Sidney Johnston Catts
Sidney Johnston Catts in 1916 (cropped).jpg
22nd Governor of Florida
In office
January 2, 1917 – January 4, 1921
Preceded byPark Trammell
Succeeded byCary A. Hardee
Personal details
Born(1863-07-31)July 31, 1863
Pleasant Hill, Alabama, U.S.
DiedMarch 9, 1936(1936-03-09) (aged 72)
DeFuniak Springs, Florida, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Other political
affiliations
Prohibition
Spouse(s)Alice May Campbell
Children4
Parents
  • Samuel W. Catts (father)
  • Adeline Rebecca Smyly (mother)
RelativesWilliam D. Bloxham (first cousin)[1]
Campaign poster from the 1916 gubernatorial election.
Campaign poster from the 1916 gubernatorial election.

Sidney Johnston Catts (July 31, 1863 – March 9, 1936) was an American politician and anti-Catholic activist who served as the governor of Florida as a member of the Prohibition Party. After leaving office he became involved in criminal procedures due to his activities as governor and for business activities after leaving office. He was later acquitted, although he went bankrupt in the process.

Early life

Sidney Johnston Catts was born on his father's plantation in Pleasant Hill, Alabama on July 31, 1863, to Adeline Rebecca Smyly and Samuel W. Catts, a Confederate captain, and was named after Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston. In 1866, his nurse accidentally stabbed one of his eyes with a pair of scissors while cutting pictures causing him to lose sight in it.[2][3]

He earned a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University in 1882. In 1885, he was ordained as a pastor and worked in Alabama until 1910, when he moved to Florida. He later became an insurance salesman and then a teacher.[4] In November 1886, he married Alice May Campbell, a relative of Lord Colin Campbell.[5]

Career

U.S. House of Representatives campaigns

In March 1904, Catts announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination against James Thomas Heflin to represent Alabama's 5th congressional district in the United States House of Representatives.[6][7] During the campaign Catts gave $250 to another politician to canvass a county, but that politician later placed a bet using the money that Heflin would win. Heflin defeated Catts in the primary and following his defeat Catts endorsed Heflin.[8][9]

On April 7, 1930, he announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination in Florida's 3rd congressional district, but was defeated by incumbent Representative Tom Yon in the Democratic primary.[10][11][12]

1916 gubernatorial campaign

In 1914, Catts announced that he would run for the Democratic nomination for governor of Florida.[13] Catts would be the first political candidate to campaign using an automobile in Florida (a Ford Model T). This would give him an advantage by visiting areas in the state that were isolated and did not receive of other candidates who wanted to visit towns that were close to or on railroads.[14] For many in the state, it would be the first time they would ever see a car. He would compete against William V. Knott who called "economy in government" , equalizing tax laws, making pensions for Civil War veterans bigger and improving roads. Catts would also mount a loudspeaker to his car as well. He would once claim that a group of Catholics in Apalachicola were planning to assassinate him and he said that his would force him to bring revolvers with him.[15]

Democratic primary and recount

Catts would win the Democratic Party's primary that was held on June 6, 1916. The Bryan Primary law would require that voting provide for a first and second choice ballot in the case of a runoff. Many voters didn't understand the procedure and ended up casting only first choice ballots. Some of the election officials would insist later on that voters were not aware the second choice votes were supposed to be counted as well. Both Catts and Knots would accuse each other of voter fraud. When all ballots were counted it was announced that Catts received 33,429 votes while Knott got 33,169. Knott would go to court demanding that a recount occur. Catts would say that he would run in the general election no matter what would legally happen. The Florida Supreme Court would rule on August 9 that Knott had won the primary by 21 votes. The Prohibition Party would hold a convention during late June where they nominated Catts for governor. On October 10, Catts would ask for the Prohibition Party to have him as a candidate in the main election.[16]

After the primary, he would take 7 trips across the state between June and November. During this time most of his messaging from prior to the primaries would remain the same. However, he would attack the Catholic church saying that they had provided funds that were used for the recount.[17]

Governorship

Inauguration

Catts was inaugurated as governor on January 2, 1917. During the parade, cars would be used for the first time and replace buggies that were previously used with 50 cars participating in the parade. The Model T that Catts had used was adorned with a sign saying: "THIS IS THE CAR THAT GOT ME HERE" and[18] his son Rozier would drive the car for him.[15] Democratic justices of the Florida Supreme Court would refuse to take their places that were designated in the parade until Catts' attorney, W.W. Flournoy persuaded them to.[18] The inauguration itself would be the first Florida inauguration to filmed.[15] In his inauguration speech, Catts stated:

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.[19]

Towards the end of the day, an inaugural ball and banquet would be held. He and his wife would refuse to participate in the inaugural ball. Catts would opt out of having the traditional punch that was served at the inaugural banquet.[18]

Tenure

During his first message to the state legislature Catts would call for statewide prohibition, abolition of the convict lease system, an inheritance tax that would be graduated, more power for the state tax commission to investigate large corporations that were avoiding taxation, manual labor colleges for boys and girls, elimination of the Bryan primary law, taxation of church property and adoption of a guarantee law for banks. His address to the legislature was described as being well received by the press in Florida.[20] The 1917 session of the state legislature would accomplish close to nothing in the end.[21]

At the onset of World War I as Florida teemed with a never-before-seen wave of Anti-German sentiment, Catts attempted to exploit this to further his own anti-Catholic and racist agendas. The governor publicly theorized that the monks of Saint Leo Abbey near Tampa were planning to arm Florida's black community for a popular revolt in favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II, after which Pope Benedict XV would take over Florida and move the Holy See to nearby San Antonio and close all of the Protestant churches. This speech caused a fair number of German settlers to move to friendlier parts of the country. The abbot of St. Leo, Right Rev. Charles Mohr, OSB, published several dignified responses to these conspiracy theories. In support of the St. Leo monks, many Pasco County Protestants made it a point to appear in public with local Catholics. Because of the backlash, Catts was forced to tone down his rhetoric when in the area.[22][23]

In April 1917, he admitted that he sent an insulting letter to Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory asking for Black Campbell, his brother-in-law who was in federal prison due to stealing $1,000 while serving as a bookkeeper in an Alabama bank, to be given a pardon.[24]

In, 1919 Catts publicly labeled black residents as part of "an inferior race," and refused to criticize two lynchings. He was quoted in the press as saying that "only the vagrant, vagabond, worthless negro is lynched".[25] When the NAACP complained about these lynchings, Catts wrote denouncing the organization and blacks generally, declaring that "Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would . . . [teach] your people not to kill our white officers and disgrace our white women, you would keep down a thousand times greater disgrace."[26]

During April 1919, Catts would request the US Department of Labor abolish the Florida Division of Negro Economics. He would also say at the same time that he wanted the US Employment Service's head to be replaced with a personal friend of his. He accused the black officers of the Division of inciting race riots and also said they encouraged miscegenation.[27]

Mulberry in Polk County would witness strikes from phosphate miners starting in May 1919. 3,000 workers who were both black and white would end up participating. Catts along with Sheriff Logan would tour the strike zone. After doing the tour he would make an announcement saying he was in support of those who were striking. The mining companies would respond to strikes by importing black laborers as replacements for those who were on strike. Miners who were on strike would at one point ambush a car convoy carrying these workers in the outskirts of Bartow killing a strikebreaker and wounding a mine guard who was a deputy sheriff. Another significant event during the strikes was when a group of 4 white guards from Prairie Pebble Mine would fire on Mulberry, resulting in the deaths of 3 African Americans. Sheriff Logan would arrest and jail the guards in Bartow. Catts would end up removing Logan from his office because he felt he did not do enough to prevent violence in the first place.[28]

Later life

Catts was ineligible to run for reelection in 1920, and he ran for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate, but lost by a large margin to incumbent Democratic Senator Duncan U. Fletcher.

On April 14, 1921, the Florida Senate voted to approve a resolution that would order a legislative investigation into Catts' pardons and appointments due to rumors about him accepting bribes in exchange for them and the state house voted to approve it four days later.[29][30] On May 5 he was indicted by the Bradford county grand jury for accepting a $700 bribe to pardon J. J. Coleman, who was given life imprisonment in 1918 for the murder of a deputy sheriff, but resisted arrest for five days before surrendering.[31][32] However, on May 19 a federal warrant against him was issued for the involuntary servitude of two black people forced to work on his plantation and was arrested two days later and stated that "my enemies won't let me alone" when arrested.[33][34] While on bond awaiting trial Catts spoke at an Independence Day celebration in Macon, Georgia despite protests from members of the board of aldermen who stated that it was improper to have somebody that was indicted for criminal charges speak.[35] On August 16, 1921, he stated that he was confident that he would be acquitted on all charges.[36] In November his initial indictment was recharged and two other indictments were also issued.[37][38] On May 16, 1922, his defense's motion to dismiss the indictments against Catts' bribery charges was accepted by the judge.[39] On July 21 he filed a petition of voluntary bankruptcy as he had $44,000 in liabilities and less than $2,000 in assets.[40] On November 20 he was acquitted by an all white jury for the involuntary servitude and bribery charges and the federal charges against him were later dropped.[41][42]

Catts' home Sun Bright in DeFuniak Springs, Florida.

Shortly after he left office he became involved in a company with F. L. Jester and in September 1921, he was called before a superior court for questioning for his involvement in a fraudulent business.[43]

Catts ran for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1924 and 1928, but lost both times. During the 1928 presidential election he was one of the Democrats who supported Republican Herbert Hoover over Democrat Al Smith, who was Catholic.

On April 9, 1929, Catts was indicted by a federal grand jury in Jacksonville for aiding and abetting in counterfeiting money with multiple other people in a plan to distribute $1,000,000 in counterfeited money.[44][45] His first trial in October resulted in a mistrial and was acquitted at his second trial.[46]

Catts would end up spending the final 8 years of his life in DeFuniak Springs where he would get involved with real estate and farming there.[15]

On March 9, 1936, Catts died at his home, Sun Bright, in DeFuniak Springs, Florida. In 1979, the house he lived in from 1924 to 1936 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.[47][48]

Personal life

His wife Alice gave birth to a son, Sidney J. Catts Jr. on July 22, 1894, in Fort Deposit, Alabama. Catts Jr. would become a lawyer and eventually go into politics just like his father did.[49] One of his sons, Rozier would eventually marry a Catholic woman from Key West. Catts would accept her as part of the family and say that any father should welcome the wife of his son no matter what her religion is. When Catts moved back to DeFuniak Springs for the final 8 years of his life, he was known to distill and drink peach brandy.[15]

Catts was involved with Freemasonry. He was also a Woodman of the World and a member of the Knights of Pythias.[13]

Electoral history

Sidney Johnston Catts electoral history
1916 Florida gubernatorial election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Prohibition Sidney Johnston Catts 39,546 47.71% +45.52%
Democratic William V. Knott 27,946 36.61% -43.81%
Republican George W. Allen 10,333 12.47% +7.01%
Socialist C.C. Allen 2,470 2.98% -4.17%
Independent Noel A. Mitchell 193 0.23% -4.17%
Total votes '82,885' '100.00%'
1920 Florida Senate Democratic primary
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Duncan U. Fletcher (incumbent) 62,304 71.36%
Democratic Sidney Johnston Catts 25,007 28.64%
Total votes '87,311' '100.00%'
1924 Florida gubernatorial Democratic primary
Party Candidate Round 1 Round 2
Votes % Transfer Votes %
Democratic John W. Martin 55,715 37.98% + 17,339 73,054 59.71%
Democratic Sidney Johnson Catts 43,230 29.47% + 6,067 49,297 40.29%
Democratic Frank E. Jennings 37,962 25.88% - 37,962 Eliminated
Democratic Worth W. Trammell 8,381 5.71% - 8,381 Eliminated
Democratic Charles H. Spencer 1,408 0.96% - 1,408 Eliminated
Total votes 132,250 100.0%

References

  1. ^ "Know Your Governors". The Tampa Times. 20 July 1932. p. 9. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  2. ^ "Sidney J. Catts, Governor-Elect". Tallahassee Democrat. 2 January 1917. p. 3. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  3. ^ "Sidney Johnston Catts". The Palm Beach Post. 28 March 1917. p. 2. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  4. ^ "Former Governor Of Florida Dies". The Montgomery Advertiser. 10 March 1936. p. 3. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  5. ^ "Was Elected in 1917 On Prohibition Ticket, Served Until 1912". Tallahassee Democrat. 9 March 1936. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ "Mr. Catts Announces". The Montgomery Advertiser. March 27, 1904. p. 20. Archived from the original on July 18, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  7. ^ "The History of Florida: Past & Present".
  8. ^ "THE GUNSLINGING GOVERNOR". South Florida Sun Sentinel. September 29, 1996. Archived from the original on July 18, 2020.
  9. ^ "Catts Addresses Voters". The Orlando Sentinel. October 29, 1904. p. 9. Archived from the original on July 18, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ "Sidney J. Catts Announces For Congress Post". Pensacola News Journal. April 8, 1930. p. 1. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  11. ^ "Catts Will Run For Congress". Tallahassee Democrat. March 9, 1929. p. 1. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  12. ^ "Catts Snowed Under By Big Yon Majority". The Orlando Sentinel. June 5, 1930. p. 1. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  13. ^ a b "Sidney J. Catts Gels In Race For Governor". Orlando Evening Star. 27 October 1914. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ Flynt, Wayne (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49 (3): 8.
  15. ^ a b c d e McIver, Stuart (September 29, 1996). "THE GUNSLINGING GOVERNOR". Sun Sentinel. Retrieved August 21, 2021.
  16. ^ Flynt, Wayne (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49: 8–9.
  17. ^ Flynt, Wayne (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49: 10.
  18. ^ a b c Flynt, Wayne (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49: 11–12.
  19. ^ Krishnaiyer, Kartik (February 20, 2017). "A BRIEF HISTORY OF POLITICAL RACISM IN FLORIDA". The Florida Squeeze. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
  20. ^ Wayne, Flynt (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49 (3): 17.
  21. ^ Flynt, Wayne (1970). "Sidney J. Catts: The Road to Power". Florida Historical Quarterly. 49 (3): 18.
  22. ^ "History of San Antonio, Pasco County, Florida". www.fivay.org.
  23. ^ Horgan, James J. (1990). Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey, and Holy Name Priory. Saint Leo, FL. Saint Leo College Press. ISBN 978-0-945759-01-0
  24. ^ "Campbell's Theft". The Tampa Times. 24 April 1917. p. 4. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  25. ^ "Race riots at Millen, Ga". Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express. April 24, 1919. p. 9.
  26. ^ Colburn and Scher, Florida's Gubernatorial Politics, 222.
  27. ^ Guzda, Henry (June 1982). "Labor Department's first program to assist black workers" (PDF). Monthly Labor Review: 43.
  28. ^ Voogd, Jan (2008). Race Riots & Resistance: The Red Summer of 1919. Peter Lang. pp. 72–75 – via Google Books.
  29. ^ "Rumors of Sale Of Jobs, Pardons And Favors Be Traced". The Tampa Tribune. 15 April 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  30. ^ "Bill Passed In House To Probe Gov. Catts". Tampa Bay Times. 19 April 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  31. ^ "Catts Indicted; Took $700 Bribe to Pardon Murderer, Starke Grand Jury Claims". The Tampa Times. 6 May 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  32. ^ "Ex-Governor Is Reported On His Way To Bradford". Palatka Daily News. 11 May 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  33. ^ "New Warrants Out For Catts". The Palm Beach Post. 20 May 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  34. ^ "Catts When Arrested Says "My Enemies Won't Let Me Alone"". Tallahassee Democrat. 21 May 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  35. ^ "Catts To Speak In Macon July 4". Tallahassee Democrat. 21 May 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  36. ^ "Catts Is Confident He'll Be Acquitted". The Tampa Times. 19 August 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  37. ^ "Catts Is Indicted A Second Time On Charge of Peonage". The Tampa Times. 12 November 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  38. ^ "More Indictments Returned Against Sidney J. Catts". The Tampa Times. 14 November 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  39. ^ "Catts Indictment On Bribery Charge Was Quashed By The Court". Palatka Daily News. 16 May 1922. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  40. ^ "Bankruptcy For Sidney J. Catts". The Orlando Sentinel. 22 July 1922. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  41. ^ "Sidney J. Catts Acquitted Of Peonage Charge By Federal Court". Orlando Evening Star. 21 November 1922. p. 7. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  42. ^ "Sidney Catts Is No Longer Under Charge In Federal Court". News-Press. 21 November 1922. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  43. ^ "Sidney Gets Nabbed Again". Tampa Bay Times. 21 August 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on 31 December 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
  44. ^ "Ex-Governor Accused Of Aiding Diaz". The Tampa Tribune. April 10, 1929. p. 1. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  45. ^ "Ex-Governor Indicted". Tallahassee Democrat. April 18, 1929. p. 1. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  46. ^ "Jurors Drawn For U.S. Court Criminal Term". The Tampa Tribune. February 3, 1930. p. 5. Archived from the original on January 28, 2020 – via Newspapers.com.
  47. ^ "Catts House Nominated" (PDF).
  48. ^ "National Register Of Historic Places Walton County Florida". Archived from the original on July 14, 2019.
  49. ^ "Sidney Catts Jr, 74, Dies: Attorney, Pioneer Resident". The Palm Beach Post. 1969-06-12. p. 43. Retrieved 2021-04-03.((cite news)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)

Further reading

Party political offices Preceded byJ. W. Bingham Prohibition nominee for Governor of Florida 1916 Succeeded byNone Political offices Preceded byPark Trammell Governor of Florida January 2, 1917 – January 4, 1921 Succeeded byCary A. Hardee