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Politics

Crist Ain't Seen Nothin': GOP Bombarded This Governor

May 23, 2010 - 6:00pm

Think Charlie Crist had his share of drama and problems with his fellow Republicans during his time in office? Then you've never come across Harrison Reed, Floridas moving target of a GOP governor from 1869 until 1873. Reed died 111 years ago Tuesday, on May 25, 1899.

Reed actually had to fight off attempts from his fellow Republicans to impeach him and only some shifty political maneuvering and technicalities saved him from being removed. For a few weeks, the lieutenant governor was claiming to be governor while Reed fired the attorney general for seeking to undermine him and a fight broke out over who had the state seal.

Reed prevailed by the skin of his teeth.

Born in Massachusetts in 1813, Reed was a journalist in Milwaukee before taking a post in the administration of Abraham Lincoln. Like Lincoln, Reed was an old Whig who drifted over to the newly founded Republican Party.

Reed came south to Florida in 1863 to work as a tax commissioner, selling off the confiscated properties of prominent backers of the Confederacy -- even being involved in selling the 40-room mansion of Joseph Finegan, a Confederate general who had represented Nassau County at the Florida secession convention, to create a school for freed slaves taught by Chloe Merrick, a schoolteacher from New York,

Reed ended up on the wrong side of Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase. While Chase was a favorite of abolitionists, Reed was more of a moderate -- again, more in the old-line Whig camp with Lincoln. Chase was considering challenging Lincoln in the 1864 election and, politics being what it was, Reed was soon dismissed and headed back to Washington.

After Lincoln prevailed and Andrew Johnson became president after the Lincoln assassination, Reed was back in Florida as a postal agent in Jacksonville, becoming very active in politics, helping establish the Republican Party -- and winning the hand of Ms. Merrick to boot.

One of the power brokers of the 1868 Republican convention that nominated U.S. Grant to be president, Reed was elected governor of Florida that year. But despite his years of experience in journalism and politics, Reed presided over one of the stormiest administrations in Floridas history.

Defeated Confederates and southern Democrats had no use for Reed and neither did abolitionists and advocates of the freed slaves. Thus ensued the chapter of attempted impeachments and maneuverings to be rid Gov. Reed.

Besides these political problems, Reed faced a rising tide of violence as the Ku Klux Klan formed in Florida and even raided trains to steal rifles intended for the state militia.

Despite being married to an abolitionist and advocate for freed slaves, Reed simply was not as committed to civil rights as his fellow Republicans in Florida were at the time. Its a not uncommon phenomenon -- a centrist politician with a liberal spouse. Think Franklin and Eleanor or even Bill and Hillary.

Reed is usually referred to as Floridas carpetbag governor. Thats not fair to Reed. He spent the rest of his life in Florida, even winning election to the Legislature and serving once again in the postal service -- this time in Jacksonville under President Benjamin Harrison.

Reed settled down to grow oranges along the banks of the St. Johns River and even helped pave the way for one of Floridas bedrock industries. An early advocate of Florida tourism, Reed founded The Semi-Tropical, a journal that attempted to lure Northern travelers and capital to the state, as well as push agriculture and industry.

Certainly Crist has had his problems with Republicans, but he never had Jeff Kottkamp sitting in his office proclaiming himself to be the true governor of the state. Whatever the Republicans throw at the now-independent governor during the rest of the 2010 election cycle will pale in comparison to what Reed went through.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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