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Mobile, Alabama

Thomas Jefferson's active interest in Mobile, Alabama, began with the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson adopted the claim that the eastern boundary of Louisiana was the Perdido River (between the present states of Alabama and Florida). The "Mobile Act," passed by Congress in February 1804, defined revenue boundaries for the newly acquired territories and established a "Mobile District" with the Perdido as the eastern boundary.

Spain disavowed the American claims to the area between the Perdido and Mississippi Rivers and continued to hold the port of Mobile. When France gave no support to the American claim, Jefferson did not press the eastern boundary issue at that time. The boundary dispute was to remain in diplomatic channels until General James Wilkinson was ordered to Mobile from New Orleans in 1813. During the interim period, Jefferson's primary concern seemed to be with the uninterrupted American navigation of the Mobile River.1

Primary Source References

1804 July 5. (Jefferson to James Madison). "... we shall enter into the exercise of our right of navigating the Mobille & protect it, and increase our force their pari passu with them [Spain]."2

1805 March 23. (Jefferson to Madison). "I wish he [James Monroe] may settle the right of navigating the Mobile, as every thing else may await further peaceable proceedings."3

1805 April 1. (Jefferson to Madison). "[S]hould it end in our getting the navigation of the Mobile only we must make our protestation to Spain that we reserve our right which neither time nor silence is to lessen & shall assert it when circumstances call for it."4

1813 July 14. (Jefferson to Dr. Samuel Brown). "[I]t will give a wrongful hue to the rightful act of taking possession of Mobile and will be imputed to the national authority as Miranda’s enterprize was, because not punished by it."5

- Gaye Wilson, 8/99


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