"We Never Retreat": Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822

"We Never Retreat": Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822

"We Never Retreat": Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822

"We Never Retreat": Filibustering Expeditions into Spanish Texas, 1812-1822

Synopsis

The term "filibuster" often brings to mind a senator giving a long-winded speech in opposition to a bill, but the term had a different connotation in the nineteenth century--invasion of foreign lands by private military forces.

Spanish Texas was a target of such invasions. Generally given short shrift in the studies of American-based filibustering, these expeditions were led by colorful men such as Augustus William Magee, Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, John Robinson, and James Long. Previous accounts of their activities are brief, lack the appropriate context to fully understand filibustering, and leave gaps in the historiography.

Ed Bradley now offers a thorough recounting of filibustering into Spanish Texas framed through the lens of personal and political motives: why American men participated in them and to what extent the US government was either involved in or tolerated them.

"We Never Retreat" makes a major contribution by placing these expeditions within the contexts of the Mexican War of Independence and international relations between the United States and Spain.

Excerpt

When one considers the word filibuster, the usual image that comes to mind is that of a senator giving a long-winded speech in opposition to a bill. As part of this performance, the individual resorts to almost any means imaginable, including reading from a telephone directory for hours on end. Although not common today, filibusters were employed with some regularity in the first half of the twentieth century and frequently brought notoriety to the practitioners. As a result of such performances, the word filibuster has assumed a prominent place in the lexicon of modern-day politics.

Yet for most Americans in the nineteenth century, the word filibuster had a different connotation with which few people today are familiar. The word’s ultimate source is the Dutch term vrijbuter, or freebooter, meaning “pirate” or “plunderer.” In the seventeenth century vrijbuter evolved into the French word flibustier. By the nineteenth century the Spanish term flibustero was used, and this in turn was anglicized to flibuster. The original Dutch definition of a filibuster as a pirate has survived; thus, the 1864 and 1942 editions of Webster’s New International Dictionary define the term as “a lawless military adventurer, especially one in quest of plunder; a freebooter; a pirate” and “an irregular military adventurer, esp. one in quest of plunder,” respectively. To label all such individuals as “plunderers,” however, is not entirely accurate. Indeed, the word filibuster has a more extensive connotation that will be used for the purposes of this study. Filibusters, in the expert words of historian Robert E. May, were “persons who, lacking either the explicit or implicit consent of their own governments, planned, abetted, or participated in private military invasions or intended invasions of foreign nations or dependencies with which their own countries were at peace.”

In the United States, flibustering’s heyday was during the 1850s, a decade that witnessed the exploits of William Walker in Nicaragua and Narciso López in Cuba. Yet an earlier group of filibusters has received relatively little . . .

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