The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy

The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy

Bibliographic Details

Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. 1918

Book Review

This is a thorough, scholarly, and exhaustive study of the subject by one of the recognized authorities in the history of the Mississippi Valley and the Spanish Southwest. He has made use of practically all writings of value by earlier investigators in the field, and in addition has drawn upon manuscript collections in both state and national archives of the United States and in the foreign countries which might reasonably be expected to contain pertinent material, notably Mexico, Spain, France, and England.

Introduction to The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy

Any future investigator who goes gleaning in the same field will discover that very little has been allowed to escape the sickle or fall from the hands of this indefatigable reaper. Geographically, the area covered by the book is small; but in order fully to set forth the controversy it was necessary to study the activities in this region of three nations besides the United States, namely, Spain, France, and England. Chronologically, the study confessedly begins with 1798; yet in the opening chapters it necessarily goes into much earlier events in order to explain the origins of claims then existing.

Context of The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy

After disposing of these origins, the author studies the activities of pioneers and filibustering parties from the United States; follows the long, devious, futile negotiations of United States diplomatic representatives at,the French and Spanish courts; describes the establishment of the insurgent government at Baton Rouge; reviews the stepsleading to and putting into effect the intervention of the United States, and describes the incorporation of the territory into the Union and the adjustment of its government. A chapter on “Mobile and the Aftermath” studies the relations between the West Florida controversy and the second war with Great Britain; and the final chapter, the seventeenth, on the “Conclusion of the Controversy,” traces rapidly the negotiations with Spain from 1813, which, according to the title of the book, is its chronological end, to their logical conclusion in the treaty with Spain of 1819-21, which finally ceded to the United States all of Spain's claims not only to West Florida, but also to East Florida and the region west of the Mississippi lying east and north of the line of 1819, drawn from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean. Dr. Cox explains, but makes no attempt to justify, the acquisition of the Floridas. After saying that “intrigue, craftiness, and mendacity were the accepted weapons” of the European diplomats with whom Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and J. Q. Adams had to contend in this controversy, he adds: “Their American competitors claimed to be men of another stripe. Yet even when diplomacy descended to the plane of sordid bribery, the executive and his counsellors were willing to profit by it.” The fearless author points to the century of Latin-American justifiable distrust and suspicion as part of the price paid by the United States for this territory thus acquired with scant claim and by questionable means, and says:

Thesis Statement

“There is little cause for wonder, therefore, that the story of how West Florida was acquired has remained a perpetual tangle, inexplicable, discreditable, and generally ignored.” Either imbued with the instinct of a dramatist, or actuated by a belief that the really worth-while reader would pursue his story to the last of its nearly seven hundred pages, Professor Cox reserved for his concluding paragraph what one usually expects to find in the preface, that part of a book which someone has aptly defined as the last thing which the writer writes and the first thing which the reader reads.

More about The West Florida Controversy, 1798-1813: A Study in American Diplomacy

It follows: As a phase of frontier expansion its acquisition can be more readily understood. The various steps which led up to it were not wholly praiseworthy, but they were the natural phases of a popular movement into the wilderness. The pioneers who took part in it had pressed into an area that physiographically belonged to the United States and they undertook to make this relation a political one also. They occupied the territory by peaceful means, dispossessing few thathad any legitimate claim for redress. They outstripped the diplomat and forced his hand, and in the final settlement their deeds, though obscured under a cloud of words, formed the determining factor.

Analysis of the Text

If the preceding chapters have made this clear, the writer has accomplished his purpose. His preface the writer has confined to a modest statement concerning his sources and to acknowledgments of his indebtedness to the many who had rendered him assistance. The index covers thirty double-column pages, is carefully worked out, and usable. If any adverse criticism can justly be made against any phase of the author's work it is that the story has been made longer than was necessary. The mechanical work of the publishers is satisfactory except in one respect, that is, the book is so loosely bound that it feels as if it were going to fall to pieces the first time it is opened; but this is a feature common to the recent issues in the series.

Book Review Details

This legal book review was published in:

The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr., 1919), pp. 377-379

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