West Florida Controversy

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A 1903 map showing the territorial changes of "West Florida"
See also: West Florida

The West Florida Controversy refers to two border disputes that involved Spain and the United States in relation to the region known as West Florida. The first dispute commenced immediately after Spain received the colonies of West and East Florida from the Kingdom of Great Britain following the American Revolutionary War, and continued for nearly four decades. Initial disagreements were settled with Pinckney's Treaty of 1795.

The second dispute arose following the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The controversy led to the secession of the bulk of West Florida, known as the "Republic of West Florida", from Spanish control in 1810, and its subsequent annexation by the United States. In 1819 the United States and Spain negotiated the Adams–Onís Treaty, in which the United States purchased the remainder of Florida from Spain.

First border dispute[edit]

Britain formed the territory of West Florida out of territory it received from Spain and France in the 1763 Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War (the Seven Years' War). In this treaty it received all of Spanish Florida from Spain, and nearly all of French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River from France. Finding the new territory too big to govern from one capital, the British divided it into two new colonies: West Florida, with its capital at Pensacola, and East Florida, with its capital at St. Augustine.

Twenty years later, Britain ceded both Floridas to Spain following the American Revolutionary War. They did not, however, specify the boundaries of West Florida, which had changed over the course of British stewardship. In the British period West Florida's northern border was initially set at the 31st parallel north, but was moved to 32° 22′ in 1764 in order to give the West Floridians more territory, including the Natchez District and the Tombigbee District. Spain insisted that its West Florida claim extended fully to 32° 22′, but the United States asserted that the land between 31° and 32° 22′ had always been British territory, and therefore rightfully belonged to the United States. After years of disagreement, the dispute was finally resolved with Pinckney's Treaty in 1795, in which both parties agreed on the 31st parallel as the boundary between the United States and West Florida.

Second border dispute[edit]

Things remained in this state for several years, but a new border dispute flared up following the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. In 1800, under duress from Napoleon of France, Spain had ceded an undefined portion of West Florida to France. When France then sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, a dispute arose again between Spain and the United States on which parts of West Florida exactly had Spain ceded to France, which would in turn decide which parts of West Florida were now US property.

The United States now laid claim to the region of West Florida between the Mississippi and the Perdido Rivers, asserting it had initially been part of French Louisiana. Spain held that such a claim was baseless. However, a group of American and British settlers in that part of West Florida who had become discontented with the Spanish colonial government revolted, declaring a Republic of West Florida in 1810. After 90 days, the United States occupied and annexed the territory, and Spain, then embroiled in the Peninsular War with France, could do little to resist.

In 1819 the United States and Spain negotiated the Adams–Onís Treaty, in which Spain sold the remainder of West Florida and all of East Florida to the United States.


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