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Imperial designs

Opening of Japan

Three years before 1856, the U.S. Navy had used gunboat diplomacy to compel Japan to end over two centuries of self-imposed isolation. (In 1852, US President Millard Fillmore, a Whig, had commissioned Commodore Matthew Perry to open Japan.) Below, we link to an 1856 letter to a naval officer about visits to Japan written by 19th century celebrity Baynard Taylor. (Georgia's own celebrated poet Sidney Lanier dedicated verse to him.)

Click on image above to read transcribed letter of July 12, 1856

"Manifest Destiny"

The four decades prior to 1856 had seen the aggressive expansion of the United States, embodied in the phrase Manifest Destiny. The early life's work of 1856 presidential candidate John Fremont - whether scouting Cherokee Georgia, exploring the sparsely populated west, or formenting the Bear Flag Revolt in California - were all part of this pattern of national behaviour.

Is it therefore ironic that part of the polemic the new Republican Party used against its Democratic opponents (not unknown previously among former Whig politicians like Congressman Abraham Lincoln) was that the latter undertook reckless and aggressive expansionistic schemes like the Ostend Manifesto. Republican song would rail against military filibusters, or freebooters, private parties who engage in unauthorized warfare against a foreign country, often with the intent of overthrowing the existing government - a cardinal example being William Walker. The term derives from the Spanish filibustero, meaning pirate, and Republican song would exploit the sound of James Buchanan's surname to denounce Buchaneers. (Compare to buccaneer.) Using the now-tabu language common then, Democrats would sometimes hurl the filibuster charge back at Fremont supporters, parodying Republican slogans that typically went like

Free schools, free speech, free soil, Fremont
Free soilers, Fremonters, free niggers, and freebooters.

Ostend on the Belgian coast, circa 1855
During the 1840s and 1850s proslavery expansionists sought to acquire Cuba for the United States - by purchase if possible, by force if necessary. After a series of filibuster expeditons had failed, and Spain rejected two $100 million purchase offers from the United States, US Secretary of State Marcy ordered the three US ministers to Spain, France and England (James Buchanan), all avid expansionists, to formulate a Cuban policy, which they did during an October 1854 meeting in Ostend. Their once-confidential memo recommended offering Spain no more than $120 million for the island, rejection of which offer they said meant that by every law, human and divine, we shall be justified in wresting it from Spain, if we possess the power. The document was leaked and caused a furor, particularly in the North, where antislavery forces opposed acquiring new land for slavery, and Marcy repudiated it.

One is reminded of the famous tagline from the old US television series Mission: Impossible, namely:
As always, should you... be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.. It should also be noted that secret orders were part of John Fremont's instructions while serving in the army as an "explorer" on the eve of war with Mexico - at which time James Buchanan was the US Secretary of State.

When James Buchanan ran for president in 1856, his opponents would sing:

To Ostend once went this very old man,
And this honest scheme did reveal -
We'll buy Spain's daugher, Cuba if we can,
And what we can't buy we'll steal.

US - Native American ("Indian") relations

View of a Cheyenne village at Big Timbers, in present-day Colorado, with four large tipis standing at the edge of a wooded area. Frame with pemmican or hides hanging at the right; two figures, facing camera, standing to the left of center.

(Identified as a daguerreotype by Solomon Carvalho of a Plains Indian village in Kansas Territory taken during the Fremont Expedition three years before 1856, probably copied by the Mathew Brady studio.)

Native American ("Indian") Land Cessions 1856

Native American ("Indian") Treaty texts 1856

Treaty With The Stockbridge And Munsee (February 5, 1856)

Treaty With The Menominee (February 11, 1856)

Treaty With The Creeks etc (August 7, 1856)

Quinault Treaty (1856)

Treaty Of Olympia (1856)