The military occupation of ... Florida?

A bunch of Greene County area vacationers will head to Florida this winter as usual. They can do that without a passport because 200 years ago, the United States acquired Florida from Spain in a treaty arrangement.

Pressure had been building on Spain for a number of years before 1819. The long war with France’s Napoleon, which lasted from 1807 to 1814, had seriously depleted King Ferdinand VII’s royal treasury. 

And Florida had grown increasingly difficult for Spain to defend without costly troop garrisons. 

U.S. squatters were settling southward illegally onto Florida lands, and American outlaws found a refuge there. Slaves from Georgia and Alabama escaped south over the border into Florida, where they were welcomed by Seminole tribal settlements. 

The Seminoles themselves were a problem for the U.S., because from time to time they raided northward across the border onto Georgia and Alabama settlements. 

To protect Georgia and Alabama citizens, Gen. Andrew Jackson in 1817-18, fresh from the 1815 Battle of New Orleans against the British, led American troops into northeast Florida to subdue the tribesmen in what came to be called the First Seminole War. Jackson built Fort Scott at the southern border of Georgia as a base of operations, and in effect occupied northeastern Florida.

American Secretary of State John Quincy Adams announced that the U.S. needed to take over Florida, which he declared to be “a derelict open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them.”

So the conveyance of Florida to the U.S. seemed to be in the interest of both America and Spain. The Adams-Onis Treaty codified it. 

America got Florida — what would Spain get?

Two benefits, neither of them actually enriching the royal coffers.

One was an agreement on the boundary between the Louisiana Purchase (now American territory) and Spanish Texas. The border had been in dispute for some time. The treaty established the boundary as the Sabine River, which today serves as the lower border between the states of Texas and Louisiana.

The other benefit was an agreement that the United States would pay the legal claims of American citizens against the Spanish government up to a maximum of $5 million. The Spanish treasury did not receive the money, but it unburdened itself of $5 million worth of debt claims and the trouble and cost of settling them itself.

The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 didn’t put an end to Spain’s troubles in the New World, though. 

Just three years later, Mexico declared itself independent of Spain, successfully concluding a war for freedom that had lasted more than a decade. Other Spanish colonies in the New World soon imitated Mexico, and Spain lost the American empire that it had held for some 350 years.

But Mexico also soon was deprived of territory by Americans. U.S. settlers in Texas fought a successful war against the Mexican motherland, declared their independence in 1836, and established the Republic of Texas. Mexico refused to recognize the new nation.

The United States at first refused to annex Texas, but in 1845, Congress voted to do so, in large part to add a new slave state to America. Texas promptly voted for annexation as well. The state of Iowa was created the next year in 1846 as a free state.

America’s annexation of Texas generated the Mexican-American War in 1846, with the U.S. winning a resounding victory in 1848 that deprived Mexico of around half of its remaining territory. 

As for Florida, it remained as a United States territory from 1822 until 1845, when it became the 25th state to enter the Union, just before Texas. Half of its population was non-white by then, with Seminole natives and African-American slaves composing most of that segment.

The Seminole wars had cost the U.S. between $20 million and $40 million prior to statehood.

Florida under American control was dominated by a plantation economy similar to that of its neighbor Georgia and other Deep South states. Like Texas, it lived under the United States flag for only 16 years before it joined the Confederacy. After the Civil War, like other Southern states, it developed a code of Jim Crow laws that kept its non-white population in subjugation for the next century.

Today, with sea levels steadily rising, estimates of the potential loss of Florida coastal land are startling, and could deprive Iowans of the primary reason they go south to that state in the winter.

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161