July 26, 2014

40 Florida Voices

How We Got Florida

Crisis in the Cabinet

When word of Jackson’s rampage reached Washington, Monroe was so shocked and upset by the crisis into which the general had plunged the country that he fled the capital for his farm in Loudon County. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was left to deal with an enraged Spanish envoy who demanded the “prompt restitution of St. Marks, Pensacola, Barrancas, and all other places wrested by General Jackson from the Crown of Spain,” along with compensation for injuries and losses and the punishment of Jackson.

When Monroe returned to the capital, his shaken Cabinet began daily meetings on the crisis. It was one thing to chase Seminoles, a more serious matter to seize Spanish forts and the Spanish capital and expel the governor. But to hang or shoot British subjects and crow about it was to affront and insult the greatest power on Earth. Not only had Jackson exceeded orders, he had dragged the United States to the brink of war. Calhoun urged a court martial. But Jackson had one resolute, unyielding defender in the Cabinet - Secretary of State Adams. While no admirer of Jackson, Adams was a man of honor. For days he defended the general.

'Murder on the way'

When the report reached London of the executions of Ambrister and Arbuthnot, and of Jackson’s exultations, and public opinion moved swiftly toward a demand for apologies and reparations - or war. Fortunately, Lord Castlereagh, the British foreign secretary, had other fish to fry. His government was engaged in negotiations with the United States over the encouragement of trade, use of the North American fisheries and fixing the Canadian border. War would mean an end to the talks. After a drawn-out investigation, Castlereagh concluded that Ambrister and Arbuthnot had been engaged in “practices of such a description as to have deprived them of any claim on their own government for interference.” England neither demanded redress nor supported Spain’s protests. The poet Shelley might despise him (“I met Murder on the way/He had a mask like Castlereagh”), but the United States had an ally in the foreign secretary.

Surely in the back of Castlereagh’s mind was the futility of another war with the Americans. While Great Britain might thrash the U.S., the empire had n0 vital interest in who controlled Florida, and no interest at all in re-engaging General Jackson, the hero of the battle of New Orleans, where Jackson’s forces had butchered a British army under Gen. Pakenham. Then, there was Britaìn’s enduring vulnerability to an invasion of Canada. Best for all concerned if Ambrister and Arbuthnot were left to rest in peace.

Tags: Government/Politics & Law

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