Narciso López
Narciso López was a Venezuelan adventurer and soldier, best known for an expedition aimed at liberating Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 from Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 in the 1850s..

Life in Venezuela, Cuba, and Spain

Narciso López was a born in Caracas
Caracas , officially Santiago de León de Caracas, is the capital and largest city of Venezuela; natives or residents are known as Caraquenians in English . It is located in the northern part of the country, following the contours of the narrow Caracas Valley on the Venezuelan coastal mountain range...

, Venezuela
Venezuela , officially called the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela , is a tropical country on the northern coast of South America. It borders Colombia to the west, Guyana to the east, and Brazil to the south...

 to a wealthy merchant family of Basque origin; his father was Pedro Manuel Lopez and his mother was Ana Paula de Oriola (sometimes spelt Urriola). He is known to have had at least one sister. It is said that he was recruited by the ruthless Spanish general José Tomás Boves
José Tomás Boves
José Tomás Boves , royalist caudillo of the llanos during the Venezuelan War of Independence, particularly remembered for his use of brutality and atrocities against those who supported Venezuelan independence...

 (José Tomás Rodríguez) when as a young teenager he had been forcibly recruited
Conscription is the compulsory enlistment of people in some sort of national service, most often military service. Conscription dates back to antiquity and continues in some countries to the present day under various names...

 from the ranks of the defeated independence forces abandoned by a fleeing Simón Bolívar
Simón Bolívar
Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios Ponte y Yeiter, commonly known as Simón Bolívar was a Venezuelan military and political leader...

 at the city of Valencia
Valencia (city in Spain)
Valencia or València is the capital and most populous city of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third largest city in Spain, with a population of 809,267 in 2010. It is the 15th-most populous municipality in the European Union...

When still a young man, he fought for the Spanish, at the Battle of Queseras del Medio, and Carabobo
Carabobo State is one of the 23 states of Venezuela, located in the north of the country, about two hours by car from Caracas. The capital city of this state is Valencia, which is also the country's main industrial center. The state's area is 4,650 km² and had an estimated population of... against the forces for independence led by Simón Bolívar, José Antonio Páez
José Antonio Páez
José Antonio Páez Herrera was General in Chief of the army fighting Spain during the Venezuelan Wars of Independence, in addition to becoming the President of Venezuela once it was independent of the Gran Colombia...

 and others

When the Spanish army withdrew in defeat in 1821 after the decisive Battle of Carabobo
Battle of Carabobo
The Battle of Carabobo, 24 June 1821, was fought between independence fighters, led by Simón Bolívar, and the Royalist forces, led by Spanish Field Marshal Miguel de la Torre. Bolívar's decisive victory at Carabobo led to the independence of Venezuela....

 in present day Venezuela, López, who had fought at Carabobo, left with them as did many other battle survivors including Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo
Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo
Calixto Garcia de Luna e Izquierdo was born in Soria, Castilla somewhere around 1768. He went to Valencia, Venezuela where he was a merchant. There he married Maria de los Angeles Gonzalez, said to be the daughter of an Indigenous Chief...

, who would be grandfather of Cuban Independence major general Calixto Garcia
Calixto García
Calixto García e Iñiguez was a general in three Cuban uprisings, part of the Cuban War for Independence: Ten Years' War, the Little War and the War of 1895, itself sometimes called the Cuban War for Independence, which bled into the Spanish-American War, ultimately resulting in national...

. Narciso López earned the rank of colonel at the early age of twenty-one and fought in the First Carlist War
First Carlist War
The First Carlist War was a civil war in Spain from 1833-1839.-Historical background:At the beginning of the 18th century, Philip V, the first Bourbon king of Spain, promulgated the Salic Law, which declared illegal the inheritance of the Spanish crown by women...

. After the war, López continued to serve the Spanish government in several administrative posts, including the Cortes for the city of Seville
Seville is the artistic, historic, cultural, and financial capital of southern Spain. It is the capital of the autonomous community of Andalusia and of the province of Seville. It is situated on the plain of the River Guadalquivir, with an average elevation of above sea level...

 and as military governor in Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

. López moved to Cuba as an assistant to the new governor-general, but lost his post when the governorship changed hands in 1843. In 1825 in Cuba he married the sister of the Count of Pozos Dulces, Maria Dolores with whom he had a son (Narciso López Frias). After failing in a few business ventures, he became a partisan of the anti-Spanish faction in Cuba. In 1848, during a Spanish arrest of Cuban revolutionaries, López fled to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


Career as a filibuster

As soon as he arrived López began planning a filibustering
Filibuster (military)
A filibuster, or freebooter, is someone who engages in an unauthorized military expedition into a foreign country to foment or support a revolution...

 expedition from the United States to liberate Cuba. He made contact with influential American politicians, including John L. O'Sullivan
John L. O'Sullivan
John Louis O'Sullivan was an American columnist and editor who used the term "Manifest Destiny" in 1845 to promote the annexation of Texas and the Oregon Country to the United States. O'Sullivan was an influential political writer and advocate for the Democratic Party at that time, but he faded...

, an expansionist and coiner of the term Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny was the 19th century American belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. It was used by Democrat-Republicans in the 1840s to justify the war with Mexico; the concept was denounced by Whigs, and fell into disuse after the mid-19th century.Advocates of...

. López recruited Cuban exile
Cuban exile
The term "Cuban exile" refers to the many Cubans who have sought alternative political or economic conditions outside the island, dating back to the Ten Years' War and the struggle for Cuban independence during the 19th century...

s in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 and many other adventurers to his cause and in 1849 his expedition was poised to embark simultaneously from New Orleans and New York. However Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor
Zachary Taylor was the 12th President of the United States and an American military leader. Initially uninterested in politics, Taylor nonetheless ran as a Whig in the 1848 presidential election, defeating Lewis Cass...

, who had renounced filibustering as a valid means of U.S. expansion, took steps against López. He issued orders to blockade and seize his ships. López's first expedition never reached Cuba.

Undeterred by this setback, López decided to plan a new filibuster and to focus his recruiting effort on the southern United States. As a supporter of slavery
Slavery is a system under which people are treated as property to be bought and sold, and are forced to work. Slaves can be held against their will from the time of their capture, purchase or birth, and deprived of the right to leave, to refuse to work, or to demand compensation...

 himself, López realized the advantages for the South
Southern United States
The Southern United States—commonly referred to as the American South, Dixie, or simply the South—constitutes a large distinctive area in the southeastern and south-central United States...

 of an independent Cuba. He and other Southerners hoped that Cuba would become a strong partner in the slavery and perhaps, like Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

, join the Union as a slave state
Slave state
In the United States of America prior to the American Civil War, a slave state was a U.S. state in which slavery was legal, whereas a free state was one in which slavery was either prohibited from its entry into the Union or eliminated over time...

. He moved his headquarters to New Orleans and tried to galvanize popular support by recruiting the influential men of the South to lead his expedition. He solicited the military help of Senator Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Davis
Jefferson Finis Davis , also known as Jeff Davis, was an American statesman and leader of the Confederacy during the American Civil War, serving as President for its entire history. He was born in Kentucky to Samuel and Jane Davis...

, who had distinguished himself in the Battle of Buena Vista
Battle of Buena Vista
The Battle of Buena Vista , also known as the Battle of Angostura, saw the United States Army use artillery to repulse the much larger Mexican army in the Mexican-American War...

, offering him a hundred thousand dollars and “a very fine coffee plantation.” Davis, to the great relief of his wife, turned him down, but he recommended one of his friends from the Mexican-American War, Major Robert E. Lee
Robert E. Lee
Robert Edward Lee was a career military officer who is best known for having commanded the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War....

. Lee thought seriously about López's offer, but eventually also decided not to become involved.

Although López failed to recruit these two rising stars, he did win the financial and political support of many influential Southerners including Governor John Quitman of Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, former Senator John Henderson
John Henderson (Mississippi politician)
John Henderson was a lawyer and U.S. Senator from Mississippi.Born in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Henderson worked as a flatboatman on the Mississippi River and studied law. He moved to Mississippi and was admitted to the bar, commencing practice in Woodville, Mississippi...

 and the editor of the New Orleans Delta, Laurence Sigur. López enlisted about six-hundred filibusters in his expedition, and successfully reached Cuba in May 1850. His troops arrived in and took the town of Cárdenas
Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba
Cárdenas is a municipality and city in the Matanzas Province of Cuba, about east of Havana.-Geography:Cárdenas is a maritime port town on the level and somewhat marshy shore of a spacious bay of the northern coast of the island , sheltered by a long promontory...

, carrying a flag that López and Tolon had designed and which would become the flag of modern Cuba
Flag of Cuba
The flag of Cuba was adopted on May 20, 1902, containing a field with three blue stripes and two white stripes, and a red equilateral triangle at the hoist with a white 5-pointed star....

. Nevertheless, the local support that he had hoped for failed to materialize when the fighting started. Much of the local population joined the Spanish against López, and he hastily retreated to Key West
Key West
Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Key West is home to the southernmost point in the Continental United States; the island is about from Cuba....

, where he disbanded the expedition within minutes of landing in order to avoid prosecution under the U.S. Neutrality Law of 1818.

In the aftermath of the expedition, López and many of his supporters were indicted by a federal grand jury
Grand jury
A grand jury is a type of jury that determines whether a criminal indictment will issue. Currently, only the United States retains grand juries, although some other common law jurisdictions formerly employed them, and most other jurisdictions employ some other type of preliminary hearing...

. Although the indictments did not end in convictions, they did force Governor John Quitman to resign from his office and face trial. Despite military and legal setbacks, López began planning another expedition, one which met with the similar problems, but with more disastrous consequences.

In August 1851, López once again departed for Cuba with several hundred men. When he arrived, he took one half of his expedition to march inland, while the other half, commanded by Colonel William Crittenden, remained on the northern coast to protect supplies. As in his first attempt, the local support that López had counted upon did not answer his appeals. Outnumbered and surrounded by Spanish forces, López and many men were captured. Crittenden's forces shared the same fate. The Spanish executed most of the prisoners, sending others to work in mining labor camps. Those executed included many Americans, Colonel Crittenden, and Lopez himself.

Aftermath and significance

The execution of López and his soldiers caused outrage in both the northern and southern United States. Many who did not support the expedition found the Spanish treatment of military prisoners brutal. The strongest reaction occurred in New Orleans, where a mob attacked the Spanish consulate. Despite its failure, López's expedition inspired other filibusters to attack Latin American countries throughout the 1850s, most notably William Walker's invasions of Central America
Central America
Central America is the central geographic region of the Americas. It is the southernmost, isthmian portion of the North American continent, which connects with South America on the southeast. When considered part of the unified continental model, it is considered a subcontinent...

 in 1855-1860. Had he been successful, López could have profoundly altered politics in the Americas, giving a strong Caribbean
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 foothold to the United States and spurring its further expansion. Instead, the failure of López and other filibusters discouraged Americans, especially in the South, from adopting expansionist strategies. Faced with the inability of slavery to move southward, many Southerners turned away from expansion and talked instead of secession
Secession is the act of withdrawing from an organization, union, or especially a political entity. Threats of secession also can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals.-Secession theory:...


The present Flag of Cuba
Flag of Cuba
The flag of Cuba was adopted on May 20, 1902, containing a field with three blue stripes and two white stripes, and a red equilateral triangle at the hoist with a white 5-pointed star....

 is adopted from López's expeditioniary banner :es:Narciso López,

See also

  • History of Cuba
    History of Cuba
    The known history of Cuba, the largest of the Caribbean islands, predates Christopher Columbus' sighting of the island during his first voyage of discovery on 27 October 1492...

  • History of the United States (1849-1865)
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion
    Bay of Pigs Invasion
    The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an unsuccessful action by a CIA-trained force of Cuban exiles to invade southern Cuba, with support and encouragement from the US government, in an attempt to overthrow the Cuban government of Fidel Castro. The invasion was launched in April 1961, less than three months...

  • Cuba-United States relations
    Cuba-United States relations
    Cuba and the United States of America have had an interest in one another since well before either of their independence movements. Plans for purchase of Cuba from the Spanish Empire were put forward at various times by United States...

External links

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