During Reconstruction-era Florida, political boss Leonard G. Dennis became one of that State’s wealthiest men by selling political endorsements to the highest bidders and then taking a part of the monthly salary of each. To secure the cooperation of his appointees, he kept signed letters of resignation from each political applicant before being granted the office.
Dennis was a Massachusetts-born soldier who settled postwar in Alachua County, Florida where he became politically active, largely through his control over the freedmen, and known as the “Little Giant.” In 1876, he helped throw the presidential election to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, known afterward as “His Fraudulency.”
Florida’s Postwar Politics
“The last Statewide Republican victory of the Reconstruction era occurred in 1873 when the legislature elected [New Jersey-native] Dr. Simon B. Conover, a Tallahassee carpetbagger, to the United States Senate. In 1875 the legislature elected the first Democrat to the Senate since the Republicans had come to power. Mainly self-educated, Charles W. Jones was an Irish-born ex-carpenter from Pensacola . . . [and] elected by only one vote, Republican control of the legislature was broken.
While internal corruption and the hatred of white Southerners played important roles in its downfall, the Republican party throughout Reconstruction lacked strength because it lacked leadership. With the exception of scalawag Ossian Hart and blacks Jonathan Gibbs and Josiah T. Walls, it depended on Northern carpetbaggers with only a superficial knowledge of the State and the needs of the freedmen.
Political rewards for Negroes other than minor offices were rare despite the fact that almost the entire party voting strength was Negro. Walls came to Florida from Virginia shortly after the war and engaged in cabbage growing in Alachua County. Prospering while most of his white neighbors were poverty-stricken, Walls reached the economic status of planter.
Entering politics Walls soon became joint leader of the Alachua County Republican machine, sharing this position with Leonard G. Dennis . . . a corrupt, self-seeking demagogue, forever willing to sacrifice the Negro on the altar of opportunism.”
(Florida Politics in the Gilded Age, 1877-1893, Edward C. Williamson, University of Florida, 1976, excerpts pp. 9-10)