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WORKERS OF THE SUNSHINE STATE UNITE!:
THE FLORIDA SOCIALIST PARTY DURING THE PROGRESSIVE ERA,
R. STEVEN GRIFFIN
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
R. Steven Griffin
I would like to thank my parents, R. V. and Rachel Griffin, for their encouragement
of my academic pursuits. My father, a seventh generation Floridian, instilled in me at an
early age a love and appreciation of the uniqueness of Florida's history. My mother, a
native of the Mississippi Delta, fostered a respect and devotion to the written word. I
would also like to thank those teachers who have influenced and encouraged my efforts
in this project. Professor Jack E. Davis, who supervised this thesis, has provided a gentle
and guiding hand for my research and especially the written composition of this work.
Professor Howard Louthan, with whom I have shared my affection for Florida's scenic
beauty, has taught me perhaps more than I will ever need to know about Reformation
Europe and imparted his great wisdom about historiography. Professor Sean Adams,
whom I have met only recently, has been kind enough to read this work and offer his sage
advice. Finally, I would like to thank the man who started me off in the direction of
being a professional historian many years ago, Professor Justus Doenecke, late of New
College in Sarasota, Florida. I have appreciated his guidance, his patience, and will
always be eternally grateful for the faith he demonstrated in my ability.
This thesis has its origins in the Senior Thesis I wrote at New College regarding the
political career of Manatee County Socialist A. J. Pettigrew, who was the only Socialist
to win election to the Florida legislature. That paper reflected my ongoing interests in
Florida history and left-wing political organizations. Only three scholarly accounts of the
history of the Florida Socialist Party exist. George N. Green's 1962 Master's Thesis,
"Florida Politics and Socialism at the Crossroads of the Progressive Era, 1912," broke
new ground by being the first study to examine Florida socialism in the context of Florida
politics. Though pathbreaking, Green's study focuses exclusively on one election cycle,
that of 1912, includes nearly as much information on parties other than the Socialists,
and, by focusing solely on the Socialist presidential candidacy of Eugene Debs, ignores
the state and county level political activism of the Florida Socialist Party. Ray Robbins's
1971 Master's Thesis, "The Socialist Party in Florida, 1900-1916," sought to correct the
flaws of Green's work by covering a broader time period, paying more attention to local
activities, and using more primary source material, particularly local newspapers.
Nevertheless, Robbins largely ignores such centers of local socialist strength as Manatee
County, Lee County, Polk County, Gulfport, and local electoral activity in general. Brad
Alan Paul's 1999 dissertation, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie,
1892-1920," places Florida socialism in a regional context and digs deeper into the local
experience of the Party even than Robbins did. As a regional study, however, Paul's
work could not examine Florida socialism at a detailed level from the bottom up.
Probably the most significant obstacle to researching the history of Florida socialism is
the dearth of sources. The Florida Socialist Party left no records behind, and the records
of the Socialist Party of America contain only passing references to sunshine state
socialism. Hence, the primary source materials for this study are largely limited to
contemporary newspaper accounts and government documents. Though these sources
have significant limitations, the hope is that by mining them deeply a full picture of
Florida socialism will emerge.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L ED G M EN T S ......... ................. .......................................... ....................... iii
PREFACE .............. ........ ................................ iv
LIST O F TA BLE S ........... ................... ............ ... ............ .. vii
LIST OF FIGURES ............ .......... ....... ............ viii
ABSTRACT ........ ........................... ...... .......... .......... ix
1 ROOTS OF A FAMILY TREE: THE oRIGINS OF FLORIDA SOCIALISM........... 1
2 UTOPIAN SUNRISE: THE BIRTH AND ORGANIZATION OF THE
FLORIDA SOCIALIST PARTY ........................................ .......... ............... 24
3 ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL: ANDREW JACKSON PETTIGREW AND THE
RISE OF MANATEE COUNTY SOCIALISM.....................................................36
4 HIGH NOON OF FLORIDA SOCIALISM: THE ELECTIONS OF 1908 AND
1 9 12 .................................................................................6 0
5 SUNSET OF FLORIDA SOCIALISm: THE ELECTIONS OF 1916 and 1920 .......77
6 CONCLUSION: AN AUTOPSY OF THE FLORIDA SOCIALIST PARTY ..........90
A FLORIDA COUNTIES FROM 1900 THROUGH 1920 ............................95
B FLORIDA ELECTION RESULTS .................................. ...................................... 104
C OPEN LETTER OF A. J. PETTIGREW ..... .......... ...................................... 118
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ...................................................................... ..................... 12 1
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................................. ............... 127
LIST OF TABLES
B-l, M anatee County State House Election, 1904 .................................. ............... 104
B-2, M anatee County State House Election, 1906 .................................. ............... 105
B-3, 1904 General Election Results, Governor's Race.............................105
B-4, 1904 General Election Results, Cabinet Results.............. ............ ............... 106
B-5, 1908 General Election Results, Governor's Race ....................................107
B-6, 1908 General Election Results, Cabinet Races................................... ............... 109
B-7, 1912 Florida General Election Results, Governor's Race................................... 110
B-8, 1912 General Election Results, Cabinet Races.....................................................11
B-9, 1916 General Election Results, Governor's Race................................................. 113
B-10, 1916 General Election Results, Other Statewide Races ............ ............... 114
B-11, 1920 General Election Results, Governor's Race ............................................. 115
B-12, 1920 General Election Results, U.S. Senate Race......... ...................................117
LIST OF FIGURES
B -l: F lorida C ou nties in 1899 .......................................... ............................................9 5
B -2 : F lorida C counties in 1905......................................... .............................................96
B -3: Florida C counties in 1909.......................... .................... ................................ 97
B-4: Florida Counties in 1910..................................... .............. ............... 98
B -5 : F lorida C ou nties in 19 11 ......................................... .............................................99
B -6: Florida C counties in 1913................................................. ............................. 100
B -7: Florida C counties in 1914................................................. ............................. 101
B -8: Florida C counties in 1916................................................. ............................. 102
B -9: Florida C counties in 1917................................................. ............................. 103
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
WORKERS OF THE SUNSHINE STATE UNITE!:
THE FLORIDA SOCIALIST PARTY DURING THE PROGRESSIVE ERA,
R. Steven Griffin
Chair: Jack Davis
Major Department: History
The Socialist Party of Florida was a more significant political movement than many
historians have previously suggested. The Party was comprised of a coalition that
included foreign born workers in Florida's growing cities such as Tampa, Jacksonville,
and Pensacola, farmers who had voted Populist in the 1890s and had not reconciled
themselves to the Democratic Party, an obscure religious sect in Lee County, and others.
Despite the many obstacles it encountered, the Socialist Party of Florida earned greater
electoral success than any other socialist party in the southeast. The party in Manatee
County elected a state representative, Andrew Jackson Pettigrew, to a single term in
1906, and in Hillsborough County elected and re-elected the mayor and majority of the
city council of Gulfport (since 1911 a part of Pinellas County)
Despite its successes, the decline of the party began in reaction to its strong
opposition to American participation in the First World War, and it faced significant state
repression beginning by 1917. The success of the Russian Revolution, and the Red Scare
in the United States thereafter, hammered the final nails into the party's coffin, and after
1916 it did not mount any serious political campaigns.
ROOTS OF A FAMILY TREE: THE ORIGINS OF FLORIDA SOCIALISM
Florida, whether under Democratic or Republican auspices, has often appeared to
most outside observers as a haven for political conservatism. Outward appearances,
however, can prove to be quite deceptive. Florida politics during the Progressive Era
may be such a case. In 1912, the Socialist presidential candidate, Eugene Debs, garnered
more votes in Florida than Theodore Roosevelt or William Howard Taft, and Florida was
the only state of the former Confederacy in which this third party finished as high as
second place. A canvass of Progressive Era voting results reveals the steady growth of
Socialist electoral strength in Florida from 1900 to 1912, then a tapering off from 1912 to
1920. From 1904 to 1920 Florida was the only southern state registering more than 2,000
radical votes in every presidential election. Florida recorded the highest percentage of
left-wing votes for any ex-Confederate state in four presidential elections: 1904, 1908,
1912, and 1920. Only Arkansas, in 1916, interrupted this string.
In his seminal study of the Socialist Party of America, David Shannon has argued
that "the socialists had no centers of significant strength in the South other than Texas,
Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and these states were as much western as southern."1
While Shannon's argument may hold some credence for the South as a whole, it fails to
recognize the existence of a viable Socialist movement in Florida during the first two
1 David Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 36.
decades of the twentieth century, and the notable successes it achieved. Shannon's
contention does not explain the 1906 election of Manatee County Socialist Andrew
Jackson Pettigrew to the Florida House of Representatives. It ignores the 1908 Socialist
origins of Ruskin, a cooperative-Socialist college town located in southern Hillsborough
County. Likewise, it overlooks the 1908 Socialist candidacy of Mrs. S. F. J. Linn for
Florida superintendent of schools. Linn's campaign, occurring more than a decade before
women obtained the franchise, marked the first appearance of her sex on a statewide
ballot. Similarly, it discounts the 1910 election of Gulfport Socialist Mayor E. E.
Wintersgill and the final composition of that municipality's town council at four
Socialists to one Democrat. Nor does it take into account the 1912 electoral success of
Socialist gubernatorial and state cabinet candidates. Thomas Cox, W. C. Edwards, A. J.
Pettigrew, and Fred Lincoln Pattison all bested their Republican opponents and finished
second behind the eventual Democratic winners. Arising out of the turmoil of Florida's
industrialization during the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Florida
Socialist Party, at its height, not only influenced public policy in a more progressive
direction, but also showed the potential to displace the Republican Party and become
Florida's second major party.
The golden age of the Socialist Party of America coincided with the Progressive
movement of the early twentieth century, but socialism had arrived in America a
generation earlier. Though it often seemed shaped by foreign influences, especially
German radicals who flocked to the United States after the unsuccessful uprisings of
1848, the American socialist movement owed more to its own country than to Europe.2
Almost from the time industrialism first began in the United States, a few Americans
advocated some kind of anti-capitalistic scheme for society that, they hoped, would
eliminate industrial oppression and bring to those who labored the full fruits of their toils.
There was Thomas Skidmore, who in the late 1820s advocated a periodic redistribution
of property.3 There were the followers of the benevolent Welshman Robert Owen and
the noted French Utopian Charles Fourier who tried to create semisocialist communities
as models for the reform of industrial capitalism.4
To trace the origins of the Socialist Party to these early nineteenth-century utopian
societies, however, would be a risky and not particularly fruitful endeavor. Yet the two
should not necessarily be sharply divided one from the other, since the utopian spirit and
in particular its ethical ideals were to permeate the American reform, labor, and radical
movements for many years to come. The party's real origins lay in the revolt against the
social and economic conditions created by the mushrooming industrialism of America
after the Civil War.5
It is axiomatic that a society that produced a Carnegie, a Rockefeller, and a
Vanderbilt would also give rise to social discontent and to political protest movements.
2 Ira Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement (New York: Columbia University Press, 1952), 6-7;
Howard Quint, The Forging ofAmerican Socialism (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1953),
3-36; Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 43-50.
3 For a detailed account of Skidmore's thinking see Matthew S. Bewig, "The Roots of American Labor
Radicalism: Political Economy and the Intellectual Foundations of the American Labor Movement, 1815-
1830" (Master's thesis, University of North Carolina, 1986), 48-62.
4 Morris Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States (New York: Funk and Wagnalls
Company, 1903), 48-108; John Humphrey Noyes, History ofAmerican Socialism (New York:
Hillary House, 1870), 21-92, 193-250.
5 Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 3.; Quint, The Forging ofAmerican Socialism, 12; Shannon,
The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 2.
There was an abundance of these movements. Grangers, Greenbackers, Populists,
Anarchists, and Socialists all had burning criticisms of the status quo. Most were clearly
anti-capitalist in their nature; yet most would not have abolished capitalism as such.
They would have only removed those aspects of capitalism that caused them harm. From
the 1860s on there was some kind of organized Socialist movement in the United States
that looked forward to the establishment of some variety of socialism. In the year that
Ulysses S. Grant was reelected, Karl Marx moved the headquarters of the International
Workingmen's Association, the First International, from London to New York, where a
few sections of the International already were established among German immigrants.
The Socialist Labor Party (SLP) was built upon this foundation.6
The SLP was the first formidable Socialist organization in America. Daniel
DeLeon, who was cut in the classic pattern of a Socialist theorizer, founded the SLP in
1890. He was Dutch and Jewish in origin and in the late 1880s taught international law
and philosophy at Columbia University. A tireless worker and patient organizer, he
believed it was his life's mission to spread Marxism in America. Unhappily for him, the
country he chose to convert generally disliked the theory. Though dogmatic and narrow
minded in many of his ideas, DeLeon possessed conviction and a certain magnetism that
made him the SLP's patron saint, an icon status that continues long after his death.
DeLeon was vitally interested in labor organization and Socialist agitation.
Convinced that workers directed by Socialists could bring down capitalism, he attacked
conservative craft labor unionists and hoped to organize a new socialist labor movement.
He made many enemies and little headway. He thought sectarian purity was the key to
6Hillquit, History of Socialism in the United States, 177-192; Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 7;
Quint, The Forging ofAmerican Socialism, 9-12.
his kingdom and that the American workingman would welcome his doctrinal logic. He
was sadly mistaken, and after 1900 his party declined into a rigid sect while the majority
of American Socialists migrated to the Socialist Party of America. In his heavy emphasis
on doctrine and his fascination with the dialectical process of socialism's triumph over
capitalism, "The New York Pope," as his enemies called him, managed to be both
belligerent and dull. However important the history of his party and ideas, he stands
outside the main development of American socialism.7
DeLeon's dictatorial dominance of the Socialist Labor Party had a double effect of
repelling many old-time workers in the movement, who withdrew in large numbers, and
causing the organization to become unpopular with the majority of newly converted
Socialists. While DeLeon purified his own thought and followers, other groups won the
great majority of those inclined to socialism. Thus, in the middle 1890s, a new Socialist
Party gradually sprang up outside the ranks of the Socialist Labor Party. The aims and
views of the new party, the Social Democracy of America, were originally somewhat
crude and indefinite. Its declaration of principles was substantially socialistic, but,
echoing earlier activists like Owen and Fourier, its main program was the promotion of a
fantastic plan to colonize in some western state, capture the state government, and
introduce a socialist regime. But the era of utopian communities had long since past, and
the colonization plan was dropped.8
7 L. Glenn Seretan, Daniel DeLeon: The Odyssey of an American Marxist (Cambridge: Harvard University
8 See Bernard Brommel, "Debs's Cooperative Commonwealth Plan for Workers," Labor History 12 (Fall
The Social Democracy merged by 1898 with the Social Democratic Party. The
Social Democratic Party, dominated by Victor L. Berger, believed in the promise
embodied in its name, social democracy. Though decidedly socialist in its aim, the party
taught democratic action, representative government, and a slow, patient fight toward its
socialist utopia. Its followers shunned revolutionary violence and talk of uprisings
among the workers. Education was its key to success, and its doctrines better fitted
American possibilities than did DeLeon's. Milwaukee was the laboratory of Berger's
experiment. He and his lieutenants made it the most Socialist city in America. By
patiently building, they created a Socialist machine that was the envy of Democratic and
Republican opponents. Berger was a powerful force in the Socialist movement and
became a national spokesman. He was the first party member to sit in the United States
Congress, serving as a representative from his Milwaukee district from 1911 to 1913, and
from 1923 to 1929.9
The Social Democrats were builders, but they often lacked flair and charisma. The
most famous American Socialist, Eugene Victor Debs, brought both to the party. A
product of rural Indiana, a youthful veteran of hard railroad life, and a dynamic labor
organizer, Debs combined qualities of leadership with a great respect for his fellow man
to become a formidable political campaigner and Socialist evangelist. In 1893,
challenging the narrow craft unionism then dominating the railroad industry, Debs
formed the American Railway Union along industrial lines. The following year he
reluctantly entered the famous Pullman strike and served a jail term when the strike was
crushed. He emerged from prison leaning towards socialism, and rapidly became the
9 Sally M. Miller, Victor Berger and the Promise of Constructive Socialism, 1910-1920 (Westport:
Greenwood Press, 1973).
party's chief national figure. He was a Socialist candidate for president five times, served
two jail sentences for his beliefs, and became one of the great figures in American
Socialist parties engaged in politics and labor agitation from the 1890s onward. The
SLP ran candidates for national office in the 1890s with meager results. The Social
Democrats worked on the local level in the late 1890s, showing their greatest strength in
Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and New York. By 1900, when Debs ran for president on a
Social Democratic ticket with support from an SLP splinter group, American socialism
was ripe for unity.
In 1901 the Socialist Party of America emerged from the confusion and for the rest
of the century was home to most of America's Socialists. It was a coalition with
conflicting interests, whose left and right wings were never entirely reconciled. The SPA
basically consisted of three groups. On the right stood Victor Berger and his step-by-step
Socialists, committed to education and the democratic process. In the center, led by
Morris Hillquit, stood the moderates. The moderates were also committed to education
and the ballot, but inclined to sympathize with a stronger radical tone in their program.
On the left were the revolutionaries, led by many rather than one man. They claimed
Debs as their idol, although he flirted with the conservatives, and despite his lurid oratory
and biting pen, he more often sided with the moderates than the radicals. The
revolutionaries were militant in their desire for party recognition of radical labor unions.
10 Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982); Paul
Buhle, "The Meaning of Debsian Socialism," RadicalAmerica 2 (January/February 1968): 44-59.
They distrusted the "Slowcialists," as they dubbed the right wing, who looked like mere
reformers to men who talked of worker's revolts and social revolution.1
So varied a group invited dissension, and the history of American socialism is in
one measure a story of intra-party strife. Socialism involved doctrinal interpretation,
attracted a variety of people, and fed a shared belief in the coming utopia. Dispute was
inevitable. Every Socialist tended to be his own party. Because it was a coalition, the
party did not enforce the rigid discipline common to European socialism. Americans,
even Socialists, were too strongly infected with individualism and free speech to accept
such discipline. The party's loose structure and the semi-independence of its component
parts only heightened the tendency to factionalism. The intra-party disputes at least had
the merit of inviting opinion on the great issues of the day.
American socialism faced most of the issues confronting the old political parties,
and in taking its stands said much of itself and its society. In the two decades before
1920, it was a vital and positive organization, waging political campaigns, running a
vocal press, and raising up influential and effective leaders. In 1908, the party mounted a
spectacular national tour for Debs's presidential campaign that warned older parties of its
growing strength. Between 1910 and 1912 it elected more than a thousand of its
members to public office across the country and had a membership of more than 100,000.
In 1910, the party successfully ran Emil Seidel for mayor of Milwaukee and Victor
Berger for United States Congress. By 1912, at a time when the party had locals and
newspapers in almost every state of the union, Debs garnered nearly six percent of the
national vote in the face of such formidable liberals as Woodrow Wilson and Theodore
11Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 80-136; Quint, The Forging ofAmerican Socialism, 350-388;
Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 1-42.
Roosevelt. Socialist ideas were welcomed in the homes of workers, intellectuals, and
even farmers. It seemed to all Socialists, and even to some conservatives, that socialism
was the wave of the future.12
Yet, the party was at the mercy of events. Even as it prospered, its internal
weaknesses magnified and its external enemies multiplied. World War I and its
complications ended the Socialist Party's remarkable run of success, whatever actual
potential it might ever have had. The party suffered serious internal dissension over the
war. Many Socialists were pacifists and suffered official and unofficial persecution
during and after the war. Negative American reaction to the Russian Revolution of 1917
further weakened the party. In 1919 the party splintered into its component parts, ending
its golden age in a welter of confusion and quarreling.
Unlike the national party, which had its origins in the SLP and other socialist
factions, Florida socialism had its beginnings in the Populist movement of the 1880s and
1890s. Southern populism, the principal conduit through which agrarian rebels below the
Mason Dixon line channeled their discontent in the 1890s, resulted from a multitude of
factors, such as plunging commodity prices, manipulated railroad freight rates,
unscientific farming methods, and the ceaseless economic bondage wrought by the crop-
lien system. Both Populists and Socialists alike protested against a business plutocracy;
both believed that only the federal government possessed the means to harness the banks
and giant corporations for the public good. The Populists, however, sought to eliminate
monopolies and save competitive capitalism by organizing small, independent, self-
reliant producers into farming cooperatives. Socialists, by contrast, hoped to destroy
12Hillquit, History of Socialism in America, 352-3; Kipnis, The American Socialist Movement, 335-369;
Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 81-149.
competitive capitalism by redistributing all land and all means of production,
transportation, and distribution. The two movements, though, had similar economic and
Yet, the extent of the debt Florida socialism owes to populism is a difficult question
to answer. In Florida, like many of its fellow states in the Midwest and Southwest, the
prelude to populism was the Farmers' Alliance. In the fall of 1887, sixty-five sub-
alliances, with a membership approaching 2,000 met at Marianna and organized the
Florida Farmers' Alliance. Counties represented included Bradford, Calhoun, Citrus,
Duval, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Walton, and Washington.
Citrus County, situated in the central portion of the state, was the only county present that
did not hail from Florida's northern tier. The uneven distribution of sub-alliances
reflected the divergent agricultural interests of north and south Florida. North Florida,
which since the antebellum period had been a great cotton raising center, had concerns
similar to those of the cotton producing states of the Deep South concerns arising from
the altered economic position of agarian laborers and from the shortage of hard specie.
South Florida, where the agricultural position was economically more tenable, focused on
the marketing of citrus crops, perishable produce, winter vegetables, and the attraction of
more settlers.14 This internal division would threaten the unity of the Florida Alliance
throughout its existence and later plague Florida populism as well.
13 George N. Green, "Florida Politics and Socialism at the Crossroads of the Progressive Era, 1912"
(Master's thesis, Florida State University, 1962): 92.
14 Walter Lord Cory, "The Florida Farmers' Alliance, 1887-1892" (Master's thesis, Florida State
University, 1963): 20-21.
By the spring of 1890 there existed sub-alliances in every county except Franklin,
Dade, Lee, and Monroe. Within these counties, whose local economies were centered on
maritime pursuits rather than agrarian ones, the Alliance made little headway.15 A
decade and a half later, all the southern counties Dade, Lee, and Monroe would house
articulate and vocal Socialist locals. Franklin County, located in the Big Bend area of
north Florida and today the heart of Florida's oyster industry, proved to be the lone
exception to future Socialist development. Moreover, 1890 would view the Florida
Alliance controlling almost half the voting population of the state.16 The Florida
Democratic convention of that same year was so dominated by Alliance members that its
"platform was as much a declaration of Alliance views as Democratic doctrine."17
While the year 1890 would witness the high-watermark of the Florida Alliance, it
also signaled the beginning of its decline. When Florida played host to the National
Farmers' Alliance convention in Ocala in December, sunshine state farmers had never
before, nor would they ever again, command such political unity. Disheartened by the
radical flavor of the Ocala Demands that emerged from the convention, Florida
Alliancemen soon split into conservative and radical factions. The geographical divisions
that had dominated Alliance relations since its inception were highlighted by this
factionalization. Conservative Alliancemen tended to come from south Florida, while
north Floridians predominated among the radical Alliancemen. The actions of the
supposedly pro-Alliance 1891 Florida legislature would demonstrate that the
15 Cory, "The Florida Farmers' Alliance," 23.
16 Kathryn T. Abbey, "Florida Versus the Principles of Populism," Journal of Southern History 4
(November 1938): 462-463; Cory, "The Florida Farmers' Alliance," 78-79.
17 James O. Knauss, "The Farmers' Alliance in Florida," South Atlantic Quarterly 25 (1926): 301.
organization's internal strife was unresolvable. Conservative south Florida Alliance
legislators, seeking to expand their access to northern markets and to increase their
region's population, abandoned attempts at agrarian reform and entered into a coalition
with railroad politicians. Their support of the repeal of the railroad commission, an
action that cost Florida farmers thousands of dollars, signaled their return to the
Democratic fold. It also intensified the desire of the radical members of the Alliance to
abandon the Democratic Party and form a third party.18 By 1892, when the Florida
Populist Party was organized with Alliance support, conservative defections had reduced
the Alliance membership rolls by 75 percent.19
Florida Populists entered into the 1892 campaign under the assumption that they
could supplant the Democrats as the state's dominant political party. To their dismay,
Florida Populists discovered that not only were they no threat to statewide Democratic
dominance, but that their electoral strength was regional in nature. With south Florida
firmly entrenched in the Democratic camp, the Populist gubernatorial candidate,
Allianceman Albert P. Baskin, managed to secure the support of only 21 percent of the
Florida electorate. Baskin was triumphant only in the five rural north Florida counties of
Baker, Calhoun, Taylor, Walton, and Washington.20 Historian Edward Williamson
characterizes Baskin's performance as "the worst defeat of any major gubernatorial
candidate thus far in the history of the state."21 Williamson's assessment would ring true
18 Edward C. Williamson, Florida Politics in the GildedAge, 1877-1893 (Gainesville: University of
Florida Press, 1976): 163-178.
19 Abbey, "Florida Versus the Principles of Populism," 464.
20 Williamson, Florida Politics in the GildedAge, 185.
21 Williamson, Florida Politics in the GildedAge, 185.
for only four years. In the 1896 governor's race, William Weeks, another former
Allianceman, was able to attract slightly less than 13 percent of the electorate to the
Populist cause. Weeks carried only Calhoun and Taylor counties.22 Following the 1896
election, the Populist Party in Florida, as in the rest of the country, gradually
disintegrated. All except the most extreme radicals, including some who would later
gravitate to the Florida Socialist Party, drifted back to the Democratic Party and played
an important role in helping the liberal wing gain control of that institution.
James Mead III, in his 1971 study of the Florida Populist Party, concludes that "the
Populists in Florida achieved fewer successes than their counterparts in almost every
other southern state."23 In Mead's view, there were two principle reasons behind the
overwhelming defeat of Florida's Populists. First, much like the Florida Alliance, the
Populists were never able to entice the counties of southern Florida into their camp.
Despite opposition to high railroad rates and Bourbon land policy, the citrus and truck
farmers of the region remained in the Democratic Party. The farm population in south
Florida was financially more stable than their brethren in north Florida. Populist Party
support in most of the South and West was an outgrowth of agrarian discontent and only
when the farmers felt threatened did they seek to abandon the security of their old parties.
In south Florida no such feeling developed. Within north Florida, the farmers' economic
position was more shaky. While not burdened by high debt rates and the crop-lien
system as the farmers in other southern states, they still were negatively impacted by the
economic depressions of the second half of the nineteenth century. Second, and perhaps
22 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1896 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1896).
23 James Andrew Mead, III, "The Populist Party in Florida" (Master's thesis, Florida Atlantic University,
foremost, was the issue of white supremacy. Many white Floridians still envisioned the
Democratic Party as the redemptive force that had liberated them from the perceived
shackles of black Republican-induced Reconstruction. Throughout their campaigns
against the Populists, Florida Democrats and the conservative Florida press incessantly
drove this perception home. Labeling the Populists as the "nigger" party or as nothing
more than Republicans in disguise, Democrats never missed an opportunity to remind
voters of their role in restoring white Floridians to their rightful place in the state's social
and economic hierarchy. As a consequence, the overwhelming majority of white farmers
refused to abandon the Democratic Party and risk a return to African American
domination.24 Florida Socialists would face a similar campaign when they challenged
Democratic hegemony during the Progressive Era.
Still, despite the abject failure of the Florida Populist Party, vestiges of populism
lingered on within Florida socialism. Seven Florida counties Calhoun, Clay, Madison,
Polk, Suwannee, Volusia and Washington provided Populist presidential candidate
General James Weaver a nearly identical percentage of votes in 1892 as Eugene Debs
received in 1912. These results appear to offer some evidence of radical continuity,
especially considering the twenty-year time span. Thereafter, the poll tax and multiple
ballot laws, passed in 1889, sharply curtailed voter participation and hastened the demise
of populism in Florida. In addition, Florida Republicans who realized that their candidate
had virtually no chance of carrying the state openly supported the Populist presidential
ticket, which might have helped to cloak the appearance of Populist strength.25
24 Mead, "The Populist Party in Florida," 81-83.
25 Green, "Florida Politics and Socialism," 96.
The Populist vote of 1908, perhaps, offers a clearer relationship with socialism.
The Debs Watson totals of 1908 were almost equal to the Debs vote in eleven counties
in 1912, including four of Debs's best eight counties. The eleven counties included
Alachua, Clay, Desoto, Duval, Holmes, Lee, Nassau, Orange, Osceola, St. Lucie, and
Washington. The platforms of Tom Watson in 1908 and Debs in 1912 both appealed to
"white supremacy" agrarian radicals, whereas Weaver in 1892, with his pledge to support
liberal pensions for Union veterans lacked the same appeal to former Confederates and
their sons. Also, ballot restrictions may have been more ardently pursued in 1892 to
derail the Populist threat than in 1912, when a Democratic triumph was all but assured.26
While Populist strength was clustered in the rural white counties of north Florida,
which were more concerned with reforming corporate railroad abuses than with
radicalism, Socialist strength emanated from coastal population-boom counties that
lacked any great railroad issues fueling political discontent. From 1900 to 1910, the
state's population increased 42 percent, twice the national rate. During the same time
period, Florida's urban population expanded at a 74 percent clip. By 1910 the state
harbored four cities containing more than 10,000 inhabitants: Jacksonville, Tampa,
Pensacola, and Key West. Jacksonville, located in Duval County on Florida's north
Atlantic coast, was the largest with a population of 57,699. Tampa, situated on the state's
central Gulf coast, was second with 37,782 residents. Pensacola, straddling Escambia
Bay in the far western panhandle, sheltered 22,982 inhabitants. Key West, anchoring
Monroe County's and the peninsula's southern tip, had a population of 19,945. During
the opening decade of the twentieth century all these cities, with the notable exception of
26 Green, "Florida Politics and Socialism," 98.
Key West, endured population growth rates that exceeded the national average. Tampa
witnessed a 138.5 percent increase, Jacksonville saw a 103.1 percent uptick, and
Pensacola experienced a 29.5 percent jump in population. Key West, which was limited
by the constraints of its island topography, grew at a rate of 16.5 percent. Hillsborough
County, with Tampa serving as its economic hub, led Florida counties with a rate of
increase of 117.6 percent.27 Besides rapid population expansion, all of these cities and
their surrounding counties were linked by another salient characteristic. During the two
decades of the Progressive Era, these four metropolitan areas housed Florida's most
ardent cadres of Socialist adherents.
In part, Florida's massive population explosion was fueled by an influx of foreign
nationals. By 1910, 9.3 percent of the state's population was of foreign birth or foreign
parentage. Of Florida's foreign-born population, persons born in Cuba represented 26.3
percent; Italy 13.4 percent; Spain 12.4 percent; and Germany 7.2 percent. Among
Floridians having one or both parents born abroad, Cuba contributed 22.3 percent;
Germany 10.7 percent; Italy 10.6 percent; and Spain 7.9 percent. Monroe, Hillsborough,
Escambia, and Duval counties all entertained immigrant populations that exceeded the
state average. Monroe County's emigre populace was an astonishing 55.9 percent,
Hillsborough's 28.0 percent, Escambia's 10.5 percent, and Duval's 9.4 percent. The
proportions of foreign-born whites in the state's urban population was 11.7 percent
compared to just 1.7 percent in the rural enclaves. Key West's foreign-born and foreign
parentage residents comprised 56.1 percent of its population; Tampa's 44.3 percent;
27 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1914): 567-581.
Pensacola's 14.3 percent; and Jacksonville's 9.9 percent.28 Cuban, Italian, Spanish, and
German immigrants all brought to Florida traditions of Socialist militancy and political
organization. Radicals among them, tempered by the fires of nativist hostility, were to
imprint their distinctive stamp on the Florida Socialist Party.
The major factor stimulating Florida's immigrant infusion was the state's
burgeoning industrial sector. In 1909, Florida had 2,159 manufacturing establishments,
which paid out $27,937.000 in salaries and wages to 64,810 people, 57,473 of whom
(88.7%) were wage earners. As Table 1-1 shows, Florida industry was concentrated in
four leading fields of production, tobacco, lumber, naval stores, and phosphate, which
employed 55,183 wage earners, or 96 percent of all industrial wage earners in the state.29
Table 1-1: Leading
Industries in Florida, 1909
INDUSTRY PERSONS EMPLOYED VALUE OF PRODUCT /
% STATE MANUF.
Tobacco 12,280 $21,575,000 / 29.6%
Timber / Lumber 19,277 $20,863,000 / 28.6%
Naval Stores 18,143 $11,938,000 / 16.4%
Phosphate Mining 5,483 $8,488,801 / (not manuf)
Not only were these industries important to the Florida economy, they were
significant to the national economy as well. Florida produced 78.7 percent of the nation's
output of phosphate, while the state naval stores industry accounted for 41.4 percent of
the total value of turpentine and rosin produced in the United States in 1904 and 47.2
percent in 1909, leading the nation in production for both years. Finally, Florida was
third in cigar production nationwide.
28 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, 583-603.
29 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, 639-643, 660-661.
Like the residency of Florida's immigrant population, the state's manufacturing
industries tended to have an urban flavor. In 1909, with only 18.4 percent of the total
population of the state, Tampa, Key West, Jacksonville, and Pensacola, recorded 41.6
percent of the total value of manufactured products and 25 percent of the wage earners
engaged in manufacturing. Tampa, although ranking second in population, was easily
first when measured either by the value of products or number of wage earners. The
city's leading industry in 1909 was cigar production, the value of which amounted to
$14,557,329 or 82.7 percent of Tampa's total manufacturing output. Cuban, Spanish, and
Italian immigrants constituted the core of wage earners in Tampa's smoky yet
smokestackless cigar factories. In Key West, like Tampa, the manufacture of cigars was
the leading industry with a value of products of $3,716,740 or 93.7 percent of the city's
total industrial production. The city's labor force was composed of the same immigrant
groups that predominated in Tampa's cigar industry. In Jacksonville the leading industry
was the manufacture of phosphate rock into fertilizer. The fertilizer industry, valued at
$2,511,356, represented 37.4 percent of Jacksonville's total value of products. Displaced
agricultural workers and immigrants formed the core of Jacksonville's industrial wage
earners. Pensacola's leading industry, lumber and timber manufactures, provided 25.4
percent of that city's total value of products. The city's wage earners were comprised
primarily of African Americans, immigrants, and former agrarian laborers.30
But all was not well within Florida's manufacturing sector. Between 1904 and
1909 the average number of wage earners per establishment decreased 10 percent; the
average value of products 5.2 percent; and the average value added by manufacture by
30 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, 643, 646.
9.4 percent. During the same five-year span, Key West showed decreases in the value of
its products and in the number of wage earners, while Jacksonville and Pensacola showed
decreases in the number of wage earners. Only Tampa demonstrated an increase in both
categories. In 1904 the average annual salary of Florida manufacturing wage earners was
$374.59 compared to $399.87 in 1909. This amounted to a paltry annual pay increase of
1.2 percent. Not only were the state's industrial workers enduring growing
unemployment and lagging wages, they were also working longer hours. Of the total
number of manufacturing wager earners 53.5 percent were employed in establishments
where the prevailing work hours ranged from 54 to 60 per week. Among employees
laboring in the state's top four industries the rate was much higher. Nearly all phosphate
miners, 95.4 percent to be exact, worked 60 hours or more, as did 86.9 percent of lumber
and timber wage earners. Nearly two-thirds of tobacco workers labored more than 54
hours weekly and 55.4 percent of turpentine and rosin wage earners did the same.31
But Florida's industrial laborers did not willingly acquiesce to their place in the
state's economic order. At the beginning of the twentieth century Florida labor unions
were well organized in the state's urban areas, particularly Tampa, Pensacola, and
Jacksonville. They sometimes savored success in mobilizing public opinion behind their
cause, and when they encountered defeat, many frustrated unionists protested by voting
for the Florida Socialist Party. Hillsborough County, with Tampa's cigar makers at the
forefront, maintained the largest union rolls in the state. Labor problems in the city's
cigar industry began almost simultaneously with its conception in 1885. Older Tampa
31 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, 645-646, 648.
residents often measure their family histories by the benchmarks of the tumultuous strikes
of 1899, 1901, 1910, and 1920. The 1899 weight strike, brought on by management's
decision to weigh a specific amount of tobacco for each cigar maker as a cost control
measure, marked the first and last major strike won by the workers. In 1901, La
Resistencia, the union of Spanish-speaking laborers, demanded a union shop. La
Resistencia, suffering a lack of strike funds, and facing a determined coalition of the
Cigar Manufactures Association and prominent businessmen, lost the strike. Following
La Resistencia's defeat, the Cigar Makers International became the dominant union in the
Tampa industry. Its 1910 demands for a union shop heralded a strike that lasted seven
months and whose associated lynchings and murders attracted international attention.
The demand for a union shop was again defeated, as it would be in 1920. It would not
return again until insured by federal legislation during the New Deal.32
Pensacola's union history stretched back to the 1880s when the Knights of Labor
organized. By 1908, the city had 22 labor unions, a remarkable total for a southern
community harboring a population of less than 20,000. The first labor dispute of 1908
began when members of the Street and Electric Railway Employees Union failed to reach
a contract agreement with the Pensacola Electric Company. The union was demanding a
two-cents-per-hour pay increase (to twenty cents an hour) and a closed shop. When the
32 For an overview of Tampa's immigrant labor culture see, Gary R. Mormino and George E. Pozzetta, The
Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and their Latin Neighbors in Tampa, 1885-1985 (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1987): 97-141; for detailed accounts of the individual strikes of 1899, 1901,
1910, and 1920, see Gary R. Mormino, "Tampa and the New Urban South: The Weight Strike of 1899,"
Florida Historical Quarterly 60 (January 1982): 337-356; Durward Long, "La Resistencia: Tampa's
Immigrant Labor Union," Labor History 6 (Fall 1965): 193-214; George E. Pozzetta, "Alerta Tabaqueros!
Tampa's Striking Cigar Workers," Tampa Bay History 3 (Fall/Winter 1981): 19-29; Durward Long, "The
Open-Closed Shop Battle in Tampa's Cigar Industry, 1919-1921," Florida Historical Quarterly 47
(October 1968): 101-121.
company pleaded an inability to meet the union's demands, the employees voted to
strike. The electric company responded by firing all of the strikers. The ensuing walk-
out was marred by violence on both sides. The local police were unable to subdue the
surging emotions and Governor Napoleon B. Broward was forced to deploy the National
Guard to restore order. Faced with rising public opposition, and the adamant position of
the company, the six-week strike collapsed. Only sixteen unionists who had crossed the
picket lines retained their jobs. The electric car strike was the worst but not the sole labor
- management confrontation in Pensacola during 1908. The Louisville and Nashville
Railroad's machinists union also struck their employers. The eight-month strike, which
ended with the same result as the electric car strike, reportedly cost the company over
$2,000,000 in lost revenue. Defeated in the streets, their unions dismantled, their families
hungry, Pensacola laborers turned to the political arena. In the 1908 elections seven of
the nine labor candidates for the county executive committee were victorious. Of the
eleven city precincts, labor candidates triumphed by large majorities in five.33
Florida's phosphate miners during the Progressive Era endured a combination of
long hours, strenuous labor, and swampy, malaria-infested work sites. The industry
itself, with its mines in central Florida's Polk County and its fertilizer plants in
Jacksonville, suffered through a series of boom and bust business cycles. During the
boom times the miners sought to unionize and during the bust periods management
countered the miner's efforts. The most effective practices used by the operators to keep
the workers subservient were the commissary system and company townships. The
3 Wayne Flynt, "Pensacola Labor Problems and Political Radicalism, 1908," Florida Historical Quarterly
43 (April 1965): 315-332.
company-owned stores were designed in part for convenience and in part to make the
miners more dependent on the company. Management claimed that they were benevolent
concerns, which aided the laborers during hard times, but in actuality the system was
nothing more than a means to degrade the miners. They were forced to barter their labor
for life's necessities since the companies rarely paid in hard cash. Instead, they were
extended credit at the company store and could be terminated if they insisted on cash
payment or refused to trade at the commissary. While the system may have had some
economic justification, it was clear that the miners detested it. In 1919 both sides decided
to settle the issue of unionization once and for all. The Mineral Workers Union
threatened to call a strike if its demands for an eight-hour day and a minimum wage of 37
cents per hour were not met. When management ignored their demands, 4800 miners
walked out. The ensuing seven-and-one-half month strike was marred by countless acts
of violence and five deaths. To quell the violence, Governor Sidney J. Catts was forced
to call out both the National Guard and the Polk County Home Guards. The strike had
far reaching consequences. Due to the shutdown in phosphate production, the Seaboard
Coastline Railroad laid off several hundred workers and the fertilizer plants in
Jacksonville were also forced to furlough hundreds of laborers. In the end, however, the
industry's tremendous advantages in wealth, legal resources, and influence with the
government resulted in a complete victory for the producers. The miner's union was
broken, and the workers gained little or nothing for all their hardships.34
Public health was a crucial concern for all Floridians, both native and immigrant
alike. Throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the recurring
34 Arch Fredric Blakey, The Florida Phosphate Industry: A History of the Development and Use of a Vital
Mineral (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973): 36-75.
epidemics of yellow fever, typhoid fever, and cholera and the almost endemic nature of
malaria, tuberculosis, and diphtheria threatened the physical and economic well being of
the South. In Florida the diseases and health conditions common to the rest of the South
were worsened by the semitropical climate and housing problems. Also, measures and
methods of public health were slow in arriving. The state's wet, mosquito-infested
neighborhoods menaced the health of all who lived there, but the threats were most
severe to the life and comfort of the laboring immigrant. Disease and death were
commonplace, while medical services for the immigrant laborers were practically non-
existent. In 1905 Florida's death rate from disease was 6.6 percent per 1,000 people.
Monroe County led all Florida counties with a rate of 21.2 percent, followed by Duval at
16.1 percent, Hillsborough with 10.8 percent, and Escambia at 10.4 percent. These four
counties reported 75 percent of the state's diphtheria deaths, 60.8 percent of its
tuberculosis deaths, 48.8 percent of its meningitis deaths, 43.8 percent of its cholera
deaths, 25.8 percent of its typhoid deaths, and 19.5 percent of its malaria deaths.35 With
an understanding of Florida, the state's populist heritage, problems in immigration,
wages, labor relations, housing, and health care, it is not difficult to comprehend that
socialism could develop into an influential political movement within the state.
35 The Third Census of the State ofFlorida, 1905 (Tallahassee: Capital Publishing Company, State Printer,
1906): 140-153, 164-165, 170-171, 176-181.
UTOPIAN SUNRISE: THE BIRTH AND ORGANIZATION OF THE FLORIDA
On February 6, 1900, a crowd of four thousand people filled the Hillsborough
County Courthouse Square to hear Eugene Debs speak about organized labor, the
competitive system, the Industrial Revolution, and the cooperative commonwealth. The
Tampa Tribune reported that the crowd "was an enthusiastic audience, cheering the
telling points of the speech, and remaining steadfastly through the incipient shower that
fell spasmodically during the two hours of oratory." Debs discussed the trusts at length,
arguing that "the trust, in itself, is a blessing; the private ownership of the trust is where
the evil lies." He hailed the trusts as the natural forbearers of the cooperative
commonwealth, the era when men would become both political and economic equals.
Debs, appealing perhaps to Populist sentiments, also addressed the great railroad systems
of the day and the manner in which they were controlled. He accused J. P. Morgan of
monopolizing the control of nearly all the nation's railroads. To Debs, Morgan had
"accomplished this by what is known as manipulation, which is but a polite term for
stealing." Speaking on the subject of the country's on-going war in the Philippines, Debs
contended that modernr wars are declared at banquet-tables, where the firing-line is a
row of champagne bottles. The men who make the war, as a rule, do not go to war. In
these wars the workingmen of one nation slay the workingmen of another nation in order
to save their country, and when they have saved it, how much of it belongs to them?"1
1 Tampa Tribune, February 7, 1900.
Debs' Tampa visit served as the impetus that fostered the birth of the Florida Socialist
Eighteen months later, in late July 1901, the various dissenting American Socialist
groups that had fought one another for decades submerged their differences and formed
the Socialist Party of America (SPA). The Unity Convention, as the initial gathering of
the SPA was dubbed, also created the framework for the organization of a Socialist local.
In Florida, Socialist locals closely mirrored the national model. In forming a Socialist
local, the SPA's national office suggested that at least five people be present and sign a
pledge "recognizing the class struggle between the capitalist class and the working class
and the necessity of the working class constituting itself into a political party distinct
from and opposed to all parties formed by the capitalist class." New members were also
asked to sever all ties to other political parties and endorse the platform of the Socialist
Party, including the principle of political action. There existed no secret ritual in joining
the Socialist Party and all meetings were open to the public. The signing of the pledge
was the only affirmative action required for party initiation.2
Party rules specified much of how a local was to be organized. At the first meeting
of a local, a recording secretary, a financial secretary, a treasurer, a literature agent, and
an organizer were elected for terms that lasted three months. A new chairman was to be
elected each meeting. The purpose of this restriction was to keep power within the local
from being concentrated in one individual. It was suggested that the local meet weekly,
and it was urged that the meetings not be held in anyone's home, as this would obligate
the local to the individual homeowner. The national organization also suggested that the
2 Socialist Party National Office, "How to Organize a Socialist Local or Branch" (Chicago: no date, not
local not rent space behind or adjacent to a saloon because most women resist attending
meetings in such an atmosphere. National leaders also noted that it was important to
have women in the local because they tended to be the best procurers of money. Most
locals followed a similar order of business. The meeting was initially called to order by
the organizer who presided over the first order of business, the election of a chairman for
the meeting. This election was followed by the reading of the minutes of the previous
meeting, reports of the officers and committees, and the undertaking of unfinished and
new business. Then the applications of new members were reviewed. An intermission
was allotted for the payment of dues, and before adjournment, there was a discussion or
In addition to the regular debates of the local, street meetings were held whenever a
speaker was available. The newspaper accounts of these street meetings provide virtually
the only written record of Socialist meetings in Florida. They were evidently quite
successful and very popular. At these street meetings, party members solicited financial
donations and sold Socialist propaganda in the forms of pamphlets and newspapers.
These outdoor gatherings also proved highly conducive for the recruitment of new party
members. The street meeting model that all Florida Socialists sought to emulate was
Debs' 1900 Tampa speaking engagement.
The first SPA local in Florida was formed in Jacksonville on July 4, 1902.4 By
1904 more than fifty chapters of the SPA dotted the Florida landscape from Pensacola to
Key West. Although the party's strength rested in Jacksonville and Tampa, members
included oppressed tenant farmers in north Florida's cotton and tobacco growing regions,
3 Socialist Party National Office, "How to Organize a Socialist Local or Branch."
4 Florida Times-Union, September 6, 1908.
isolated timber workers in the piney woods of the Panhandle, physicians in Bradenton,
lawyers in Longwood, pineapple growers in Fort Pierce, cabinet makers in Bonifay, and
struggling small businessmen along the developing Atlantic and Gulf coasts.5 The
majority of Florida Socialists, to use James Weinstein terms, appear to have belonged to
the "right" or "constructive" wing of the Socialist continuum.6 They believed that the
cooperative commonwealth could be achieved through the ballot.
To facilitate that goal, Florida Socialists realized that they had to be able to mount
substantial statewide political challenges to the dominant Democratic Party. Beginning
with the 1904 election, the Florida Socialist Party sought to offer to their fellow
Floridians a full slate of candidates for state, county, and city offices. In January the
Saint Petersburg local held a meeting, attended by only seven members, to endorse the
municipal candidates who pledged to enact their initiatives. In May, the Tampa Socialist
local nominated a complete slate of participants to contest that city's municipal
elections.8 In July and August, locals in Manatee, Hillsborough, and Duval counties
nominated candidates for every county office.9 While victory eluded all of the socialist
candidates for local offices, their efforts served notice to the majority Democratic
establishment that socialism was a force that could not be ignored.
5 Brad Alan Paul, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892-1920" (PhD diss.,
University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1999): 73-74.
6 James Weinstein, The Decline of Socialism in America, 1912-25 (New York: Monthly Review Press,
SSt. Petersburg Times, January 23, 1904.
8 Tampa Tribune, May 18, 1904.
9 Florida Times-Union, August 3, 1904 and August 11, 1904; St. Petersburg Times, August 6, 1904.
Despite their electoral defeats in local races, the persistent political activity of
Florida's Socialist locals continued with renewed zeal. Though often belittled by the
state's pro-Democratic Party newspapers, the Florida Socialist Party's public profile and
influence were expanding. During the first week of July 1904, the party's first state
convention was held in Orlando. The convention proved to be an entirely harmonious
and businesslike assemblage. On the Fourth of July, the party adopted a platform and
new constitution. The new constitution empowered the state committee to fill any
vacancies on the ticket that might occur due to excessive filing fees attached to some
political offices. Resolutions supporting Colorado's striking miners and commending
various Florida Socialists were also adopted. Special recognition was afforded to
Jacksonville's John Wilford and Oscar Edgar, publishers of the party's official
newspaper, the Florida Socialist. W. R. Healy, a Longwood attorney, was chosen as the
party's nominee for governor. As their standard-bearers for the state cabinet, the
Socialists nominated J. D. Parrot, an Orange Park physician, for secretary of state; W. C.
Green, an Orlando lawyer, for attorney general; Emil Broberg, a Manatee County
surveyor, for comptroller; and S. A. Pettigrew, a Lee County nurseryman, for secretary of
agriculture. M. C. Dwight of Gulfport was the convention's choice for state treasurer and
West Palm Beach's R. E. Resler the pick for superintendent of schools. For unknown
reasons, neither of these two nominees appeared on the November ballot. Ed Wetzel
replaced Dwight on the ballot and Resler's slot was left vacant.10
Florida Socialists emerged from their convention with an increased sense of
purpose. W. R. Healy, the party's gubernatorial candidate, typified the Socialist's
newfound vigor. Embarking on a statewide campaign swing, Healy spoke in Saint
10 Florida Times-Union, July 6, 1904.
Petersburg on August 23 and August 24. An enthusiastic audience of 200 intently
followed both speeches. Healy's first speech dealt with the Socialist plan for bridging the
gulf between capitalists and laborers. His second speech was an outline of the evolution
of civilization and government. Healy quoted from the Declaration of Independence and
contrasted it with the current condition of the American government to show the worker's
changed and degraded position within industrial society.11
In challenging the economic and social underpinnings of Florida's southern
heritage, the state's Socialist Party confronted not only issues of class but also,
unavoidably, issues of race, or "the Negro question." Although the 1901 Unity
Convention had given greater priority to the organization of African Americans, "white
supremacy" subjected both black and white Socialists in Florida to the same racist and
nativist appeals that had plagued the state's Populists a decade earlier. Despite
Democratic charges of race-mixing, Florida socialism was tainted with nearly as much
Jim Crowism as the Democracy itself. Florida locals, like the locals in South Carolina,
Georgia, and Mississippi, were rigidly segregated. In cases where there were insufficient
numbers of African American members to form a black local, they were enrolled as
members-at-large in the state organization.12 W. R. Healy's 1903 recruitment efforts
among the state's African American population were typical of the Socialist Party's
approach in Florida. Healy, who was then serving as the state party secretary, reported to
The Worker that he had organized a colored branch in Orlando with 22 members and had
11 Tampa Tribune, August 26, 1904; unfortunately, all that remains of Healy's speech is a very brief notice
in the Tampa Tribune, so that it is impossible to explore further the connections Healy drew between the
Declaration and the contemporaneous status of the working class.
12 Sally M. Miller, ed., Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Early Twentieth-Century American Socialism (New
York: Garland Press, 1996): 38.
urged all locals in Florida to take up the "work of organizing the Negroes" into similar
Throughout the fall the Socialists persisted in their campaign against capitalism. C.
C. Allen, a future Socialist gubernatorial candidate, spoke to the party faithful in Saint
Petersburg on October 31. Noting that it was Halloween, Allen warned Democrats that
the Socialists were not a "ghost of a party" but rather a viable alternative to the misrule of
the incumbent party.14 By November, Florida Socialists were readily anticipating the end
of the campaign and expected to receive a large percentage of the state vote.
As the campaign progressed, not only Socialists but loyal Democrats as well began
to believe in the potential of the party. In the case of Democrats, however, this belief
took the form of fear. As the staunchly Democratic Tampa Tribune opined in a late
October editorial, "throughout the rural districts of this section, the Socialist party is
much stronger than the Republican party and a much more formidable foe of the
Democratic party for Socialism seeks its support from disgruntled Democrats and
draws its forces directly from the Democratic ranks. The Socialist party ... is waging a
determined war on Democratic nominees." Calling Socialism "far more menacing to
Democracy than Republicanism," the Tribune went on to criticize its Tampa competitor,
the Tampa Times, for printing notices and news about the Socialists at all.15
Reverting to the tactics that served them so well against the Populists a decade
earlier, Democrats began to link the specter of increased African American political
13 Philip S. Foner, American Socialism and BlackAmericans (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977): 131.
14 St. Petersburg Times, November 1, 1904.
15 Tampa Tribune, October 27, 1904.
power to any Socialist victory. Their concern was intensified because Socialists refused
to participate in the white primaries, preferring instead to oppose the Democratic Party in
the general election. The Tampa Tribune warned city residents that the Socialists were
planning to attract to their ranks "the Negro who were denied participation in the white
primaries" in order to win. The newspaper concluded that "no greater calamity could
befall the city than the election of a Socialist administration, or even a partly Socialist
The 1904 election results in Florida showed that Eugene Debs received 2,337 votes
(5.9 percent) for president. Tom Watson of the Populist Party received 1,605 (4.1
percent) votes. In the race for governor, W. R. Healy garnered 1,270 votes or 3.4 percent
of the votes cast. In the cabinet races, W. C. Green tallied 1,604 votes (5.2 percent) for
attorney general, Emil Broberg secured 1,499 votes (4.9 percent) for comptroller, S. A.
Pettigrew attracted 1,432 votes (4.9 percent) for agricultural commissioner, J. D. Parrot
received 1,279 votes (3.8 percent) for secretary of state, and Ed Wetzel garnered 1,013
votes (3.4 percent) for state treasurer. The five counties supplying the highest socialist
vote in the gubernatorial contest included Hillsborough with 200 votes, Lee 119 votes,
Duval 79 votes, St. Johns 79 votes, and Manatee 73 votes. Counties affording the
Socialist nominee more than 5 percent of their total vote included Lee with 25.3 percent,
Manatee 9.3 percent, St. Johns 8.8 percent, and Hillsborough 6.8 percent.1
The most surprising result that emerged from the 1904 election returns was the high
percentage of Socialist votes obtained in Lee County. Located approximately 125 miles
16 Tampa Tribune, October 15, 1904.
17 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1904 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1904).
south of Tampa on the state's southwest Gulf coast, Lee County recorded vote
percentages that rivaled the Socialist totals reported by Garin Burbank among the
southern cotton counties of Oklahoma between 1910 and 1916.18 Lee County's principal
agricultural staple, however, was not cotton, but rather winter vegetables and citrus
fruits.19 The county's farm tenancy rate of 5.5 percent was only a small fraction of the
rates described by Burbank in the Oklahoma countryside.20 But the county did possess
several of the demographic traits that characterized Duval, Escambia, Hillsborough, and
Monroe counties. First, like these four counties, Lee's economic lifeline to the outside
world was the sea. Second, Lee had experienced a population explosion during the initial
decade of the Progressive Era. From 1900 to 1910 the county's population expanded at a
rate of 104.9 percent, five times the national average. But unlike its fellow coastal
counties, Lee County's population growth was only tentatively governed by foreign
immigration. With a foreign-born population of only 3.7 percent in 1910, the county's
growth was steered more by domestic immigration from the North and Midwest.21
Included among these domestic immigrants was a Socialist cooperative religious sect
from Chicago known as the Koreshan Unity. Led by Cyrus Reed Teed, their arrival in
1894 would constitute the foundation from which socialism would arise within Lee
18 Garin Burbank, When Farmers Voted Red: The Gospel of Socialism in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1910-
1924 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1976): 3-13, 190-208.
19 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1914): 634.
20 Third Census of the State ofFlorida, 1905 (Tallahassee: Capital Publishing Company, State Printer,
21 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida, 594.
Teed, known as Koresh to his followers, was born in 1839 in western New York
state. Following service in the Union Army, he completed his education at Eclectic
Medical College of New York, an institution specializing in herbal medical cures.
Unsatisfied with saving lives alone, Teed soon developed a religious philosophy to save
souls as well. His central thesis, cellular cosmogony, contended the Earth is a hollow
sphere sheltering the entire universe. Mankind resided on the inside of the sphere, rather
than on the surface of the Earth. The Sun, a gigantic electro-magnet dominating the
center of the universe, created daylight by sending positive energy into the walls of the
Earth. Night was the result of the Sun drawing negative energy back to itself. The Sun,
source of all life, was self-perpetuating. God, the source of all spiritual life, followed the
same natural laws. Just as the Sun radiated energy earthward, God sent prophets to the
Earth. The first six prophets were each successively more perfect manifestations of the
Son of God. When the seventh prophet appeared, he would unite with God into one and
usher in the millennium. Few of Teed's flock needed to ask the identity of the seventh
Teed's search for adherents took him across the "Burned-over District" of New
York, westward to Chicago, and finally south to Lee County. Settling along the Estero
River, Teed actively sought close ties with the citizens of Fort Myers, eighteen miles to
the Koreshan community's north. For ten years his quest for harmony was fulfilled. Lee
County residents simply did not feel threatened by the small band of religious zealots or
their unconventional beliefs. As long as the Koreshan membership remained small and
Teed refrained from involvement in county politics, no one raised objection to the
unorthodox religion. In 1904, following a decade of sustained growth, Teed sought to
incorporate his utopian community and these efforts led to the Koreshans' initial conflict
with secular Lee County society. Non-Koreshans in the area bitterly resented being
included in a city that was to be based on collective socialism and they voiced their anger
by pouring letters into the Fort Myers New-Press. In the end, the county's Democratic
political establishment sided with the non-Koreshans and Teed's incorporation bid was
rejected. The Koreshans responded by creating their own newspaper, the American
Eagle, and their own political organization, the Progressive Liberty Party.22
More than likely, the county's large Socialist showing in the 1904 gubernatorial
election was the result of disgruntled Koreshans voicing their displeasure by voting en
masse for W. R. Healy. Apparently Koreshans in Lee County were still in a vindictive
mood during the 1908 elections when the Socialist share of the electorate grew to 26.7
percent.23 The future of Lee County socialism and the Koreshan Unity appeared bright,
but that equation was altered with the passing of Cyrus Teed in December 1908. The
Koreshan Unity did not collapse immediately following the death of its leader, but its
numbers began to dwindle. Likewise, Socialist electoral strength seems to have
paralleled the slow demise of the Koreshans. In 1912 the Socialist percentage of the
county's vote fell to 15.4 percent, in 1916 it was 3.3 percent, and in 1920 a miniscule 1.4
22 R. Lyn Rainard, "Conflict Inside the Earth: The Koreshan Unity in Lee County," Tampa Bay History 2
(Spring/Summer 1981): 5-16; Elliott Mackle, "Cyrus Teed and the Lee County Elections of 1906," Florida
Historical Quarterly 57 (July 1978): 1-18.
23 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1908 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1908).
24 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1912 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1912); Report of the
Florida Secretary of State, 1916 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1916); Report of the Florida Secretary
ofState, 1920 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1920).
The Socialist vote in Florida in 1904 consisted of party members, dissatisfied
industrial workers who would cross party lines, and immigrants who held the franchise.
The Socialists realized that if they hoped to continue to grow they would have to work,
and work they did. Almost as soon as the returns were final, the Socialists began
organizing for the 1906 off-year elections. The determination of Florida Socialists would
be rewarded in this watershed year with their first state-level electoral success. The
locale of this newfound success would not be in the industrial and Socialist hotbeds of
Hillsborough or Duval counties. Rather, rural and isolated Manatee County would be the
electoral port from which the Socialist ship would embark on its voyage across Florida.
ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL: ANDREW JACKSON PETTIGREW AND THE RISE
OF MANATEE COUNTY SOCIALISM
It is almost impossible to imagine that Manatee County, today a conservative
Republican stronghold, ever harbored any Socialists at all. At the turn of the twentieth
century, the county remained a bastion of the Confederacy, dominated by its antebellum
homes, the Democratic Party, and a strong white supremacist sentiment. The cigar
factories of neighboring Tampa and the timber industries of northern Florida lay a world
away from Manatee County, where commercial fishing, cattle herding, and citrus groves
breathed economic life into the towns of Bradentown (renamed Bradenton after the First
World War) and Sarasota. Still, the citizens of Manatee County offered a dramatic
episode for Socialist advance in Florida, where from 1906 to 1908 Andrew Jackson
Pettigrew represented the county in the Florida House of Representatives as a member of
the Socialist Party of America.
On June 17, 1904, the Manatee River Journal announced the beginnings of
Manatee County socialism in a short notice stating that a Socialist Party organizational
meeting would be held at the county courthouse in Bradentown, at which a full slate of
candidates for county offices would be nominated.1 The meeting turned out to be a
"large and enthusiastic conference." Although it did not nominate candidates as
advertised, the meeting chose delegates to attend the July 4 state convention in Orlando,
1 Manatee River Journal, June 17, 1904.
elected nurseryman Andrew Jackson Pettigrew county chairman and E. D. Barker
secretary, made plans to form other locals at Palmetto, Parrish, and Sarasota, scheduled a
county convention for July 28, and passed a resolution in support of striking miners in
Colorado and Pennsylvania. Among those who made short speeches were party activists
and future Socialist candidates William Drumwright, Dr. Furman Whitaker, Reverend J.
A. Griffes, and J. H. Kinsman. 2
At the state convention, two Manatee County Socialists were selected for statewide
duties: Manatee village surveyor Emil Broberg was nominated to run for state
comptroller, and E. D. Barker was selected as a presidential elector. At the July 28
county convention, which Socialist gubernatorial candidate W. R. Healy addressed, the
local party nominated A. J. Pettigrew for state representative, farmer and apiarist William
Drumwright for clerk of circuit court, Palmetto blacksmith J. H. Kinsmsan for county
treasurer, cigar maker William Kretschmar for tax assessor, cabinet maker James Felts
for school board, clergyman J. A. Griffess for school superintendent, and John Pettigrew
(A. J.'s son) for sheriff.3 A. J. Pettigrew also prepared the party platform, which was read
and adopted. The platform pledged "adherence to the principles of international
Socialism," including abolition of "the present capitalistic and wage system," national
health insurance, old age pensions, abolition of child labor, free education, and demanded
that "no militia shall be hired to private parties", i.e., no "Pinkerton" strike breakers.4
2 Manatee River Journal, July 1, 1904
3 For a detailed discussion of the backgrounds of Manatee County's Socialists see Pamela Gibson, "The
Practical Dreamers: The Founders of the Socialist Party in Manatee County, Florida, 1904," (unpublished
typescript at the Manatee County Public Library, 1989).
4 Manatee River Journal, August 5, 1904.
Manatee County Socialists operated in an environment seemingly hostile to
Socialist political activity. The county, with a population of 8,830 in 1905, had virtually
no manufacturing base, and independent farmers, not tenants, tilled the soil. In addition,
the county housed no significant immigrant population and African Americans were
largely disfranchised.5 Simply put, Manatee County's social structure lacked the
elements usually thought necessary for Socialist electoral success: an industrial
proletariat, displaced agrarian workers, or immigrants guided by radicalism. Yet
Pettigrew's 1906 election victory over John Graham, a well-respected Bradentown land
speculator, indicates that the party managed to appeal to a much broader constituency
than the standard historical profile of intellectual or industrial worker. National party
leaders pinned their aspirations largely on an industrial working-class, but Manatee
County's SPA membership seems to have come primarily from the ranks of skilled
craftsman, farmers, professionals, and small businessmen like A. J. Pettigrew.
While none of the founding fathers of Manatee County socialism was a large
capitalist, neither were any of them known to have a history of involvement in organized
labor. Emil Broberg and Dr. Whitaker were both well educated professionals. J. A.
Felts, John Pettigrew, and William Kretschmar were skilled artisans who owned their
own shops. Neither in political background nor in the skill of organizing groups for
political action do they resemble the party's national leaders. Collective ownership of
property among them went no further than lending a helping hand among their extended
families. None of these men was known to be in financial straits; they possessed boats,
craft shops, farms, and professional training.
5 Third Census of the State ofFlorida, 1905 (Tallahassee: Capital Publishing Company, State Printer,
1906): 40, 100, 189, 191, 230-231, 258-260.
Though the Socialists did not gain control of Manatee county government in 1904,
they did put up a respectable showing. For example, presidential elector E. D. Barker
beat the Republican candidate by 33 votes, but trailed the Democratic elector by 468
votes. Most of the other Socialist candidates lost their races by four or five hundred
votes. A. J. Pettigrew, however, lost by only 287 votes to incumbent Democrat A. T.
Cornwell. Pettigrew secured 31.3 percent of the vote and carried three outlying, rural
precincts: Terra Ceia, Sandy, and Venice.6
Born in 1845 in Illinois, Pettigrew was the product of a South Carolinian father and
a Kentuckian mother. Shortly before the Civil War, Pettigrew's family migrated to
Kansas and in 1883 he arrived in Manatee County. He is not known to have served in the
Civil War on either side. Once in Florida at age 38, Pettigrew found employment as a
common laborer in an orange grove and used his schooner "Cecilia" to operate a small
freight-hauling business. He eventually accumulated enough wealth to purchase forty
acres on Warner's Bayou, where he built a home, "Carmel," and engineered the creation
of a prosperous citrus nursery.7 Later he would serve lengthy stints on the boards of the
Manatee County Orange Growers Association and the Florida Horticulture Society. In
1889 he was elected president of the Manatee County Board of Trade.8
But if A. J. Pettigrew won respect by working hard and living in much the same
fashion as his Manatee County neighbors, he certainly embraced a far different political
philosophy that rejected their unquestioned allegiance to the Democratic Party. The
6 Manatee River Journal, November 18, 1904.
7 Manatee River Journal, December 20, 1917; Joe Warner, The Singing River: A History of the People,
Places and Events Along the Manatee River (Bradenton: Self-Published, 1986): 10.
8 Manatee River Journal, June 27, 1889, August 25, 1889, September 6, 1889, and May 1, 1903.
origins of Pettigrew's political apostasy and independence are shrouded in mystery.
Perhaps his family's migration to Illinois and then Kansas loosened the bonds of the
Democratic Party on Pettigrew. Perhaps his apparent lack of involvement in the Civil
War rendered him less susceptible to the blandishments of the "Lost Cause." Perhaps,
too, his return to the South well after the end of Reconstruction rendered him less hostile
to African Americans and less defensive of white supremacy. In any event, Pettigrew,
who otherwise would have been remembered simply as one of the county's most
successful nurserymen, joined the Socialist Party and left a far more complex legacy both
of accomplishment and failure.
Pettigrew's greatest contribution to Florida socialism was his upset victory in a
state house race in 1906. On March 9, 1906, the announcements of two-term incumbent
state representative A. T. Cornwell and challenger John A. Graham that they would each
seek the Democratic nomination for the state house seat in Manatee County began the
1906 election season in earnest.9 Soon thereafter, the Socialist Party nominated its 1904
standard-bearer, A. J. Pettigrew, to run for the seat yet again. The outcome, however,
was very different than it had been in 1904 and signaled, at least for that season, broad
dissatisfaction with the politics of business as usual.
By 1906, Cornwell had lived in Manatee County for over twenty years, having
come there in 1885 with his wife and son for health reasons. His health apparently soon
restored, in the spring of 1886 Cornwell built a large gothic home in Bradentown. By
1906, two-term incumbent Cornwell was an experienced Manatee County politico,
having previously been elected Bradentown's first mayor, and serving stints as county
9 Manatee River Journal, March 9, 1906.
judge and county school board member. To earn a living, Cornwell dabbled in real estate
and insurance. For a short time he even owned and operated the Manatee River
Journal.10 In his matter-of-fact announcement, Cornwell pronounced his first legislative
term "satisfactory," and promised to "devote [his] energies to all that is for the best
interests of my people, my motto being 'equal rights to all and special favors to none.'"'
John A. Graham was the son of Judge Edgar Malcome Graham, a noted judge for
many years in south Florida. Graham, who grew up in Manatee County, moved away to
seek his fortune not long after he graduated from high school. For a number of years, he
resided in the northern part of the state, where he obtained considerable experience in
varied business lines. He later became a financier, obtaining options on timber land
throughout Florida. He created a wide interest among wealthy Chicagoans and others to
make investments in Florida.12 Graham's greatest contribution to Manatee County was
probably his introduction of electric power to the county, for he opened an electric
generating plant during the Christmas holidays of 1903. Announcing his candidacy with
greater enthusiasm than Cornwell, Graham emphasized that he was "a birthright
Democrat, having consistently supported the straight Democratic ticket at all elections
ever since I was twenty-one years of age" and that he had "extensive property interests in
the community."13 Two weeks following his announcement, Graham conducted his first
campaign rally at the Central Hotel in Manatee village. In his prepared statement,
10 Joseph Herman Simpson, "A History of Manatee County, Florida" (unpublished typescript at the
Manatee County Library, 1915).
1 Manatee River Journal, March 9, 1906.
12 Lillie B. McDuffie, The Lures of Manatee (Bradenton: B. McDuffie Fletcher, 1961): 307.
13 Manatee River Journal, March 9, 1906.
Graham again stressed his business acumen and numerous contacts within state
government. Even though the women of Florida had not yet attained the franchise,
Graham made a special appeal for the support of the women present.14
Cornwell, in a circular letter to the voters of the county, laid out his claims for re-
election, relying heavily on his incumbency. Comwell argued that an incumbent was
necessarily more "competent" than a new member, and specifically took credit for
introducing laws that enlarged the county commission's powers to make contracts to
build public drainage, and that cured certain informalities in the execution of deeds,
mortgages, and other conveyances.1
Graham, at speaking engagements throughout the county, began to hammer away at
Cornwell's claims for re-election. Graham attacked Cornwell's claim of"competency"
by contrasting Comwell, a mere member of the State House, with Cornwell Gibbons and
future Governor Park Trammell, members who had managed to attain the highest
positions in the legislature during their first terms. Graham also attacked Comwell's
alleged legislative accomplishments, contending that the drainage construction law was
passed and amended by others in 1899 and 1901, and that the conveyances law was a
financial windfall for Cornwell and his business associates and of little benefit to the poor
of Manatee County.16
Cornwell, who repeatedly refused to debate Graham, did little to refute Graham's
charges. Finally, on April 20, less than a month before the primary election, Cornwell
published a letter in the Manatee River Journal defending his legislative record but
14 Manatee River Journal, March 23, 1906.
15 Manatee River Journal, April 20, 1906.
16 Manatee River Journal, April 27, 1906.
offering little that was new.17 Graham responded a week later by publishing an open
letter addressed to Comwell in the same publication. In his letter, Graham issued fifteen
challenges or "business propositions," to Comwell, mainly regarding Graham's earlier
attacks on Comwell's accomplishments. Foremost among Graham's challenges was the
"demand that you meet me face-to-face before the people and make a full and explicit
answer to these questions."18 Cornwell's response to Graham's ultimatum was to do
May 15, the day of the Democratic primary, dawned clear and warm in Manatee
County. The polls were open from 8:30 a.m. to sunset. No problems were reported and
the election process went off without a hitch. In an upset victory, Graham carried eight
of the fourteen precincts and defeated Comwell 410 to 357, or 53.5 percent to 46.5
percent.19 Confident that victory in the Democratic Primary was tantamount to victory in
November, on June 1, five months before the general election, Graham announced his
intention to become a candidate for the speakership of the State House of
Representatives. Jumping on the bandwagon of the politics of business as usual, the
Manatee River Journal's enthusiastic endorsement of Graham's bid echoed the
Democratic nominee's campaign themes by emphasizing his business background,
stating that "Mr. Graham is perhaps one of the best known businessmen in Florida, the
past twenty years having been spent handling lands and large milling and manufacturing
enterprises which have brought him prominently to the front as a businessman and in
17 Manatee River Journal, April 20, 1906.
18 Manatee River Journal, April 27, 1906.
19 Manatee River Journal, May 18, 1906.
contact with the business interests of the state, giving him a large acquaintance in every
county, all of which will go to strengthen him in his race [for house speaker]."20
Nevertheless, close analysis of Graham's triumph in the Democratic primary
reveals critical weaknesses in his support. Of the six precincts that Graham lost, four
were in the outlying rural areas, where Graham lost by more than a two-to-one margin.
In 1904, these same four precincts were the source of the Manatee Socialists' greatest
voting strength. Thus, Graham was weakest precisely where the Socialists were
strongest. Further, in 1904 Pettigrew had carried his home precinct of Manatee, so these
five precincts gave A. J. Pettigrew an established electoral base upon which to draw in
his impending electoral battle against John Graham.21
The same week of March that Graham held his first rally, W. J. Drumwright,
chairman of the Manatee County Socialist Party, issued a call for a mass convention of
the party for the purpose of nominating a full county ticket and a candidate for
representative to the state legislature. In his announcement, Drumwright argued that the
voters of Manatee County could no longer depend on the old parties to enact and enforce
just laws in the interest of the majority of the people. To Drumwright, it was clearly
apparent that both the old parties were dominated by capitalist politicians and the only
alternative for Manatee County voters was to identify themselves with the one truly
democratic party, the Socialist Party. The chairman also contended that it was absolutely
false to represent the Socialist Party as merely destructive, intending to overthrow
society, and appealing to the brute passion of the masses. For Drumwright, just the
20 Manatee River Journal, June 1, 1906.
21 Manatee River Journal, May 26, 1906.
opposite was true, because "our Socialist Party wants to maintain our culture and
civilization and bring it to a higher level. Our party wants to guard this nation from
destruction. We appeal to the best in every man, to the public spirit of the citizen, to his
love of wife and children. Therefore we agitate for the organization of the producers -
On April 21, at the courthouse in Bradentown, the Socialist Party of Manatee
County held its convention. A. J. Pettigrew, the party's candidate for state house in 1904,
was unanimously nominated to run yet again for the seat held by A. T. Cornwell. As for
local offices, William Kretschmar was nominated by acclamation for the office of tax
assessor, J. A. Felts and A. D. Cowart secured nods for county commissioner, and the
convention chose Dr. Furman Whitaker and O. T. Lindsley for school board seats.
Pettigrew then announced that the secretary, with the assistance of other comrades,
had prepared a platform for the Socialist Party of Manatee County. After being read, the
platform was unanimously adopted. The platform contended that "monopolies and the
private ownership of our industries and public utilities have become unendurable and
must be abolished. To continue the present system means the end of the Republic and
death to our democracy. Neither of the two old parties propose a change. The
Socialist Party is the only party that can and will and is pledged to make the necessary
changes, therefore we ask all those who do the world's work with hands and brain, to read
about and study socialism, learn its aims and purposes and vote its ticket."23
22 Manatee River Journal, March 23, 1906.
23 Manatee River Journal, April 27, 1906.
After the reading and adoption of the platform, an earnest discussion ensued among
the delegates concerning the "Colorado and Idaho outrage." The convention passed a
resolution condemning the "unparalleled outrage perpetrated by the capitalist mine
owners to railroad innocent officials of organized labor to death." Following several
congratulatory speeches on the very rapid progress of socialism and the anticipation of its
early dominance everywhere, the convention adjourned.24
Pettigrew soon began to sense that the divisiveness of the Democratic primary
might create an opening for himself and his party. Lacking the resources of their
opponents, Pettigrew and the Socialists used the public media to get their message out.
On May 4, little more than a week before the Democratic primary, and just three days
after the international socialist holiday of May Day, Pettigrew published an 800-word
open letter to the voters of Manatee County in the Manatee River Journal.25
Acknowledging that little privation existed in Manatee County, Pettigrew argued that
"the cause of our socialism is education, the correct knowledge of existing facts, and a
clear understanding of the justice and righteousness of our cause."26 To foster such
knowledge and understanding, Pettigrew advanced a critique of class power in America
based partly on republican ideology and partly on Marxian socialism, and proposed both
immediate reforms and a long-term radical restructuring of the American political
24 Manatee River Journal, April 27, 1906.
25 The full text of Pettigrew's letter is set forth at Appendix C.
26 Manatee River Journal, May 4, 1906.
Pettigrew's letter echoed the language and tradition of republican ideology,
especially its "anti-monopoly" criticism of private capture of government privileges.27 In
this vein, Pettigrew contended that a "small minority have acquired most of the wealth,
own the machinery of production and distribution, own and control the government,
make, interpret and administer the laws and powers in their own interests, and are
necessarily largely against the interests of all others." More strikingly, he concluded the
letter by predicting "that boodlers, grafters, and corporations seeking special privileges
and unfair advantages through legislation shall not be glad that you voted for the Socialist
candidates." Finally, Pettigrew explicitly equated the goal of socialist reorganization of
society with the "co-operative commonwealth," a term used by nineteenth-century
radicals, including the Populists of the 1890s, as well as contemporary socialists like
Nevertheless, Pettigrew seemed equally at home in the language of Marxian-
inspired socialism. He explained that "under the capitalist system a majority of us must
sell ourselves by the hour, day, month and year to the capitalist owners of the means of
production and distribution in order to live, and often a very meagre sustenance under
most miserable conditions." The remedy for this, Pettigrew maintained, was not mere
reform as advocated by the Democrats and Republicans; instead, "the present inequalities
and injustices cannot be permanently abolished without removing the cause, which is the
private ownership of the necessary means of life." Reference to "capitalist owners of the
27 On the use of this tradition by the leading Socialist of the era see Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs:
Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982): 151-156, 191-195.
28 Manatee River Journal, May 4, 1906.
means of production" and the necessity of abolishing their "private ownership" placed
Pettigrew outside the republican tradition and firmly within the intellectual heritage of
In terms of policy, Pettigrew did not shy away from the implications of his socialist
beliefs, and explicitly advocated the "the collective ownership and democratic
management of all public utilities and all industries now in the hands of the trust and
combines." More immediately, he set forth a list of more limited reforms, including
shorter working hours, higher wages, public education to age eighteen, abolition of child
labor, "equal political and civil rights for men and women," construction of public works
and frugal management of Manatee County's budget.30
Outside of Manatee County, muckraking journalist Claude L'Engle began to
publicly question, to Pettigrew's advantage, the ethics and legality of several of Graham's
business dealings in north Florida. L'Engle was no newcomer to the political wars. Born
and educated in Jacksonville, L'Engle worked first in the mercantile business, and, after
living in the North, became interested in journalism. Upon his return to Jacksonville, he
founded a weekly newspaper, the Florida Sun, which began publication in January 1903.
In November 1903, the newspaper became a daily, but soon ceased publication because
of financial difficulties. He started the Sun again in Tallahassee on June 23, 1906, and
continued to publish it for two more years.31
29 Manatee River Journal, May 4, 1906.
30 Manatee River Journal, May 4, 1906.
31 Joel Weeb Eastman, "Claude L'Engle, Florida Muckraker," The Florida Historical Quarterly 45 (January
L'Engle was one of a galaxy of American journalists who wrote exposes of the
corrupt alliance of business and politics during the Progressive Era. His first expose in
December 1905 was an attack on the naval stores trust operating out of Savannah,
Georgia, and the relations of a Jacksonville export company with it. He attacked
legalized land-grabbing by buying up tax titles. Included among his victims were trusts
in beef, groceries, electricity, and ice. He favored a progressive income and inheritance
tax, the direct primary, municipal ownership of public utilities, and conservation; he
opposed child labor. Yet, he showed considerable independence in his views, rather than
following the national muckraker pattern. He supported organized labor and favored
immigration, the latter reflecting the state's need for settlers. Unlike most muckrakers, he
opposed Theodore Roosevelt. This may have been mere partisanship, but it may have
sprung from his opposition to African Americans with whom he felt Roosevelt was being
L'Engle was able to contract with sixty newspapers in the state to sell combination
subscriptions, and when the Sun reappeared in 1906 in Tallahassee, it claimed the largest
circulation in Florida, fifty percent more than any other publication. L'Engle boasted that
the Sun was "the state paper. It is more widely read, more carefully read, oftener quoted,
and wields more influence than any other publication whatsoever, that is circulated
among Floridians."33 While the Sun did lead the state in paid subscribers and newsstand
sales, the paper gradually became less a newspaper and more a magazine, although
32Charlton W. Tebeau, A History ofFlorida (Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1971): 338-339.
3 Joel Weeb Eastman, "Claude L'Engle, Florida Muckraker," 242.
L'Engle continued to call it a newspaper. News was a minor part of the publication's
contents, and was generally limited to little more than a summary of the week's events.
The bulk of the sixteen-page paper was devoted to articles, editorials, cartoons, serials,
stories, and poems. There were also columns devoted to agriculture, women's interests,
and editorial opinion from other Florida papers.34
Politics and government were major and consistent areas of interest for Claude
L'Engle. He advocated electing only "good men" to office to assure the successful
operation of representative government. The Sun printed the names of the men L'Engle
believed were not suited for public office and those he felt had allied themselves too
closely with corporate wealth. Some politicians felt the sting of the Sun's criticism at
election time, and others enjoyed its support. John Graham would become perhaps the
most prominent victim of the Sun's withering heat.
In the June 30, 1906, edition of the Tallahassee Sun, L'Engle charged that Graham
had "swindled" Dr. J. C. L'Engle (Claude L'Engle's uncle) of Jacksonville "out of a large
sum of money in past transactions," and that he still owed the money to Dr. L'Engle, who
had been unable to secure its payment.35 In a July 7 cover story written by L'Engle, the
Sun accused Graham of having "swindled" James Gates of Milwaukee "out of a large
sum of money in past land transactions in Liberty County."36 L'Engle continued his
relentless assault on Graham in the July 14 edition of the Sun, charging that Graham,
34 William T. Cash, History of the Democratic Party in Florida (Tallahassee: Florida Democratic Historical
Foundation, 1936): 120.
35 Tallahassee Sun, June 30, 1906.
36 Tallahassee Sun, July 7, 1906.
"while doing business out of St. Marks, Florida several years ago swindled George
Register, W.K. Hines and W.F. Linten."37 In the July 21 edition of the Sun, L'Engle
argued that Graham "swindled and defrauded" the people of Liberty County by
conspiring not to pay land transaction fees.38 L'Engle closed out his July assault on
Graham by accusing him of having "swindled" Judge W. B. Owen of Jacksonville by
forging his endorsement to certain deeds and notes.39
On August 3, Graham vented his fury at L'Engle's accusations by filing suit in
circuit court for libel, demanding $30,000 in damages. Joe Humphries, editor of the
Manatee River Journal, made it clear where he stood on the issue when he wrote that "It
is a great pity that a gentleman of high standing and an honorable citizen has to enter into
a legal controversy to protect his reputation against such unwarranted and libelous attacks
as have appeared in the Sun [whose] columns are filled with a class of matter that should
be prohibited from passing through the United States mails."40 L'Engle responded to
Graham's libel suit by labeling the Democratic nominee as nothing more than a "crook."
In August, L'Engle urged the voters of Manatee County to reject Graham's candidacy,
and he publicly endorsed A. J. Pettigrew for the House seat.41
Graham, perhaps sensing that his election bid was quickly unraveling, decided to
submit the matter of his competency to be the Democratic nominee to the county
37 Tallahassee Sun, July 14, 1906.
38 Tallahassee Sun, July 21, 1906.
39 Tallahassee Sun, July 28, 1906.
40 Manatee River Journal, August 3, 1906.
41 Tallahassee Sun, August 5, 1906.
Democratic Executive Committee. On August 8, the county Democratic Executive
Committee met at the courthouse in Bradentown to resolve the issue. In addition to the
committee, fifty or sixty Manatee County citizens were also in attendance. The
committee, attempting to get to the heart of the matter, even requested a communication
from L'Engle stating his charges. The Sun's Editor replied by sending copies of all the
charges he had published.42
After reading the L'Engle communication, Graham was given the floor to reply. As
a prelude, Graham stated that he came gladly before the Democratic Executive
Committee, and was more than pleased to see such a large number of Manatee citizens
and Democrats present. He then reiterated that he had nothing to keep from anybody, but
wanted everyone to know and hear what he had to say. Graham added that if he was
unable to prove his innocence by facts and documentary evidence, he would not stand in
the way of the success of the party. Graham then challenged the committee to do with
him as it saw fit following the presentation of his evidence. In closing, the embattled
Democratic standard-bearer demanded that if the evidence proved his innocence, he
expected the committee to say so in unmistakable language and to back him up as the
Graham then took up the charges that had been leveled against him by the Sun, first
reading in full the several editorials as published. After each charge Graham submitted
evidence to repudiate his alleged actions. As each document, letter, and certified copy
was read by Graham, he turned the pages over to the committee secretary and asked
anyone present to come forward and read them for themselves.
42 Manatee River Journal, August 10, 1906.
Following Graham's presentation the committee went into executive session.
Within minutes the executive committee voted unanimously to exonerate Graham of all
the charges and to condemn the authenticity of the articles that had appeared in the Sun.
The executive committee then ordered the campaign committee to draft the necessary
resolutions carrying out the will of the executive committee.43
While the Graham-L'Engle war of charges and counter-charges raged, A. J.
Pettigrew continued his low-profile and methodical campaign. He spent most of the
campaign speaking one -on- one or to small groups of Manatee County voters. On
November 3, the Saturday before election day, Manatee County Socialists held their only
major campaign rally at the courthouse in Bradentown in front of a crowd of one
hundred. All the Socialist candidates spoke, with Pettigrew the last and featured speaker.
Pettigrew's speech centered on his dream of a Socialist worker's Utopia. He
stressed the unfairness of the present system that was dominated by the unethical alliance
of large corporations and corrupt politicians. His solution was to elect good, ethical men
to public office, especially if they carried the Socialist banner. He made no direct
reference to John Graham's woes, but he did acknowledge Claude L'Engle's endorsement
of his candidacy.44
Meanwhile, Graham, either rejuvenated by the vote of support from the Democratic
Executive Committee or spurred on by fear for his political life, embarked on an
43 Manatee River Journal, August 17, 1906. The issue was finally settled on October 14, 1907, when
Graham's libel suit against L'Engle was heard. Following a day-long trial, the jury deliberated less than an
hour and returned a verdict of not liable, exonerating Claude L'Engle of the libel charge. Manatee River
Journal, October 18, 1907.
44 Manatee River Journal, November 9, 1906.
ambitious campaign schedule covering much of the county. In the penultimate week of
the campaign, Graham spoke twice in Myakka, in Dry Prairie, in Parrish, and at the
school houses in Sandy, Albritton, Gillette, Terra Ceia, Ellenton, and Englewood. During
the final week, Graham concentrated on engagements held at Cortez, Palmetto, Manatee,
Bradentown, Bee Ridge, and Sarasota.45
On November 2, the Manatee County Democratic Executive Committee, fearing a
Socialist victory in the impending election, issued a plea for Democratic solidarity in the
effort to "put to flight the enemy, who is striving at this time to sow discord in the party
ranks." The Committee further emphasized the risk of being represented by a third-party
politician, arguing that, "Manatee County will have important interests to be looked after
during the session of the legislature next year, and that body, being almost solidly
Democratic, those interests can best be looked after by a Democratic representative."46
Democrats apparently did not limit their opposition to the Socialists to verbal assaults. A
week before the election, a "rock throwing mob attacked a socialist meeting at Terra
Ceia," a report confirmed by the Tampa Daily Times, but disputed by the Manatee River
Journal, which admitted only that "some small boys peppered the house with acorns.47
In either event, someone was throwing something at the Socialist meeting.
The Monday before the election Manatee County was engulfed by the first cold
front of the season. By Tuesday the skies were clear and the voters of Manatee County
45 Manatee River Journal, October 12, 1906.
46 Manatee River Journal, November 2, 1906.
47 Brad Alan Paul, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892-1920," (PhD diss.,
University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1999): 125.
journeying to the polls were greeted by cool and sunny weather. By mid-evening the
election returns were tallied and it was apparent that the Democratic-feared Socialist
conquest of Manatee County had not materialized. In the race for county tax assessor,
William Kretschmar was crushed by H. S. Dark by a margin of 650 to 81. The school
board races witnessed the overwhelming defeats of Dr. Furman Whitaker and O. T.
Lindsey. Whitaker was bested by his Democratic opponent by a margin of 368 to 187
and Lindsey fell by a count of 409 to 63.48 However, a ray of hope did filter down
through the ruins of the Socialist defeat. The Manatee River Journal described the
source of this hope when it wrote, "The real contest, however, in Manatee County, was
between Graham and Pettigrew for the legislature, in which Pettigrew has by the returns,
a small but safe majority."49
Pettigrew had, in fact, defeated John Graham by a margin of 395 to 363, or 52.1 to
47.9 percent. While Graham won narrow majorities in Bradentown, Manatee, and
Sarasota, the county's three largest communities, Pettigrew pieced together a victory by
drawing votes largely from the outlying citrus-growing and cattle-ranching precincts of
Terra Ceia, Ellenton, Palmetto, Mitchellsville, and Oak Hill.50 Included among the seven
Pettigrew precincts were the four rural precincts in which A. T. Cornwell had bested John
Graham by large margins in the May Democratic primary. These precincts were also the
same precincts that gave the Socialist candidates their highest vote totals in 1904. In
48 Manatee River Journal, December 7, 1906.
49 Manatee River Journal, November 9, 1906.
50 Manatee River Journal, November 9, 1906.
Manatee County, socialist electoral strength was centered in the rural, outlying areas,
while Democrat Graham carried the towns.
This electoral analysis undermines the explanation of Pettigrew's victory, advanced
by such Florida historians as W. T. Cash, Joel Eastman, and Charlton Tebeau, as merely a
protest vote in response to the anti-Graham campaign orchestrated by Claude L'Engle.51
Their interpretation cannot account for the geographical distribution of the Petitgrew
vote. Historian Brad Alan Paul, however, comes closer to the mark when he contends
that "the notion that the Tallahassee Sun, a newspaper published some three-hundred
miles to the north, could single handedly influence Manatee County's voting behavior
seems improbable." Contending that L'Engles' own self-congratulatory writings on the
subject influenced the assessments of Cash, Eastman, and Tebeau, Paul argues that "more
important to Pettigrew's success were the concerns of farmers, ranchers, and small
businessmen that their livelihood may have been adversely affected by 'progressive
boosters' and land speculators such as John Graham." To Paul, Manatee County's
craftsmen and citrus growers responded to the anti-monopoly strand of Pettigrew's
socialism as a means to safeguard their labor, land, and social status from the domination
of large capital and outside interests.52
Another factor underlying Pettigrew's victory not sufficiently emphasized by Paul
was the character and political savvy of the man himself. Other than Eugene Debs,
Pettigrew was the only Socialist in Florida to appear on a state-wide ballot more than
51 William T. Cash, History of the Democratic Party in Florida, 121; Joel Weeb Eastman, "Claude
L'Engle, Florida Muckraker," 248; Charlton Tebeau, A History ofFlorida, 340.
52 Brad Alan Paul, "Rebels of the New South" 126-128.
once. Within Manatee County, Pettigrew was the only Socialist ever to win an election
or ever to carry even a precinct and he accomplished this feat in three out of four
elections between 1904 and 1912. He narrowly lost his home precinct only once, in 1906
by a single vote. In his four electoral campaigns, Pettigrew's vote totals were always at
least twice as much as any other Manatee County Socialist. While this situation boded
well for Pettigrew as a candidate, it did not bode well for the Manatee Socialist Party as a
whole. Joe Humphries, editor of the Manatee River Journal, explained the party's
predicament when he wrote:
The relative strength of the two parties is an interesting feature of the election, on
account of the success of one of the Socialist candidates, but when the vote is
sifted, it will be seen that it was not a question of party but one of candidates.
Viewing the situation in this light, we can see nothing to encourage the Socialists of
the county to ever hope to accomplish anything politically, nor to ever claim more
strength than they developed in the election two years ago.53
Unfortunately for Manatee County Socialists, Humphries prediction would ring
true. In the 1908 elections they managed to field a candidate for every county race, but
were unable to find candidates for the state House and Senate slots.54 The year 1912
would find the Manatee Socialists capable of fielding only three candidates for county
offices. In neither of these elections did a Socialist candidate come close to winning. By
the 1916 elections, the Manatee County Socialist Party had ceased to exist at all.
If Pettigrew's election provided Manatee Socialists with a faint hope of creating the
cooperative commonwealth, his lone session in Tallahassee, despite some progressive
achievements, revealed the limitations of electoral politics. In a session dominated by
53 Manatee River Journal, December 7, 1906.
54 Manatee River Journal, September 4, 1908.
Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward's plan to drain the Everglades and a corruption
scandal involving the Internal Improvement Fund, Pettigrew was an active participant in
the proceedings.55 Mirroring the national party's legislative agenda, Pettigrew introduced
resolutions for the direct election of United States Senators and a federal income tax, both
of which would be adopted at the national level within a decade. His most controversial
offering was a bill to radically restructure the jury system. He proposed that verdicts be
decided on a majority basis: on a jury of twelve, nine votes would be required to render a
verdict, while a jury of six would require four votes. All the above bills died in
committee and never made it to the House floor for a vote. Pettigrew also pushed for a
wide-ranging system of popular initiative and referendum that surprisingly made it out of
committee, but failed to attract the three-fourths majority needed to pass the full House.56
Pettigrew's tenure in the legislature undoubtedly advanced the cause of certain
reform initiatives, including his support of laws regulating child labor, railroad license
taxes, and some temperance laws. Opinions, however, were varied on the effectiveness
of his time in Tallahassee. Writing in 1961, Manatee County historian Lillie B.
McDuffie observed that "A. J. Pettigrew, representative from Manatee County and the
only Socialist in the last legislature, came in for many jibes and sneers from his fellow
legislators."5 At the other extreme, Pettigrew's old friend Claude L'Engle was quite
impressed with the Manatee County Socialist's performance: "Do not fail to remember
that Mr. Pettigrew, the member from Manatee County, has made good in the legislature.
55 For coverage of the 1907 legislative session see the Tallahassee Sun, April 1 through May 23, 1907.
56 Journal of the Florida House ofRepresentatives of the Session of1907, (Tallahassee: Capital Publishing
Company, State Printer, 1907): 449, 591, 727, 900, and 1285.
57 Lillie B. McDuffie, The Lures of Manatee, 311.
He represents a minority of one politically, but the majority has been with him several
times on matters of interest to the state."8 Pettigrew, himself, was quite pleased by his
own performance. Writing in the Tallahassee Sun, Pettigrew noted that "my study of
socialism lends me to look for good and I hoped to get acquainted with good men and
help them pass good laws and defeat those not good. Here is where my hopes were most
realized. I feel that my attendance in Tallahassee was not in vain. I am sure I helped in
the cause of good government."59
A.J. Pettigrew's political career did not end with his service in the 1907 legislature.
In 1908 he was the Socialist standard-bearer for governor and in 1912 their nominee for
agricultural commissioner. In neither race he was able to duplicate his 1906 success.
Following his defeat in 1912, he retired from politics. By a quirk of ironic fate, Pettigrew,
who died in 1917, outlived the Manatee County Socialist Party by a year.
58 Tallahassee Sun, June 1, 1907.
59 Tallahassee Sun, June 22, 1907.
HIGH NOON OF FLORIDA SOCIALISM: THE ELECTIONS OF 1908 AND 1912
Florida Socialists were optimistic following the 1906 off-year election. The period
between campaigns served as an instructional and learning opportunity for Socialist Party
members. The urban locals continued to conduct their weekly meetings. The rural locals
could not meet every week, especially during the harvest season, but they were expected
never to exceed a month between meetings. Discussions and lectures on Socialist
ideology remained at the heart of local meetings. Dues continued to be collected during
the non-election years.
Socialists also began a drive to educate the people of Florida on the merits of
socialism. More street meetings were held. More speeches were made and more letters
were sent to the state's newspapers attempting to cast the Socialist platform in a more
favorable light. Typical of these letters was one sent by J. D. Bennett, Secretary of the
Escambia County Socialist Party, to the editor of the Pensacola Journal. Bennett noted
that workers received only one-eighth of the benefit of their production and he called
owners and non-laborers nothing more than thieves. He added that "if the government
can build warships, operate navy yards and conduct a college, why could it not raise pigs,
run a dairy or conduct a kindergarten?"1 Through letters like Bennett's, Florida Socialists
attempted to gain additional public acceptance and recognition.
1 Pensacola Journal, October 18, 1908.
On July 4, 1908, the second state convention of the Socialist Party of America
convened in Tampa. The sixty delegates at least one from every county in the state -
elected George Mendenhall chairman of the convention. The fact that delegates were
present from every county demonstrated that the Socialists had succeeded in developing a
truly statewide organization. The convention selected A. J. Pettigrew as the party's
nominee for governor, and A. C. Sill of Ruskin for secretary of state. Other cabinet
nominees included Charles Meitin for comptroller, A. B. Kimball of Volusia County for
treasurer, Marion County's Charles Schneider for commissioner of agriculture, and Mrs.
S. F. J. Linn of Eustis for superintendent of schools. The convention failed to nominate
anyone for attorney general. The convention also chose candidates for Florida's five
presidential electors and three congressional districts.2
During the preceding four years, Florida Socialists had made positive and visible
gains they could celebrate at their convention. These included Socialist-based immigrant
hospitals in Tampa, public ownership of the water works in Pensacola, and the election of
Pettigrew to the state house.3 Henry L. Drake of Saint Petersburg, the state secretary and
a well known ex-newspaperman, announced a larger dues-paying membership than the
state party had ever had before. A. N. Jackson, a delegate from Jacksonville, noted that
party membership in Duval County had more than tripled during the past year. The
larger membership rolls were a reason for optimism, and it was this hope that led to a
2 Tampa Tribune, July 5, 1908; Florida Times-Union, September 6, 1908.
3 Gary Mormino and George Pozzetta, The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin
Neighbors in Tampa, 1885-1985 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987): 175-209; Pensacola Journal,
July 3, 1908.
motion to hold future state conventions earlier in the year in order to allow the candidates
for state offices more time to travel and campaign throughout the state.4
Partly because of the increased activity by the locals and partly because of
increasing membership, Florida Socialists were hopeful about their prospects in the
upcoming election. The most popular campaign forum remained the street meetings
sponsored by the various county locals. Pettigrew was one of the most appealing
speakers at these campaign gatherings. On October 10, he spoke at a street meeting in
Saint Petersburg, where he argued that there was "no need to fear socialism unless you
fear yourself, as the Socialists propose that a majority of the men and women shall have a
voice in every change of all public affairs." He claimed that the percentage of the
Socialist vote in Florida was the seventh highest in the Unites States, and he closed by
concluding that "the man who votes the Socialist ticket doesn't throw his vote away
because he votes for right and justice, and against exploitation, poverty, war and the
present bad system."5
When locals were unable to provide an appealing speaker, general discussions were
often the means of attracting large crowds. The Florida Times-Union, as well as other
newspapers, often advertised that the Socialist street meeting would feature a general
discussion in which the public was invited to participate. Another method of attracting
the public to these Socialist meetings was by having special outings and picnics.
Throughout the 1908 campaign, for example, the Jacksonville local sponsored monthly
4 Pensacola Journal, July 10, 1908.
5 St. Petersburg Times, October 14, 1908.
excursions to Green Cove Springs.6 Locals in Hillsborough, Escambia, and Duval
counties not only provided support for the party's statewide candidates, they also
continued their aggressive policy of nominating a full slate of candidates for county
offices as well.7
Though some Florida newspapers printed Socialist notices, the Florida press was
overwhelmingly Democratic, and as the Socialists gained strength in 1908, this
Democratic press grew increasingly caustic in its criticisms. For example, the Florida
Times Union accused Duval County Socialists of "believing in gnawing away at the vitals
of Democracy."8 In defending the Democratic Party from Republican charges of socialist
leanings, the Times-Union contended that socialism aimed at "nothing less than the
complete overturn of the existing industrial system; the end of credit, interest, rent and
profit; the destruction of all private property in factories, mines, railroads, [and]
telegraphs."9 Florida's other leading Democratic newspaper, the Tampa Tribune,
sounded a similar note when it reprinted an essay by processed food magnate C. W. Post
entitled, "They're After You," which warned readers that Socialists intended to seize
even the property of homeowners.10 Contending that the "Labor-Socialists" sought to
seize the property, including their homes, of the thrifty, in order to give it to those who
were "unthrifty, drinking, profligate or simply 'failures,'" Post and the Tribune argued
6 Florida Times-Union, August 16, 1908.
7 Tampa Tribune, May 2, 1908; Pensacola Journal, July 30, 1908; Florida Times-Union, September 8,
8 Florida Times-Union, September 6, 1908.
9 Florida Times-Union, August 25, 1908.
10 Tampa Tribune, March 17, 1908.
that "this is a contest between the unthrifty 'class' trying to wrest money, property and
power from the homeowning 'class.'"11 By invoking the "homeowner" and charging the
Socialists were out to seize homes, Democrats attempted to use scare tactics against the
Socialists, to divide from them those small property holders, like A. J. Pettigrew, who
often supported them.
Despite growing attacks on the part of the Democratic press, the 1908 election
returns reveal that the persistent efforts of Florida Socialists had paid off. The party's
electoral strength increased in number as well as percentage of the total vote in Florida.
Eugene Debs, Socialist candidate for president, received a total of 3,747 votes or 7.6
percent. Debs attracted a third as many votes as William Howard Taft, the Republican
nominee, and bested Taft in four counties: Lee, Manatee, Monroe, and Suwannee.
Debs' largest vote totals came from Hillsborough, Escambia, Monroe, Duval, and
Suwannee counties. He garnered 1,410 more votes in 1908 than he had received 1904, an
increase of 37.6 percent.
Pettigrew ran only slightly behind Debs, receiving 2,427 votes, or 5.8 percent.
Counties that provided Pettigrew with at least 100 votes included Hillsborough with 376,
Monroe 192, Suwannee 152, Escambia 131, Lee 123, Manatee 120, DeSoto 110, and
Jackson 104. Counties affording Pettigrew with at least 10 percent of their total vote
included Lee with 26.7 percent, Monroe 19.0 percent, Suwannee 17.6 percent, Manatee
14.9 percent, Taylor 12.5 percent, Hillsborough 10.5 percent, and Baker 10.1 percent.
Pettigrew defeated the Republican nominee in Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, and
Suwannee counties. In the state cabinet races, Charles Meitin received 1,977 votes (5.2
1 Tampa Tribune, March 17, 1908;
percent) for state comptroller, A. C. Sill garnered 2,182 votes (5.7 percent) for secretary
of state, Charles Schneider attracted 2,626 votes (7.8 percent) for agricultural
commissioner, A. B. Kimball received 3,528 votes (9.9 percent) for state treasurer, and
Mrs. S. F. J. Linn garnered 3,952 votes (10.4 percent) for superintendent of schools.12
Linn's candidacy marked the first appearance of a woman on a statewide ballot in
Florida political history. Her 10.4 percent share of the vote remains to this day the
highest percentage ever attained by a Florida Socialist in a statewide race. Historian
Sally Miller contends that the only type of position for which the Socialist Party turned
regularly to women nominees was in the field of education. In 1908, the Socialists
nominated thirteen women among its 271 candidates in state races, and of that number,
eight, including Linn, were candidates for superintendencies of schools. In 1910, of
sixteen of 255 Socialist candidates for state-level public office were women, half of
whom ran for educational posts. Linn, a Lake County schoolteacher, seems to fit nicely
within the Socialist women's sphere that Miller describes.13
Socialist strength in Hillsborough County, home of Tampa's Socialist cigar makers,
was enhanced by the formation in 1908 of Ruskin, a Socialist college town located in
southern Hillsborough County. This cooperative colony was the brainchild of George
McAnelly Miller, a former Chicago college professor and lawyer. Born in 1857, Miller
had previously been president of two Ruskin Colleges, the first in Missouri, and the
second in Illinois. Both were innovative, Socialist workers' colleges with short histories.
12 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1908 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1908.)
13 Sally Miller, ed., Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Early Twentieth-Century American Socialism (New
York: Garland Press, 1996): 102.
Strained relationships with their adjacent communities, coupled with internal strife, had
led to the colleges' demise.
Based on the educational ideals of British Socialist John Ruskin, the Florida college
provided courses toward a bachelor of arts degree to anyone willing to work for it.
Ruskin believed that higher education should be readily available to the working class,
and that the social ills of the Industrial Revolution could be eliminated only through the
education of the masses. Laboring men and women could lift themselves up, but not out
of, their own class in society by being trained in both agricultural and industrial skills.
Ruskin believed not only in the education of the intellect, but also emphasized the
character-building aspects of higher education. To Ruskin, the cultivation of emotions
and the development of a more intimate relationship with nature were more important
than the mere acquisition of knowledge. According to Ruskin, a student should engage
nature not as a mere spectator, but more like a painter would with watercolors and a
canvass. Ruskin maintained that all students should be required to do something with
their hands, for through manual labor they prepared to become productive working
members of the community.
With these ideals in mind, Miller began developing the Florida college. Funding
was procured from a ten-percent surcharge leveled on all sales of colony land. The first
college structures were dormitories fashioned out of rough, unplaned yellow pine. There
was one concrete-block classroom and the present-day Ruskin Women's Club served as
the main classroom facility. The curriculum offered three years of preparatory work and
four years of college-level studies. Art, drama, language, literature, music, social
sciences, and speech were among the academic offerings. Needy students could earn
their tuition and board by laboring on the college's twenty-acre farm. The students'
schedule was broken into three periods: Four hours of study, four hours of classes, and
four hours of work. At its peak, Ruskin College had a student body of 160.
As utopian as Ruskin College seemed, many of its students became disillusioned
with its tedious rural isolation. The urban pleasures of the big city prompted many of the
students to drift away. World War I emptied the college of most of its remaining young
adults. The men were drafted, and the women took jobs in war-related industries. In
1918 a disastrous fire swept through the campus and the college was closed. The final
blow to the college came in August 1919, when Miller died suddenly while on a lecture
tour to recruit settlers and students for the Socialist colony.14
Across Tampa Bay from Ruskin, in what was still (until 1911) Hillsborough
County, another center of Socialist strength emerged from the 1910 off-year elections in
the small town of Gulfport. Gulfport today is a working-class and retiree community
with a thriving fine arts scene, surrounded by the urban sprawl of Saint Petersburg. It is
best known nationally as the home of Florida's oldest law school, Stetson University
College of Law. But in 1910, nestled on the banks of Boca Ciega Bay, Gulfport was a
small village of fishermen and ship builders. Gulfport was incorporated on October 12,
1910, in the Gulf Casino located on the dock of the Electric Railroad Company. Quite
unlike the New South envisioned by the likes of Hamilton Disston and Henry Flagler, the
founders of Gulfport embraced a distinctly different vision. Of those citizens who had
14 Lori Robinson and Bill DeYoung, "Socialism in the Sunshine: The Roots of Ruskin, Florida," Tampa
Bay History 4 (Spring/Summer 1982): 5-20.
voted for incorporation, several, including the elected mayor and the majority of the city
council, were members of the Florida Socialist Party.15
At the same incorporation meeting, Elmer E. Wintersgill captured 75 percent of the
vote and became the municipality's first mayor. A. L. Stefanski, Lester Wintersgill,
Joshua White, Henry Slaughter, and Henry Weathers were nominated for the city council.
Lacking any opposition, they were elected by acclamation. Of the five council members,
only Stefanski was not a member of the Socialist Party.16 Elmer Wintersgill and his
brother Lester had migrated to Gulfport from Jacksonville in 1907. Ship builders by
vocation, the brothers engaged in myriad endeavors from farming and real estate to
operating a ferry to the neighboring barrier island of Pass-A-Grille. Other Gulfport party
members included city Alderman Joshua White, a grocer and ship builder, and council
member Henry Slaughter, a farmer and sailor born in Madison County. Henry Weathers,
a Georgia native, arrived in Gulfport in 1901. In between, he worked as a circus
performer, fought in the Spanish-American War, and was employed as a carpenter and
Much like their fellow Socialists in Manatee County, the immediate world of
Gulfport shaped the local party's interpretation of socialism. Still, the town's pastoral
ideals were increasingly threatened as it struggled with the pressures brought on by a land
boom in Saint Petersburg and the growing industrialization underway across the bay in
Tampa. Against this backdrop, Gulfport's Socialists accepted the region's transformation
15 Gulfport Historical Society, Our Story of Gulfport, Florida (Gulfport: Gulfport Historical Society,
1985): 17, 25, 79.
16 Our Story of Gulfport, Florida, 81.
1 Brad Alan Paul, "Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892-1920," (PhD diss.,
University of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1999): 112-113.
and did not reject the area's growth out-of-hand, but rather sought to channel it as a
source for their own prosperity. Wintersgill's administration oversaw the expansion of
the city's water works, extension of rail lines to Saint Petersburg, and the creation of a
Citizen's Ice and Cold Storage facility.18 For Gulfport Socialists, positive progress was
limited to the types of growth that ensured more wealth secured in the hands of local
citizens. Gulfport socialists understood socialism as a force to protect the people against
the onslaught of industrialization, uncontrolled growth, and "outside booster" influence.
Brad Alan Paul contends that Gulfport Socialists viewed socialism as "a means to
maintain their independence from the corrupting influence of capitalism. Theirs was a
socialism dedicated to maintaining an existing order not overthrowing one."19
In light of these positive developments in the Tampa Bay area, and buoyed by their
electoral successes at the local and county levels, many Florida Socialists anxiously eyed
the election of 1912 as their best opportunity yet to capture a statewide office. With the
growth of the party amid the contemporary social conditions, many true believers were
convinced that the 1912 election would usher in the long anticipated cooperative
commonwealth. Capitalizing on this enthusiasm, the Socialists began their campaign
meetings earlier in the year. On January 25, Hillsborough County Socialists held a mass
meeting in Tampa to adopt a platform for the upcoming municipal elections. The public
was invited to attend, but only party members were allowed to participate in the platform
debates.20 A month following this meeting, on February 22, the Socialists gathered at the
18 Our Story of Gulfport, Florida, 17-25.
19 Paul, "Rebels of the New South," 114-115.
20 Tampa Tribune, January 25, 1912
Tampa local's headquarters on Florida Avenue to name a city ticket.21 At the same time,
Pinellas County Socialists nominated candidates for the offices of state representative,
county judge, sheriff, county treasurer, superintendent, school board, and county
commissioner.22 On May 20, the Socialists of Marion County held their convention in
Ocala, where they adopted the 1908 platform with a few amendments, and nominated a
full slate of candidates for the county ticket.23
The third state Socialist convention, which convened in Ocala on August 30, 1912,
was the culmination of the county conventions. This convention elected D. G. Robinson
of Tampa as chairman and E. E. Loomis of Palatka as convention secretary, and adopted
the platform committee report, which varied little from the 1908 platform. The state
committee was authorized to appoint a campaign committee of three to assist the state
secretary, A. N. Jackson of Jacksonville. The Florida Times-Union_reported "loud cheers
greeted the announcement of a visit to this state in the near future of vice presidential
candidate Emil Seidel."24 The convention next nominated the state ticket, deciding on
Thomas Cox of Jacksonville for governor, Fred Lincoln Pattison for secretary of state,
Abner D. Miller of Ruskin for attorney general, David Dunham of Saint Augustine for
comptroller, Karl Harter of Tampa for state treasurer, W. C. Edwards of Sebastian for
superintendent of schools, and A. J. Pettigrew for commissioner of agriculture.
Nominations were also made for all four of the state's congressional districts.25
21 Tampa Tribune, February 22, 1912.
22 St. Petersburg Times, February 22, 1912.
23 Florida Times-Union, May 22, 1912.
24 Florida Times-Union, September 2, 1912.
25 Florida Times-Union, September 2, 1912.
Florida Socialists approached the impending campaign with the idea of reaching
out to their less educated brethren, and decided to adopt a new style of oratory. The
national office suggested that Socialist speakers omit so-called "nine syllable words."
Following this policy perhaps a bit too literally, Walter Millard, who spoke in Tampa on
March 3, 1912, changed the title of his speech from "Economic Determinism" to "Why
Things Happen to Happen."26 Another method of arousing the interests of the masses
was the Socialist Lyceum course. The Lyceum course consisted of having a number of
traveling comrades conduct a series of lectures on varying aspects of socialism. Typical
of these Lyceum lectures was one given by Lena Morrow Lewis in Tampa on March 24,
1912. Lewis, speaking on the subject of "Socialists at Work," was described by the
Tampa Tribune as being "possessed of an unusually fine voice, a liberal education, and
fortified by years of experience upon the platform" and she "stands in the very front rank
of American orators." While the Lyceum course was an integral part of the non-election
year's activity, it was usually discontinued in election years by the end of March when
the formal lecture series was replaced by the street meetings, debates, and rallies typical
of election years.27
The highlight of the 1912 campaign for Florida Socialists was the appearance in
Tampa and Jacksonville of Emil Seidel, the party's vice presidential candidate. Speaking
in Jacksonville on September 13, Seidel characterized the Socialist Party's opposition to
the other parties: "The Republican Party stands for things as they are; it wants no change.
The Democratic Party stands for anything old; it wants the office. The Progressive Party
26 Tampa Tribune, March 3, 1912.
27 Tampa Tribune, March 24, 1912 and October 11, 1912.
stands for honesty on a platform of stolen planks. The Prohibition Party can only see
poverty when there is a beer sign in sight."28
Reflecting that at least some of the Socialist Party's optimism was realistic,
Democrats in 1912 expressed greater fear of the Socialists than of the Republicans. T. R.
Safford, a Democratic resident of Ruskin, claimed that a deputy sheriff, who was a
Socialist, was registering new residents who did not qualify to vote. The deputy
allegedly was conducting his registration efforts to assure that these new voters supported
the Socialist candidates. Safford also charged that the deputy was going to preside at the
Ruskin polls, and with the aid of other Ruskin Socialists, he was going to declare the
polling place a Socialist poll and thereby deny Ruskin Democrats the opportunity to vote
in the election.9
Hillsborough County Democrats used these allegations, whatever their merits, to
take matters in their own hands not an uncommon occurrence in the era shortly after the
disfranchisement of African American voters. In the final days before the June municipal
elections, the Tampa Tribune once again invoked the necessity of maintaining white
supremacy. The Tribune claimed that "the Socialists have used every effort to secure the
interest of the negro voters in their ticket and have been pointing out to them that they
ought to vote their ticket in retaliation for the actions of white citizens in establishing a
white primary, which destroyed negro influence in municipal elections and eliminated the
black balance of power which for so long operated to the detriment of clean politics in
28 Florida Times-Union, September 14, 1912.
29 Tampa Tribune, April 3, 1912.
this city."30 Democrats backed up their words with actions, as at least three Tampa
polling stations witnessed violence directed at Socialists or their supporters, and at two of
these, Socialist candidates Franklin Pimbley, a deputy sheriff, and C. C. Allen, were
beaten and jailed.31
Despite the white primary and voter intimidation, voter participation in the 1912
election was heavier than anticipated. The Tampa Tribune attributed the large turnout to
the heated rivalry between the Democrats and the Socialists. T. A. Saffold's worst fears
were realized as Ruskin voted overwhelmingly Socialist. In the city of Gulfport, Mayor
Wintersgill was reelected by a large margin and the composition of the city council
remained at four Socialists to one Democrat.32 Despite the fact that Woodrow Wilson, a
native Southerner, occupied the top of the Democratic ticket, 4,806 Floridians voted for
Eugene Debs, the Socialist standard-bearer. Debs received 9.3 percent of the total
Florida vote and ran ahead of Republican incumbent President William Howard Taft by
527 votes. Debs' increase of 1,059 votes in 1912 represented a 22 percent jump over his
1908 totals.33 Commenting on Debs's performance, the Florida Times-Union noted that
"we are now to recognize the fact that the Socialists are strong enough to command
consideration in Florida. We hope they will make their theories felt in the dispensation of
the government hereafter."34
30 Tampa Tribune, June 1, 1912.
31 Tampa Tribune, June 5, 1912.
32 Tampa Tribune, November 8, 1912.
33 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1912 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1912).
34 Florida Times-Union, November 23, 1912.
Thomas Cox, Socialist candidate for governor, received 3,467 votes (7.2 percent).
Counties that supplied Cox with at least 100 votes included Hillsborough with 554, Polk
238, Duval 173, Suwannee 173, Dade 171, Washington 141, Jackson 136, Pinellas 125,
Monroe 120, Lee 105, and Escambia 100. Counties in which Cox tallied at least 10
percent of the total vote included Polk with 16.6 percent, Suwannee 16.4 percent, Lee
15.4 percent, Hillsborough 14.8 percent, Calhoun 14.8 percent, Washington 13.5 percent,
Brevard 11.4 percent, and Monroe 10.1 percent. In the state cabinet races the Socialists
also made respectable showings. W. C. Edwards received 3,843 votes (8.9 percent) for
superintendent of schools, David Dunham tallied 3,680 votes (8.6 percent) for
comptroller, A. J. Pettigrew attracted 3,521 votes (8.5 percent) for commissioner of
agriculture, Abner D. Miller garnered 3,493 votes (8.4 percent) for attorney general, Fred
Lincoln Pattison received 3,327 votes (7.6 percent) for secretary of state, and Karl Harter
attracted 2,573 votes (6.3 percent) for state treasurer. Edwards, Pettigrew, and Pattison
beat their Republican opponents and finished second behind the Democratic winners.35
According to historian George Green, the 1912 Florida Socialist vote was the result
of a short-run combination of Populist remnants, insecure timber workers, hard-pressed
white tenant farmers, and foreign-born radicals.36 Although the Socialist vote in the 1912
gubernatorial contest tends to support Green's description of the Socialist coalition,
Green failed to account for the contributions rendered to the Socialist cause by Florida's
phosphate miners. Polk County, home to these struggling miners, supplied Thomas
Cox's gubernatorial bid with its highest vote percentage in any Florida county and trailed
35 Report of the Florida Secretary of State, 1912.
36 George N. Green, "Florida Politics and Socialism at the Crossroads of the Progressive Era, 1912,"
(Master's thesis, Florida State University, 1962): 133-134.
only Hillsborough County in the total number of Socialist votes.37 Calhoun County,
which had supported the Populist gubernatorial candidate in 1892 and 1896, coupled with
Washington County, which had done the same in 1892, represented the Populist remnants
of Cox's Socialist coalition. The largest industry in Calhoun, Jackson, and Washington
counties was the production of turpentine and rosin. The naval stores industry employed
95.1 percent of Washington County's industrial workers, 92.2 percent in Calhoun
County, and 60.2 percent in Jackson County. The lumber and timber industry was the
largest employer in Suwannee and Dade counties, employing 56.8 percent of Suwannee's
wage earners and 35.2 percent of Dade's wage earners.38 Escambia County was the
export and processing center for north Florida's two timber industries. Agitated timber
workers from the above counties also contributed votes to Cox's gubernatorial quest.
White tenant farmers in Jackson and Suwannee counties, which contained the state's
highest and third highest white tenancy rates, joined with timber workers in their
respective counties to aid Cox's cause.39 The bulwark Socialist counties of Hillsborough,
Monroe, and Duval counties provided Cox with his foreign-born radical base. Rounding
out Cox's Socialist contingent was Pinellas County, home to the native-born Socialists of
Gulfport, and Lee County, whose Socialist strength derived from the declining ranks of
the Koreshan Unity.
If Florida Socialists had continued to maintain the electoral growth rates that they
had achieved between 1904 and 1912 they would have supplanted the Republicans as the
37 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1912.
38 The Third Census of the State ofFlorida, 1905 (Tallahassee: Capital Publishing Company, State Printer,
1906): 269, 273, 284-285, 299-300, 303.
39 Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910: Statistics for Florida (Washington: Government Printing
Office, 1914): 629, 631.
state's second major political party. Eventually, perhaps, they might have even
threatened the Democrats' hold on Florida's political culture. World War I and its
complications ended that dream, whatever substance it might ever have had. Florida
Socialists, by achieving such a large vote in 1912, sealed their destiny and only
quickened their dissolution. Their increasing political influence dictated that one of the
major parties, in order to maintain their status, had to adopt some of the Socialist planks.
Most party members did not comprehend this fact. They thought that socialism would
continue to spread and secure victories in future elections. In the end, the election year of
1912 proved not to be the year of the long anticipated cooperative commonwealth, a year
destined never to arrive for Florida Socialists.
SUNSET OF FLORIDA SOCIALISM: THE ELECTIONS OF 1916 AND 1920
The election results of 1912 constituted "the Socialist moment of exultation," and,
given the large numbers of voters who chose the Progressive Party ticket nationwide -
voters whom many Socialists regarded as potential converts to socialism Socialists
around the country felt quite justified in believing that the potential of their movement
was limitless.1 Florida Socialists shared in this moment of optimism. Anticipating
further successes after the heady numbers achieved in 1912, Florida Socialists continued
their weekly meetings just as they had following previous elections, and likewise
resumed their instructional classes and Lyceum lecture series. Reflective of this Socialist
confidence was the December 1912 speech of Georgia Socialist organizer Max Wilk,
who praised the party faithful in St. Petersburg for their achievements in 1912, and
exhorted them that a more concentrated effort could attain even greater successes in
Between 1912 and 1916, Florida Socialists sought to expand their ranks through a
variety of political and philosophical strategies. In the political realm, many Florida
locals took an active interest in the publication of a party-owned newspaper called the
Florida Beacon. At its inception in 1913, the Beacon's circulation corresponded to
1 Nick Salvatore, Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982): 265.
2 St. Petersburg Times, December 4, 1912.
roughly half of the Socialist statewide vote of 1912, but circulation declined steadily,
leading to the newspaper's bankruptcy within a year. Following the Beacon's demise,
Charles T. Bailey of Bartow attempted to publish another Socialist organ, the Sledge
Hammer, but circulation woes similar to the Beacon's problems also undid Bailey's
tabloid.3 The difficulties Florida Socialists encountered in their endeavors to establish
Socialist media were reflective of a larger national trend. Between 1912 and 1916, the
nationwide Socialist press decreased by some 18 percent, a rate 50 percent greater than
the contemporaneous rate of general press decline.4
Philosophically, many Florida Socialists rebelled against religious conformity just
as they rebelled against political and economic orthodoxy. By the same token, many
Florida Socialists migrated to the party because capitalism had offended their Christian
beliefs, rather than because of exposure to dialectical materialism. Christian Socialists in
Florida, like their comrades in Oklahoma and Texas, attempted to use the electoral arena,
the press, and the pulpit to develop common ground between their political ideology and
the values of the Christian faith.5 Manatee County Socialists nominated and ran a
Presbyterian minister, J. A. Griffess, for school superintendent in 1904.6 In 1908, the St.
Petersburg Times, though a Democratic newspaper, published a short essay by local
Socialist M. C. Mohr on Christianity and Socialism. Mohr argued that "as the essence of
3 George N. Green, "Florida Politics and Socialism at the Crossroads of the Progressive Era, 1912,"
(Master's thesis, Florida State University, 1962): 127.
4 James Weinstein, "Socialism's Hidden Heritage: Scholarship Reinforces Political Mythology," Studies on
the Left 3 (Fall 1963): 96-97.
5 James Green, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895-1943 (Baton Rouge:
Louisiana State University Press, 1978): 151-175.
6 Manatee River Journal, August 5, 1904 and November 25, 1906.
Christianity is love for man and God, it must stand for all that is good, just and righteous
in our relations man to man. As Socialism stands for these very principles, Socialism and
Christianity are in perfect harmony and complementary, the one to the other!"7 In that
same year, Reverend Thomas Calloway, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Pensacola,
drew a large congregation to his church with the announcement of his sermon topic, "The
Problem of the Unemployed." Calloway praised Christian Socialism, which was
"earnestly seeking after the right solution to the problem of the unemployed and the
oppressed."8 Similar efforts continued in the years between 1912 and 1916, but bore
little fruit for the Socialist Party.
Despite their difficulties in establishing a party press and formulating a popular
synthesis between socialism with Christianity, Florida Socialists nevertheless proved
more successful than their national counterparts in attracting new members. Between
1913 and 1914, party membership increased from 560 to 696 dues-paying members, a
gain of 24.3 percent. Ironically, Florida's increase occurred even while membership in
the national party was suffering a steep decline. Between 1914 and 1915, the national
enrollment decreased by 20,626 members, a loss of 20 percent, owing largely to the
national party's expulsion of the Industrial Workers of the World.9
Between 1912 and 1916, international events also presented serious philosophical
issues for Socialists in Florida, as well as nationwide. In the late summer of 1914,
Americans were stunned to read in their newspapers that seemingly civilized Europe was
7 St. Petersburg Times, January 15, 1908.
8 Pensacola Journal, February 25, 1908.
9 Gerald Friedberg, "The Socialist Party of America: Decline and Fall, 1914-1918," Studies on the Left 4
(Summer 1964): 80, 82.
descending into the abyss of continent-wide war. One by one, the European nations
declared war upon one another. First, it was some obscure Balkan countries, about which
most Americans knew little and cared less. Soon, Austria and Germany, then Russia and
France, and finally Britain entered the war. Americans were bewildered by the rapid and
disastrous passage of events.
American Socialists were just as confused about the European war as the rest of
their fellow countrymen. Embroiled in its own internal struggles for party power,
concerned mainly with purely domestic problems, and having the faith of a younger
brother in the Socialist parties of Europe, the Socialist Party of America was poorly
prepared for the outbreak of war. In August 1914, the party blamed the start of the war
on the European "ruling classes" and pledged its support to "the Socialist parties of
Europe in any measures they may think it necessary to undertake to advance the cause of
peace and good-will among men." Therein lay the problem for American Socialists:
European Socialists had failed to prevent the war. Indeed, most of the European
Socialists actively supported their nation's war efforts. American Socialists found that
the constituents of the Second International were just as bellicose as the "capitalist
parties." How to explain this paradox was beyond the ability of American Socialists.10
While this issue would play a crucial role in the future breakup of the national party, it
appears not to have constituted a major conflict in Florida, at least not before the
elections of 1916.
On April 26, 1916, Florida Socialists held their fourth state convention in Tampa.
They did not realize it at the time, but this would be the last state convention that the
Florida Socialist Party would ever convene. Ruskin's C. C. Allen was selected as the
10 David Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, (New York: MacMillan, 1955): 82.
party's nominee for governor and R. L. Goodwin of Jacksonville was tabbed as the
party's candidate for the United States Senate. Nominees for the state cabinet included
Abner D. Miller of Ruskin for attorney general, Angelo Leto of Tampa for comptroller,
and Tampa's Karl Harter for state treasurer. For the first time since its birth, however,
the Florida Socialist Party failed to nominate a complete slate of candidates for statewide
office. Florida Socialists were unable to find candidates for the offices of secretary of
state, superintendent of schools, and agricultural commissioner.11 The lack of candidates
was a sign that the future did not bode well for the sunshine state's Socialists.
As in previous election years, Florida Socialists continued their pattern of holding
street meetings, open debates, picnics, and mass rallies. For example, Florida Socialists
held a major campaign rally in Tampa on May 31, 1916. Karl Harter, the Socialist
candidate for state treasurer (who was also running for mayor of Tampa), was the major
speaker. Harter pleaded with his audience to work hard during the campaign to increase
Socialist vote totals.12 On June 2, the Socialists also held rallies at Desoto Park and
Palmetto Beach.13 On September 10, the Jacksonville local held a picnic -- termed "a
great success" to raise donations for Eugene Debs, who was running for Congress from
Indiana's Fifth District.14
In July the state executive committee of the Socialist Party held a business meeting
in Jacksonville to discuss and formulate campaign strategy. The executive committee
adopted, with minor additions, the same platform for 1916 that it had in 1912. The
1 Tampa Tribune, April 27, 1916.
12 Tampa Tribune, June 1, 1916.
13 Tampa Tribune, June 4, 1916.
14 Florida Times-Union, September 11, 1916.
additional planks called for the election of the president and vice president by direct vote
and pensions for mothers. The committee also attempted to persuade Allan L. Benson,
the Socialist presidential candidate, to speak in Florida.15 Benson's trip to Florida never
materialized, another foreboding sign for the party's future.
Although Florida Socialists conducted their 1916 campaign as they had in previous
years, the results of that campaign proved utterly and disastrously different. Allen
Benson, the party's presidential candidate, received 4,316 votes or 5.2 percent of
Florida's totals. Benson's count represents a decline of 490 votes from Debs' 1912 vote
totals and a 10.2 percent decrease from the 1912 Socialist presidential vote. In Florida's
first direct election of a United States Senator, R. L. Goodwin attracted 3,304 votes or 4.7
percent of the totals.16
C. C. Allen received 2,470 votes (3 percent) for governor. Allen's tally reflected a
decrease of 997 votes when compared with Thomas Cox's 1912 totals. Allen's 1916
decrease in support represented a decline of 29 percent from the 1912 Cox vote.
Counties that supplied Allen with at least 100 votes included Hillsborough with 175,
Duval 174, Polk 147, Monroe 125, Dade 111, Volusia 106, Palm Beach 105, and Pinellas
101. Counties furnishing Allen with at least 5 percent of their vote included Palm Beach
with 7.8 percent, Monroe 7.3 percent, Bay 6.4 percent, Broward 6.4 percent, Osceola 5.8
percent, Calhoun 5.3 percent, Suwannee 5.2 percent, and Washington 5.0 percent.
Socialist cabinet candidates also endured declines in their electoral support. Abner D.
Miller garnered 4,993 votes (8 percent) for attorney general, Karl Harter received 4,232
15 Florida Times-Union, July 13, 1916.
16 Report of the Florida Secretary ofState, 1916 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1916).
votes (6.6 percent) for state treasurer, and Angelo Leto garnered 3,403 votes (5.4 percent)
for comptroller. All of these candidates, including C.C. Allen, finished dead last in their
Florida Socialists were shocked by the results of the 1916 elections. An even
greater shockwave would rock the party, however, in April 1917 with American entry
into the Great War. By early 1917, American Socialists found themselves facing the
same dilemma their European comrades had: how to reconcile socialist ideology, which
held that the war was the result of international capitalism, with their own feelings of
patriotism and love of country. They struggled to decide how to react as the nation
approached war. In March 1917, after the German navy resumed unrestricted submarine
warfare, the Socialist Party of America called an emergency convention to determine its
policy in the event the United States abandoned neutrality. By the time the two hundred
delegates met at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis, however, they were confronted with war
as afait accompli. President Woodrow Wilson and the Congress had beaten them by just
one day, for Congress had passed a war resolution with an easy majority.
The convention quickly learned that a great majority of the delegates strongly
opposed the war, and decided to oppose it regardless of the consequences. In response to
these sentiments, the convention adopted the St. Louis Proclamation, by a vote of about
three to one. The Proclamation called on Socialists to pursue "continuous, active, and
public opposition to the war, through demonstrations, mass petitions, opposition to
military conscription, sale of war bonds, and taxes on the necessities of life."18
17 Report of the Florida Secretary of State, 1916.
18 Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 93, 96.
Perhaps the stand of the Socialist Party would have been different had it known the
consequences that would befall its members during the war. In April 1917, the Socialist
Party did not fully comprehend what it might mean to be a dissenter in a total war. The
party also failed to envision just what degree of madness war-enraged people are capable
of. American Socialists soon found out.
Although the federal government was by no means a bulwark for the preservation
of civil liberties, mob action and the anti-Socialist measures of state and local officials
probably hurt the party more than Congress and the Wilson Administration. Socialists
had no recourse in law against mob action, for the law itself was being amended to
seriously restrict Socialist activities. Soon after the declaration of war, seven states,
including Florida, passed laws abridging freedom of speech and press. In June 1917, the
federal government followed suit by adopting the Espionage Act, which granted the
federal government the power to censor newspapers, ban them from the mails, and punish
obstruction of the draft with fines up to $10,000 and twenty years imprisonment.
Through prosecutions and convictions of such individuals as Victor Berger and Eugene
Debs, the federal government deprived the Socialist Party of some of its most forceful
leaders and inhibited the actions of many others.19
The Florida Socialist Party proved no more adept at avoiding governmental and
conservative hysteria than the national organization did. At no time were Florida
Socialists more on the defensive than during the World War I period. The April 1917
entry of the United States into the Great War resulted in a great quandary for Florida
Socialists. They faced the dilemma of opposing the war and being labeled traitors, or
19 Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 110.
supporting the war and fighting their fellow comrades in the Second International. As the
months of war continued, as the war-inspired nationalism intensified, Socialist strength in
Florida faltered before the onslaught of hostile public opinion. Socialists throughout the
state encountered difficulty renting meeting halls, had their meetings broken-up by local
police and patriotic vigilantes, and suffered economic discrimination from anti-Socialist
No blind obedience to American patriotism characterized Florida's Socialists
during World War I. The war was not popular with party members, nor among Tampa's
draft-age Latins many of them radicals. Indeed, by late May 1917, many draft eligible
young men were voting with their feet by attempting to leave the country via the busy
port of Tampa.21 This placed Governor Sidney J. Catts, who had opposed American
entry into the war, in something of a dilemma. Nevertheless, Catts decided to stem the
tide of fleeing potential draftees by ordering deputies to inspect all ships leaving Tampa
for foreign countries.22
Finally, in the fall of 1918, the Allied armies began to force the Kaiser's armies
back, and mutinies and strikes broke out behind the German lines. On November 11, the
German government agreed to an armistice, and the four-year war was over. American
Socialists, including those in Florida, had little reason to celebrate on November 11,
1918. The war and war temper had not killed the party, but had weakened it
substantially. The party's press was impotent, many leaders were in prison or on their
20 Brad Alan Paul, Rebels of the New South: The Socialist Party in Dixie, 1892-1920 (PhD diss., University
of Massachusetts-Amherst, 1999): 197-199.
21 Tampa Tribune, May 23, 1917.
22 Tampa Tribune, May 31, 1917.
way, internal strife was more intense than it had ever been, relations with organized labor
were more strained, and the hostility of large segments of the public was greater than
American Socialists would have had even less reason to celebrate the armistice
could they have foreseen what the immediate future held for them. The worst was yet to
come. During the war, prosecutors and persecutors of Socialists justified their actions on
the grounds that Socialist opposition to the war endangered the nation. After the war,
conservative political reaction to the Russian Revolution of November 1917 the world's
first successful socialist revolution provided the justification for political repression of
the left. After November 1917, the more unrestrained members of the American right
persecuted Socialists merely because they were Socialists, and the end of the war
intensified, rather than diminished, anti-radical hysteria.23
Federal and state authorities monitored Socialist activities with scrupulous
attention, as they saturated Socialist strongholds such as Tampa's Ybor City with agents
and informants. The file drawers of the Bureau of Investigation reveal an unmistakable
pattern of government espionage, establishment violence, and deep paranoia over the
"Ybor City Problem." One federal agent reported "that the Italian Spanish colonies of
West Tampa and Ybor City, Florida are the most advanced towards the 'Social
Revolution.' I could say they have established here a Soviet on a small scale. I have the
impression of being in Russia."24 Indeed, Special agent A.V. French worried about the
possibilities for widespread violence, reporting that Tampa residents expressed their
23 Shannon, The Socialist Party ofAmerica, 121-122.
24 Gary R. Mormino and George Pozzetta, The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin
Neighbors in Tampa, 1885-1985 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987): 158-159.
willingness to forget law and order and take matters in their own hands. One
impassioned letter to the Bureau of Investigation reflected the sort of hostility to the
Tampa left to which French referred. This irate citizen claimed that:
Socialists discouraged enlistments in our Army and Navy and aided those who
wanted to evade the draft by giving them money to leave the country. After the
armistice, these men affiliated themselves with anarchists from Spain, Cuba, and
New York, and with Bolsheviki of Russia. These men were interested in doing
bodily harm to our president. They also tried to bring about a race riot by inciting
the negroes against the whites. They are also responsible for various strikes.25
As always, the anti-Socialist cause incited Tampa's elite, one of whom, former
mayor M. E. Gillet, wrote to Special Agent Frank Burke, explaining that:
A committee of prominent businessmen have requested me to write you and if
possible get you to send us a man, preferably a Latin who can get into the good
graces of the ring leaders here and get us a correct list of the undesirables. We will
do the rest. A number of years ago we deported a bunch of agitators to an island off
the coast of Honduras. Wish to God that the rest of them were all in the same
More concretely, local leaders itched to make a test case out of the 1919 May Day
rally in Ybor City. Local police arrested individuals caught posting notices of the
gathering, and on the appointed day city officials called in the National Guard to break up
the May Day rally itself. After dispersing a small crowd, troops drilled for three hours
"with shining guns and bayonets" near several large factories in an effort to intimidate
workers. One Socialist leader lamented:
Gone and forgotten are the beautiful daydreams of how wonderful and beautiful the
world would be when the German Kaiser had been put out of business. Now, a
greater struggle and more suffering.2
25 Mormino and Pozzetta, The Immigrant World of Ybor City, 156.
26 Mormino and Pozzetta, The Immigrant World of Ybor City, 159.
27 Mormino and Pozzetta, The Immigrant World of Ybor City, 160.
The deportations, seizures, confiscation of records, closing of meeting halls, and
intimidation of leaders seriously weakened the Tampa Socialists, and with them, the
Florida Socialist Party as a whole. Florida Socialists paid a heavy price for their
opposition to the war and involuntary association with the Bolshevik Revolution. Not
only did the government greatly increase its surveillance and control, but the hostility of
the state's general population rose to new heights. The Socialist locals in particular,
perhaps because of their visibility and size, increasingly felt the pressure of negative
By the time of the 1920 elections the Florida Socialist Party was little more than a
hollow shell of its former self. The number of dues-paying party members had
plummeted to fewer than one hundred.28 For the first time since 1904, either out of fear
of reprisal or lack of interest, Florida Socialists did not hold a state convention to
nominate candidates for statewide office. In fact, Florida Socialists could find only two
candidates willing to sacrifice themselves in a bid for state office. Dr. Furman Whitaker,
a founding father of the Manatee County Socialist Party, showed once again his party
loyalty when he volunteered to become the Socialists' gubernatorial candidate. When he
announced his bid to become one of Florida's two United States Senators, M. J. Martin
became the Socialist Party's other political sacrificial lamb.29
The 1920 election returns in Florida merely confirmed what many knowledgeable
party members had long suspected: the Florida Socialist Party was for all practical
purposes dead. Eugene Debs, campaigning from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary,
28 Tampa Tribune October 29, 1920.
29 Tampa Tribune, September 16, 1920.
received 5,189 votes or 3.3 percent of Florida's presidential votes. Debs' vote total
represented a 65 percent decrease from the 9.3 percent he received in 1912. This decline
in vote percentage occurred even though the total number of votes that Debs received
increased by 383.30 Whitaker received 2,823 votes (2.1 percent) for governor. In
contrast, 1912 Socialist gubernatorial candidate Thomas Cox received 3,467 votes or 7.2
percent. Whitaker's vote totals represent a decrease of 56 percent from 1912. The
counties affording Whitaker at least 100 votes included Hillsborough with 523, Escambia
194, Dade 189, Duval 186, Polk 166, Manatee 113, Volusia 106, and Monroe 104.
Counties furnishing Whitaker with at least 4.5 percent of their vote included Flagler with
14.6 percent, Broward 6.4 percent, Monroe 6.3 percent, Washington 6.0 percent,
Hillsborough 4.7 percent, Suwannee 4.7 percent, Manatee 4.6 percent, and Escambia 4.5
percent. In the race for the United States Senate, M. J. Martin received 3,525 votes or 2.5
percent of the total.31 The Socialist Party of Florida, after a short but dramatic life, was
30 This anomaly is explained by the passage of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote,
which was ratified only weeks before the election. The effect of woman suffrage, of course, was to double
the size of the Florida electorate since the last general election.
31 Report of the Secretary of State. 1920 (Tallahassee: State Printers Office, 1920).
CONCLUSION: AN AUTOPSY OF THE FLORIDA SOCIALIST PARTY
By the election of 1920, under the impact of socialist revolutions in central and
eastern Europe, American Socialists had divided beyond the point of ever being capable
of reunion. The postwar "Red Scare" waned considerably after the election of 1920, and
Socialists began to be accorded their civil rights. By that time, however, neither the
Socialist Party nor the other parties of the left were potent enough to give nightmares
even to the most apprehensive conservative. By the time of the next resurgence of left-
wing politics in American life during the 1930s, the parties of the left played a decidedly
Similarly, the 1920 election effectively marked the end of an active Socialist Party
in Florida. While the failure of the Florida Socialist Party was directly related to the
party's stance on America's participation in World War I, the erosion of Socialist support
actually began much earlier. Historian George Green traces the origins of the party's
decline in Florida to the period shortly after the election of 1912. Even as early as 1912,
he argues, several factors emerged that would weaken the Socialist Party over the coming
years. He contends that the withdrawal of support for Socialist programs by old-line
progressive Democratic politicos, the disintegration of farm support owing to relative
prosperity, Woodrow Wilson's appeal to intellectuals, and the rigid doctrinal pressures
imposed on Socialist candidates by party locals led to the party's demise in Florida.1
1 George N. Green, "Florida Politics at the Crossroads of the Progressive Era, 1912" (Master's thesis,
Florida State University, 1962): 128-129.