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Chapter XI: Florida and Texas
One question remained yet to be decided; it was necessary to
choose a favorable spot for the experiment. According to the
advice of the Observatory of Cambridge, the gun must be fired
perpendicularly to the plane of the horizon, that is to say,
toward the zenith. Now the moon does not traverse the zenith,
except in places situated between 0@ and 28@ of latitude. It
became, then, necessary to determine exactly that spot on the
globe where the immense Columbiad should be cast.
On the 20th of October, at a general meeting of the Gun Club,
Barbicane produced a magnificent map of the United States.
"Gentlemen," said he, in opening the discussion, "I presume that
we are all agreed that this experiment cannot and ought not to
be tried anywhere but within the limits of the soil of the Union.
Now, by good fortune, certain frontiers of the United States
extend downward as far as the 28th parallel of the north latitude.
If you will cast your eye over this map, you will see that we have at
our disposal the whole of the southern portion of Texas and Florida."
It was finally agreed, then, that the Columbiad must be cast on
the soil of either Texas or Florida. The result, however, of
this decision was to create a rivalry entirely without precedent
between the different towns of these two States.
The 28th parallel, on reaching the American coast, traverses the
peninsula of Florida, dividing it into two nearly equal portions.
Then, plunging into the Gulf of Mexico, it subtends the arc
formed by the coast of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana;
then skirting Texas, off which it cuts an angle, it continues
its course over Mexico, crosses the Sonora, Old California,
and loses itself in the Pacific Ocean. It was, therefore,
only those portions of Texas and Florida which were situated
below this parallel which came within the prescribed conditions
Florida, in its southern part, reckons no cities of importance;
it is simply studded with forts raised against the roving Indians.
One solitary town, Tampa Town, was able to put in a claim in favor
of its situation.
In Texas, on the contrary, the towns are much more numerous
and important. Corpus Christi, in the county of Nueces, and all
the cities situated on the Rio Bravo, Laredo, Comalites, San
Ignacio on the Web, Rio Grande City on the Starr, Edinburgh in
the Hidalgo, Santa Rita, Elpanda, Brownsville in the Cameron,
formed an imposing league against the pretensions of Florida.
So, scarcely was the decision known, when the Texan and Floridan
deputies arrived at Baltimore in an incredibly short space of time.
From that very moment President Barbicane and the influential
members of the Gun Club were besieged day and night by
formidable claims. If seven cities of Greece contended for
the honor of having given birth to a Homer, here were two entire
States threatening to come to blows about the question of a cannon.
The rival parties promenaded the streets with arms in their hands;
and at every occasion of their meeting a collision was to be
apprehended which might have been attended with disastrous results.
Happily the prudence and address of President Barbicane averted
the danger. These personal demonstrations found a division in
the newspapers of the different States. The New York Herald and
the Tribune supported Texas, while the Times and the American
Review espoused the cause of the Floridan deputies. The members
of the Gun Club could not decide to which to give the preference.
Texas produced its array of twenty-six counties; Florida replied
that twelve counties were better than twenty-six in a country
only one-sixth part of the size.
Texas plumed itself upon its 330,000 natives; Florida, with a
far smaller territory, boasted of being much more densely
populated with 56,000.
The Texans, through the columns of the Herald claimed that
some regard should be had to a State which grew the best cotton
in all America, produced the best green oak for the service of
the navy, and contained the finest oil, besides iron mines, in
which the yield was fifty per cent. of pure metal.
To this the American Review replied that the soil of Florida,
although not equally rich, afforded the best conditions for the
moulding and casting of the Columbiad, consisting as it did of
sand and argillaceous earth.
"That may be all very well," replied the Texans; "but you must
first get to this country. Now the communications with Florida
are difficult, while the coast of Texas offers the bay of
Galveston, which possesses a circumference of fourteen leagues,
and is capable of containing the navies of the entire world!"
"A pretty notion truly," replied the papers in the interest of
Florida, "that of Galveston bay below the 29th parallel!
Have we not got the bay of Espiritu Santo, opening precisely upon
the 28th degree, and by which ships can reach Tampa Town by
"A fine bay; half choked with sand!"
"Choked yourselves!" returned the others.
Thus the war went on for several days, when Florida endeavored
to draw her adversary away on to fresh ground; and one morning
the Times hinted that, the enterprise being essentially
American, it ought not to be attempted upon other than purely
To these words Texas retorted, "American! are we not as much so
as you? Were not Texas and Florida both incorporated into the
Union in 1845?"
"Undoubtedly," replied the Times; "but we have belonged to the
Americans ever since 1820."
"Yes!" returned the Tribune; "after having been Spaniards or
English for two hundred years, you were sold to the United
States for five million dollars!"
"Well! and why need we blush for that? Was not Louisiana bought
from Napoleon in 1803 at the price of sixteen million dollars?"
"Scandalous!" roared the Texas deputies. "A wretched little
strip of country like Florida to dare to compare itself to
Texas, who, in place of selling herself, asserted her own
independence, drove out the Mexicans in March 2, 1846, and
declared herself a federal republic after the victory gained by
Samuel Houston, on the banks of the San Jacinto, over the troops
of Santa Anna!-- a country, in fine, which voluntarily annexed
itself to the United States of America!"
"Yes; because it was afraid of the Mexicans!" replied Florida.
"Afraid!" From this moment the state of things became intolerable.
A sanguinary encounter seemed daily imminent between the two
parties in the streets of Baltimore. It became necessary to keep
an eye upon the deputies.
President Barbicane knew not which way to look. Notes, documents,
letters full of menaces showered down upon his house. Which side
ought he to take? As regarded the appropriation of the soil, the
facility of communication, the rapidity of transport, the claims
of both States were evenly balanced. As for political prepossessions,
they had nothing to do with the question.
This dead block had existed for some little time, when Barbicane
resolved to get rid of it all at once. He called a meeting of
his colleagues, and laid before them a proposition which, it will
be seen, was profoundly sagacious.
"On carefully considering," he said, "what is going on now
between Florida and Texas, it is clear that the same
difficulties will recur with all the towns of the favored State.
The rivalry will descend from State to city, and so on downward.
Now Texas possesses eleven towns within the prescribed
conditions, which will further dispute the honor and create us
new enemies, while Florida has only one. I go in, therefore,
for Florida and Tampa Town."
This decision, on being made known, utterly crushed the
Texan deputies. Seized with an indescribable fury, they
addressed threatening letters to the different members of the
Gun Club by name. The magistrates had but one course to take,
and they took it. They chartered a special train, forced the
Texans into it whether they would or no; and they quitted the
city with a speed of thirty miles an hour.
Quickly, however, as they were despatched, they found time to
hurl one last and bitter sarcasm at their adversaries.
Alluding to the extent of Florida, a mere peninsula confined
between two seas, they pretended that it could never sustain
the shock of the discharge, and that it would "bust up" at the
very first shot.
"Very well, let it bust up!" replied the Floridans, with a
brevity of the days of ancient Sparta.
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