After the admission of California to the Union as a free state in 1850, southern slaveholders worried about being forever prevented from further expanding their slave labor system, given northern antislavery opposition to slavery in the West. Looking for new targets of opportunity in Latin America, they set their sights on Spain's colony of Cuba, which had an already flourishing slave economy revolving around sugar and coffee plantations. Southerners hoped either that the U.S. would purchase the island through diplomatic channels, or that federal officials would let southern adventurers liberate Cuba by "filibuster" (private military) expeditions and annex it to the Union in the way Texas had gained statehood a decade earlier.
This talk highlights the role of southern Jewish politicians, including future Confederate Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, in plots to get Cuba in the 1850s. It not only broadens our understanding of the road to Civil War, but also illuminates issues of anti-Semitism and Jewish assimilation from a unique perspective.
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