Lopez was born in Venezuela to a wealthy plantation owner. His hatred of the Spanish Loyalists took root when his family lost their land to the government. They moved to Caracus where Lopez tried his hand at business but soon proved himself to be a charismatic leader of men. Lopez discovered his taste for battle while helping a small village fight off an attack by a royalist force. He was captured thereafter and joined the Spanish army to avoid execution. His valor in battle won him their admiration, promotions, and a transfer to Cuba.
This new insurrection in Cuba was doomed to failure, and Lopez retreated to New York to seek outside help. He knew that he could not bank on the United States for official recognition, but hoped that he could secure men and financing to support his cause. Unfortunately, the pro-Cuban activists in New York feared that Lopez was another caudillo who would abandon annexation to raise his own flag above the island once independence was won. Thus, they thwarted his plans, forcing Lopez to move to New Orleans where he found greater support. Lopez promised southern sympathizers that he would fight for annexation, and they happily envisioned another slave state as a bulwark to their peculiar institution.
In truth, Southern politicians and businessmen feared “Africanization” of Cuba – that is, replacing slaves in Cuba with freed blacks – more than they supported annexation of Cuba as a “slave state.” The difference is subtle though very real. They feared that if the United States did not annex Cuba, a European power surely would, and both the French and British were agitating for the elimination of all slave trade in the Caribbean.
As southerners flocked to support Lopez, many joining his growing revolutionary army, even those in New York who had opposed him began to fall into line. Surprisingly, even abolitionists from the north began to support Lopez. They chose to overlook the slavery issue as being secondary to ending Spanish rule in the Caribbean. All looked in favor of Lopez's ultimate victory.