Florida Constitution of 1885

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Florida's Constitution of 1885, its fifth, was drawn up by the Constitutional Convention of 1885. The convention was held from June 9, 1885 until August 3, 1885 in Tallahassee, Florida "for the purpose of reforming the "Carpetbag" Constitution of 1868", according to course literature from the University of Virginia.[1] It was Florida's fifth constitutional convention and restored the election of many public officials, reduced the salaries of the governor and other state officers, made the governor ineligible for reelection, abolished the office of lieutenant governor, and provided for a legislature of fixed numbers.[2]

The agreed-upon constitution added a residency requirement, forbade a second consecutive term for the office of governor, made the cabinet[3] elected instead of appointed, and made many state and local offices elective. It also gave the legislature the option of requiring the payment of a poll tax as a requirement for voting (Article VI, Section 8).[4] This was a compromise between smaller "black belt" counties who wanted more offices elected and those from larger and more prosperous counties.[citation needed][clarification needed] The poll tax disenfranchised African-Americans,[1] and anyone else too poor to pay the tax. Racial segregation in schools was mandatory (Article XII, Section 12).[5] The constitution also prohibited marriage between "a white person and a person of negro descent" (Article XVI, Section 24).

The constitution ratified at the convention passed with a vote of 31,804 to 21,243. It was "the model" of Florida's government until 1968 and "represented the regression to racial discrimination which was occurring throughout the South in the post-Reconstruction period."[1]

The Constitution was weighted in favor of counties. Each new county was entitled to one to three representatives according to population. Every ten years the lower house was automatically reconstructed on a basis of these members for each of the five largest counties, two members for each of the next eighteen, and one for each remaining county. In 1930, the big counties of the time, containing Florida’s largest cities, Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami, had a combined population of 451,977, and had nine representatives and three senators. The four smallest counties had a combined of population of only 30,000, but had four representatives and three senators.[6] This overrepresentation of rural, conservative areas led to increasing tension in twentieth-century Florida politics, as central and then south Florida grew. It was a major factor leading to the current Constitution of 1968, which changed apportionment.


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  1. ^ a b c "Rise And Fall of the Slave South," University of Virginia
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ It is not the Governor's Cabinet. The Cabinet established under the 1885 Constitution consisted of independent officials elected on a statewide basis who, along with the governor, shared the executive authority of the state. Allen Morris' The Florida Handbook (1999-2000 ed.) at 5. It was not until the adoption of the Florida Constitution of 1968 that the group of officers was officially designated as the Cabinet. Allen Morris' The Florida Handbook (1981-1982 ed.) at 110.
  4. ^ "The Legislature shall have power to make the payment of the capitation tax a prerequisite for voting, and all such taxes received shall go into the school fund." Fla. Const. of 1885, art. VI, s.8
  5. ^ Governor Leroy Collins, Prologue to Walter L. Smith, The Magnificent Twelve: Florida's Black Junior Colleges, Winter Park, Florida, FOUR-G Publishers, 1994, ISBN 1885066015, p. xvi.
  6. ^ Federal Writers Project (1939), Florida. A Guide to the Southernmost State, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 65–66

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