This incident, said to have ensnared the luckless Portland (Me.)-born sawyer “for reasons entirely unknown,”* became elevated into the foreign policy calculation of U.S. President James Buchanan.
Buchanan rates as one of America’s worst chief executives for fiddling as the conflagration of Civil War began, but he kept himself busy eyeballing other dark-skinned folk in the hemisphere over whom America ought to claim suzerainty.**
So, in December of 1859, Ormond Chase was name-checked in a State of the Union address further to pressing Buchanan’s case for Mexico as a (to use a modern coinage) failed state — “a wreck upon the ocean, drifting about as she is impelled by different factions.”
“Little less shocking,” the Chief Executive intoned, crowning a litany of injuries “upon persons and property,” “was the recent fate of Ormond Chase, who was shot in Tepic, on the 7th August … not only without a trial, but without any conjecture by his friends of the cause of his arrest.”
And, of course, we know what happens to failed states.
Mexico ought to be a rich and prosperous and powerful Republic. She possesses an extensive territory, a fertile soil, and an incalculable store of mineral wealth. She occupies an important position between the Gulf and the ocean for transit routes and for commerce. … Can the United States especially, which ought to share most largely in its commercial intercourse, allow their immediate neighbor thus to destroy itself and injure them? Yet without support from some quarter it is impossible to perceive how Mexico can resume her position among nations and enter upon a career which promises any good results. The aid which she requires, and which the interests of all commercial countries require that she should have, it belongs to this Government to render, not only by virtue of our neighborhood to Mexico, along whose territory we have a continuous frontier of nearly a thousand miles, but by virtue also of our established policy, which is inconsistent with the intervention of any European power in the domestic concerns of that Republic.
The wrongs which we have suffered from Mexico are before the world and must deeply impress every American citizen. A government which is either unable or unwilling to redress such wrongs is derelict to its highest duties.
I recommend to Congress to pass a law authorizing the President under such conditions as they may deem expedient, to employ a sufficient military force to enter Mexico for the purpose of obtaining indemnity for the past and security for the future.
“The meaning of all this is clear enough,” observed the London Times, an ocean away and correspondingly less euphemistic.†
Before long another Mexican war will sever new provinces from the unhappy Spanish Republic, and give them to the Anglo-Saxon race. In one sense this is a gain to humanity. Beautiful and fertile regions, now desert, will pass under the hands of the cultivator, mines will be worked, harbours will be filled with shipping, and a new life will animate that vast region. It is not likely, however, that the Americans will seek to annex the whole Republic. The Mexicans are not the stuff to make citizens of, and another generation of discord and decay must elapse before their time comes to be improved off the face of the earth. Although we have not the slightest wish to interfere with the Americans, it is but right that an adequate force should be at hand to protect British interests in those quarters.
In the event, Congress actually turned down Buchanan’s use-of-force request — that actually used to happen! — and with Abraham Lincoln’s election the next year, poor Ormond Chase’s purchase on historical significance was dashed by the fierce urgency of the Civil War. His death was a wasted root of an intervention that never was.
As it happens, and as the London Times article’s closing allusion suggests, Buchanan’s suspicion of European interference in the New World was not without foundation. The Mexican Civil War that Buchanan here proposed to join evolved — while the Yankees were busy shooting one another — into a badly botched French‡ attempt to establish a foothold in Mexico.
We have met the most famous casualty of that affair in these pages before: imported Habsburg Emperor Maximilian I.
Shot along with him were two of his loyal generals: one of them was Miguel Miramon, whose men had put Ormond Chase to death eight years before.
** More on Buchanan’s Mexican project in this 1883 biography.
† January 11, 1860
‡ Spain and Britain had made the initial foray with France to collect their own debts as well, but soon thought better of the project.
On this day..
- 2001: Vishal and Sonu, honor killings - 2020
- 1661: Jin Shengtan, literary scholar - 2019
- 1849: Celigny Ardouin, Haitian Minister of the Interior - 2018
- 1849: Ernst Elsenhans, Rastatt revolutionary - 2017
- 1844: William Saville, brutalising scene - 2016
- 1933: The Simele Massacre of Iraq's Assyrians begins - 2015
- 2009: Li Peiying, corrupt aviation kingpin - 2014
- 1864: Li Xiucheng, Taiping Rebellion general - 2013
- 1896: Charles Thiede, the first since Utah statehood - 2012
- 1930: Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith, strange fruit - 2011
- 1936: The Sacred Heart, by Spanish leftists - 2010
- 1777: A British spy, by Israel Putnam - 2008