The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression

By Watson, Samuel J. | The Journal of Southern History, May 2019 | Go to article overview

The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression


Watson, Samuel J., The Journal of Southern History


The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression. By C. S. Monaco. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018. Pp. xiv, 289. $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4214-2481-1.)

Although several books about the Second Seminole War have been published in the last few decades, none have broken as much new ground as C. S. Monaco does here. While building on the attention that Joe Knetsch, John and Mary Lou Missall, and Milton Meitzer have given to white Floridians and national politics, and that given by Patricia Wickman to the Indian side (meaning Miccosukees, Creeks, Alachua Seminoles, and others) of the story, Monaco goes to new lengths exploring ecological and medical phenomena and the violation of norms of warfare in a balanced military, political, and cultural history. Monaco begins from the standpoint of settler colonialism to explain U.S. aggression and emphasizes the unique ecology and disease environment of Florida to explain its limits. As one might then expect, his bibliography provides outstanding contextual range, and his research base in newspapers and archives is the strongest of any book on the conflict.

The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression is more topical, thematic, and suggestive than it is comprehensive or conclusive, and despite Monaco's criticism, students will still resort to John K. Mahon's History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 (rev. ed.; Gainesville, Fla., 1985) for a fuller narrative. Thus, for example, Monaco presents a unique section on landscape and mental trauma, which goes beyond the usual references to disillusionment and alienation among U.S. troops but does not do more than previous works to explore settler motives or experiences. For political historians, Monaco provides the most attention yet to Whig critics of the war, though he recognizes that their motives were more partisan than humanitarian. He emphasizes that northeastern urban Democratic newspapers expressed sympathy for Osceola, suggesting an urban-rural sectional dimension to support for settler colonialism and U.S. territorial expansion, but he does not examine southern Whig responses to the conflict, which may also demonstrate tension between section and party. For military historians, Monaco helps explain General Zachary Taylor's system of defensive "squares" as an effort to calm and attract settlers and clarifies the motives for General Walker K. Armistead's aggressive strategy (p. …

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