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“I informed Mr. Calhoun & Mr. Monroe, that Wm. H. Crawford is a base man…
I have to answer a communication from the Sec. of War recd. yesterday on the plan of the contemplated campaign against Florida”
At the height of the U. S. diplomatic crisis with Spain over Florida, Old Hickory makes plans to return to combat in Florida, while venting his rage against Treasury Secretary William H. Crawford. ANDREW JACKSON.
Autograph Letter Signed, to Col. George Gibson, Hermitage, Tenn., January 10, 1820. 2 pp.
Hermitage Jany 10th 1820
Your letter without date reached me yesterday. I have perused it with much interest. I trust our chief will come forth like himself, & repell the attack.
The moment I saw Mr Forsyths correspondence at Madrid, and the report of the Sec. of the Treasury [Crawford], I thought I saw, a meditated blow, at the President & Sec. of War [Calhoun]. There appears in the two things, a systematic understanding, & combination. I do know, and so I informed Mr Calhoun & Mr Monroe, that Wm. H. Crawford is a base man, they too well know him. But he finds he is gone & he wishes to tumble them with him. I trust his shaft will fall harmless at their feet.
Please accept a tender of my thanks for your attention to the pamphlet. I shall write you when at leisure. I have to answer a communication from the Sec. of War recd. yesterday on the plan of the contemplated campaign against Florida, to forward by tomorrow’s mail. Having given to my friend Gadsden when he left me my plans, notes, charts of those places expecting to resign, I am taken by surprise, but if I recollect the mouth of the Grand Lagoon afords sufficient depth of water to admit transports. If so our heavy ordinance & c &c can be landed there & a few teams of oxen can be landed there & a few teams of oxen & horses will take them to position. For information on this head I have referred the Sec. of War  to you. Please present me respectfully to him & Mr Monroe, to Capt. Easter & Brunaugh & should a campaign be ordered I shall expect you with me.
Mrs. J. joins me in good wishes for your health & happiness, & believe me to be
Your friend sincerely
Col.o George Gibson
Transcript Note: We follow the writer’s spelling, only adding “[sic]” when it aids in understanding. At the time this was written, commas and dashes were often written instead of periods, and capitalization was haphazard. While maintaining the intent of the writer, punctuation is transcribed with minor changes in order to aid today’s reader.
Jackson’s great victory in the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812 (after the peace treaty had been signed) determined that the Mississippi Valley would belong to the United States. But defeated Creeks, along with the Seminoles, were now using the Florida- Georgia frontier as a base to harass Georgia. Moreover, runaway slaves from the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina were escaping there. Florida at that time was owned by Spain, but British designs to obtain more influence worried the Americans.
In December of 1817, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun ordered Jackson and his troops into the area. With the order came a confidential letter from President Monroe intimating that, once in Florida, Jackson might have “other” important services to perform. Jackson replied, “Let it be signified to me through any channel that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.” Channels or no channels, Jackson meant to take Florida, leading to one of the most famous controversies of the 19th century.
On March 10, 1818, he initiated the first Seminole War. He seized St. Marks and Pensacola from a small Spanish garrison. Lt. James Gadsden captured a ship, the Chance, with the two leading British agents, who Jackson ordered executed. By the time Jackson’s troops left in June, they had suppressed Indian resistance and effectively ended British and Spanish influence in Florida.
Though Jackson returned as a hero to the American people, his actions prompted international condemnation and brought the U.S. to the brink of war with Spain. Monroe and many in his cabinet questioned the constitutionality of Jackson’s conduct. (Congressman John Rhea said that he carried the secret approval from Monroe to Jackson, but the president claimed that he was ill at the time the letter was sent and had no recollection of having read it.) Calhoun secretly recommended censuring Jackson.
Secretary of State John Quincy Adams supported the general, recognizing that Jackson’s campaign would force Spain to get rid of her troublesome colony. By the time the Senate committee investigating the affair was ready to report, in early 1819, Spain had renounced its claims to West Florida and ceded East Florida to the U.S. in the Adams-Onís Treaty. But as shown by this letter, the intrigue continued after Spain failed to ratify the treaty. Treasury Secretary Crawford recommended the recall of John Forsyth, the American ambassador to Madrid, but Jackson saw that proposal as a ploy to sabotage and embarrass the administration. Such a weak response to Spain would outrage public opinion--and enhance Crawford’s prospects to succeed Monroe. The President instead decided upon an ultimatum to Spain: unless they ratified the Treaty, American troops would occupy Florida.
Further bloodshed was averted by the replacement of the Spanish monarchy by a republican government that quickly ratified the Adams-Onis Treaty. Thus the need for the military campaign Jackson was preparing in this letter was averted.
Jackson was right about Monroe’s distrust of Crawford. According to John Quincy Adams’s Memoirs, Monroe and his Treasury secretary very nearly came to blows during an argument over patronage. Crawford raised his cane and called Monroe a “damned infernal old scoundrel,” prompting the president to grab the fireplace tongs to defend himself. (Crawford had once killed a man in a duel, as had Jackson.) Fortunately Crawford and Monroe both cooled their fury.
Calhoun later became Jackson’s Vice President, but was often at odds with the president over the threat of southern secession.
George Gibson (1775-1861), a veteran of the War of 1812, had served as quartermaster general of the Southern Division (1816-1818), reporting to Andrew Jackson. In that capacity, he was instrumental in getting critical provisions to Jackson during the Seminole campaign. (Jackson lauded Gibson for his “zeal and integrity” during the campaign.) Gibson was then appointed commissary general of subsistence. He remained a close friend and confidante to Jackson throughout the latter’s presidency. Gibson went on to serve in the Mexican War, and was eventually brevetted up to the rank of major general.
James Gadsden (1788-1858) served as an aide to Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War. Following action in the Second Seminole War, Gadsden became a planter and railroad executive in South Carolina. A strong Southern nationalist, he urged the construction of a railroad to the Pacific to help further Southern economic independence. In 1853, when Jefferson Davis was Secretary of War in Pierce’s cabinet, Gadsden was appointed minister to Mexico to negotiate for territory along the border. The result was the Gadsden Purchase, signed by Pierce on June 30, 1854. Gadsden was recalled in 1856 for exceeding his instructions. He died two years later.
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), instrumental in developing the States Rights Doctrine rationale for secession, was a Representative and Senator from South Carolina, Secretary of War and then Vice President under John Quincy Adams, and Secretary of State under John Tyler. Calhoun had been the political force behind the 1818 move in Congress to censure Jackson for his actions during the First Seminole War. In 1830-31, Jackson and Calhoun carried on a lengthy and impassioned correspondence about the latter’s role in that censure. At the time, President Monroe had evidently believed, and told Jackson, that his cabinet had been unanimous in its decision not to censure Jackson. This correspondence between Jackson and Calhoun, including Garnett’s letter and diary extract, were published later in 1831 in book form.
William H. Crawford (1772-1834), Senator from Georgia, appointed Secretary of War by President James Madison in August 1815. He was transferred to the Treasury in October 1816, and served under Presidents Madison and James Monroe until 1825. Crawford also had supported Jackson’s censure, and in 1824 was an unsuccessful Democratic Republican candidate for President.
John Forsyth (1780-1841) graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1799; attorney general of Georgia, 1808; Democratic Republican in Congress, 1813 to 1818, and in the Senate, November 1818 to February 1819; Minister to Spain 1819-1823; Congress from 1823 to 1827; Governor of Georgia 1827-1829; U.S. Senate again, as a Jacksonian, 1829 to 1834; Secretary of State under Presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren and served from 1834 to 1841. [excerpted from bioguide.congress.gov]. As Secretary of State he led the U.S. prosecution effort against the Amistad captives.
Remini, Robert V. Andrew Jackson & His Indian Wars (NY: Viking, 2001).