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UPDATED WITH PODCAST – Francis Scott Key who wrote America’s national anthem was sent as a peacemaker between settlers and Indians in Alabama [photographs]

Francis Scott key arrived in Alabama in the role as peacemaker as can be seen below.

(CONTINUED from Part II)

(This was transcribed by the Alabama Historical Society and printed in 1901 in their magazine – exact transcription follows)




By Thomas Chalmers McCorvey, Tuscaloosa.

Soon after his arrival in Tuscaloosa, Mr. Key addressed a formal communication, dated December 16, 1833, to Governor Gayle, setting forth the terms of settlement that he was authorized to offer.

He stated that the surveys of the reservations allotted to the Indians in the ceded territory would be completed by the 15th day of January, 1834, and that the government would make no removals of settlers from the lands outside of these Indian allotments.francis scott key2

Furthermore, the intruders upon the Indian reservations would have the power to purchase the Indian titles to the lands which they occupied. These were the terms, in brief, of the Key compromise, and it will be readily seen that they virtually amounted to a withdrawal of the orders for the removal of the settlers.

Troubles grew out of misunderstandings

As a matter of fact, it appears that a great deal of the trouble which threatened actual hostilities between the State of Alabama and the Federal government grew out of misunderstandings—misunderstandings due, to some extent at least, to the slowness of intercommunication before the days of the electric telegraph and the completion of railroad lines in the South.

The fact that there were misunderstandings is clearly indicated in the following extract from a letter, dated Washington, December 3, 1833, to Governor Gayle from ex-Governor John Murphy, who appeared in this controversy as a special mediator between the Governor and the President:

Governor John Murphy


“I believe it was never intended to expel all the people from the ceded Creek territory. ***** The order issued was general in its nature to apply to what had taken place, or might possibly afterward take place and to cover any stipulation of the treaty intended for the benefit of the Indians. It was merely asserting the control of the government over the subject should there arise the necessity to exercise it; but evidently the execution of the order would be governed by necessity. Why remove the whole population while only a few individuals have been guilty of trespass, and indeed while the Indians for whose benefit all this was done had no desire that any but a very few should be removed? It could never have been necessary, and therefore could never have been intended.”

Proposition of Francis Scott Key bore peaceful fruit

The proposition submitted by Mr. Key opened the way for an amicable adjustment of all questions in dispute, and his admirable tact in meeting the manly firmness of Governor Gayle soon bore its peaceful fruit—a practical victory, though it was, for the right of the State to exercise its sovereignty over the territory embraced within its acknowledged boundaries, unhindered by a treaty made by the Federal government.

In view of the premises, Governor Gayle sent a special message, December 20, 1833, to the general assembly, then sitting in Tuscaloosa,1 stating that “the principal object of this unpleasant controversy having been obtained by asserting and vindicating those great principles which were established by the constitution for the security of the people and for the protection of the States in the exercise of their rightful jurisdiction, it cannot fail to be a source of the highest satisfaction to our fellow citizens in these new counties that the calamity with which, at one period, they were threatened has been averted, and of pride and patriotic exultation to our people everywhere that the supremacy of civil over the military authority has been successfully maintained.”

Old Capitol Building at Tuscaloosa, AlabamaOld_Alabama_Capitol_Tuscaloosa

It is interesting to note that the compromise offered by Mr. Key, which proved satisfactory to Governor Gayle, was never formally accepted by the general assembly; in fact, the nullification Hotspurs of that body came near passing the quasi-nullification resolutions of Mr. Beene’s committee, heretofore referred to and, in part, quoted.

When these resolutions came up in the house, Arthur Francis Hopkins, then a representative from Madison county, afterward of Mobile, moved that they be indefinitely postponed. The vote stood thirty-three for postponement and thirty-four in the negative.

Arthur Francis Hopkins

Hopkins, Arthur Francis

A motion to table the resolutions was then lost. Finally a motion to refer them to a select committee was carried by the narrow margin of thirty-six to thirty-three, and they died in the hands of the committee; for the press and the people had so unmistakably approved the compromise offered by Mr. Key and approved by Governor Gayle that the select committee had no occasion to make a report.2

Governor Gayle believes Alabama had ‘states rights’ over Federal government

Governor Gayle and of his supporters there was a distinct difference between the attitude of South Carolina in nullifying a tariff law and of Alabama in insisting upon her jurisdictive rights within her acknowledged boundaries.

The Federal government in passing a tariff law, however unwise or unjust, was keeping strictly within the letter of the constitution which gives to congress, in express terms, the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imports, and excises.”

Audemus jura nostra defendere — Latin

We dare defend our rights is the state motto for Alabama

It was officially adopted for use in 1939

alabama monument we dare defend our rights

But when the Federal government undertook to prevent the State from enforcing its civil and criminal jurisdiction within its acknowledged boundaries by removing court officials and other agencies for the enforcement of the law in counties which had been erected virtually by the sanction of the Federal government itself, this was plainly withholding from the State rights which had been reserved to it under the Constitution, and, in the eyes of Governor Gayle, destructive of the form of government provided by that instrument.

Although the attitude of the government might be in obedience to the terms of a treaty, it was in violation of the constitution, which was a “higher law” than a treaty. From this post-bellum period in the history of our country—since the adoption of the fourteenth amendment to the constitution, by its declaration of a national citizenship, has clearly marked a change in our government from that designed by its fathers—we can look back to those earlier days of devotion to the constitution as it then stood, and do ample justice to the consistency as well as the honesty of Governor Gayle and others who stood with him in his resistance to the encroachments of Federal authority.

Wounds from controversy never healed

While the Key compromise averted a collision between State and Federal authority, the controversy out of which it grew left wounds of a personal and political nature that were never healed.

There were charges and counter charges of corrupt land speculation. The Tuscaloosa State Rights Expositor, in the course of a violent editorial, said: “There is a vile speculation in the cabinet (Jackson’s) or among its menials: they cannot compete with the settlers and would therefore drive them away.”

On the other hand, the Washington Globe intimated that Alabama’s resistance of the proposed removal was actuated by motives of sordid gain on the part of the State officials. This charge is referred to in the correspondence between Governor Gayle and ex-Governor Murphy.

In reply to a letter from Murphy, in which he deplored the breach between the governor and the president, Governor Gayle said, under date of February 24, 1834: “My feelings have had no effect to change the favorable light in which I have always regarded the prominent measures of General Jackson’s administration, or his qualifications and fitness for the office he fills, but I can never yield him the zealous and active support which I have heretofore extended, under the charges of corrupt speculation and furnishing a combination with nullifiers, which were dealt out against me some time since by the Globe, as it is understood with the approbation, if not at the instance, of the president.”

Senator William R. King had role of pacificator

Senator William R. King, afterward vice-president of the United States, also appeared in the role of a pacificator between the governor and the president. Under date of March 18, 1834, he wrote the Governor: ”

William Rufus King

Willim R. King

As to the publications of strictures which appeared in the Globe, you must not take them as conveying either the sentiments of the president or of any responsible person connected with the administration. The editor of that paper is perfectly reckless in his course, and although it is considered in the country as the official paper, God help the administration if it is to be held responsible for all of Blair’s indiscretions.” 3

Governor Gayle did not forget the insinuations

But it was all to no purpose. The high-spirited Gayle could never forget the insinuations from Washington that his attitude in the Creek controversy had been actuated by other than patriotic motives, and in the succeeding presidential contest he fought Van Buren, who had been anointed by Jackson as his successor.

Hugh L. White, of Tennessee, had been nominated for the presidency by the Alabama legislature; and when Van Buren became the nominee of the Democratic party by the Baltimore convention of May, 1835, which was attended only by Van Buren men, Governor Gayle refused to acquiesce in the nomination and led a losing fight on the White electoral ticket in Alabama in 1836.

The Governor now found himself, a life-long Democrat (Republican), in sympathy with his former political opponents, now marshalled under the new party name of Whigs, and his subsequent public career was identified with that party. His name was on the Harrison and Tyler electoral ticket in the memorable “log cabin and hard cider” campaign of 1840, and in the following year he received the Whig support for United States Senator against William R. King.4harrison and tyler campaign

1The old State capitol building in Tuscaloosa, which was the seat of the government of Alabama from 1825 to 1846, is still in a good state of preservation, and is used by the Baptist denomination for a female seminary known as the Alabama Central Female College. It is the property of the State University. (in 1901)

2“Hodgson’s Cradle of the Confederacy, p. 203.

3After his return to Washington, Mr. Key wrote to Governor Gayle, under date of June n, 1834, as follows: “You have seen no doubt that the Globe has at last done you justice and acknowledged its fault. Blair is rather awkward in such matters, but I hope he has done it in a way satisfactory to you. It is unfortunate that he is too easily led into such attacks, and in your case, I have no doubt that some enemy of yours at home prompted him in his course towards you.”—MS. letter in possession of Mrs. Gen. Gorgas.

4The vote stood King 72, Gayle 55. In 1847, Governor Gayle was elected a representative in congress, defeating the Hon. John T. Taylor, of Mobile; and at the end of his two years’ term he was appointed, by President Zachary Taylor, United States district judge—a position which he held until his death, July 21, 1859.

(Continued in Part IV)

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  1. F.S. Key was my ancestor. His descendant, John George Key, was my great grandfather and a Probate Judge of Pike County, AL. His daughter, my Grandmother Lucille Key Thompson was a published poet ……. and served a wonderful bowl of ice cream and Hershey’s syrup to her little grandson.

  2. Francis Scott Key is my ancestor too on my mom’s side (her maiden name is Key) and she was born in 1947.

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