In March 1845, the Territory of Florida officially became the State of Florida, making it the 27th state to join the Union (now the United States). Congress’ Iowa-Florida Act allowed for this, as it enabled the United States to maintain its power balance of slavery-sanctioning states and free states. Thus, Florida chose to be admitted as a slavery-sanctioning state and Iowa as a free state.

Concurrently, Florida amended its territorial constitution to carry the slavery-sanctioning provisions through to its 1845 state laws. These policies viewed Black Floridians as property and profit-builders, not people with families and dreams. For example, state lawmakers charged enslavers a tax of 50 cents for enslaved people, whom they referred to as “species of property.” Florida lawmakers also banned the migration of free Black people into the state, arguing in their statehood request to Congress that free Black Americans would “destroy their peace” by inciting rebellion among enslaved Floridians.

Furthermore, Florida lawmakers doubled down on the U.S. Constitution’s three-fifths clause by choosing to count enslaved Floridians as only three-fifths of a person in the state’s own laws. Because enslaved Floridians were equated with property, allowing enslavers to partially count those they enslaved in the Census gave white pro-slavery Floridians greater representation in the Legislature. Not only was this something almost no other state had done, but Florida was the only state to apply this ratio to representation in both the Senate and House chambers. This, combined with the tax assessor narrowing its count of free Black Floridians to those between ages 21 and 60, meant the 1845 Census was inflated, showing 53 percent of residents were white. This consolidation of power and wealth by white enslavers created a foundation of policymaking that would underrepresent and ignore the needs of Floridians of color for years to come.

Today, Florida’s Legislature is still disproportionately white and male. As of 2023, two-thirds of state representatives and 70 percent of state senators are white, even though the 2021 Census shows that just 53 percent of Florida’s population is white (non-Hispanic). The disparity also crosses gender lines, marginalizing women of color from power. Women of color comprise a mere 17 percent of state senators and representatives, with Black women in particular making up just 11 percent.[1] Among women in the 2023 Legislature, 61 percent were white and just 26 percent were Black.




[1] Available data from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics (linked in narrative) was used to determine the shares of women by race in each chamber. Sixty-four of the 66 women who are state legislators had racial data available, so the number of people of color more broadly and Black people in particular was divided by 64, not 66, to determine percentages among women elected officials. For representation among the entire legislature, 160 was the total number to compare to, as Florida has 120 state representatives and 40 state senators.