William D. Bloxham - Governorship and The Disston Land Purchase

Governorship and The Disston Land Purchase

In the summer of 1872, Bloxham was unanimously nominated at the Jacksonville Democratic Convention to run for Governor with Confederate General Robert Bullock as his running mate. In November, a severe Election Day storm reduced the vote count and Bloxham was defeated by Republican Ossian B. Hart by 1,200 votes. Hart, who had tried to claim Abijah Gilbert's U.S. Senate seat two years earlier, died barely a year into his term. Bloxham served on the State Democratic Executive Committee and actively participated in the successful gubernatorial campaign of George Franklin Drew, promising protection to African Americans who voted for him. Bloxham was named Secretary of State.

In June 1880, Bloxham was nominated again to run for Governor and so resigned as Secretary of State. In his second attempt, he won the election by over 5,000 and was inaugurated on January 4, 1881. Bloxham inherited a state debt of $1 million and a lawsuit that placed a lien on millions of acres of Florida land. Before his first month as governor was complete, Bloxham and Florida signed an agreement with Philadelphia saw manufacturing heir, Hamilton Disston, whereby Disston would attempt to drain the Everglades and would receive half of the land he reclaimed. With Disston actively planning his drainage efforts, Bloxham personally travelled to Philadelphia to make an even larger deal with him. On June 14, 1881, Disston signed a contract to purchase four million acres (16,000 kmĀ²) of Florida land, larger than the state of Connecticut, for $1 million, a purchase which made international news. When Disston and a second buyer, Sir Edward James Reed, paid in full, the state was out of debt and the first land boom soon followed.

Towards the end of Bloxham's first stint as Governor, in 1884, call for revision to the Florida Constitution increased, fueled by division among the state's democrats. Supporters of Bloxham's predecessor, George Franklin Drew, criticized Bloxham for the Disston Land Purchase as well as his apparent commitment to Florida Panhandle development at the expense of the rest of the state. They rallied around Confederate General Edward A. Perry and a call for a Constitutional Convention. In 1884, Bloxham lost the Democratic nomination to Perry and voters approved the convention which led to the 1885 Florida Constitution.

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