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Random Thoughts

Four governors in one year – Part 1


As I noted in a previous article, in April the minds of many U.S. historians are drawn to thoughts of the American Civil War.

One of the many sadly unique circumstances having to do with that conflict occurred in the Confederate state of Florida.

Of the eleven southern states that seceded from the Union, Florida had the smallest population by far with only slightly more than 140,000 residents (of whom almost 62,000 were slaves).

Of the approximately 850,000 men who fought in the Confederate Army, therefore, only 15,000 came from Florida.

And while some Floridians favored the North instead of the South in the war, Florida’s governor throughout most of the war was an ardent supporter of the Confederacy.

His name was John Milton. Born in Georgia in 1807, Milton moved to Florida in 1846. An unapologetic slave owner, Milton established a 6,000-acre cotton plantation in the Florida panhandle – specifically in Jackson County which borders both Georgia and Alabama.

Milton represented Jackson County in the Florida legislature briefly before being elected governor of the state in 1860.

For whatever reason, Florida governors of that era were not sworn into office until a year after their election. Milton was elected on Oct. 1, 1860, and became governor on Oct. 7, 1861.

In between those two dates, Florida had seceded from the Union – with Milton’s blessing – and the Civil War had begun.

As that terrible conflict was drawing to a close in 1865 with the United States about to prevail, Milton became very pessimistic about what life in a post-war South would be like.

The people of the northern United States, Milton declared, “have developed a character so odious that death would be preferable to reunion with them.”

To prove that he meant what he said, Milton committed suicide on April 1, 1865 – eight days before the war ended.

Milton’s death was just one event in a series that led to governmental chaos in Florida that fateful year – as we will see next week in Part 2 of this article.


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