Ratification in Florida
[Whites carry] the colored voters like a pack of cards to be shuffled, dealt, and played at their pleasure.
--A black congressman from "reconstructed" Florida, denouncing the manipulation of black voters
"The smallest tadpole in the dirty pool of secession," Florida's tiny population was almost evenly divided at the end of the war between whites and blacks. 1 A frontier state, Florida had attracted the interest of Northern capitalists even before the Civil War; 2 and no sooner had the war ended than more Northerners descended upon the state in search of their fortunes. 3 Though these men founded the Republican Party in Florida and allied themselves with the freedmen, they never allowed radical blacks to set the party's policies.
The political divisions that bedeviled most of the Southern states during the early years of Reconstruction thus divided Floridians only briefly. There were, of course, a wide range of competing political factions in Florida, including a radical faction. 4 The radical faction was marginalized early, however, and was never able to implement its political agenda. Instead, moderate Republicans wrested control of the 1868 constitutional convention from radicals, and they dominated the subsequent state government. Primarily interested in the economic development of the state, these moderates sought economic and political stability. That required some solution to the problem of race relations. Moreover, blacks provided most of the Republican Party's voting muscle. Consequently, it had to endorse black rights; but it sought to do so without empowering the freedmen or alienating conservative whites. 5
This dominant Republican majority did not aggressively implement the Fourteenth Amendment. Their interest in black rights was, after all, instrumental rather than principled. They understood it to command--by its own terms--the