Holland, Spessard L. (Spessard Lindsey), 1892-1971Alternative names
Lawyer, judge, governor, and U.S. Senator from Florida.
Born in Bartow, Florida. Educated at Emory University and the University of Florida. Served in the Florida Senate, 1933-1939; Governor of Florida, 1941-1945; U.S. Senate, 1946-1971.
From the description of Spessard L. Holland Papers, 1913-1972. (University of Florida). WorldCat record id: 27175101
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. The very next year, he proposed an amendment to the Constitution seeking to abolish the tax. For the next thirteen years, he continued to submit the amendment during each session. Finally, in 1962, the amendment was approved by Congress and submitted for ratification by the states. His long crusade to overturn the poll tax finally succeeded in 1964 with the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the Constitution.
Another long battle in which Holland eventually prevailed was the fight to pass the Tidelands Act, formally known as the Submerged Lands Act. As Governor of Florida, it had been his understanding that the federal government recognized the maritime states' ownership of the submerged lands off of their coasts. In fact, he had cooperated closely with the government and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes whenever they sought permission to use Florida's submerged lands, so he knew that there was precedence for the federal government's recognition that these were state-owned lands. In 1945, however, Ickes led an effort to bring suit against California, and later other coastal states, disputing this ownership. The federal government wanted control of the oil available in these submerged lands and the struggle quickly became known as the Tidelands Oil affair. In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the right to these lands and upheld this split decision in later rulings. The states were outraged and set out to overturn this decision.
From the onset of his term Holland supported the fight to create tidelands legislation ensuring state ownership, but it proved to be a frustrating struggle. In 1951 and 1952, however, he took over the leadership of the effort and sponsored a bill that was narrowly passed in 1952. When President Truman vetoed the legislation, Holland and his supporters could not find enough votes to override the veto. With the change of Senate leadership in 1953 Holland expected to step back into a supporting role, but was surprised to find that the new Republican leadership wanted him to stay on as co-leader, along with Price Daniel of Texas. When the bill came up again in 1953, they knew that they had a good chance at victory because they had the votes in the Senate and the new Eisenhower administration was much more favorable towards the bill than Truman had been. In a desperate attempt to kill the legislation opponents in the Senate began a filibuster, during which either he or Daniels had to be on the floor every minute day or night for forty days. The filibuster failed, the bill passed, and Eisenhower signed it in 1953. Subsequently, the legislation was tested and upheld twice in the Supreme Court, and on the second occasion in 1959, Holland assisted to write Florida's briefs and closed the State's argument before the Court.
With twenty-two years on the Agriculture and Forestry Committee, sixteen years on the Appropriations Committee, and over six years on the Public Works Committee, Holland had the opportunity to support numerous programs benefiting Florida. He strongly endorsed the controversial Cross Florida Barge Canal for almost twenty years, and proposed several pieces of legislation to further the construction of that waterway. In 1947 and 1948, Holland pushed to set up the Central and South Florida Flood Control program, which was recommended by the Corps of Engineers following the 1947 hurricane and floods. He also sponsored and supported several water navigation, soil conservation, and highway projects in the state, and continued his lifelong support of the Everglades National Park. In addition, he used his ten years of service on the National Aeronautical and Space Committee to help ensure the success of the Florida space program.
On a broader scope, Holland was very active on issues not directly related to Florida. He was first Senator to urge statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. He supported and actively fought for the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway. He participated in the investigation and debate of problems associated with migrant and off-shore labor. Holland also believed in strong relations with Latin America, and was extremely proud of his work to push for the creation of an Inter-American Highway through Central America to get land access to the Panama Canal. In addition, he was a supporter of Interama and constantly endorsed legislation that would strengthen U.S. ties with Latin America.
Throughout his career, Holland actively campaigned for anti-communist legislation and activities. He was a strong proponent of the Marshall Plan, NATO, and President Truman's plan to send aid to post-war Greece and Turkey in order to halt the growth of communism in that region. In the 1950s, he supported the decision to fight in Korea and voted for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, although he later declared it a mistake on his part. Domestically, he sought to dampen the influence of organized labor, feeling that there was too much corruption and fearing the influence of communism. In 1947, he actively supported the Taft-Hartley Act in order to prevent strikes and lock-outs in vital industries, and he fought against its repeal in 1949. For the next two decades, he sponsored and supported legislation to prevent strikes and curb the abuses by labor interests.
Holland's stance on the Civil Rights issue is less clear than his position on other important issues debated during his tenure in the Senate, and possibly this is as Holland intended. In fact, as Holland prepared to write an autobiography during his retirement he created lists of topics he wanted to cover and neglected to include any of the Civil Rights program, except as it related to the 1960 Democratic National Convention. Described by some as a racist and supporter of segregation, he nevertheless was not as outspoken on the issue as some of his fellow Dixiecrats. And even if Holland had favored civil rights legislation, it is unlikely he would have supported it openly for fear that he would lose the support and gain the animosity of his constituents. Holland played an active part in the 1949 and 1950 fight of Southern Senators to defeat enactment of a Civil Rights program. But when the Supreme Court handed down its landmark Brown v. Board decision in 1954, he asked the citizens of Florida to support the decision even though they might not agree with it. Less than two years later, however, he signed the Southern Manifesto criticizing the Brown decision as an abuse of judicial power. Despite the fact that he fought for several years to abolish the poll tax, finally succeeding in 1964 with the 24th Amendment, he made it clear that he was fighting political corruption rather than creating "so-called civil rights" legislation.
Holland decided to retire from the Senate at the age of 78, explaining that he did not believe he could vigorously serve the interests of his constituents for a fifth full term. In 1971, he returned to his home in Bartow, Florida, to spend time with his wife and family and to work on his autobiography. He died on November 6, 1971.
Sources: Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, edited by Robert Sobel and John Raimo (Westport, CN: Meckler Books), 1978. "George A. Smathers, United States Senator, 1951-1969," Oral History Interviews, Senate Historical Office, Washington, D.C. Henry, Bill, The Holland Years: WFLA-TV news director Bill Henry talks with former United States senator Spessard Holland (Tampa, FL: WFLA), 1971. Holland, Spessard L., unpublished autobiography fragments, Spessard L. Holland Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, University of Florida Libraries, ca. 1971. United States Congress, Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories), 1997.
From the guide to the Spessard L. Holland Papers, 1913-1972, (Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida)
- Central and Southern Florida Flood Control District (Fla.)
- World War, 1939-1945
- United States. Constitution. 24th Amendment
- United States. Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Vietnamese Conflict, 1961-1975
- Citrus fruit industry--Florida
- Poll tax--Law and legislation--United States
- Civil rights--United States
- Civil rights
- Florida--Politics and government--1951-
- Cross Florida Barge Canal (Fla.)
- Everglades National Park (Fla.)
- Citrus fruit industry
- Flood control
- Labor unions--United States
- Poll tax--Law and legislation
- Space race--History
- United States--Foreign relations--Cuba
- Vietnam War, 1961-1975
- United States--Politics and government--20th century
- United States. Submerged Lands Act
- Labor unions
- Flood control--Florida
- Florida (as recorded)
- Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway (Fla.) (as recorded)
- Cuba (as recorded)
- Everglades National Park (Fla.) (as recorded)
- United States (as recorded)