route to the Pacific, despite opposition from British Settlements in the area. His rude manner gained him many enemies in Britain and strained relations between Spain and the United States during this era.

The formation of the Ostend Manifesto itself is mostly credited to Soulé who advocated the possible use of force to gain Cuba in case the Spanish Court in Madrid refused the offer.

Resisting The "Slave-Power"

When word spread of the signing of the Manifesto, much of the Northern public was outraged. During the time of Bleeding Kansas, free-soilists and abolitionists had greater influence in the North and the document was seen as an attempt by the "slave-power" of the South to further the spread of slavery. The Pierce Administration was also criticized for any support of the document. Pierce was very sympathetic to the Southern cause, and Soulé was an open proponent of slavery. Internationally, the Ostend Manifesto was seen as a threat to Spain and to Imperial power across Europe. It was quickly rejected in Madrid, London, and Paris, and, to preserve what favorable relations the Pierce administration had left, William L. Marcy was forced to oppose the document in the United States. Opposition to expansionism, particularly Southern-influenced expansion, also forced Pierce to take a critical stand toward the Manifesto.

See also


  • David M.Potter, The Impending Crisis 1848-1861, (New York, New York: Harper & Row, 1967), 190.
  • Amos S. Hershey, “The Recognition of Cuban Belligerency,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 7(May 1896), 75
  • Gavin B. Henderson, “Southern Designs on Cuba, 1854-1857 and Some European Opinions,” The Journal of Southern History, 5(Aug. 1939), 373.
  • J. Preston Morre, “Pierre Soule: Southern Expansionist and Promoter,” The Journal of Southern History, 21(May 1955), 209.
  • J. Preston Morre, “Pierre Soule: Southern Expansionist and Promoter,” The Journal of Southern History, 21(May 1955), 206.


Allsen, J. Michael. “Pierre Soule.” American National Biography Vol. 20. New York, New York: Oxford 1999. p. 390-392.

Field, Phyllis F. “William F. Marcy.” American National Biography Vol. 14. New York, New York: Oxford 1999. p. 496-498.

Galley, Frank. “Franklin Pierce.” American National Biography Vol. 17. New York, New York: Oxford 1999. p. 495-498.

Gienapp, William F. “James Buchanan.” American National Biography Vol. 3. New York, New York: Oxford 1999. p. 835-837.

Henderson, Gavin B. “Southern Designs on Cuba, 1854-1857 and Some European Opinions.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 5(3) (Aug. 1939) p. 371-385.

Hershey, Amos S. “The Recognition of Cuban Belligerency.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 7 (May 1896) p.74-85.

Moore, J. Preston. “Pierre Soule: Southern Expansionist and Promoter.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 21(2) (May 1955) p. 203-223.

Nichols, Roy Franklin. Franklin Pierce: Young Hickory of the Granite Hills. Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia, 1958.

Opatrný, Josef. “Ostend Manifesto: The United States and Mexico at War.” Macmillan Reference USA, 1998.

Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis 1848-1861. New York, New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

Webster, Sidney. “Mr. Marcy, the Cuban Question and the Ostend Manifesto.” Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 8(1) (Mar. 1893) p. 1-32.

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