Storm Over Mexico

Godfrey Hodgson tells the colourful story of Jane McManus, political journalist, land speculator, pioneer settler in Texas and propagandist who believed that the United States had a ‘manifest destiny’ to rule Mexico and the Caribbean.

At the height of the furore over the boundary question in Texas that led to the declaration of war against Mexico on May 11th, 1846, George Bancroft, the famous historian who was President Polk’s Secretary of the Navy, received a long letter in Washington telling him how to do his job and claiming,

I mean to show you that I can call out an expression of public sentiment (and create it too) that Mr Polk would be wise to respect.
The letter was signed ‘Storms’.

‘Who is Storms?’ Bancroft wrote to his colleague William Marcy, the Secretary of War. ‘She’, Marcy replied, ‘is an outrageously smooth and keen writer for the newspapers’.

It was not common for women to write for the newspapers in the mid-nineteenth century, and almost unprecedented for them to do so in as confident and aggressive a tone as did the woman who called herself ‘Storms’.

But then she wrote and lived, at a furious pace, under several names. She was born Jane Maria Eliza McManus. She married Allen Storm,  and so could claim the vaguely ominous ‘Storms’. Sometimes she signed her work plain, unisex ‘Montgomery’, and sometimes she came out as ‘Cora Montgomery’ or ‘Corinne Montgomery’. After her second marriage she could boast the magnificent appellation Jane Eliza McManus Storm Cazneau.

Under any name, she was one of the most formidable women of the antebellum American South, a complete rebuttal of the stereotype of white-skinned Southern ladies at home only in nursery and drawing room. She was Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler in one: a single mother who became one of the first women political journalists, a war correspondent, diplomat, secret agent, explorer, speculator and adventurer.

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