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Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America Paperback – August 30, 2004

ISBN-13: 978-0807855812 ISBN-10: 0807855812
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Editorial Reviews


"This is a major new book that merits the close perusal of anyone concerned with mid-nineteenth-century America." - Pacific Historical Review"


This exhaustively researched book carefully describes the roots and legacies of military adventurism. May judiciously weighs difficult and conflicting evidence in this unfailingly interesting treatment of filibustering that offers the reader few genuine heroes but a large cast of colorful villains. With a superb eye for the telling detail and the revealing quotation, May convincingly demonstrates how the most fanatical advocates of Manifest Destiny also did the most to discredit territorial expansion.--George C. Rable, University of Alabama |Well-researched and intelligently argued . . . expressively take[s] up the imperial mindset in American history.--American Studies|[May] explores nearly every aspect of the private military expeditions that brought notoriety and dreams of empire to generations of adventurers. . . . May's book will be the definitive work on filibustering for years to come.--Journal of the Early Republic|Manifest Destiny's Underworld is a well-researched and thoughtful analysis of a neglected yet important topic of American history. This volume, with its unshakable interpretation, pertinent maps and illustrations, copious notes, and engaging style, should emerge as the definitive work on American filibustering.--North Carolina Historical Review|This, of course, is Robert E. May's essential point: the filibusters, who had a critical impact on contemporary American culture and politics, have largely vanished from our historical memory. . . . No one has heretofore synthesized the filibusterers' activities and analyzed who served, their motivation, ideology, funding, and role in the broader milieu. The author thus provides not only an overview of major and minor expeditions but also a colorful and interesting look at their identities and the consequences of their actions. . . . May has provided a major contribution toward our understanding of the 'underworld' of filibustering.--American Historical Review|Exhaustively researched and comprehensive in scope, Manifest Destiny's Underworld is the first book successfully to integrate filibustering into the antebellum American experience. Equally important, the book will be of immense value to scholars interested in the larger, geopolitical role that the United States played during the nineteenth century. As such, it serves as a telling reminder that American aggression against hemispheric neighbors has had a long history, one that predates the emergence of the United States as a world power.--Military History of the West|In this balanced, judicious, and readable account of U.S. filibustering from the 1820s to the 1860s, Robert E. May . . . redesigns the study of filibustering. . . . [An] impressive book.--Journal of Southern History|[This book] uncovers issues largely ignored by previous scholars . . . and connects filibusterism with the war with Mexico and the Civil War.--Hispanic American Historical Review|This is one of those rare books that combine all the elements of an outstanding work of history by blending an interesting topic, thorough research, and excellent writing to present the best portrayal of antebellum filibustering to date. A new look at pro-slavery expansion into Latin America has long been overdue, and May presents a thorough updating of a misunderstood activity. . . . This outstanding book is appropriate for those interested in the antebellum period, Latin American history, or foreign policy of the era.--Choice|May has produced his magnum opus. . . . Unquestionably the finest volume yet written on the subject of filibustering.--Civil War History|[Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America] is an important and well-written book that restores to its proper place a little known but significant topic in American history.--Manhattan Journal of the West|Manifest Destiny's Underworld is the fullest, most detailed, most thoroughly researched book ever written on the antebellum filibuster movement. Robert May has conclusively demonstrated the importance of the drive for slavery's expansion in driving the filibusters. This book will become an essential reference work on its subject.--James M. McPherson, Princeton University|This is a major new book that merits the close perusal of anyone concerned with mid-nineteenth-century America.--Pacific Historical Review

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (August 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807855812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807855812
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #208,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By C. Bedford Crenshaw on July 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Manifest Destiny's Underworld, a book written by Dr. Robert E. May of Purdue University, offers an in depth look at mid-19th Century filibusters.
Dr. May first gives a detailed history of the filibusters. First, he details the origins of the name and then describes the roots of filibustering. Then, he details all the prominent attempts to filibuster. He goes on to explain why Americans filibustered, why the United States government was unable to stop the filibusters, and the logistics involved in financing a filibuster attempt. Lastly, he deals with the consequences of the filibuster movement; specifically, how it affected United States foreign policy and the War Between the States.
Dr. May's goal in writing this book was to give the filibuster movement its proper place in history. He thought that too few historians had studied what the filibuster movement was, who was involved, how it came about, and its consequences. Dr. May wished for people to get a better understanding of the filibusters and what they meant in the history of America.
Dr. May did an excellent job in making his arguments and conclusions. Every time he makes a proposition, he backs up the statement with numerous facts. At the end of the book are 107 pages of notes, showing the amount of detail Dr. May gave to the book. I had always thought filibusters sought the expansion of slavery, and were few. This book taught me how widespread the filibuster movement was, and how much United States officials hated it. I never before realized how much the filibuster movement affected antebellum life in America.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By William R. Forstchen on January 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
I had the honor of studying under Professor May as a graduate student in the early 90s. May had the well earned reputation of being a tough task master, especially when it came to our research skills and proper citation of sources. This work lives up to my memories of the author as being exacting, an exceptional writer, and "deep" in his examination of a fascinating and little known phenomena in the pre-war South. Highly recommended to serious students of the period and the more general reader wishing to explore the activities of proponents of slavery and American expansionism prior to the advent of the war.
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Americans have always had a longing for the frontier. There's something intellectually satisfying about adventuring into a region which remains relatively pristine, free of the civil society that modern institutions create. "Great men," or those men who liked to fancy themselves great, were attracted to the places in the Americas that remained legally and politically vacuous. Dreams of financial gain, political power, or adventure attracted a rough-hewn sort of leader. Those leaders are the subject of this book.

As was the case with their post-Civil War western brethren, most of these leaders' actions were illegal and, at times, atrocious. They enjoyed blurring the line between what was considered lawful and what was considered criminal, because it allowed them to exploit the legal void created by this instability. Many a filibuster became the head of his own puppet state, and many were celebrated as heroes for their exploits even if they were little more than gangsters.

So here you have your Jesse James and Wyatt Earp of an earlier generation, but more than just the names changed. The Antebellum and post-war Americas, particularly within the United States (of course) were vastly different places. Before the Civil War, the post-Spanish republics were very weak because their social and political institutions had lost the unifying elements of Church and Monarchy. The United States, however, was enormously powerful, benefitting from vast foreign immigration and industrial development. Ambitious Americans had a "big attitude" about what they believed they could do, anywhere the winds would carry them. This book is, more than anything, about Manifest Destiny run amok.
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This book was the basis of my undergraduate history thesis. May certainly shows how energetic people were in the 1850s to expand the United States' borders with or without Uncle Sam's help! Very compellingly paints a picture of a less than effective government and a devoted population of the United States who were interested in expansion.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By glacierjay on August 1, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're looking for relaxing weekend reading and a well-spun tale then avoid this book. I imagine that it is excellent source for academic historians of the period. There are scattered references to a few critical incidents all through the book so it is not easy to follow.
I was also disappointed that the book is written only from a US-centric perspective with no coverage of the victims of filibustering: did nothing of note happen in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, etc during the period? How were the coalitions built that finally disgorged Walker and other filibusters from their Central American footholds? The epilogue finally addresses some of the damage that these pirates did to US reputation in the rest of the Americas, but a lot more could be said.
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