The term "filibuster" affords an interesting example of the way in which words and their uses become twisted into something altogether different from their original meaning. It comes from a Dutch word, several centuries old, vrijbuiter, or free vessel or boat. It got somehow into English as "freebooter," and into Spanish as filibustero. The original referred to piracy. Two or three centuries later, it meant an engagement in unauthorized and illegal warfare against foreign States, in effect, piratical invasions. In time, it came into use to describe the supply of military material to revolutionists, and finally to obstruction in legislative proceedings. In his message of June 13, 1870, President Grant said that "the duty of opposition to filibustering has been admitted by every President. Washington encountered the efforts of Genet and the French revolutionists; John Adams, the projects of Miranda; Jefferson, the schemes of Aaron Burr. Madison and subsequent Presidents had to deal with the question of foreign enlistment and equipment in the United States, and since the days of John Quincy Adams it has been one of the constant cares of the Government in the United States to prevent piratical expeditions against the feeble Spanish American Republics from leaving our shores."
In 1806, Francisco Miranda, a Venezuelan patriot whose revolutionary activities preceded those of Simon Bolivar, sailed from New York on what would have been called, some years later, a filibustering expedition. His three vessels were manned chiefly by Americans. There are always those whose love of excitement and adventure, sometimes mixed with an active sympathy for an under dog, leads them to engage in such an enterprise. This one was productive of no important results. There were plenty of American pirates and privateers in earlier days, but I have found no record of any earlier actual expedition whose purpose was the creation of a new republic. But during the next hundred years, including the considerable number of Americans who have engaged in the present disorder in Mexico, such enterprises have been numerous. Among the most notable are the several Lopez expeditions to Cuba, about 1850, and the Walker expeditions to Lower California, Nicaragua, and Honduras, a few years later. The steamer Virginius, to which reference is made in another chapter, was engaged in filibustering when she was captured, in 1873, and many of her crew and passengers unlawfully executed, by Spanish authority, in Santiago. But that was only one of many similar enterprises during the Ten Years' War in Cuba. It is very doubtful if the war could have continued as it did without them. During our own Civil War, we called such industries "blockade-running," but it was all quite the same sort of thing. The Confederate army needed arms, ammunition, medicine, and supplies of many kinds. On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of the ports of the seceded States, with a supplementary proclamation on the 27th that completed the line, and thus tied the South hand and foot. In his History of the United States, Elson notes that raw cotton could be bought in Southern ports for four cents a pound while it was worth $2.50 a pound in Liverpool, and that a ton of salt worth seven or eight dollars in Nassau, a few miles off the coast, was worth $1700 in gold in Richmond before the close of the war, all because of the blockade.
There is, naturally, a lack of detail regarding the many expeditions, large and small, of the Ten Years' War, but they began soon after the opening of hostilities. In his Diary, Gideon Welles notes, under date of April 7, 1869, the prevalence of "rumors of illegal expeditions fitting out in our country to aid the Cuban insurgents," and states that "our countrymen are in sympathy with them." In December, of that year, President Grant reported that a number of illegal expeditions had been broken up, but did not refer to those that had succeeded. In October, 1870, he issued a general proclamation, without specific reference to Cuba, warning all persons against engagement in such expeditions. During the years of the war, Spanish warships, at different times, seized American vessels, a proceeding which led to some active diplomatic negotiation, and which, on several occasions, threatened to involve this country in war with Spain. The problem of the industry variously known as filibustering, blockade-running, gun-running, and the shipment of contraband, has two ends. There is, first, the task of getting the shipment out of one country, and, second, the task of getting it into another country. While it is generally classed as an unlawful enterprise, there frequently arises a difficulty in proving violation of law, even when goods are seized and the participants arrested. There is, perhaps, a moral question involved also. Such shipments may be a violation of the law. They are generally so regarded. But they may be, as in the case of the struggling Cubans, struggling against actual and generally admitted wrongs, the only means of serving a worthy and commendable end. There is no doubt that, in Cuba's revolution of 1895, Americans who knew about the work were prone to regard a successful expedition to the island with satisfaction if not with glee. They were inclined to regard those engaged as worthy patriots rather than as law-breakers.