40 Florida Voices
How We Got Florida
Politics and sausage
Jackson and Adams were men of vision, unapologetic about the means they employed to realize the destiny they foresaw for America. Adams once declared: “North America appears to be destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language, professing one general system of religious and political principles, and accustomed to one general tenor of social usages and customs.” Jackson, Adams’ rival for the presidency in 1824, agreed: “What good man would prefer a country covered with forests and ranged by a few thousand savages, to our extensive Republic, studded with cities, towns and prosperous farms, embellished with all the improvements which art can devise or industry execute.”
IF you wish to enjoy politics and sausage, it is said, you ought not inquire too closely how they are made. The same may be said of empires and nations. The sometimes duplicitous, often ruthless, way in which Jackson, Monroe and Adams took the Floridas was to prove indicative of how Americans would take Texas, California, Hawaii, the Philippines and the Canal Zone. To Europeans, the American republic seemed an insatiable predator on the prowl. But that is the way the world worked in the age of empires. And that appears to be the way the world will work in the 21st century, now that the West has given up its empires to lecture other nations on how to behave. Aspiring great powers are more likely to emulate the example ol' Jackson than the exhortations of Clinton.
Jackson had seen in Florida the land of a dying empire, there for the taking, as Iraqis in 1990 saw in Kuwait oil-rich and undefended land left behind by a defunct British empire. In 1991, America had the power and will to force Iraq to disgorge Kuwait. In 1818, Spain lacked the power 0r will to take back Florida. But the day is coming when Americans will tire of their imperial burdens. Then the Persian Gulf will be dominated by the most powerful of its littoral states. As Castlereagh sagely decided that no vital British interest was at risk in who controlled Florida, so must America decide what is vital and what we can let go.
Patrick J. Buchanan, a senior advisor to three presidents, political columnist and host of CNN's "Crossfire" program, was twice a candidate for the Republican Party's nominee for president. This article is excerpted from his new book, "The Myth of American Isolationism," which will be published in 1999. He and his wife, Shelley, live part-time in Delray Beach.