Pierre Soulé

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Pierre Soulé

Pierre Soulé (1801-1870), French-born American politician, lawyer, and diplomat, was active in Louisiana politics and pre-Civil War diplomacy.

Pierre Soulé was born at Castillon-en-Couserans on Aug. 31, 1801. Before completing religious training at the Jesuit Collège de l'Esquille at Toulouse, Soulé left and became an anti-Bourbon conspirator. He was exiled to Navarre until pardoned in 1818. Soulé returned to Bordeaux, completed college, and moved to Paris to study law, completing this in 1823. For his activities in the republican movement against Charles X and as publisher of Le Nain jaune, Soulé was arrested in April 1825, convicted, and imprisoned. He escaped to England and emigrated to Haiti in 1825. He finally settled in New Orleans.

Soulé became an active criminal lawyer, orator, financier, and Democratic politician. In 1846 he was elected to the Louisiana Legislature; at the end of the year he went to the U.S. Senate to fill an unexpired term. Elected to a full term in 1848, Soulé became the leader of the Southern faction of the Democratic party. For his activities on behalf of Franklin Pierce in the election of 1852, Soulé was appointed minister to Spain.

Since Soulé was known in Europe as an advocate of American annexation of Cuba and a dangerous republican, his appointment was a diplomatic blunder. His appointment was further compromised when he visited republican exiles in London and interfered with Franco-Spanish relations in Paris. Arriving at his post in Madrid, Soulé sent an impertinent note to the Queen, for which he was rebuked by the Spanish Foreign Office. Later he fought two duels and was ostracized by Spanish society.

Determined to secure Cuba for the United States, on his own initiative Soulé used the Black Warrior incident (involving the illegal seizure of an American ship in Cuba) to threaten Spain with war if it did not sell Cuba. Later, instructed to purchase or otherwise promote the "detachment" of Cuba from Spain, Soulé conspired with Spanish republicans and became involved in a plot to assassinate Napoleon III. On Oct. 14, 1854, Soulé met with the American ministers to England and to France at Ostend, Belgium, and at Aix-la-Chapelle, Rhenish Prussia, and drew up the so-called Ostend Manifesto. The document, justifying vigorous action for the annexation of Cuba, was repudiated by Secretary of State William Marcy, and in December Soulé resigned his post, returning to New Orleans.

Between 1854 and 1861 Soulé practiced law. He advocated a canal project across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico and was a leader of the Democratic party in Louisiana. A unionist during the secession crisis of 1861, Soulé supported Louisiana during the Civil War. For opposing the administration of occupied Louisiana by Union general Benjamin Butler during the war, he was arrested in 1862 and imprisoned in New York. After his release Soulé broke parole, escaped to Nassau, and made his way to Richmond, Va. Although he served the Confederacy between September 1863 and June 1864, he was kept from a position of importance by Judah Benjamin and President Jefferson Davis. Soulé died on March 26, 1870.

Further Reading

There is no biography of Soulé, but information on his background is in A. A. Ettinger, The Mission to Spain of Pierre Soulé, 1853-1855 (1932). □

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