“The Consul's Contempt for His Countrymen”: Nicholas Trist and Networks of Class, Power, and Commerce in Havana, 1834–40

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 3:40 PM
Belmont Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Matthew T. Raffety, University of Redlands
Nicholas Trist’s appointment as Consul for Havana in 1834 seemed a plum position.  The new Consul stood to gain a sizeable income in fees, and was situated in a growing port to do business on his own account.  Almost immediately, however, the Virginian Democrat found himself running afoul of the established community of American merchants and ship captains, themselves overwhelmingly New England Whigs.  Trist’s conflict with the his countrymen in Havana began with a campaign of commercial and social shunning, but, after Trist ordered the incarceration of a recalcitrant captain in a Cuban jail, the feud devolved to include death threats against the Consul made through shady British intermediaries, and finally, the publication of printed denunciations in the papers back home that included back-and-forth claims of treason, breach of duty, drunkenness, illegal slaving, and competing claims about the essential character of the American nation.  Both the captains and the consul framed their self-defense in highly “republican” terms, presenting themselves as plain Americans, and accusing their opponent of high-handed behavior and a lofty sense of their own authority. 

By examining the published record of the feud, as well as Trist’s replies to his bosses at the State Department, this paper examines the intersections of two expanding, decidedly American networks that clashed in Havana in the Jacksonian Age: the tight, often familial networks of trade, on one hand, and the expanding power and size of the highly politicized consular service of partisan appointees on the other.  The party and regional politics of the era find voice in Havana as the American flag following the expanding trade clashed with the expanding official presence of the national state.

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