Introduction of Florida
In the extreme SE of the country, Florida was admitted to the Union in 1845 as the 27th state. It is a low peninsula, 500 mi long, with the Atlantic Ocean on the E and the Gulf of Mexico on the W and the West Indies to the S. To the N are Alabama and Georgia. In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, seeking the Fountain of Youth, was the first European to land here near the site of St. Augustine. He named the area Florida because it was the flowery Easter season (Pascua florida). Other Spanish explorers followed—Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernand o de Soto—and under the last Spain claimed all of what later became the southeastern United States. Later the French arrived, Jean Ribaut discovering the St. John River in 1562 and Rene de Laudonniere building Fort Caroline at the river’s mouth in 1564. Spain then sent Pedro Menendez de Aviles who drove out the French and in 1565 founded St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States. The British attacked Florida several times, and in 1742 a force from Georgia defeated the Spanish and made the St. Mary’s River Florida’s northern boundary.
The British gained Florida by a treaty in 1763 but returned it to Spain under another treaty in 1783. There were boundary disputes with the United States, which claimed West Florida as part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. U.S. troops under General Andrew Jackson invaded Florida in 1818 to retaliate against the Seminole Indians, and the next year Spain ceded the region to the United States. The cession included all Spanish claims to land E of the Mississippi River, while the United States assumed $5 million of American claims against Spain. Florida was organized as a territory in 1822. Warfare with the Seminole Indians went on for years, culminating in the long Second Seminole War of 1835 to 1842, after which most of the Indians were transported W. Florida seceded from the Union in January 1861, and the most important battle of the Civil War fought here was at Olustee in February 1864, which the Confederacy won. After the war, Florida was put under military rule and was readmitted to the Union in 1868. Republicans held control until 1876, when the Democrats returned to power. African Americans were again placed in an inferior status. A large land sale to developers in 1881 touched off a real estate boom and a bid for tourists. In 1898 Florida profited from the Spanish-American War when Tampa became the main military base. Another real estate boom ended in 1925 when unrealistic prices caused a sudden collapse. World War II brought prosperity to Florida’s industry, and with the return of peace the state’s industrial and population growth has been outstand ing. Cape Canaveral is the center of much space-flight activity.
After 1954 Florida began to desegregate its schools. In 1958–59 the Cuban Revolution resulted in an influx of refugees, repeated in 1980 when 125,000 Cubans made their way to Key West and since then with the arrival of many Haitian refugees. Race relations have often been strained. After the acquittal in May 1980 of white police officers charged with beating a black man to death, rioting in Miami resulted in 18 deaths and property damage of $100 million, still largely unrepaired. Florida was long a Democratic state, but Republican strength has recently grown, and more often than not the state votes Republican in presidential elections. A larger proportion of the population than in any other state consists of elderly and retired people. The state is now plagued with water shortages and conservation problems caused largely by its rapid expansion. The 2000 presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Albert Gore ended in a statistical dead heat in the state of Florida with Bush slightly ahead. Irregularities with voting machine malfunctions (the famous “hanging chads”) and accusations of barriers to some polling places brought on a recount that was eventually settled by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of President Bush.