During the third week of the fall semester the History Department here at Florida State University threw a meet and greet for their students and professors. The Special Collections & Archives Department was asked go through some of their collections and make up some displays for this meet and greet. Here at the Claude Pepper Library we decided to put some items from the 1950 primary election in one of our displays. I was tasked with finding items for the 1950 election display and boy did I discover some interesting items in our collection!
A little back story…
The 1950 primary election was between the incumbent Florida Senator Claude Pepper and U.S. House of Representatives Congressman George Smathers. This primary election between the two Florida Democrats was one of the dirtiest political races in U.S. history. There were three major issues facing Sen. Pepper at the time of his re-election. The first issue was Sen. Pepper’s support for America maintaining a peaceful relationship with Russia at the end of WWII. The second issue was for Sen. Pepper’s legislation and support for the National Health Insurance Act of 1949. The third issue for the senator was his support for many of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legislation, including the controversial Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Sen. Pepper’s support for these three issues only hurt him in the 1950 primary election against George Smathers.
My interesting find
When the primary was over and all the ballots were counted, Rep. Smathers defeated Sen. Pepper to become Florida’s newest senator. Smathers ran one of the nastiest smear campaigns in Florida’s history against Claude Pepper. Pepper’s nickname from his opposition during the campaign was “Red Pepper” due to his visit to Russia and meeting with Communist Leader Joseph Stalin. Sen. Pepper advocated for America to keep our relationship with Russia open in order to prevent WWIII. Sen. Pepper also supported (though he denied this during his re-election campaign) the FEPC which was also used against him in the primary.
The interesting find I discovered while going through the wealth of information we have on the 1950 election was an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch after the election was over. Titled, “Smathers’ Defeat of Pepper – A Triumph for the Nation” is dated May 4, 1950; the article gives a brief summary of the election and the issues that affected the outcome of the election. The issues covered in the article are the FEPC, Sen. Pepper’s and Rep. Smathers’ voting record and the change the Richmond Times Dispatch believed was taking place in Washington, D.C. Rep. Smathers ran as the opposite of Sen. Pepper and his alarm over what was taking place in Washington, D.C.
The best find in the article is its closing sentence: “Now the victory of George Smathers over Claude Pepper has brought new and striking encouragement to those who are determined to save the United States from sliding over the socialistic precipice.”
Discovering the changes in American attitudes towards different topics that were relevant during Claude Pepper’s lifetime is always fun and interesting to us here at the Claude Pepper Library. To find out more information about the 1950 primary election or about Claude Pepper come visit us at the Claude Pepper Library.
Mallary Rawls is an archives assistant at the Claude Pepper Library.