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Andrew Jackson Grabs Florida
by William P. Meyers

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Andrew Jackson would grow up to be a President of the United States of America and the founder of the Democratic Party. Along the way he would murder many of his fellow men and live a life of depravity unmatched, so far as we know, by any other American President.

Continued from The Battle of New Orleans

Andrew Jackson and the troops under his command remained in defensive mode after the Battle of New Orleans until word arrived that the Peace Treaty of Ghent had been signed before the battle. Discipline was maintained. In Mobile the previous November 200 members of the Tennessee militia were arrested for mutiny. Six leaders were sentenced to death in December. After the Battle of New Orleans, General Jackson coolly ordered that these soldiers be executed. The people of New Orleans, under martial law, suffered, and militia members began defecting, as their families were starving. In one of his few known acts of mercy, Jackson decided not to have a deserter shot who pleaded that in his absence their landlord had evicted his wife. [James 254-255]

The British actually won the last battle of the War of 1812 by capturing Fort Bowyer on February 19th, 1815, just before news of the peace treaty officially arrived on the 21st. Despite Jackson's threats, after word of the treaty arrived, almost the entire Louisiana militia deserted his command to take advantage of the sudden boom in business caused by the end of the British blockade.

The British had killed few American soldiers in Louisiana and Alabama. Now Jackson's troops, afraid to decamp without permission, which Jackson would not give, grew sick; over a thousand died of disease [James p. 259]. When the French consul helped men leave the militia by handing out French citizenship papers, Jackson deported him. All New Orleans was crying out for an end to Jackson's military dictatorship. Entire companies of troops mutinied. Jackson ordered the arrest of Louis Louaillier, a member of the legislature, for writing a critical newspaper article. A federal judge, Dominick Hall, ordered Louaillier's release. Jackson arrested the judge. But Jackson, still awaiting official word, admitted the nation might be at peace, and a court martial refused to convict Louaillier. Finally on March 13, 1815, official notice of the peace came. Jackson promptly declared an end to martial law; military prisoners were released. On March 15th Andrew Jackson celebrated his 48th birthday.

On March 21st Judge Hall summoned Jackson into court on contempt of court charges. There was argument aplenty, but in effect Jackson would not answer the District Attorney's question. Judge Hall fined the General $1000 and costs. Jackson paid up, and admonished his fellow citizens to follow the laws "even when we think them unjustly applied." [James p. 264]

By May 1815 Andrew Jackson was back to his old life in Nashville, lording over slaves and racing horses. He retained command of the South division of the U.S. Army, with pay of $2,400 per year, but little responsibility. Rest restored his health. John Reid was engaged to write a biography. It was at this time that Jackson began to be mentioned as a potential President of the United States. The Federalist Party, long in trouble, appeared to be dissolving because of its failure to support the war against Britain. Jackson, however, supported James Monroe, the Secretary of War who had supported his own military aspirations.

Andrew Jackson had already raided Florida in 1814, as described in General Jackson Captures Pensacola. The peace treaty left Florida, which American slavers coveted, in Spanish hands. Many native Americans were restless because of Jackson's seizure of their lands. Fugitive slaves lived in large numbers in north Florida, and some, led by Garcon, were well-armed and held Negro Fort on the Apalachicola River. Jackson ordered Brigadier General Edmund Gaines to attack Negro Fort, all the while buying options on Florida lands that would make good slave plantations. [James 275]

But Secretary of War William H. Crawford, reviewing Jackson's treaty grabbing all the lands of the Creeks, including of those who had fought on his side during the war, found that the Creeks had signed away 4 million acres that had belonged to Cherokees and Choctaws. He gave them their land back. In turn President Madison, responding to angry land speculators, now sent Jackson to get the 4 million acres back million acres back by threats and negotiation. Backed by the military might of the United States, he forced the tribes to accept $180,000 for the land, or less than a nickel an acre.

Meanwhile Gaines slaughtered 270 former slaves at Negro Fort. [James 275-276]

The nation at this time was awash in credit largely created by private banks authorized by states to print their own currency. Land speculation was feverish, with Jackson, like others, grabbing at lands recently "acquired" from native Americans.

Always lusting for an excuse to kill people who disagreed with him, General Jackson challenged General Winfield Scott to a duel. Scott had stated that a Jackson order, countermanding orders from the War Department, was "mutinous." Many agreed with Scott, who refused the duel, stating his life would better be risked fighting for his country. Ultimately, when newly elected President Monroe insisted Jackson was wrong but also asked that he stay in command, Jackson relented.

Meanwhile, the Spanish empire had been falling apart for some time. Mexico was in revolt. Florida had been stripped of its professional Spanish soldiers. Slaves were in high demand in the American south; Andrew Jackson sold Edward Livingston 40 field hands for $24,000. Fernandina had become a smuggling center at the border of Florida and Georgia. Gregor MacGregor organized privateers to seize the town for the United States. President Monroe then sent a fleet to capture Fernandina, "to hold Fernandina in trust for His Catholic Majesty," and put pressure on Spain to sell Florida. In January of 1818 he also gave General Jackson very open-ended orders to pursue America's "great interests" in Florida.

General Jackson, in command of eight hundred U.S. Army regulars and nine hundred Georgia militiamen invaded Florida on March 10, 1818. The pretext was hunting Seminole Indians, supposedly organized by British traders to attack the U.S. There was much marching around but little actual fighting. Two British citizens, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister were arrested, tried, and found guilty of helping Indians defend themselves against American predators. The court martial sentenced one man to be shot, the other to fifty lashes and a year of confinement. Jackson ordered them both shot dead, and they were. Before leaving Florida, Jackson's army also captured Pensacola and declared western Florida to be U.S. territory.

Spain threatened to declare war, and Monroe's cabinet debated the issue for four days, coming to a decision on June 18, 1818. North Florida would be returned to Spain, because only Congress could authorize a war. The President could not authorize the conquest on his own authority. Inside the cabinet only John Quincy Adams fought to defend Jackson's conduct. In Congress Henry Clay implied that Jackson might be another Julius Caesar, intent on establishing a military dictatorship. But motions in the House of Representatives, on February 8, 1819, to disapprove of Jackson's actions in Florida, failed by wide margins.

Following negotiations with Spain by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, a treaty was signed on February 22, 1819, selling Florida to the United States of America for $5 million.

Next: Governor of Florida

Main source: The Life of Andrew Jackson by Marquis James, Bobbs-Merrill company, 1938.

See also: Battle of New Orleans (Wikipedia); City of New Orleans

Learn more: President Andrew Jackson main page

U.S. Presidents main page

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