DescriptionHistoric Archive with Letter by President Franklin Pierce Ordering Arrest of an American Planning His Own Private War.
Franklin Pierce (1804-1869), Letter Signed "Franklin Pierce" as President, two pages, 8" x 13.5", Washington, May 25, 1855 to Captain Charles Boarman, Commander of the Brooklyn Navy Yard ordering the Navy to pursue and capture filibusterer (a private soldier-of-fortune) Henry L. Kinney (1814-1862) then en route to Nicaragua in an attempt mount an insurrection and establish an Anglo-American colony. Kinney's plan to wage this private war would have dire consequences for the balance of power between free and slave states prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. Pierce, already upset the precarious balance between slave and free states with the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, feared a reopening the question of slavery in all the western territories. He further sowed anger among anti-slavery free-soilers by proposing an invasion of Cuba -- which would also become open to slavery under the rules set by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Mercenary filibustering expeditions south of the border would likewise threaten this delicate balance. Here, Pierce orders the arrest of a man bent on establishing an American colony in Central America with an eye toward annexation to the United States. Pierce informs Captain Borman:
"Sir: Official information has been laid before me to the effect that an indictment has been found in the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York, charging that one Henry L. Kinney, and one John W. Fabens, have, in violation of the Act of Congress in this behalf provided, set on foot and have prepared a military expedition against the Republic of Nicaragua, with which the United States are at peace. Further information has been received that an indictment has been found and returned to the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, charging the said Henry L. Kinney with the like offence within that District. Information has also been received that a steamer called the United States has been chartered by the same Henry L. Kinney and John W. Fabens, together with one Fletcher Webster, for the purpose of being employed in such military expedition or enterprise, in violation of law, and is about to sail from the District of New York, to convey the said Kinney and Fabens, their followers, and associates, enlisted or engaged for said enterprise or expedition, to their destination in Nicaragua. You are therefore hereby directed and empowered, in virtue of the eighth section of the Act of Congress, approved the 20th of April, 1818, to take all proper measures, and to employ such part of the Naval force of the United States under your command as may be necessary to prevent the carrying on of such expedition or enterprise, and especially to prevent, the departure of said steamer United States from beyond the limits of the said District of New York..."
Quite a dramatic appeal indeed! And, as incredible as this forgotten history reads, yet another expedition to Nicaragua was being led at the very same time by career filibusterer William Walker (1824-1860). That expedition originating out of San Francisco. While Walker was consolidating his control of the interior, Kinney, who had managed to board another ship and leave New York, arrived in Greytown, the capital of the British Mosquito Coast protectorate on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, in September 1855. Kinney then proclaimed himself Governor of the "City and Territory of Greytown". Faced with opposition from Walker, the Nicaraguans, and the British, Kinney soon lost his financial backing, resigned from office, and was expelled from the country. Interestingly, Franklin Pierce briefly recognized the Nicaraguan government under Walker's leadership. Walker had the support of Cornelius Vanderbilt who wanted to construct a railroad to link the Caribbean and the Pacific. However, once in power, Walker betrayed Vanderbilt and handed the rights to build a railroad to Vanderbilt's rivals, Cornelius K. Garrison and Charles Morgan. Vanderbilt then pressured Pierce to rescinded recognition of the Walker government, and organized an opposition force led by Costa Rica to thwart Walker's attempt to conquer all of Central America. In an attempt to garner Southern support, he legalized black slavery in Nicaragua that had been outlawed in 1824. Walker was defeated in 1857 and surrendered to the U.S. Navy. He was killed in Honduras after mounting a similar expedition there in 1860. Kinney, who also founded the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, outlived Walker but was later shot and killed in Mexico in 1862. The letter bears the usual folds, very light soiling, otherwise in fine condition.
Also included is Capt. Charles Borman's retained response to the Secretary of the Navy, in a secretarial Letter Signed, 8" x 12", "Navy Yard", New York, May 28, 1855, informing the secretary that "I shall in obedience to these orders prepare the U.s. Steamer 'Vixen', the only vessel available at this Yard and place Lieut De Camp in command of her, with a sufficient force of officers, seamen & Marines to secure the arrest and detention of the vessel... the Collector of the Port... has promised to place under my orders the U.S. Revenue Cutter 'Washington' that she may act in concert with the 'Vixen'..." Light toning, slightly weak at folds, else very good. The United States was detained at the 8th Street dock by the Vixen while the government attempted to press its claims against Kinney. Kinney managed to leave New York in June with some of his followers aboard the schooner Emma. The New York Times questioned Pierce's motives in an article on June 28: "...why all this persecution of Messrs. Kinney and Fabens. Manifest destiny will march onward, sooner or later... But when the public shall learn the truth, it will be seen that the Nicaragua Transit Company [owned by Vanderbilt] have played a deeper game in preventing the sailing of the Kinney Expedition than any other set of men in the United States..." According to another letter found in this small archive, an Autograph Letter Signed from attorney A. Spalding of New York, three pages, 5" x 8", New York, October 10, 1864, there was some damage to the ship United States. The attorney requests the letter from Pierce as evidence in a "...Suit of John Graham then owner of the Steamship 'United States'." He notes that the suit is relative to the navy's "...detaining in this Post the famous 'Kinney Expedition'. Partial fold separation, else very good.
A tremendous group detailing remarkable, albeit somewhat forgotten, military and political history. From the Henry E. Luhrs Collection. Accompanied by LOA from PSA/DNA.
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