Turning Sufferers into Settlers: Gender, Welfare, and National Expansion in Frontier Florida


Between 1836 and 1842 federal policy makers mobilized gender and social provision to support national and slavery expansion into Florida. Over the course of the Second Seminole War, policies that the United States implemented in Florida took social provisions for the deserving and needy (women, children and slaves) and turned them into land entitlements for the presumably male hard-working settler. This article traces American policies in Florida that harnessed gender to expansionist policies between 1836 and 1842, and argues that federal welfare policy evolved as a tool of expansionism during this period, and that policy makers employed gender to naturalize and justify this evolution. In the early years of the Second Seminole War, members of Congress invoked images of threatened and indigent women to build support for a welfare program aimed at the "suffering inhabitants" of Florida. As the war continued into the 1840s, federal and military leaders called on the ideal of the hardy, independent male pioneer as they shifted away from aiding victims toward a program under which those who wanted to continue to receive aid had to agree to colonize Florida. In 1842, building on that settlement program, Congress passed a very generous land policy, the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. It was designed to encourage white settlers ("armed occupiers") to settle and hold the Florida frontier. Twenty years later, the Homestead Act extended this policy for the rest of the country, which indicates that this pattern of policy-making shaped national growth well beyond the southern frontier.