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  • An 1848 for the Americas:The Black Atlantic, "El negro mártir," and Cuban Exile Anticolonialism in New York City
  • David Luis-Brown (bio)

In the wake of the European revolutions of 1848 and the convulsions of independence and abolition sweeping across the Caribbean and Latin America, scores of political refugees arrived in New York City. Many of these exiles contributed to republican periodicals like the French Le Republicain, the Italian L'Eco d'Italia, and the Cuban El Eco de Cuba, El Filibustero, El Horizonte, El Mulato, El Pueblo, La Revolución, and La Verdad (Catania 2:14–15; Ortiz).1 In the early 1850s, New York City was an incubator of republican nationalism for both Europe and the Americas, linking Young America to Giovane Italia and Joven Cuba, the anticolonial Cuban exile movement.2 New York reacted more to celebrity than to ethics when it gave a hero's welcome to both the antislavery Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian nationalist, and the proslavery José Antonio Páez, the Venezuelan caudillo and president, when they arrived in July 1850.3 Two years later, Francisco Agüero y Estrada, an obscure white exile from Cuba, sailed into New York harbor without any fanfare. But Agüero, a veteran of an ill-fated anticolonial guerilla war in Cuba, would soon usher republicanism into an innovative reckoning with its contradictions of race and slavery, which defined the position of the Americas in the modern world system.4 As the intellectual architect of El Mulato's intervention in republicanism, Agüero dismantled the Negrophobic logic of Cuban exile nationalism as pro-slavery annexationism when he boldly declared that if the [End Page 431] Cuban anticolonial movement hoped to succeed, it must recognize and celebrate Cubans as a racially "mixed people."5

"El negro mártir: novela cubana" (The Black Martyr: a Cuban Novel), an anonymous novella serialized in 1854 in El Mulato, fleshed out Agüero's breakthrough, exposing the contradiction that white Cuban creoles viewed their nation as "enslaved" by colonialism even as they sought to unseat Spain by perpetuating slavery in an alliance with US annexationists. Young America and Joven Cuba sought to rid Cuba of Spanish colonialism by forging an alliance among proslavery white Southerners, white northern proponents of Manifest Destiny, and Cuban exile nationalists.6 This alliance could hold only so long as Cuban exiles excluded Afro-Cubans from their imagined national community. In contrast, in a literalization of the figure of the enslaved, "El negro mártir" focused on the martyrdom of a slave in the anticolonial La Escalera (Ladder) slave rebellion of 1844 to foreground how an emphasis on slave insurrection could propel republican nationalism closer to its stated ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity. El Mulato was the first Cuban exile publication to foreground Afro-Cuban culture and history as the foundation for Cuban nationalism, and "El negro mártir" was one of two Cuban anti-slavery texts to endorse slave rebellion as the basis for republican freedom. By using the story of a slave rebel to capture the plight of Cuba, "El negro mártir" stakes claim to an 1848 for the Americas.

To untangle the meanings of an 1848 for the Americas involves defining republicanism and revisiting scholarly accounts of the American and European 1848. Republicanism is a twofold theory of freedom and of government (Pettit, "Republicanism").7 Classical republican theorists, ranging from Niccoló Machiavelli and Charles de Secondat Montesquieu to William Blackstone, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, subscribed to a belief in freedom as non-domination. The very notion of liberty posited an "opposition between liber and servus, citizen and slave" (Pettit, Republicanism 31). Machiavelli, for instance, characterized tyranny and colonization as forms of slavery, as would Cuban exiles centuries later (Republicanism 32). In the extended debates over republicanism in the American and European 1848, it was a matter of contention how the non-domination of freedom would be defined. Since an influential vein of republican thought had justified inequality and empire through a state's pursuit of what Machiavelli called grandezza (greatness), a particular nation could invoke republican freedom only to deny it to others, as did the proponents of US expansionism and...


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