James M. Carson Papers
(University of Miami)

South Florida attorney James Milton Carson actively promoted drainage and reclamation of the Florida Everglades during the first quarter of the 20th century. In 1915, Carson convinced Judge Ion Farris to make drainage the central issue in his gubernatorial campaign platform. Although Farris lost the election, the drainage issue returned to the forefront of state politics. The Carson papers contain correspondence, newspaper clippings, outlines and drafts of campaign speeches. The materials, dated 1915-16, document Carson's efforts to enlist a candidate in support of drainage, his efforts on behalf of the Farris campaign, and his views on the drainage issue. Correspondence also provides information on the activities of other groups supporting the Farris campaign, including the Everglade Drainage and Development League, "the Commercial Bodies of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale" and the Boards of Trade of Dania and Pompano. Additional letters and newspaper clippings provide supporting documentation on the role of the drainage issue in the 1916 gubernatorial campaign.

The issue of drainage in the Everglades played a role in Florida politics since the mid-1800's. Many of Florida's early farmers hoped to transform the Everglades into viable farmlands. In 1848 the state legislature requested that the federal government donate all Florida swamp lands to the state on the condition that they would be drained and used to promote education in the state. Congress agreed to the grant as long as the proceeds from the lands be applied to the reclamation of the lands. Subsequent governors and legislators violated these conditions, frequently offering drainage lands as incentives to railroad companies. Progressive governors in the early 1900's reclaimed much of the land promised to railroads, and Governor William Bonaparte Broward initiated a vast drainage project in 1906. The Florida Internal Improvement Fund and a state drainage tax financed the purchase of dredging machines and other expenses.

Following Broward's term as governor, drainage funds were depleted and the Drainage Board, created by the legislature in 1907, failed to collect sufficient taxes to maintain drainage operations. Sales of drainage lands financed a portion of the dredging work, but investors were reluctant to purchase swamp lands once the drainage process had slowed. By 1915, with no significant progress on the horizon, a group of Ft. Lauderdale residents organized a "Back to Broward League," dedicated to justice for the "20,000 men and women in the United States who have bought Everglades land." He argued that, "Whoever does take up the work and carry it out will have several pages devoted to him in the 2000 A.D. edition of Florida History." Carson sought to restore Broward's plan for rapid and comprehensive drainage of the Everglades by convincing an elected official of its merits. Carson believed that the work could not be done until a man of true power took charge in Tallahassee. Carson convinced Judge Ion Farris to support the reinstitution of Broward's project. Farris, a Democratic candidate in the 1916 gubernatorial race, lost in the primary, but he did publicize the drainage matter, forcing the other candidates to address the issue.

Description prepared by Ruthanne Vogel, University of Miami

Also available: A brief biography of James Carson.


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