Filibuster As Part of American Expansion, Not Legislative Tactics
July 12, 2010

Americans Filibustered Numerous Times in the 19th Century at Central America's Expense

On this Date In History: American William Walker was a doctor, lawyer, newspaperman and hypnotist in the middle of the 19th Century. But he became better known as a filibuster.   That does not mean that he was a member of Congress.  Today, we think of a filibuster as an interesting idiosyncrasy of the United States Senate that can hold up the entire process of debating and passing legislation.  However, in mid 19th century America, the word “filibuster” had an entirely different meaning for most Americans than the political procedure known to most people today.   

Instead, the word “filibuster”  is derived from the Dutch word Vrijbuiter that means freebooter or soldier of fortune.   He was a little guy as he weighed all of about 120 pounds but he had big ambitions.  Initially, the object of his quest was Baja California and Sonora in Mexico.  He wanted to create an independent nation there with the ultimate objective being annexation of that region to the United States that would be a slave state. When that failed, he turned his sites elsewhere.   On This Date in 1856, at the age of 31 he became the only American born citizen to become President of another country….supposedly. At least that is what my source claims. I would suggest that Sam Houston as President of the Republic of Texas was first. Anyway, this guy convinced the head of the Democrat party in Nicaragua to invite him and some “settlers” to come to Nicaragua. In reality, they were a bunch of mercenaries hired to help that party win a civil war that was going on. The ruse of being settlers was set up to avoid entanglement in US neutrality laws. So, he and his band of merry men helped defeat the opposition and he set up a phony election that made him president. He only served two years because he irked the wrong guy.

Walker leading the way at Lake Nicaragua

Walker leading the way at Lake Nicaragua

One of the things he was doing was trying to conquer neighboring countries by hiring more mercenaries and also get support from the slave holding South in the United States by rescinding Nicaragua’s long standing Emancipation order. Well, none of that sat well with Americans in the North and particularly Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who had a company that ferried freight and passengers across that part of Central America before the canal was built. He even had designs of building a canal across Nicaragua and Walker was in the way. So, he got together a bunch of guys in neighboring Costa Rica and even got help from the British and American Navies. That was the end of Walker who lost a key battle on April 11, 1857 and surrendered on May 1st of that year. He was sent back to the United States where he wrote a book about his adventures. He tried to return and when he did, he was captured again in Honduras by the British Navy who turned him over to local Hondurans who promptly had Walker executed by firing squad at the age of 36 on September 12, 1860.

Walker's Effort Created A Costa Rican National Hero

While we don’t think about William Walker much, his defeat and failure marked a turn around in Central America as it was seen as a pseudo war of independence. His name is one hated as it is held up as a symbol of “Yankee imperialism.” In Costa Rica, there is a national holiday commemorating Walker’s defeat on April 11.   However, Walker’s defeat is not the focus but instead the holiday is set aside to commemorate the exploits of Juan Santamaria, who is said to have done heroic things while barefoot in the battle against Walker.  So, for all his trouble…he got a day in Costa Rica for his failure and they named it for a 19 year-old barefooted soldier: Juan Santamaria Day.   Costa Rica also sports the Juan Santamaria International Airport.  Seems that Walker’s biggest contribution for the Central American country was to place Juan Santamaria in the annals of Costa Rican history.  Take a lesson from this. Don’t try to take over a country. Leave that to the professionals.

Weather Bottom Line:  Rain chances will be elevated for Monday and Tuesday as a shortwave comes out of the Southern Plains.  But, you will note that the chance of rain listed in most forecasts are less than originally posted.  Last night I saw a local broadcast claim a 70% chance of rain today.  I then looked at the data and found that it indicated that the shortwave was not following the track that would give rise to such chances, which means someone didn’t do their homework.  It’s not that there is no chance, but just not as aggressive as had been advertised.  It’s all because of a cold front that is approaching slowly.  So, scattered activity will be in the area for Monday and Tuesday.  The front doesn’t get very far south of us before it slides back north as a warm front and our temperatures and humidity jump for a day or so before another cold front comes down at the end of the week and rain chances go up again.

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Transatlantic Cable Led To Bargain AKA The Alaska Purchase
March 30, 2010

How Did the Transatlantic Cable Lead to the Purchase of Alaska?

Great Eastern Steamship Dwarfed All Other Ships of the Day

On This Date in History:  In Antebellum America of  the mid 19th Century, a message could be sent from New Orleans to Maine in a matter of minutes.  But,  that same message might take two weeks to get to London as it was unthinkable to be able to lay a cable all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.  Unthinkable to everyone but Cyrus Field.  Field was a paper merchant who had been so successful in business that he was able to retire by age 34 when he came up with a plan to lay a transatlantic cable.   He thought that it wasn’t quite a difficult as it sounded because he figured that the cable could rest on an underwater plateau between Newfoundland and Ireland.  He was so certain of success, that in 1856 he formed the Atlantic Telegraph Company after meeting a Canadian from Newfoundland looking for investors for his nearly bankrupt telegraph concern.  Even though he had his own ideas, well-meaning citizens offered their own suggestions.  One suggested have floating call boxes so that passing ships could stop and send a message.  Another suggested suspending a cable by underwater balloons. 

Some Russians Were Rather Fond of Alaska

Aside from the hair-brained ideas, even the more rational ones faced some issues.  The cable weighed one ton per mile yet snapped quite easily in the rolling seas.  The North Atlantic is not exactly the calmest weather in the world so there were constant delays.  To help battle the elements and also haul the giant and heavy cable, Fields called on the service of the world’s biggest ship.  The Great Eastern steamship, at 32,000 tons was five times bigger than the next biggest ship.   After two years, a cable was finally laid and the continents were connected.  The great success didn’t last though because after an inaugural message from Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan, the line went dead.  Perry McDonough Collins saw Fields misfortune as an opportunity.  See, Collins had another idea.  He went to Western Union with the proposal to run a cable under the Bering Strait and then across Siberia to Europe.  Work was begun in Alaska but Fields had not given up on the oceanic route.  It took 12 years of effort and failure but on July 27, 1866 the Transatlantic Cable finally reached Newfoundland and this time it worked.  Well, that was the end of the Siberian route but the poor guys working on it didn’t learn they were out of job for a year due to….slow communications.

Collins' Men Didn't Know the Job Was Terminated For a Whole Year

Again, misfortune became a catalyst for unforseen success.  In order to work on his project, Collins had secure diplomatic connections fromboth Russia and the United States.  The efforts involved Secretary of State William H. Seward who, while helping Abraham Lincoln manage the Civil War, had also been involved in Collins Siberian scheme as well as the plans of Field.  While the  Bering Strait cable did not come about, conversations between the US and Russia continued.  Russia had established a presence in Alaska in the early 18th century but had been trying to unload it on the United States since around the time that Field had started his Transatlantic Cable project.  But, President Buchanan had his hands  full with a country heading to Civil War, though I’m not exactly sure what Buchanan was doing because he certainly had not done much to head off that great conflict. 

Cartoon Depicting "Andy" Johnson and "Billy" Seward Trying to Sell Alaska Ice Block to Congress

Seward really liked the idea of grabbing Alaska but the many other Americans weren’t too keen on the idea.  The nation was in debt and trying to rebuild the South after the war.  Alaska was wilderness and in a very inhospitable environment.  Many people thought that the idea was so idiotic that the plan was called “Icebergia,” “Walrussia,”  “Seward’s Ice Box” and, most famously, “Seward’s Folly.”  Nevertheless, on this date in 1867, William H. Seward turned his folly into reality when Russia agreed to sell Alaska to the United States for $7.2 million.  That is less than half of what was paid for Louisiana 64 years earlier.  It came out to about 2 cents per acre.   Seward had no way of knowing it, but the folly turned into literally a gold mine in just 20 years.  Gold was discovered in the 1890’s and the nations wealth increased.  Now, Alaska has oil.  The US has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties from oil produced on federal land and offshore waters of Alaska.  Then there is also the rich fishing industry in the dangerous but fruitful Alaskan waters. 

Congress Finally Forked Over the Money in August 1868

In the end what originally was a failed venture to connect North America to Europe resulted in the United States acquiring territory that initially increased it’s size by 20%.  The nation not only gained access to the obvious timber natural resources and fishing rights, but unwittingly also gained enormous access to gold.  Then when huge oil fields were discovered and the ability to bring it to market was developed, the benefit of Seward’s Folly became astronomical.  It’s hard to say which was the better deal: The Louisiana Purchase or the Alaskan Purchase.  But, one thing’s for certain, we could probably use another folly today that would bring such a huge return on investment.  But, it almost didnt’ happen.  See…Congress was leary.  The Senate has the power to approve treaties and it voted to ratify the treaty by a 37 to 2 majority.  But, the House of Representatives controls the purse strings and opponents of Seward’s Ice Box threatened to not provide the funds for the purchase.  It took a year but the Alaska Purchase Treaty was ultimately funded a year after the treaty was signed with a 113 to 48 vote.

Great Weather Ahead

Weather Bottom Line:  Enjoy the rest of the week as we move to 80 or so by Thursday and Friday.  It will be interesting to see how a weekend frontal system unfolds.  The SPC has a storm risk in Texas but I’m a bit curious about Saturday evening here.  Might be interesting but the dynamics might not come together.  Forget about it for now. Just enjoy the week.

More Midwest Flood Stuff; Santa Anna A US Founding Father?
June 22, 2008

For Sunday, look for the old Led Zepplin Forecast: The Song Remains the Same. Another trof will swing around and down into our region by late in the day. Most strong thunderstorm activity will be in the heat of the day and probably to our northwest. The data seems fairly consistent between models to bring the trof through here as the sun is going down. While it is a stronger version of what happened on Saturday, the results will generally be the same but given that we may be a shade more unstable and the dynamics a tad better, then I suspect that we will see more goings on than on Saturday. Still, if you find yourself under a t’storm, it would have the potential for a heavy downpour with small hail and gusty winds the best probability. Since it’s swinging through later, there may be some scattered showers lingering early Monday. In fact, if it doesn’t move out by sunrise, some t’storms might erupt. As it stands now though, I think Monday afternoon looks pretty good. The pattern remains unsettled for the balance of the week.

Mississippi River Flooding Update

We’ve been seeing photos and video of the flooding going on in the Midwest. From what I can tell from the data though, in most cases, this event is really not as comparative to the 1993 flooding as reports indicate or as I had thought it would be. That is little consolation to those who have been affected adversely. In any event, I thought you might see what the Army Corps of Engineers is reporting and their forecast data…found on the link below.

Mississippi River Levels As of June 21

Here is a link to a page that has a bunch of You Tube videos of Iowa flooding.

Iowa Flooding Video Link

Here’s another from a guy who is compiling AP video footage

More Iowa Flooding Video

On This Date In History: On this date in 1876, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna died and I’m surprised the Mexican people don’t have a holiday. This guy was like Jason in Halloween except he was real and didn’t wear a hockey mask. He began as a low to mid level officer in the Spanish Army in the early 19th Century. The only thing he had on Hitler was that at least he was an officer. He gained fame due to his exploits in the Mexican war of Independence from Spain and that got him elected El Presidente by a landslide. When he failed to make a proper democracy, he simply declared himself dictator in 1835. By 1836, he had lost Texas. But, he wasn’t done.

In 1845, the Americans annexed Texas and Santa Anna tried to make a deal. He was deposed for trying to negotiate with the Americans. During the ensuing Mexican War, the guy in charge got tossed out and Santa Anna took over again. He promptly lost just about every major battle he waged and the war concluded with the ceding by Mexico of much of the Southwestern United States for $15 million plus the US took on all American claims against Mexico. Santa Anna voluntarily went into exile. But, he wasn’t done.

In 1853, the conservative party in Mexico gained power and for some reason invited Santa Anna back. He declared himself dictator again and this time required everyone address him as “His Most Serene Highness.” Pretty gutsy for someone who had his rear-end kicked for years and losing huge chunks of his country’s territory. But, he was a gift that just kept on giving. He needed to raise money to support his army..so he sold the United States another chunk of land in the Gadsden Purchase….another $10 million. But that didn’t help as he was overthrown again in 1855. That was the end. All told…Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was the head of the Mexican Government 11 times!!!

He spent the last 20 years of his life scheming to take over again. It is my understanding that if you mention Santa Anna to a Mexican citizen today, it would be like calling a cop in North Carolina Barney Fife. And understandably so. The guy lost or sold Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, California and part of Nevada during his lifetime. Think of all the oil, gold and silver that was found there. Perhaps we should make Santa Anna an honorary founding father of the United States since he contributed so much to our growth and wealth. Gotta be the biggest loser General in world history and you gotta feel badly for the Mexican people for what might have been.