In this valuable and compact book, Wolnisty brings attention to the emigration of U.S. southerners leaving the United States for Nicaragua and Brazil, and the commercial and political expansion, interests, and campaigns in Latin America during the mid-nineteenth century, before and after the U.S. Civil War. Based on research in U.S. and Brazilian archives, Wolnisty outlines the multiple U.S. Southern expansionistic ideologies at the time and how the idea of Manifest Destiny emerged as a southward moving, as much as a westward moving, political concept.
The chapters that outline Wolnisty’s claims are divided into three sections—“Nicaragua,” “Commercial Expansion in Brazil,” and “Southern Emigration to Brazil.” Her methodological strategy is to outline three different accounts and weave them into a single narrative. For example, she describes how Matthew F. Maury’s idea of Manifest Destiny equated the Louisiana Purchase with his exploration of the Amazon region of Brazil and justified his economic and political interests there. Maury envisioned connecting the mouth of the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Amazon River. According to Wolnisty, the southern filibusters who migrated to Nicaragua employed a racialized (“Anglo-Saxon”) dimension in their expansionistic campaigns, whereas the southerners who went to Brazil did not. Her treatments of U.S. southern emigrants to Nicaragua and Brazil dovetail to show not only how their commercial and political interests in Latin America were different from each other but also why they are important to consider together.
However, Wolnisty would have strengthened and broadened her arguments by stating that the southerners who migrated to Brazil and Nicaragua were a diverse group, certainly not the monolithic one that she implies. Among the emigrants to Brazil, for example, were several U.S. northerners from Ohio, Maine, and New York. As a result, Wolnisty creates the impression that Confederates migrated to Latin America in a vacuum. That is, Confederates were not the only people who migrated to Brazil; in fact, many thousands of German, Swiss, Belgian, and especially Italian immigrants established enclaves there at the time, not far from the Americans. Wolnisty also does not mention the Brazilian envoys sent to New York, New Orleans, and even Antwerp to recruit new settlers (particularly agriculturalists). Furthermore, the five major settlements that emerged throughout Brazil, which Wolnisty does not discuss, were both geographically distant and culturally distinctly different from each other. Inclusion of this information would have helped to convey that immigration to Brazil from the southern United States occurred within a complex and multidimensional context.
Finally, there are two critical inaccuracies. First, Charles Nathan, one of the major immigration “boosters” discussed in the last chapter, did not remain in Brazil as Wolnisty mistakenly claims. He left for New Orleans with his family in the 1880s and eventually died there in 1910. Moreover, he was not a U.S. southerner; he was likely born either in Britain or in Rio de Janeiro (of British Jewish parents who had been living in Rio since the 1820s and were members of a well-known business family).
Second, Wolnisty’s statement that U.S. southerners were encouraged to bring slaves to Brazil is misguided (74). In fact, ample documented evidence shows that Brazilian immigration authorities and governmental agencies, as well as immigrants themselves, specifically advised people moving to Brazil not to bring slaves. Southerners leaving for Brazil were well aware of the Brazilian statute that prohibited foreigners from bringing black slaves with them; most, if not all, of them complied. Wolnisty herself admits that southerners rarely brought their slaves to Brazil (88).
Nonetheless, Wolnisty’s study of a “different Manifest Destiny,” combining filibusters, commercial expansion, and southern emigrants within a single work, is a new and commendable endeavor. Overall, this book contributes to a burgeoning scholarly literature about the important nineteenth-century U.S. commercial and political campaigns in Latin America that will be of interest to a wide range of scholars.