Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800-1821

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Filibusters and Expansionists: Jeffersonian Manifest Destiny, 1800-1821. By Frank Lawrence Owsley Jr. and Gene A. Smith (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997. Pp. 256. Illustrations, maps, bibliographical references, and index. $29.95.)

This study examines American attempts to take Florida and Texas away from Spain during the administrations of Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. Admitting that their subject has been covered in various works, the authors promise to provide a comprehensive account of Gulf Coast expansionism and show that it is essentially the same as the later phenomenon known as Manifest Destiny.

One can learn much from this description of events and episodes hitherto not well known. For example, there is the attempt of the Mexican patriot Jose Bernardo Maxililiano de Lara Gutierrez to liberate Texas from Spain in the wake of the failed Hidalgo Revolution. Secretary of State James Monroe supported Gutierrez's invasion of Mexico in 1812. West Point-trained former U.S. Army officer Augustus William Magee led the small insurgent army; and a significant number of its troops were American citizens. At about the same time, President Madison was instructing former governor of Georgia George Mathews to negotiate with Spanish officials in Florida about turning that colony over to the United States. When diplomacy failed, in a move that foreshadowed Andrew Jackson's boldness in 1819, Mathews claimed he had secret instructions from Washington to support rebellious military activity by American residents in Florida. Acting on these, he led a group of Georgia "patriots" who captured Amelia Island with the aid of American gunboats and then, supported by a small number of American army troops, marched against St. Augustine. Domestic and international politics led Monroe to disavow Mathews's aggression, but the secretary continued to hope that the chaos in Florida or congressional support for military action would bring the Spanish colony into the American sphere.

The War of 1812 weakened the Indian buffer zone between the United States and Florida and increased American involvement there. With the tacit approval of local Spanish officials, in 1816 United States armed forces destroyed Negro Fort, a stronghold on the Apalachicola River that had been built by the British but was occupied after the war by runaway slaves. A year later, Gregor MacGregor, a Scot who had fought for Simon Bolivar, subdued Amelia Island with a tiny force of Americans and the quiet approval of the United States. After governing the island for a time, McGregor went to England, and Luis-Michel Aury, another adventurer, took control of both Amelia Island and Galveston, using the two ports as bases for privateering activities against Spanish trade. …