James E. Sefton


A list of the most noteworthy congressional debates over slavery would include those on the Compromises of 1820 and 1850, the Gag Rule, the slave trade, and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, among others. Sometimes, however, debate on a comparatively minor episode of a large issue can be highly illuminating. In the spring of 1852, the House of Representatives devoted perhaps ten hours to a bill which brought to a close a bizzare story that had begun sixteen years earlier during federal efforts to remove the Seminole Indians from Florida. Ever since the United States acquired Florida from Spain in 1819, white residents had clamored for removal of the Indians. Desultory guerrilla warfare increased, reaching a climax between 1835 and 1842 in the Second Seminole War. General Thomas S. Jesup, who commanded the United States troops in Florida from 1835 until 1838, saw that the long-standing hostility between the Seminoles and their parent tribe, the Creeks, might be turned to his military advantage. In August 1836 he recruited a regiment of Creeks for federal service. The enlistment contract stipulated that the Creeks were "to receive the pay and emoluments and equipments of soldiers in the Army of the United States, and such plunder as they may take from the Seminoles."