Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Bourbon, pork chops, and red peppers: Political immorality in Florida, 1945–1968
by Weitz, Seth A., Ph.D., The Florida State University, 2007, 267; 3263791
Abstract (Summary)

The end of Reconstruction ushered in a new era in Southern history. White supremacy returned to the region and the Republican Party was run back across the Mason-Dixon Line leaving the South with a virtual one party system. From 1877–1967 Florida was a member of the "solid south" where the winner of the Democratic primary was victorious in the general election. While Florida was tied to the Democratic Party, it also differed from its sister states in the South. The Sunshine State experienced a population boom like no other state in the nation except possibly California, transforming the peninsula from a backwater, poor, insignificant state into one of the largest state's in the United States by 1965. Many of the new Floridians brought with them political beliefs alien to the Deep South, and these principles threatened to undermine the deeply entrenched system that had been in place since the end of Reconstruction.

At mid-century, Florida politics was dominated by the Pork Chop Gang, a group of conservative, states' rights, segregationist Democrats from rural Northern and Central Florida. The Pork Choppers held a stranglehold over the state Legislature due to the archaic apportioning of legislative districts which had been mandated by the Constitution of 1885. The Pork Choppers espoused "Old South" values and looked to maintain their power and control of the state in any way possible despite Florida's ever changing demographic and political landscape. Under the 1885 document, power in the state resided in the Legislature and the cabinet which was directly elected by the people. Because of the malapportioned political districts, 12.3% of the population could elect a majority in the state senate and 14.7% could do the same in the lower house.

Florida's government in the first half of the twentieth century was highly suspicious of outsiders and most of the Pork Choppers viewed the state's political apparatus as a means of protecting their friends and advancing the interests of the Northern section of the state at the expense of the rapidly expanding population of South Florida. The Pork Chop Gang not only defended the Old South against the New South, but it also viewed itself as the last bastion of protection for the agrarian lifestyle of rural Florida which was being challenged by growing industry and big business from Orlando, and Tampa south. The Pork Choppers knew that in order to preserve their power over the state they would have to retain their control of the Legislature and to ensure this they needed to protect the 1885 Constitution which was coming under more scrutiny by South Floridians.

The first assault on the "Old South" values of the Pork Chop Gang was the Supreme Court's landmark decision in Brown v Board of Education which in 1954 directly challenged segregated educational systems throughout the nation. Florida, like its Southern neighbors largely resisted this perceived affront to white supremacy and the Pork Choppers soon saw the court's decision as a means to rally support to their cause and hopefully maintain their power within the state.

On the national level the Pork Choppers took their cue from Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy who, confronted by the perceived notion of the "Red Menace" infiltrating American society, emerged to lead systematic attacks against anyone and everyone deemed a threat. McCarthyism in Florida, commencing at the end of the junior senator's national reign of terror, proved a methodical and orderly assault on all opponents of the region, whether they be Communists, African-Americans, homosexuals or liberals. The perceived threats against morality, white supremacy and the concocted communist hazard were used as an excuse and disguise to purge Florida of its enemies and more importantly maintain the power of the Pork Chop Gang in the face of its growing political enemies.

It was in the attacks on the Universities of Florida, South Florida and Florida State University where the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (FLIC) employed ignominious tactics in assaulting homosexuals and others labeled immoral within the student body as well as the faculty. The FLIC demonized homosexuality in order to convince Floridians that an overhaul of the state universities was needed. The offensive against the state's flagship university was billed as a moral crucible aimed at protecting the state against unwanted intrusion by liberal academics and homosexuals. The FLIC, aptly called the Johns Committee, outlasted Senator Joe McCarthy on the national level, wreaking havoc in Florida until 1965.

Despite the efforts of Johns, the Pork Chop Gang was unable to curtail the changing political and social atmosphere in Florida. The Pork Choppers aimed to resist change by employing reprehensible tactics but their strategy backfired helping to accelerate the disintegration of the one party political system in the state. Governor LeRoy Collins tried to drag Florida into the twentieth century in the 1950's but was blocked by the Pork Choppers. In the 1960's the election of Republican Claude Kirk to the Governor's mansion highlighted a glaring chink in their armor. As the population of South Florida grew in the 1960's so did the opposition to the Pork Chop Gang and their stranglehold on the Legislature. Kirk backed a change to the constitution, eventually resulting in the Constitution of 1968 which realigned the voting districts to represent the profound shift in population and draw power away from the rural counties. No longer would Liberty County (population 2,889 in 1960) and Lafayette County (3,138) hold as much political clout as Dade County (900,000). Ironically the final demise of the Pork Chop Gang can be attributed to the combined efforts of liberal Democrats who were recent immigrants to Florida from the North and the reemergence of the Republican Party under Kirk.

Indexing (document details)
School: The Florida State University
School Location: United States -- Florida
Source: DAI-A 68/04, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Education history, Political science
Keywords: Florida, McCarthyism, Political immorality, Pork Chop Gang, White supremacy
Publication Number: 3263791
ISBN: 978-0-549-00371-7
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