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THE ADAMS-ONIS TREATY

by Archie P. McDonald, PhD
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
East Texans know they are home when they arrive west of the Adams-Onis Treaty line. That would be the Sabine River to others.

We have regarded the Sabine River as the boundary between Louisiana and Texas, at least most of it, all our lives, but this was not so until 1819. Earlier, Spain had claimed all the land eastward to the Mississippi River and France all the land west of it that was drained by that river. That constitutes a considerable overlap and justified a good deal of competition between the nations.


When French Governor Cadillac sent the trader St. Denis westward in 1714, his purpose was to advance French claims thitherward. When the Spanish established six new missions in East Texas located at present-day Robline, Louisiana, their purpose was to establish a signpost to other Frenchmen that they were trespassing.

France was temporarily removed from the dispute in 1763 by the Peace of Paris, which ended what we Americans call the French and Indian War. By terms of that treaty, England and Spain divided French territory at the Mississippi River.

That eliminated the French for about thirty years until Napoleon Bonaparte forced Spain to return their part of the old French territory. Napoleon dreamed of restoring his country's empire, but troubles at home led him to transfer the territory in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase.


None of these real estate transactions included a definitive western border. This led to a Neutral Ground Agreement in 1806 between Spanish General Simon Herrera and American General James Wilkinson, which created a buffer between them into which neither would send troops. Unfortunately, that created a haven for lawless men.

The solution came from negotiations between Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and Spanish Minister Luis de Onis, and it also cleared up another boundary dispute when the Spanish ceded Florida to the US for $7 million.


Then, it was agreed that the border between Spanish Texas and the US (and ultimately between the states of Texas and Louisiana), would be "the Sabine River from the Gulf of Mexico to the 32nd Parallel, North Latitude, then due north to the Red River and along it westward to the 100th Parallel, north again to the Arkansas River, and along it to its source, then 'north or south' to the 42nd Parallel, and west on that line to the Pacific Ocean."


So that is how you tell Texas from Arkansas. That, and on the west side "red" beans are likely to be pinto and east of it kidney beans. Rice is optional.


Archie P. McDonald, PhD
All Things Historical April 4, 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.

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