The Free and Independent Republic of West Florida


“West Floriday, that lovely nation,

Free from king and tyranny,

Thru’ the world shall be respected,

For her true love of Liberty!” 

So goes a marching song that never got to mature into a national anthem. Too brief was the independence of a smallish North American state calling itself the Free and Independent Republic of West Florida (the spelling ‘Floriday’ was just for rhyming purposes). This plucky little country was the original ‘Lone Star State’, long before Texas usurped the title (and the star). By then, West Florida had been unceremoniously annexed by the US.

The historical-geographical term West Florida describes a contested region with varying borders on the north shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Sovereignty over the territory was equally fleeting, drifting from French and Spanish to British to Spanish again. The brief spell of self-government gave way to US sovereignty, which apart from the Confederate years continues to this day. Nowadays, unless applied to the western panhandle of the present-day state of Florida, ‘West Florida’ is a term without meaning. The former territory is split up and incorporated into parts of the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Until 1763, West Florida was partly Spanish (with a garrison at Pensacola) and partly French (with Mobile an outpost of the French colony of Louisiana). In that year, the treaty concluding the Seven Years’ War awarded to Britain all of Spanish Florida and that part of French Louisiana that lay between the Mississippi and Perdido rivers and north of Lake Pontchartrain. The British reorganised all this new land on the Gulf of Mexico into East Florida (most of present-day Florida) and West Florida, bounded on the west by Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River, on the north by the thirty-first parallel and on the east by the Apalachicola River. British West Florida’s capital was Pensacola.

In 1764, the British extended the northern border of West Florida to 32°28’, encompassing the southern third of present-day Mississippi and Alabama. The 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the American War of Independence, saw both British Floridas transferred back to Spain – but without specifying the borders.

Naturally, Spain wanted the border extended to the north in 1764, while the newly independent US insisted on the border at the thirty-first parallel. Spain recognised the former position at the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo.

But there was more wrangling over West Florida. France had ceded its gigantic Louisiana Territory to Spain in 1763, but Spain returned it to France in the secret Treaty of San Ildefonso in 1800.

Three years later, the US bought that giant territory from France in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase. The US claimed the territory between the Mississippi and Perdido Rivers, as it had been part of French Louisiana prior to 1763. Spain insisted it had not returned that territory to France in 1800 and continued to administer it.

Meanwhile, new American settlers in the territory united with ‘old’ settlers from the British era to resist Spanish rule, leading to a rebellion in 1810. On September 23, 75 West Floridian rebels overcame a Spanish garrison of 28 (sleeping) soldiers at Baton Rouge, replacing the Spanish colours with the Bonnie Blue Flag (a single white star on a blue field) of the new nation. The fight left two dead and five wounded – sources aren’t clear whether these were rebels or soldiers. Independence was formally declared three days later - and would last a grand total of 74 days.

 

The town of St. Francisville was established as the new capital. The nation’s borders were the thirty-first parallel to the north, the Perdido River to the east and the Mississippi River to the west. None of present-day Florida was part of the new republic, whose official name nonetheless was, simply, ‘State of Florida’.

Apparently the West Floridians weren’t so keen on independence as on absorption by the US. Their first and only ‘president’ was Fulwar Skipwith, a former American consul general to France under Jefferson who had successfully negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, and who mentioned in his inaugural address: “(…)the blood which flows in our veins (…) will return (…) to the heart of our parent country.” Previously, he had supported self-rule for West Florida as “the best way to turn the captured province over to the United States.”

Yet on October 27 of 1810, the US annexed the region by a simple proclamation, claiming the territory was part of the original Louisiana Purchase. This did not sit well with the West Floridians themselves, who would have preferred to enter the Union on their own terms. The rebels threatened to rebel again, Governor Skipwith even stated he was ready to “die in defense of the Lone Star Flag” when William C.C. Claiborne, sent by Washington to take possession of the territory, refused to recognise his government. He eventually backed down and accepted American annexation.

The western part of West Florida was attached to Orleans Territory in 1810, the rest, known as the Mobile District to the Mississippi Territory in 1812. Spain continued to dispute the US annexation until it ceded all of (East) Florida to the US in 1819, which was organised into the Florida Territory in 1822.

Today, those parts of Louisiana once part of West Florida are still known as the Florida Parishes. In 1993, the Louisiana State Legislature renamed I-12 through these parishes the ‘Republic of West Florida Parkway’. In 2002, the great-granddaughter of governor Skipwith donated the original copy of the West Floridian Constitution to the Louisiana State Archives. The State of Florida itself incorporates only a small slice of former West Florida.

West Florida maps found here and here.

Strange Maps #84 

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.