Governor Spessard L. Holland - US Army Veteran - WWI (Posthumous)
Spessard Lindsey Holland’s career in public service spanned approximately fifty years. A lifelong citizen of Florida, he held positions as County Judge, State Senator, Governor, and finally as a member of the U.S. Senate. A self-described “moderate conservative with a little liberalism in many areas” and a member of the Democratic Party, he appealed to a large number of voters in Florida and never lost an election throughout his career.
Spessard Lindsey Holland was born on July 10, 1892 in Bartow, Polk County, Florida, where he was raised and educated. His father, Benjamin F. Holland, was a citrus grower and abstractor, and his mother, Fannie Virginia (Spessard) Holland, was a school teacher. In 1912, he graduated with a Bachelor in Arts degree from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Following graduation, he taught public school in Warrenton, Georgia, until 1914 and then returned to Florida to attend the University of Florida College of Law. An active student, he served as president of the student body and editor-in-chief of the yearbook, The Seminole. He was an outstanding athlete and attracted the attention of professional teams. He was sufficiently impressive as a pitcher for the UF baseball team that manager Connie Mack offered him a position on his ball club. Holland declined because he was not very interested in becoming a professional athlete, especially at the age of 24. He decided to complete his education as a lawyer, and earned his degree in 1916. That same year, he was admitted to the bar in Florida and commenced practice in his hometown of Bartow.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Holland joined the Army and the Coast Artillery Corps. He went to Europe with the 31st Artillery Brigade, and then transferred to the Air Force where he served with the 24th Flying Squadron in France. For his valor during combat flights, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. At the end of the war in 1919, he retired with the rank of Captain and returned to Bartow. He married Mary Alice Groover, whom he had met while on leave in Florida, and resumed the practice of law.
Holland served as prosecuting attorney of Polk County in 1919 and 1920. He next campaigned for and was elected to the position of county judge, a position he held from 1921 until 1929. Throughout the period, he continued to maintain his own law practice. In the early 1920s, he formed a partnership with W.F. Bevis establishing a firm that would last several decades and include partners such as Robert L. Hughes, Jr., and William A. McRae, Jr. In between those years spent in public office, Holland always returned to his practice in Bartow.
Holland was elected to the State Senate in 1932 and served two four-year terms until 1940. As a state senator, he was the author of several pieces of legislation related to citrus, including the Citrus Commission Act, the Frost and Freeze Forecast Act, and the Citrus Advertising Act. He voted against the repeal of the 18th Amendment because Polk County was voluntarily a dry county and his constituents had a negative reaction to the possible repeal of prohibition. He led opposition to a Florida Recovery Act issue seeking to eliminate chain stores, a controversial measure that he and his fellow opponents were successful in defeating. He also helped draft the Florida School Code and supported other acts intended to improve public schools and teacher benefits. He was a strong supporter of the Soil Conservation District Act, the Fair Trade Act, and several bills reducing or repealing taxes in the state.
During his second term, Holland’s reputation grew when a filibuster to prevent a vote on controversial salary buying legislation led to physical violence on the floor of the Senate. Holland and other supporters of the legislation saw salary buying as little more than loan sharking and sought to define the practice as lending so that it could be regulated and the racketeers put out of business. At the end of the 1939 session, Sen. R. Lucas Black emerged as the leading opponent to the bill and threatened a filibuster in order to delay the roll call until the end of the session. During a recess after a day of argument on the Senate floor, Black engaged Sen. Joe Sharit, a proponent of the legislation, in a heated exchange. When Holland stepped over to intervene, Black struck Holland with his cane. Neither Holland nor Sharit retaliated, and Black later apologized for his behavior. As a result of the threatened filibuster the legislation was removed from consideration that session, but the episode served to enhance Holland’s image around the state as an honorable politician.
Holland was hesitant to run for the governor’s office because he was more interested in serving on the U.S. Senate and he was aware that the system of patronage appointments often hurt the chances of former governors to win a seat in the Senate. He believed that for every appointment made by a governor, there were several newly created enemies among those people who weren’t appointed. However, he did decide to run for the position and began his campaign in 1939. He defeated Francis Whitehair in the 1940 Democratic gubernatorial primary and faced no Republican opponent in the general election later that year. In January 1941, he was sworn in as the 28th governor of Florida as a war-time governor, Holland’s administration was principally concerned with Florida’s defense effort during World War II. He coordinated the state’s defense in close cooperation with the federal government. At his request, his brother, Frank Holland, became a principal figure in organizing the state’s non-military civil defense. Under Governor Holland’s leadership, the state implemented the largest road and highway construction program in its history. Primarily for defense, and built with a great deal of federal assistance, the construction greatly improved the state’s transportation infrastructure and increased opportunities for development following the war.
During his four-year term, Holland led or supported several important initiatives. He established the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission as a separate agency. A stronger ad valorem tax structure was established, thereby rescuing that system of taxation. He helped form the Minimum Foundation Program for public schools, and increased state assistance to the blind and aged. As a member of the Southern Governors’ Committee on Freight Rates, he led a successful fight to reduce rates. In 1944, the deed to state lands in the Everglades was executed, paving the way for the creation of the Everglades National Park. He also served on the Executive Committee of the National Governors’ Conference, providing him with the opportunity to work at the national level with several individuals he would later work with during his tenure in the U.S. Senate.
Despite Holland’s hesitancy in 1940 to campaign for governor because of the patronage system, his fears proved to be unwarranted. As a result of World War II, a number of people were involved in the war effort and there was less demand for positions. When his term ended in 1945, he knew that had avoided making too many enemies around the state and had a good chance at a seat in the Senate. He had been informed earlier than most that Senator Charles O Andrews was not going to seek re-election due to poor health, thereby providing him with an opportunity in the 1946 election. He met with and received assurances from Doyle E. Carlton and J. Hardin Peterson, two prominent Florida politicians and close friends, that they would not be running in the campaign so he would not be hindering their own efforts or campaigning against them. When his term as governor ended in 1945, he returned to Bartow to practice law and begin his campaign. In the Democratic primary election in early 1940, he ran against and defeated Lex Green, Polly Rose Balfe and Henry M. Burch. In September, two months before the general election, Senator Andrews died while in office and Governor Millard Caldwell appointed Holland to complete the unexpired term. While holding this office, Holland defeated Republican J Harry Schad and officially was elected to a full Senate term beginning in 1947.
Holland considered the ratification of the 24th Amendment, officially ending the poll tax, as one of the great successes of his Senate career. From his days in the Florida Senate, he had supported efforts to abolish the tax but had seen no progress on the issue in more than ten years. He disliked the poll tax primarily because it resulted in corrupt machine politics wherein political leaders would buy the votes of those who couldn’t afford to pay the tax themselves. Holland was aware that the poll tax had a significant impact on poor African Americans, but was more interested in halting corrupt politics than in passing a piece of civil rights legislation. After witnessing the defeat of anti-poll tax legislation again and again, he decided that it could not be abolished by statute because the courts would declare such legislation unconstitutional. In fact, for this very reason he debated against such a piece of legislation in 1948 even though he supported the measures of the bill.
Spessard Lindsey Holland (July 10, 1892 – November 6, 1971) was an American lawyer and politician. He served as the 28th Governor of Florida from 1941 to 1945, and as a United States Senator from Florida from 1946 to 1971. A Democrat, he was a member of the conservative coalition in Congress.
Early life and education
Holland was born in Bartow, Florida, the son of Benjamin Franklin and Virginia Spessard Holland, a teacher. He attended public schools, entering the Summerlin Institute (now Bartow High School) in 1909. Holland graduated magna cum laude from Emory College (currently Emory’ University’) in 1912, where he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Holland would go on to teach high school in Warrenton, Georgia for four years.
In 1916, Holland began attending law school at the University of Florida. There he taught in the “sub freshman department” (high school) of the university. He also became the first elected student body president and a member of the debating society. During his time at Emory’ and UF, he participated in track and field, football, basketball, and baseball: on one occasion, he played so well as a pitcher in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics that Connie Mack (the grand father of Connie Mack III, who would one day hold the Senate seat Holland once occupied) offered him a contract (he declined).
World War I service
Holland qualified to be a Rhodes Scholar, and was already a junior partner with R.B. Huffaker in the Huffaker & Holland law firm, but his plans were interrupted by World War I. Holland volunteered for service and was com missioned as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps, where he was transferred to France and served in the brigade’s JAG Corps as an assistant adjutant. At his request, Holland was later transferred to the 24th Aero Squadron, Signal Corps of the Army Air Corps. Here he served with Lt. George E. Goldwaithe as a gunner and aerial observer, gathering information and taking photographs in reconnaissance missions behind enemy fines. At various times he took part in battles at Meuse- Argonne. Champagne, St. Mihiel, and Luneville. where he downed two enemy planes. On one mission, Holland’s plane crash-landed in a crater; on December 11. 1918. Holland was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation, signed by John J. Pershing, noted: First Lieutenant Spessard L. Holland. C.A.C. Observer 24th. Aero Squadron, distinguished himself by extra-ordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States at Bois de Banthville. France, on 15 October 1918 and in recognition of his gallant conduct I have awarded him in the name of the President the Distinguished Service Cross.”
Upon resigning his commission in July 1919. Holland was promoted to captain. Once back in the U.S., he toured for the Victory Loan Drive and resumed his law practice in Bartow.
Early political career
After the war, Holland resumed his law practice in Bartow. This however, was short-lived, because Holland accepted an appointment as the Polk County prosecutor later that year. He served two years in the prosecutor’s office, but left after being elected to a four-year term as a county judge in 1920. Holland was reelected in 1924, but left after the end of his second term in 1929. Holland returned to private law practice later that year, joining William F. Bevis in the law firm of Holland & Bevis. The firm grew rapidly, eventually becoming a large international law firm that still exists today as Holland & Knight.
In 1932, Holland was elected to the Florida Senate, where he served eight years. During his terra, Holland was noted for his strong advocacy’ for public schools; as a member of the school committee, he drafted and cosponsored the Florida School Code and supported legislation that raised teachers’ pay and retirement benefits. Holland also sup ported worker’s compensation, tax cuts, and unemployment insurance. He was strongly opposed to both the sales tax and the poll tax. which he helped repeal in 1937.
Holland was an alternate Florida delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention. He was elected governor of Florida and on January 7,1941 was sworn in for a four-year term. During his time as governor, Hol land was noted for reforming the state tax system and sup porting cigarette taxes to reduce a $4 million debt in the state budget. New property tax laws enacted during Spessard’s term required uniform real estate assessments and only taxed the purchase of property. Early in his term, the teachers’ retirement program began, and the financing of public schools became more stable. Spessard also recommended four amendments to the state constitution, all of which were eventually adopted. These four amendments provided for;
• New gasoline taxes to improve and build more than 1,500 miles of highway;
• New provisions for amending the state constitution in a shorter period;
• The lowering of the intangible tax: and
At a 1943 governors’ conference in Denver. Colorado, Holland promoted new railroad freight prices, helping the Florida economy. Holland was also an outdoorsman and environmentalist. Holland’s negotiation of the purchase of Everglades wetland and marshland in 1944 helped lead to the establishment of the Everglades National Park in 1947. Holland’s term ended on January’ 2. 1945, when Millard F. Caldwell took office.
Holland was elected in 1946 to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Charles O. Andrews. Following the death of Senator Andrews in September 1946. Holland assumed his seat in the U.S. Senate. Re-elected in 1952, Holland defeated former U.S. Senator (and later U.S. Representative) Claude Pepper in the 1958 Democratic primary. Returned to the U.S. Senate in 1958, Holland was re elected to a fourth and final term in 1964, having defeated Republican Claude R. Kirk. Jr., who two years later was elected governor.
At the age of seventy-seven, Holland announced in November 1969 that he would not seek re-election in 1970. He subsequently campaigned for his fellow Democrat and Polk County resident Lawton Chiles, a state senator from Lakeland, who defeated in the general election the Republican U.S. Representative William C. Cramer of St. Petersburg. Cramer carried the backing of U.S. President Richard M. Nixon; in the primary he had hand ily defeated G. Harrold Carswell, a Nixon nominee to the United States Supreme Court who was rejected by the Senate. Chiles boasted that Cramer could bring Nixon, Agnew, Reagan, and anybody else he wants. … I’ll take Holland on my side against all of them.”
Along with all other senators from the former Confederate states (except Lyndon B. Johnson, Estes Kefauver, and Albert Gore, Sr.). Holland signed the “Southern Manifesto”, which condemned the Supreme Court ruling in Blown v. Board of Education and promised to resist its implementation. Ten years later, in 1964, Holland sponsored the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the poll tax.
The creation of the independent Game and Fresh 6 Retirement Water Commission.
When American involvement in World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Holland promoted new military bases in Florida and coordinated state defenses with the federal government.
Holland left office in January 1971. His activities were somewhat limited due to an increasingly severe heart condition. Holland died of a heart attack at his Bartow home on November 6. 1971 at age 79.