The crossroads of empire: The 1817 liberation and occupation of Amelia Island, East Florida

Date of Completion

January 2006


History, United States|Political Science, International Law and Relations




Situated north of St. Augustine, Florida, Amelia Island lay at the frontier of the growing United States, the collapsing Spanish Empire, and the emerging nations of Latin America. In June 1817 privateers commissioned by representatives of insurgent governments in Latin America seized the island and proclaimed the independence of La República de las Floridas. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams saw the privateers as a threat to U.S. neutrality and to his negotiations with Spain defining the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase. At Adams's suggestion, President James Monroe ordered U.S. troops to invade and occupy the island. A combination of U.S. naval and military forces took the island peacefully on December 22, 1817, bringing La República de las Floridas to an end. Debate over the U.S. invasion dominated public discussions in the first months of 1818, fueling a battle between Congress and the executive that shaped the structure of foreign policymaking in the early United States.^ Amelia Island lay at a crossroads of empires in the early nineteenth century, where different histories converged. A close study of this event offers scholars a chance to understand better how the United States established its position in the Atlantic world, how it created a continental empire, and how it justified later efforts to dominate the Western Hemisphere. La República de las Floridas generated a controversial vision of a multi-racial republic that thrived on porous international boundaries and open economies. Monroe and Adams believed that the general disorder produced in this smuggling entrepot would spread greater chaos along the borders of the southern United States. Spain could no longer control the borderlands, so the United States would. In the long run, the U.S. reaction to this challenge along its southern boundary would limit the scope of republican revolution, denying the legitimacy of the Spanish American revolutions and justifying U.S. expansion into those territories.^