Alabama tried to annex and purchase West Florida many times. Here is what happened when they tried.
The foregoing action of the legislature was not the first effort made to annex west Florida to Alabama. In 1811 the inhabitants of west Florida petitioned Congress to be incorporated into the Mississippi Territory.
When the State of Mississippi was being established in 1817, and the boundaries between Mississippi and the Alabama Territory were formed, Congress met to form a Constitution and State Government, for the people in the Western part of the Mississippi Territory, the Alabama Territory.
On that day, in a Memorial to Congress which was agreed to, with two dissenting votes only, the following excerpt reveals the original intent on Alabama’s southern border.
In the event of ever acquiring from Spain the remainder of the Floridas, which is confidently expected at no distant day, the obvious policy of the government will be to extend the Eastern line of the Alabama Territory along the course of the Chatahoucy, to the Bay of Apalachacola; this extension will be the most suitable and convenient disposition which the general environment could make of the country lying between the Perdido and the Chatahouche: and the advantages which that Territory would drive from the measure are of the highest interest. The command of the sea board from the bay of Apalachacola the bay of Pascagoula, a distance of more than two hundred miles including besides many other parts of minor importance, the city of Pensacola and the commercial depots at and near the bay of Mobile.
Later the constitutional convention of Alabama, 1819, memorialized Congress to embrace all of west Florida in the new’ State; and the preamble to the constitution was so phrased as to permit “such enlargement as may be made by law in consequence of any cession of territory by the United States, or either of them.” The several subsequent constitutions of Alabama have carried this or a similar provision, thus foreshadowing the possible annexation of the western part of the State of Florida.
West Florida should go to Alabama
As early as November 16, 1830, an article appeared in the Pensacola Gazette which suggested that “if Florida was to be dismembered, West Florida should go to Alabama.”
Ten years later, Apalachicola suggested in an article on April 4, 1840 edition that “the scattered commercial towns of West Florida would be entirely at the mercy of the planting interests of the interior,” if such a division came to pass.
An actual appeal to Congress was made by many residents of Pensacola to join West Florida with Alabama because they felt the area would develop at a faster rate since the state capital of Florida in Tallahassee was so far away from the Panhandle.
Another attempt was made in 1858 when the Alabama Legislative proposed that West Florida should be ceded to Alabama, but the Florida Legislature refused to even discuss the issue. The general assembly, February 8, 1858, adopted a joint resolution proposing to the State of Florida that it cede west Florida to the State of Alabama, and authorizing the governor to appoint a commission to conduct the negotiations. Judge Gappa T. Yelverton, of Coffee County, was appointed commissioner; but after a conference, he failed to obtain the assent of the Florida State government to the cession. Nothing further was done in that direction for several years.
Florala, Alabama around 1880s
Directed to negotiate in 1868
On December 30, 1868, the legislature reopened negotiations by the adoption of another joint resolution authorizing and directing the governor “to negotiate with the State government of Florida, for the annexation to the State of Alabama, of that portion of Florida lying west of the Chattahoochee River,” and directing the State Auditor, on the order of the governor, “to draw his warrant upon the treasury out of any money not otherwise appropriated, to defray the necessary incidental expenses incurred in conducting the negotiations.”
The resolution further stipulated that no action should be considered final and binding until ratified by the general assembly and the Congress of the United States. No mention was made of the appointment of a commission to represent the governor in the negotiations, but nevertheless Gov. Wm. H. Smith appointed a commission of three members, namely, J. L. Pennington, State senator from Lee County, and author of the resolution, Charles A. Miller, secretary of state, and Judges A. J. Walker, long the distinguished chief justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama. They received their appointments in January, 1869, drew $500 each from the treasury, and left immediately for the State capital at Tallahassee, where they remained until favorable action by the Florida authorities had been obtained.
Tentative agreement to buy for $1,000,000 was signed in 1869
On January 26, 1869, the Florida Legislature adopted resolutions, directing the governor to appoint three commissioners to go to Montgomery as, “the duly accredited agents of this State to negotiate for said transfer.” The Florida commissioners arrived in Montgomery early in May. On the 19th of that month, a tentative agreement of cession was signed. The consideration for the transfer of West Florida was to be the payment by Alabama of $1,000,000, in 8 percent, 30-year bonds, and the payment in money of the solvent taxes unpaid in the district at the time of actual transfer. The governor at once approved this contract but professed to consider the price agreed upon more than the State, “under all the circumstances of the case,” ought to pay.
The publication of the agreement precipitated considerable discussion in each state. The feeling of the west Florida people generally was favorable, but in Alabama opinion was divided. Some of the more influential newspapers not only opposed the plan but openly ridiculed it.
An election was held in Florida to decide
On November 2, 1869, an election was held in seven of the eight counties in Florida, comprising the territory proposed to be ceded, namely, Calhoun, Escambia, Franklin, Washington, Holmes, Santa Rosa, and Walton. The total number of votes cast was 1,823, of which 1,162 were for and 661 against annexation. No election was held in Jackson County, but the feeling of its citizens was known to be strongly favorable. Gov. Smith transmitted the agreement to the general assembly in November, and later officially informed it of the result of the west Florida election. A joint resolution was introduced, ratifying the agreement and calling upon Alabama’s Representatives and Senators in Congress to obtain the assent of that body to its consummation. The legislative committee to which the whole matter was referred reported favorably on a bill for annexation, but later in the session action was postponed until the next session.
During the same session an investigation of the expenditures of the annexation commission, which in 1869 aggregated $10,500, was instituted. This may have had much to do with the postponement of final action on the agreement.
Resolution adopted in the House failed in the Senate
During the next session, 1870-71, the house of representatives adopted a resolution favoring the annexation, but it failed in the Senate. The agitation rested until 1873 when it was revived, and another act was passed, providing for annexation, but only with vigorous opposition. It followed closely the plan of 1869. This action met with no encouragement on the part of the Florida authorities, and the matter thereupon appears to have been dropped. No further official action seems to have been taken until the passage of the act of March 4, 1901, hereinabove noted.
In their report transmitting the tentative agreement to Gov. Smith, the commissioners of 1869, expressed their opinion on the question: “If she [Florida] should from a sentiment of State pride, reject the contract, the subject had better be forever dropped, for we do not conceive that a more favorable opportunity or a fairer or more honorable contract will ever be presented.”
Convention was held in Chipley
In 1889, a convention was held in Chipley, Alabama to discuss how to annex the area, but they did not arrive at any solution.
Finally, on March 4, 1901, a commission of three members, to be appointed by the governor, was authorized by the Alabama Legislature to confer with a like commission on the part of Florida, to provide for the annexation to Alabama of that part of Florida known as “West Florida.” The commission was empowered to do and perform all acts requisite and necessary to perfect and consummate an agreement of cession, but no such agreement is to be binding until ratified by the Legislature of Alabama and approved by the governor.
Territory of West Florida described
The territory to be annexed was described as: “All the said territory and jurisdiction now held by the State of Florida in and to and over that portion of the territory of the State of Florida lying and being west of the thread of the Chattahoochee and Appalachlcola rivers and west of a line running due south from the thread of the mouth of the Appalachlcola river, bending west so as to pass between the islands of St. George and St. Vincent, known and called West Florida.”
Commissioners appointed by Gov. Jelks
Gov. Jelks appointed William L. Martin, Richard C. Jones and Samuel Blackwell as commissioners. So far as known, however, the commissioners never qualified nor organized, and Mr. Martin and Mr. Jones were dead by 1916.
A big controversy arose in 1921 with Alabama offering $5 million as a purchase price for Western Florida. South Florida, which was developing rapidly at this time, stirred up the controversy. By getting rid of West Florida, the state’s center of population and influence could move farther south.
Became a laughing matter
During the next 40 years, interest in the acquisition of West Florida was revived again several times and reached a point of almost becoming a laughing matter in both state legislatures.
Even as late as 1964, Senator John M. Tyson of Mobile asked for a resolution to create and interim committee to study a proposal for merging a certain section of Northwest Florida with Alabama.