In 1916, Sidney Catts was elected Governor of Florida after being denied the Democratic nomination in a recount. Catts secured the nomination of the Prohibition Party and was elected. Catts talked extensively about political & bureaucratic reform and married that rhetoric with overt racism and anti-Catholicism. In the latest edition of the Florida History Podcast we discuss Catts, and populist racism in early 20th Century Florida.
The same day as Catts was elected Governor, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat who had screened the pro- Ku Klux Klan film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House and had endorsed it’s skewed version of history was reelected as President.
In 1912, Wilson had won because the GOP was split between conservatives under William Howard Taft and liberals/progressives under Teddy Roosevelt. Again this time Wilson, eeked out a win and the same day Catts was elected Governor of Florida.
Here is an excerpt from Catts inauguration speech:
“Your triumph is no less in this good hour in beautiful Florida, for you have withstood the onslaughts of the county and state political rings, the corporations, the railroads, the fierce opposition of the press and organization of the negro voters of this state against you and the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against you. Yet over all of these the common people of Florida, the everyday cracker people have triumphed.”
Catts rhetoric would foreshadow that of Father Coughlin nationally in the 1930s (Coughlin would replace anti-Catholicism with antisemitism) and that of Huey Long in Louisiana. Populism by this time had given way to the progressive movement, but that largely Midwestern based push was largely absent from Florida politics, particularly in the 1920s as the state exploded with new growth thanks to a land boom.
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