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Daniel R. Miller
Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America
by Robert E. May
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 2002
426 pp.; $45
As I write this, an article in The New York Times describes how relatives of Americans who lost their lives in the September 11 terrorist attacks are suing the government of Saudi Arabia and members of the Saudi royal family for $100 trillion for aiding and abetting the attackers. Their aim, according to the article, is not primarily to obtain damages but to financially cripple the people and organizations that funded the terrorists. The Saudi government vigorously denies any links to the September 11 terrorists and points to its expulsion of Osama bin Laden from Saudi Arabia some years ago as proof of its innocence. The plaintiffs are not persuaded; they note that the terrorists openly channeled money through Saudi-based businesses and charities, making the Saudi government at least criminally negligent if not actually complicit in the events of September 11. Their lawsuit is certain to complicate relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.
Absent the lawsuit, these events bear an uncanny resemblance to an earlier campaign of international violence in which the U.S. government appeared to be complicit, or at least criminally negligent. The episode is thoroughly dissected in Robert E. May's new book, Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. In 1850s America, a "filibuster" was someone who invaded a neighboring country to overthrow its government and place himself in charge, often with the intention of having the territory annexed to the United States. The decade prior to the Civil War witnessed dozens of such schemes—and, preposterous as it seems now, at least one came close to success. In fact, if one includes events that occurred prior to and after the term "filibuster" was in vogue, several such endeavors were successful: newly arrived U.S. citizens proclaimed "republics" in Florida, Texas, California, and Hawaii ...