John Quincy Adams and the conquest of Florida

The Washington Free Beacon reviews a book about Adams and reveals a historical record few were aware of.
In 1817, the United States under President Monroe was locked in an argument with Spain about who should own Florida. While Monroe’s secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, endeavored to cut the Gordian knot in diplomacy with his Spanish counterpart, an unexpected event and, as it turned out, opportunity presented itself: Seminole Indians on the border of the young United States attacked a convoy and massacred a group of Americans. The president responded by requesting that Andrew Jackson, hero of the Creek Wars of 1812-13, drive the Seminoles south of the border. Jackson did so and more, driving the Spanish out of Florida and bringing the territory under American control.

Adams thus found himself in a rather unfavorable position. Florida was a key asset for the United States but Jackson had gained it by force, causing gigantic diplomatic offense to the Spanish. Both “the Spanish and the French ambassador had written to Adams demanding that the United States repudiate Jackson and restore Spanish territory.” John Quincy, however, responded with contemptuous calm. In transmitting their message to Monroe, Adams remarked, “there was something tragical in the manner of both these gentlemen.”

America got Florida. Adams’ cool manner prevailed and his work convincing the president to think of Spanish occupation of Florida as an act of aggression resulted in the Transcontinental Treaty of 1819. This was but the preview to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, actually written by Adams, which declared that future colonization by European nations in the Americas would be viewed as an act of aggression and would be greeted with intervention by the now stable and growing United States.

The Transcontinental Treaty and Monroe Doctrine were two great accomplishments in the remarkable life of John Quincy Adams. As James Traub notes in his excellent biography, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit, by the time he became secretary of state at age 50, Adams had already completed a career as America’s first leading diplomat and served one term in the Senate. He would go on to serve one term as president and many more terms in the House of Representatives before the apex of his career as a statesman when he predicted the American Civil War while fighting the battle against slavery.
He was the first son of a former President to be elected President in his own right and the only one until George W. Bush was elected in 2000.  This aspect of how Florida came to be a state has not been widely reported in the history books.   Jackson's conquest of Florida is not as well known as he wars with theIndian tribes or his famous victory at the Battle of New Orleans where he defeated the British troops who had only recently defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo.


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