Ostend Manifesto 1854

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OSTEND MANIFESTO. Southern desires to expand slave territory led to this foreign policy debacle in 1854. Even though U.S. victory in the Mexican-American War, 1846–1848, annexed California and the Southwest to the nation, it brought little prospect for new slave territory. Eager to permanently add slave states and increase their representation in Congress, southerners wanted Spanish-held Cuba.

In 1854, William Marcy, secretary of state under President Franklin Pierce, bowed to southern pressure and instructed James Buchanan, John Mason, and Pierre Soulé, ambassadors to England, France, and Spain, respectively, to meet in a convenient place to discuss further U.S. attempts to acquire Cuba. They met in Ostend, Belgium, and crafted the so-called Ostend Manifesto. It said that Cuba was vital to U.S. domestic interests. Further, if Spain would not sell Cuba, the United States had no choice but to take it by force. The document caused a diplomatic firestorm, reinforcing foreign fears of aggressive American expansion. Pierce and Marcy tried to distance the administration from the manifesto, but to no avail. Domestically, the document was one of several events leading to the Civil War, helping convince old Whigs and new Republicans that a Democrat-controlled "slave power" ran the country.


Connell-Smith, Gordon. The United States and Latin America: A Historical Analysis of Inter-American Relations. London: Heinemann Educational, 1974.

Gara, Larry. The Presidency of Franklin Pierce. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1991.

Plank, John, ed. Cuba and the United States: Long-Range Perspectives. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute, 1967.

Schoultz, Lars. Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Smith, Elbert B. The Presidency of James Buchanan. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1975.

R. StevenJones

See alsoCuba, Relations with ; South, the: The Antebellum South .

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Ostend Manifesto

Ostend Manifesto, a dispatch from American diplomats in Europe calling for acquisition of Cuba by the United States. After Spain formally rejected a U.S. proposal for the purchase of Cuba in 1854, the U.S. ministers to England (James Buchanan), France (John Y. Mason), and Spain (Pierre Soulé) met first at Ostend, Belgium, and then at Aix-la-Chapelle, where they recommended in a message of 18 October 1854 that their government's offer to purchase Cuba for up to $120 million; and if Spain refused, the United States should pursue every means available to acquire the island, including force if necessary. The ministers had hoped to capitalize upon the spirit of Manifest Destiny, but in reality the proposal reflected the expansionist sentiments of the southern states. When the suggestion became public, President Franklin Pierce repudiated the idea.


C. Stanley Urban, "The Africanization of Cuba Scare, 1853–1855," Hispanic American Historical Review 37, no. 1 (1957): 29-45.

Ivor D. Spencer, The Victor and the Spoils: A Life of William L. Marcy (1959).

Additional Bibliography

Alonso Romero, María Paz. Cuba en la España liberal (1837–1898): Génesis y desarrollo del régimen autonómico. Madrid: Centro de Estudios Políticos y Constitucionales.

Botero, Rodrigo. Ambivalent Embrace: America's Troubled Relations with Spain from the Revolutionary War to the Cold War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.

Opatrný, Josef. US Expansionism and Cuban Annexationism in the 1850s. Prague: Charles University, 1990.

                                       Thomas M. Leonard

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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.