And so, inevitably, the South thinks of secession — and expansion. The South has long believed that unless slavery keeps expanding, it will die, and take the slave-holding elite with it. As Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi recently said, “We of the South are an agricultural people, and we require an extended territory. Slave labor is a wasteful labor, and it therefore requires a still more extended territory than would the same pursuits if they could be prosecuted by the more economical labor of white men.” Limiting slave territory, Davis says, would “crowd upon our soil an overgrown black population, until there would not be room in the country for whites and blacks to subsist in, and in this way. . . reduce the whites to the degraded position of the African race.” Oddly, Senator Charles Sumner, the ardent abolitionist from Massachusetts, has in a rather different way reached the same conclusion: limiting slavery will kill slavery.This independence, then, would mean constant war of conquest. Jefferson Davis himself understood that -- and also expected to be sitting in the White House as President by the end of the next year. The South did not expect to contain slavery in the existing slave states -- the new Confederated nation -- ever. This is why they were going to war. There was no other reason.
And so the slaveholders seek to expand, although whether they can go further north and west is more than a political question; there is much doubt whether the climate and crops of western America would sustain slavery. But all doubts vanish when they turn their backs to the north, and see rimming the Gulf of Mexico verdant lands that could, and have, enriched slaveholding planters. “To the Southern republic bounded on the north by the Mason and Dixon line and on the south by the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, including Cuba and all the other lands on our southern shore,” toasted one Texan at a convention in 1856, and that sentiment burns at the heart of many of the fire-eaters now crying secession.
Don’t forget that not very long ago, such sentiments burned brightly in Washington as well. The Polk and Pierce administrations tried to buy Cuba. Just six years ago, the current president, James Buchanan, who was then Minister to Great Britain, was one of the three authors of the Ostend Manifesto, which maintained that if Spain wouldn’t sell us Cuba, we would be justified in seizing it. Accompanying these official efforts were unofficially encouraged forays by slaveholder-supported filibusteros to invade Cuba, foment a rebellion and grab the island on behalf of expansionist-minded southerners.
Expansionists north and south initially supported William Walker’s campaigns to seize control of Nicaragua, but it was the southern expansionists who were his true constituency. The south’s moral and financial support sustained Walker when he seized Nicaragua’s presidency in 1856, and though he governed only briefly, he managed to re-establish the legality of slavery before a coalition of Central American powers defeated his cholera-ravaged army and sent him scampering. Walker made further attempts to conquer Nicaragua, the last of which ended last September in front of a firing squad in Honduras. But southerners backed every one.
A mere freebooter, Walker nearly succeeded. The ultras dream of what could be accomplished in Nicaragua, and Cuba and northern Mexico and the West Indies if a cotton-rich American government should seek its destiny in commanding a tropical empire that would dominate the world’s supply of not only cotton but the staple of sugar as well.
So here, then, is the South’s choice. Does it select a future in which the southern slavocracy is less powerful; more isolated; consistently subjected to moral castigation by northerners for an economic system that profits not just planters but innumerable northern shippers and insurers and mill owners? Or does the South choose to establish a new nation that will sit at the center of a rich and powerful slaveholding empire that will dominate the hemisphere?
There are plenty of people in the south who oppose disunion and wish to move slowly or not at all. But most of the South’s leadership — its money and its political establishment and its opinion-makers — know that the South is at a crossroads, and they mean for it to choose independence.
This is why, earlier in the nation's history, the United States knew it could not tolerate Texas as an independent slaveholding republic at its flanks -- for Texas slavery, in its capitalist manner of ever burning out land and moving on to unsettled regions of relatively cheap acreage with its cheap slave labor, would perform Davis's philosophy. Texas would annex for slavery by war and conquest these other regions that the rest of U.S. already perceived as her own, for her other economic vision, which would never be compatible with slavery.
This is why there was no need for a civil war in any other nation to abolish slavery. In this nation, this was the only way way slavery could ever be finished as a legal institution backed by all the instruments of court and government. Born in blood, always in oceans of blood, usually the blood of 'others.' this nation will drown in its own blood, not the blood of 'others,' at the end.