Aaron Burr and Francisco de Miranda: The Odd Couple of Early Filibustering

One of the pleasant things I am involved in here at the John-F.-Kennedy Institute obviously is teaching. As I have joined the History Department, it is thus no surprise that my expertise in historical filibustering was sought after, and my MA-seminar is about “Filibustering in the American Hemisphere, 1806 till 1860.”


The rather unconventional timeframe is due to my choice to declare Francisco de Miranda and Aaron Burr filibusters. Seems controversial, but I’ve got some reasonable arguments in my favor: Both men started their projects as privately organized military expeditions after they claimed to have tacit official support by the British and US administrations, respectively. There are some striking similarities when bringing these two egomaniacs together under one rubric of analysis: Both received a good deal of their financial resources from the US-based Ogden family, and both attempted to circumvent US Neutrality Laws by declaring their men to be settlers.And, obviously, both their plans finally materialized (more, in the case of Miranda, or less, in the case of Burr) in the year 1806.


This historical confluence provided me with the starting point for my class. Its end date (1860) is motivated by the death of William Walker, the notorious US filibuster who ravaged through Mexico and Central America.


With these men as sign posts, my first session was obviously dominated by a discussion of the dangers of just such periodizations that depend on (in)famous white men to make history “visible.” It is unfortunate that I perpetuated that worrisome “tradition” but the Miranda/Burr-affair was too much of a potboiler not to use it as an intro. A nod to Hayden White: In history, we are all narrators more than reporters.


And as a postscript: The image that accompanies this entry is of back-wall of the room my seminar takes place in. According to staff, the nicest room of the institute. Have only seen two more by now, but so far I am inclined to agree…


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