The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida
by James G. Cusick. University of Georgia Press, Athens, Ga., 2007, $22.95.
Expansionism and race, James Cusick claims in The Other War of 1812, were the underlying factors in the Patriot War, which led to the United States’ annexation of East Florida. “Expansionist ambitions, fear of Indians and blacks, and resentment of Spanish political and commercial policies in East Florida played a much greater role in inciting trouble at the Georgia border in 1812 than did the grievances against Great Britain,” Cusick writes. The trouble broke in March 1812 as General George Mathews, the former governor of Georgia, assembled a group of Georgia “patriots” to stage a military-backed revolt in East Florida. Instead of a revolt, however, a bloodbath erupted along the borderlands between Georgia and East Florida on the eve of the American war with Britain. The struggle lasted for two years.
According to Cusick, the Floridas had preoccupied President James Madison from the time he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 as Thomas Jefferson’s secretary of state. In the spirit of what would become known as Manifest Destiny, Madison in 1810 supported American settlers’ uprising and seizure of Baton Rouge in West Florida. Publicly, Madison justified his support of that takeover by declaring that the disputed territory was part of the Louisiana Purchase. That success led Madison and Congress to support a similar takeover of East Florida in 1811.
Although Madison later withdrew his support for the coup, the fighting raged on, and the conflict ultimately brought humiliation upon his administration. Cusick presents new research suggesting that General Matthews was responsible for engineering the borderland attack, not President Madison.
Cusick’s compelling narrative incorporates never-before-used Spanish, American, Native American and African-American sources, as well as eyewitness accounts, making it the new standard on the subject. In his closing chapter, “The Patriot War and American History,” the author analyzes the consequences this pseudo-war had on Florida and America. “The Patriot War accomplished one thing the War of 1812 failed to do,” he concludes. “It brought new territory into the American confederation.” The Other War of 1812 is a well-researched, well-written account of an often-forgotten struggle that had a big impact on the future of American diplomacy and the shape of the nation.
Originally published in the September 2007 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.