Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

The Patriot Constitution and International Constitution-Making

Academic journal article Texas Review of Law & Politics

The Patriot Constitution and International Constitution-Making

Article excerpt


Constitutions have been essential documents in the structure and function of the United States since independence. Throughout the country's history, groups have successfully and unsuccessfully turned to constitutions to define their political vi-sion and community.1 While structuring government and estab-lishing rights were and are central constitutional functions, scholars have increasingly noted the international dimension of constitutions and related documents.2 Constitutions speak inter-nationally. This function is the central aspect of a newly found constitutional text in the history of American constitutionalism, the Patriot Constitution.

In 1812, the "Patriots," military adventurers from Georgia, with a few residents of East Florida, then part of Spain, invaded East Florida with the hope of annexing it to the United States.3 Because the province was part of the Spanish empire and be-cause Spain and the United States were at peace, direct occupa-tion by a military force or by populating the area with settlers from the United States could not accomplish the annexation.4 A pretextual revolution of the Spanish population, subsequently recognized by the United States, would be necessary.5 General George Mathews and John Houston McIntosh led the Patriots in the revolutionary process, which included the promulgation of a Patriot Constitution on July 17, 1812, to advance their aim of an-nexing East Florida to the United States. 6 The Patriot Constitu-tion of 1812 was a product of this desire to shiftterritory from Spain to the United States during a complex period of imperial interaction along the southern border of the United States.

This Article explores three aspects of the Patriot Constitution through the concepts of pretext, text, and context. Part I of this Article discusses the pretext and actions needed for the United States to obtain East Florida and sets the background for drafting and promulgating the constitution. Part II analyzes the text of the Patriot Constitution. Part III contextualizes the Patriot Con-stitution in light of its intended transitional nature and the un-derlying international forces behind early nineteenth-century constitutions. The texts of the Patriot Constitution and the relat-ed Patriot Articles of Cession are transcribed in the Appendices.


Between 1810 and 1814, under President James Madison, the United States asserted claims for the annexation of the Spanish province of East Florida.7 In the United States, this project was supported by popular sentiment and by several intertwined eco-nomic, political, and military considerations.8 One claim the United States asserted against Spain stemmed from its assistance to French privateers as they brought U.S. ships into neutral Spanish ports during the 1790s.9 With a peace concluded with France, the United States maintained this spoliation claim, val-ued between five and fifteen million dollars, against Spain and specifically against East Florida.10 Spain reticently admitted this claim, and the United States asserted that it held some sort of se-curity interest in East Florida for this unpaid amount, which was to be satisfied before Spain transferred the region to any other country.11 An additional claim arose from direct seizures of U.S. ships by Spain. 12 There was also a U.S. grievance against Spain from Spain's suspension of U.S. rights of deposit at New Orleans in 1802, shortly after Spain secretly retroceded Louisiana to France in 1800.13 This Spanish action damaged U.S. commercial interests.14 James Monroe, Secretary of State, held a lien against East Florida for these damages and asserted that they exceeded the value of the entire region.15 On January 15, 1811, the U.S. Congress passed a "No Transfer Resolution" asserting that the United States would not acquiesce in an attempt by Spain to transfer its American territory to other European powers.16

Under existing international law, such implied liens against East Florida may have served as justification for seizing East Flor-ida under the "doctrine of attachment and reprisal. …

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