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James Gadsden

the man who negotiated the U.S. purchase of land from Mexico so he could build a transcontinental railroad

James Gadsden

James Gadsden was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 15, 1788. He graduated from Yale College 1806, after which he returned to Charleston and became a businessman.

After a few years in business Gadsden entered the Army. He served as a Lieutenant of Engineers in the War of 1812, and as a Captain and aide to General Andrew Jackson during the Seminole War of 1818. In 1820 he was made Inspector General of the Southern Division of the U.S. Army, with the rank of Colonel. He retired in 1822 and became a planter in Florida.

In 1823, Gadsden was appointed by President James Monroe to supervise the removal of the Seminoles to reservations in the southern part of the territory. In 1824, he became a member of the first Territorial Legislature. In 1832, he negotiated a treaty with the Seminoles providing for their removal to Oklahoma within three years. The Seminoles refused to move, however, and he subsequently served as Quartermaster-General of Florida Volunteers during the Second Seminole War (February to April 1936). After several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to Congress, Gadsden decided to return to Charleston in 1839.

Soon after his return to Charleston, Gadsden became president of the Louisville, Cincinnati and Charleston Railroad (which later became the South Carolina Railroad Company), a position he held for ten years. During that time he sought to promote a scheme for a southern transcontinental railroad, and was convinced it would be necessary to purchase a strip of territory along the Gila River from Mexico to make that project a reality. In 1853, thanks to a recommendation from Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (a friend and fellow dreamer), he was appointed Minister to Mexico by President Franklin Pierce, with instructions to negotiate modifications to the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo (which had ended the Mexican War), to settle Indian and general-claims issues, and to secure cession of a large tract of territory from Mexico. The Gadsden Treaty, which was signed on December 30, 1853, gave the United States freedom of transit for mails, merchandise and troops across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and provided for readjustment of the boundary between the United States and Mexico through the purchase of 45,535 square miles of land (the Gadsden Purchase), in return for a payment of $10,000,000 from the United States. The treaty was ratified by both nations on June 30, 1854.

Gadsden spent another three years in Mexico before returning to Charleston, where he died on December 26, 1858.

Charleston, South Carolina
War of 1812
Andrew Jackson
President James Monroe
Jefferson Davis
President Franklin Pierce
Mexican War
Gadsden Purchase

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Revolution to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Middle 19th Century, 1845-1861 >> Individual Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on December 26, 2017.