For three years General Jackson was mainly occupied with the duties of a military officer in time of peace ; but he was also employed to make treaties with several Indian tribes, and won another royal welcome home from the Tennesseans by throwing open to settlement large areas of Indian lands. Even in peace, however, he found an opportunity to display his readiness to do the right thing in a way to make trouble. Being several times annoyed by orders issued direct from the War Department to his inferiors, and seeing clearly that this was not the proper procedure, he issued a general order forbidding his subordinates to obey any commands which did not reach them through him. Calhoun, who became Secretary of War soon afterwards, conceded the justice of the general's position, but Jackson's course in the matter was certainly rather high-handed. General Winfield Scott criticised it in private conversation, and a mischief-maker brought his words to Jackson's attention. The result was some fiery and abusive letters to Scott, and a challenge to a duel, which Scott, on religious grounds, very properly declined. Jackson also carried on an angry correspondence with General Adair, of Kentucky, who defended the Kentucky troops from the charge of cowardice at New Orleans.
It was late in the year 1817 before General Jackson was again called to active service in the field. Once more the call was from the southward, and his old enemies, the Red Sticks, the English, and the Spaniards, were all in some measure responsible for it. A number of Red Sticks had taken refuge with their kinsmen, the Seminoles, in Florida. Colonel Nichols and a small force of British had also remained in Florida some time after the war ended, and had done things of a nature to stir up the Indians there against the Americans across the border. Negro slaves, escaping from American masters, had fled to the Spanish province in considerable numbers, and a body of them got possession of a fort on the Apalachicola River which had been abandoned by the British. To add to the disorder of the province, it was frequented by adventurers, some of them claiming to be there in order to lead a revolution against Spain, some of them probably mere freebooters. The Spanish authorities at Pensacola were too weak to control such a population, and Americans near the border were anxious to have their government interfere. The negro fort was a centre of lawlessness, and some American troops marched do™ the river, bombarded it, and by a lucky shot blew up its magazine and killed nearly three hundred negroes. Troubles arose with the Indians also, and Fowltown, an Indian village, was taken and burned. A considerable body of Indians took to the war-path, and Jackson was ordered to the scene.
Impatient as ever with the Spaniards, he wrote to President Monroe: " Let it be signified to me through any channel (say Mr. J. Ehea) that the possession of Florida would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished." Monroe was ill at the time, and for some reason did not attend to the general's letter for a year. The President was trying to get Florida peaceably, by purchase, and not by conquest. Jackson, however, got the idea that his suggestion was approved, and acted accordingly.
Raising troops in Tennessee on his own authority, he marched rapidly to the scene of trouble, crossed the border into Florida, and in a few weeks crushed the Seminoles. Of fighting, in fact, there was very little ; what there was fell almost entirely to the friendly Indians, and not a single American soldier was killed. But Jackson's actions in the campaign brought on the bitterest controversies of his career. By his order four men were put to death, and he captured Pensacola again, claiming that some Indians had taken refuge there. Two of the four men were Creek Red Sticks. The other two were white men and British subjects. One was Alexander Arbutknot, an old man of seventy, a trader among the Indians, and, so far as is known, a man of good character. He was taken prisoner, however, and it is supposed a letter he wrote to his son, telling him to take their merchandise to a place of safety, warned some Indians of Jackson's approach. The other British subject was an Englishman named Robert Am- \/ brister, who had been a lieutenant in the British army. He was nephew to the governor of New Providence, one of the British West Indies, and seems to have been in Florida rather in search of adventure than for any clearly ascertainable purpose. A court-martial found Arbuthnot guilty of inciting the Creek Indians to rise against the United States, and of aiding the enemy. Ambrister was found guilty of levying war against the United States. He was first sentenced to be shot; then, on reconsideration, the court changed the sentence to fifty stripes and hard labor for a year. Jackson firmly believed that both were British emissaries, sent to Florida to stir up the Indians. He disapproved the change of Ambrister's sentence, and ordered him to be shot and Arbuthnot to be hanged.
Such fierce and energetic measures, whether justifiable or not, put an end to the disorder on the border, and Jackson was again free to return home a victor. The country was disposed to approve what he had done, but the President and Cabinet saw that grave international questions would be raised; for J ackson had invaded the soil of a country at peace with the United States, taken possession of its forts, and put to death citizens of another country also at peace with the United States. John C. Calhoun, of South Carolina, the Secretary of War, was in favor of censuring the general for his conduct; but John Quincy Adams, of Massachusetts, the Secretary of State, thought his acts necessary under the circumstances, and declared himself ready to defend them. In the end he did defend them so well that neither Spain nor Great Britain made serious trouble over them. The President and his Cabinet followed Adams's advice instead of Calhoun's, and Calhoun himself, as Jackson's superior, wrote to him about the campaign in a friendly way. Jackson naturally thought that Calhoun had been his friend in the Cabinet, and had no reason to suspect that it was Adams who defended, and Calhoun who wished to censure him. He did not learn the truth for many years. Had he known it sooner, there is no telling how different the political history of the next twenty years might have been.