As the issue of slavery became increasingly divisive throughout the Union, Florida’s pro-slavery political leaders doubled down on shielding the profitable institution. There were nearly 62,000 enslaved Floridians at the time, representing 44 percent of the state’s population. Then-Governor Madison Starke Perry (1857-1861), a radical secessionist, instructed the Legislature to convene on the issue:

“The only hope the Southern states have for domestic peace . . . or for future respectability and prosperity, is dependent on their action now; and that the proper action is—Secession from our faithless, perjured confederates…”

Plenty of Floridians and some state leaders opposed slavery and by extension, seceding from the Union, but secessionists dominated politics and state media coverage. Thus, they did whatever was necessary to make secession a reality, including intimidating voters and assaulting people who opposed it. As a result, the Legislature obliged Governor Perry and authorized a January 1861 convention to consider seceding from the Union.

Secessionists’ efforts also ensured that the convention’s 69 delegates were allied with the governor and other pro-segregation legislators; only seven of these 69 opposed seceding when the vote was cast. Once Florida opted to secede, its 1861 Legislature authorized the state to join the provisional pro-slavery government, the Confederate States of America (“the Confederacy”). Florida joined the Confederacy a month later in February 1861, becoming the third state (alongside Alabama) to do so.

Ultimately, the Confederacy lost the Civil War and Florida surrendered to the Union in spring 1865. The federal government required former Confederate states like Florida to pass an anti-slavery constitution before being readmitted. Florida rejoined the United States in July 1868 when lawmakers formed a constitution that broadened formerly enslaved people’s rights. One of the most notable provisions was that Florida would now register all eligible men (regardless of race) to vote, giving Black Floridians more power.