Spessard Lindsey Holland (July 10, 1892 – November 6, 1971) was an American politician. He was the 28th Governor of Florida from 1941 until 1945, during World War II. After finishing his term as governor, he was a United States Senator from Florida from 1946 until 1971. A lifelong Democrat, he never lost an election.
Early life and education
Holland was born in Bartow, Florida, the son of Benjamin Franklin and Virginia Spessard Holland, a teacher. He attended public schools, entering the Summerlin Institute (now Bartow High School) in 1909. Holland graduated magna cum laude from Emory College (currently Emory University) in 1912, where he was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. Holland would go on to teach high school in Warrenton, Georgia for four years.
In 1916, Holland began attending law school at the University of Florida. There he taught in the "sub-freshman department" (high school) of the university. He also became the first elected student body president and a member of the debating society. During his time at Emory and UF, he played track and field, football, basketball, and baseball; on one occasion, he played so well as a pitcher in an exhibition game against the Philadelphia Athletics that Connie Mack (the grandfather of Connie Mack III, who would one day hold the Senate seat Holland once occupied) offered him a contract (he declined).
World War I service
Holland qualified to be a Rhodes Scholar, and was already a junior partner with R.B. Huffaker in the Huffaker & Holland law firm, but his plans were interrupted by World War I. Holland volunteered for service and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps, where he was transferred to France and served in the brigade's JAG Corps as an assistant adjutant. At his request, Holland was later transferred to the 24th Flying Squadron, Signal Corps of the Army Air Corps. Here he served with Lt. George E. Goldwaithe as a gunner and aerial observer, gathering information and taking photographs in reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. At various times he took part in battles at Meuse-Argonne, Champagne, St. Mihiel, and Lunéville, where he downed two enemy planes. On one mission, Holland's plane crash-landed in a crater; on December 11, 1918, Holland was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The citation, signed by John J. Pershing, noted:
First Lieutenant Spessard L. Holland, C.A.C. Observer 24th, Aero Squadron, distinguished himself by extra-ordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United States at Bois de Banthville, France, on 15 October 1918 and in recognition of his gallant conduct I have awarded him in the name of the President the Distinguished Service Cross."
Upon resigning his commission in July 1919, Holland was promoted to captain. Once back in the U.S., he toured for the Victory Loan Drive and resumed his law practice in Bartow.
Early political career
After the war, Holland resumed his law practice in Bartow. This however, was short-lived, because Holland accepted an appointment as the Polk County prosecutor later that year. He served two years in the prosecutor's office, but left after being elected to a four-year term as a county judge in 1920. Holland was reelected in 1924, but left after the end of his second term in 1929. Holland returned to private law practice later that year, joining William F. Bevis in the law firm of Holland & Bevis. The firm grew rapidly, eventually becoming a large international law firm that still exists today as Holland & Knight.
In 1932, Holland was elected to the Florida Senate, where he served eight years. During his term, Holland was noted for his strong advocacy for public schools; as a member of the school committee, he drafted and cosponsored the Florida School Code and supported legislation that raised teachers' pay and retirement benefits. Holland also supported worker's compensation, tax cuts, and unemployment insurance. He was strongly opposed to both the sales tax and the poll tax, which he helped repeal in 1937.
Holland was an alternate Florida delegate to the 1940 Democratic National Convention. He was elected governor of Florida and on January 7, 1941 was sworn in for a four-year term. During his time as governor, Holland was noted for reforming the state tax system and supporting cigarette taxes to reduce a $4 million debt in the state budget. New property tax laws enacted during Spessard's term required uniform real estate assessments. Early in his term, the teachers' retirement program began, and the financing of public schools became more stable. Spessard also recommended four amendments to the state constitution, all of which were eventually adopted. These four amendments provided for:
- New gasoline taxes to improve and build more than 1,500 miles of highway;
- New provisions for amending the state constitution in a shorter period;
- The lowering of the intangible tax; and
- The creation of the independent Game and Fresh Water Commission.
When American involvement in World War II began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, Holland promoted new military bases in Florida and coordinated state defenses with the federal government.
At a 1943 governors' conference in Denver, Colorado, Holland promoted new railroad freight prices, helping the Florida economy. Holland was also an outdoorsman and environmentalist. Holland's negotiation of the purchase of Everglades wetland and marshland in 1944 helped lead to the establishment of the Everglades National Park in 1947. Holland's term ended on January 2, 1945, when Millard F. Caldwell took office.
Holland was elected in 1946 to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Charles O. Andrews. Following the death of Senator Andrews in September 1946, Holland assumed his seat in the U.S. Senate. Re-elected in 1952, Holland defeated former U.S. Senator (and later U.S. Representative) Claude Pepper in the 1958 Democratic primary. Returned to the U.S. Senate in 1958, Holland was re-elected to a fourth and final term in 1964, defeating Republican Claude Kirk.
At age 77, Holland announced in November 1969 that he would not seek re-election in 1970. Holland subsequently campaigned for fellow Polk County resident Lawton Chiles in Chiles' successful bid for the U.S. Senate.
Holland, along with all other senators from the former Confederate states (except Lyndon B. Johnson, Estes Kefauver, and Albert Gore, Sr.), signed the "Southern Manifesto," which condemned the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education and promised to resist its implementation. Yet ten years later, in 1964, Holland sponsored the Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the poll tax. Holland's opposition to the poll tax was atypical of his general stand on civil rights questions which was that of most Southern Democrats of his era, i.e. support for racial segregation.
Holland left office in January 1971. His activities were somewhat limited due to an increasingly severe heart condition, and Holland died of a heart attack at his Bartow home on November 6, 1971 at age 79.
Holland married Mary Agnes Groover on February 8, 1919 and were together until his death. Together they had four children. Currently, their youngest daughter, Ivanhoe Craney, is the only one that is still alive. She currently lives with her husband in Bartow.
Several buildings and public facilities are named after Holland:
- The Spessard L. Holland Law Center, the administrative building at the University of Florida Law School;
- The Holland Building in Tallahassee;
- The Spessard Holland Golf Course, Park, and Community Center, in Melbourne Beach;
- The Spessard L. Holland Elementary School in his hometown of Bartow;
- The Spessard L. Holland Elementary School in Satellite Beach, "Home of the Holland Hornets";
- The Spessard Holland East-West Expressway (Florida State Road 408); and
- The section of U.S. Highway 17 in Holland's hometown of Bartow is known as the Spessard Holland Parkway.