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Lieutenant James Gadsden

James Gadsden (May 15, 1788 – December 26, 1858)[1] was an American diplomat, soldier and businessman and namesake of the Gadsden Purchase, in which the United States purchased from Mexico the land that became the southern portion of Arizona and New Mexico. James Gadsden served as Adjutant General of the U. S. Army from August 13, 1821 – March 22, 1822, and held the rank of colonel in the US Army. He was commonly known as General Gadsden but was only a two-star general.


Little is known about the life of Gadsden, especially his early life. It is known that he was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1788, and that he was the grandson of the American Revolutionary War hero Christopher Gadsden. It is also known that Gadsden earned his bachelor's degree from Yale University in Connecticut, completing this degree in 1806.

Army service

Soon after his graduation, Gadsden entered the U.S. Army.[2] He served as a commissioned officer under the command of General Andrew Jackson, who was to be elected the President in 1828. Gadsden served under Gen. Jackson both during the War of 1812 against the British Army, and against the American Indians in the newly purchased (1819) Territory of Florida during the early 1820s. While Gadsden was serving in the Army in Florida, Gadsden established the army strongpoint of Fort Gadsden somewhere in the Panhandle of Florida, and he helped to establish Fort Brooke with George Mercer Brooke at the site of the present-day city of Tampa, Florida.

Seminole expulsion

Gadsden next decided to leave the U.S. Army, and became a planter in Florida; he served in the Florida Territorial Legislature. Gadsden was appointed as a commissioner in 1823, to help with the organization and the illegal expulsion of most of the Seminole Indian Tribe from their homes in Florida and southern Georgia, along the Trail of Tears to land reservations that had been set aside for them in bleak and inhospitable Oklahoma.

Years later Gadsden County, Florida, was named in his honor, and also the city of Gadsden, Alabama, and the town of Gadsden, Arizona.

Railroad executive

Later Gadsden served as the president of the South Carolina Railroad company from 1840 to 1850. In this role, Gadsden and his associates decided to promote the construction of a transcontinental railroad from the $3 and Pacific Oceans. This railroad would hypothetically have been by way of the southern route from Georgia through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas to El Paso, Texas, and then through the newly acquired American land that would decades later become New Mexico and Arizona. Finally, after crossing the Colorado River into California, it would have crossed the Mojave Desert and the mountains to the seaport city of San Diego, Calif.

After a lot of surveying work had been done in the Southwest, it was decided that a railroad across the land that later became central New Mexico and central Arizona would be infeasible. Also, much of the boundary between the United States and Mexico had been left unreasonably vague by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that had been signed and ratified by the United States and Mexico in 1848 (see the article on the Gadsden Purchase).


Gadsden had supported nullification in 1831. In 1850 he advocated secession by South Carolina when California was admitted to the Union as a free state. Gadsden considered slavery “a social blessing” and abolitionists “the greatest curse of the nation.”[3]

When the secession proposal failed, Gadsden, working with his cousin Isaac Edward Holmes, a lawyer in San Francisco since 1851, and the California state senator Thomas Jefferson Green, attempted to divide California in two. They proposed that the southern half would allow slavery. Gadsden planned to establish a slaveholding colony there based on rice, cotton, and sugar. He would use slave labor to build a railroad and highway, originating in either San Antonio or on the Red River, that would transport people to the California gold fields. Toward this end, on December 31, 1851, Gadsden asked Green to secure from the California state legislature a large land grant located between the 34th and 36th parallels; it would eventually serve as the dividing line for the two California states.[4]

A few months after this, Gadsden and 1,200 potential settlers from South Carolina and Florida submitted a petition to the California legislature for permanent citizenship and permission to establish a rural district that would be farmed by "not less than Two Thousand of their African Domestics". The petition stimulated some debate, but it finally died in committee.[5]

Gadsden Purchase

In 1853, Gadsden was appointed by the U.S. Government as the new American minister to Mexico, with instructions to purchase more land from Mexico for the prospective railroad route across southernmost New Mexico and Arizona, and to clear up the possibility of disputes over the location of the boundary between the two countries.

Gadsden successfully carried out this mission by negotiating with the Mexican government in Mexico City for the purchase of more land from Mexico for southmost New Mexico and Arizona, and by establishing the boundary between the United States and Mexico as two long line segments between the Rio Grande at the westmost tip of Texas all the way to the Colorado River at the eastern boundary of California. This treaty is called the "Gadsden Treaty", and it led to the Gadsden Purchase from Mexico of about 30,000 square miles (78,000 km2) of land in northmost Mexico for $10,000,000.

As events unfolded in the following decades, and well-over a century, the dreamed-up railroad just to the north of the Mexican border was never built. However, the land bought in the Gadsden Purchase later contained the site of Arizona's second largest city, Tucson, the minor cities and towns of Casa Grande, and Yuma, Arizona, Lordsburg and Deming, New Mexico, and it cleared up the status of the area north of the Gila River, that later became the metropolitan area of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Glendale, and Tempe, Arizona.

When it comes to the land well south of Phoenix where tentative plans had been made to build a transcontinental railroad, most of this is arid desertland that is not suitable for much human inhabitation. Nearly all of this Federally-owned land was, in the long run, set aside as a large, sparsely-inhabited American Indian reservation, testing and combat-practice ranges for the U.S. Air Force, the large Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Coronado National Forest, the Sonoran Desert National Monument, the Ironwood Forest National Monument, the Saguaro National Park, and the Fort Huachuca Military Reservation of the U.S. Army.

Gadsden was buried in St. Philips Church Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina.

Further reading

  • Richards, The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War. (2007) ISBN 0-307-26520-X.


  1. "James Gadsden". NNDB. Soylent Communications. 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-28. 
  2. Wikisource-logo.svg "Gadsden, James". New International Encyclopedia. 1906. 
  3. Richards p. 125.
  4. Richards p. 126.
  5. Richards p. 127.

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Daniel Parker
Adjutant General of the U. S. Army
August 13, 1821-March 22, 1822
Succeeded by
Charles J. Nourse (acting)

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