The Short-Lived Independent Republics In California And The Gulf Coast

In A Nutshell

The most well-known break off from the United States of America is the Confederate States of America. However, Americans have a long and checkered history of trying to leave the United States. In the early and mid-1800s, parts of California and the land along the Gulf Coast tried to form their own nations. They only lasted a few weeks.

The Whole Bushel

Everybody knows about the secession of the South from the United States that started the Civil War. Most people know that the state of Texas used to be an independent country. However, in this history of Southern independent countries, the short-lived Republic of West Florida remains a forgotten historical footnote.

The road to the founding of the small republic began with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. While the deal went rather well diplomatically speaking, confusion lingered over who owned a strip of land bordering the Mississippi River that included parts of present-day Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi. Instead of turning the territory over to the US government, Spain continued administration of the area.

At first, the settlers accepted Spanish rule peacefully, but they grew more restless over time. At the same time, US President James Madison was exploring options to take control of the strip of land from the Spanish overseers.

Agitation started in 1808. By 1810, Florida rebels were ready to take the land they believed was theirs. On September 23, 1810, a militia contingent attacked the Spanish fortress of Baton Rouge and forced the Spanish soldiers to evacuate the fortification. The rebels declared themselves an independent country, raised their own flag, and began to set up a government based on the three-branch model of the US.

Seeing the opportunity to gain the territory for the United States, James Madison authorized the military commander of the Orleans Territory to march on the Republic of West Florida and annex the area. Realizing that he had to act fast, Madison acted without Congressional approval, sidestepping the constitutional rules for declaring war.

With US military forces moving into the Republic, West Florida’s president, Fulwar Skipwith, declared that they would fight to the last man. Fortunately for everyone, cooler heads prevailed by the time the US Army was ready to enter Baton Rouge. Skipwith accepted the annexation plan.

Barely a month after the country was formed, it was part of the United States. Although President Madison was happy with the outcome of the crisis, he received political backlash for his actions, especially from Spain who refused to remove troops from the area for three years. When the Confederate States of America were looking for a new flag fifty years later, they adopted a blue flag with a single white star modeled after the West Florida flag. (This was only until a suitable replacement was designed.)

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On the other side of the continent, the California Republic was a short-lived independent country founded by settlers rebelling against a ruling government before being annexed by the growing United States.

The California rebels came about during the 1840s, when Mexican-American relations were extremely tense. Many US settlers from the East were moving into the new territory of California, causing great concern among Mexican government officials.

For the most part, the American settlers showed little interest in becoming Mexican citizens and retained close ties to their home country. Mexican officials had let the Alta California area become self-governing, which probably greatly increased the chances of a California revolt.

As relations between the US and Mexican governments deteriorated, President James K. Polk began to tighten the noose on Mexican California. He ordered gunships into the San Francisco Bay and sent Commander John C. Fremont to visit the American settlers. Fremont discussed revolt with the Californians and openly encouraged them to fight against the Mexican government. Whether or not Fremont had orders to stir up a rebellion is disputed, but his influence worked anyway, and the Californians prepared to revolt.

To start the rebellion, Californian rebels stole government horses on June 10, 1846. Four days later, a small contingent of rebels took the understaffed fort at Sonoma.

Emboldened by the victory, the insurgents surrounded the home of Mexican general Mariano Vallejo and declared him a prisoner of war. A flag was designed and erected over Sonoma.

After some minor skirmishes with Mexican forces, Commander Fremont arrived. The Californians declared him the leader of the new California Republic and planned to expand the revolution throughout all of Alta California. However, soon after the rebellion started, US forces marched into the California Republic and claimed it as United States territory.

There wasn’t much for the rebellion to do at that point; the annexation ended the short-lived California Republic.

Show Me The Proof

History: Bear Flag Revolt
Encyclopaedia Britannica: Bear Flag Revolt
Explore Southern History: Republic of West Florida
Smithsonian: The History of the Short-Lived Independent Republic of Florida
Independent Institute: “Not Merely Perfidious but Ungrateful”: The U.S. Takeover of West Florida

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