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A Guide to the Charles E. Bennett Papers

Finding aid created by Dept. Staff

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
July 2011


Descriptive Summary

Creator: Bennett, Charles E., 1910-2003
Title: Charles E. Bennett Papers
Dates: 1903-2001
Bulk dates: 1949-1992
Abstract: Congressional papers of U.S. Representative Charles E. Bennett from Florida.
Extent: 253.5 Linear feet. 190 Boxes.
Identification: MS 5
Language(s): English
Access: Researchers should consult with Special Collections staff before using the collection because there are access restrictions. See the Access note for more information.
Location: IMPORTANT: Please note that this collection is housed in the Auxiliary Library Facility off campus and will require advance notice for timely retrieval. Please contact the Special and Area Studies Collections department prior to your visit.

Biographical/Historical Note

Charles "Charlie" Edward Bennett was born on December 2, 1910 in Canton, New York. At the age of two his family relocated to Tampa, Florida, where his father worked for the U.S. Weather Bureau. Charles lived in Tampa throughout his youth. He was an Eagle Scout with the Boy Scouts of America and received the Eagle Scout Award. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Florida. He was president of the UF student body and served as editor of the Florida Alligator student newspaper. In addition to a wide range of volunteer activities and participation in political organizations, Charles worked his way through college by waiting tables, working on a university farm, and writing articles for local newspapers.

After graduating from UF with a Juris Doctor law degree in 1934, Bennett began practicing law in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1941, Bennett was elected to a term in the Florida State legislature. In early 1942 he gave up his legislative seat and joined the U.S. Army as a private. Bennett served in the Pacific during World War II, including fighting in the Philippines and New Guinea. While serving in the Philippines, he contracted polio, a disease that left his legs partially paralyzed for the remainder of his life. When Bennett left Army service in 1947 he had attained the rank of Captain. He was awarded both a Bonze and Sliver Star for his outstanding wartime accomplishments.

Following the war, Bennett returned to Jacksonville and resumed practicing law. In 1949 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives as the Democratic representative of Jacksonville's 2nd district (which became the 3rd district in 1967). He was re-elected twenty-one more times, serving from 1949 to 1993, and he rarely faced strong opposition. In 1953, Bennett married Dorothy Jean, with whom he had four children: Lucinda (Cindy), Charles Jr., James, and Bruce. Throughout his life, Bennett was devoted to his Christian faith; he was a deacon and taught Sunday school for many years at the Riverside Avenue Christian Church in Jacksonville. In 1955 he sponsored the legislation which added the phrase "In God We Trust" to American currency. Later in his life Bennett revealed that he believed this was his most important accomplishment as a Congressman.

Throughout his political career Bennett fought against corruption in legislature, promoting a code of ethics for members of government that came to be called "The Ten Commandments." His strict adherence to a high standard of personal ethics resulted in his nicknames such as "Mr. Ethics" and "Mr. Clean." He led efforts to establish the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct in 1958, and the "Code of Ethics for Government Service." He also was the first chair of the Congressional Ethics Committee. Fiscally conservative and a great opponent of waste, Bennett's leftover campaign funds were donated to the National Parks Service, and he regularly returned his veteran disability pension to the U.S. Treasury. Bennett also refused his congressional pay raises and voted against the practice in Congress. He received the "Watchdog of the Treasury Award" on multiple occasions for his strong support of economy in government.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Bennett voted with many southern Democrats against civil rights and Great Society programs, including Medicare and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He also signed the so-called Southern Manifesto in 1956, generally opposing the integration of public schools. However, in 1965 Bennett broke with the southern bloc to support the 1965 Voting Rights Act, arguing that it was based on a "constitutional obligation." Throughout his later political career he consistently received a great deal of support from Jacksonville's African-American community.

Bennett was very concerned with the nation's defense and security, and for many years was second in seniority on the House Armed Services Committee. Bennett strongly opposed worldwide proliferation of nuclear arms, and in the 1960s he supported the creation of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. In the 1980s, he supported funding for more conventional weapons and reductions in Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) spending. His legislation also set standards for upgrades in military housing, particularly in his own district's naval air stations.

Domestically, Bennett was concerned with urban issues of poverty, juvenile delinquency and drug use, and the raising of auto safety standards. He also advocated better working conditions for migrant farm workers, increased awareness for animal rights, establishment of the National Teachers Corps, federal aid to hospital and school construction, child welfare programs, and establishment of the Small Business Administration. As a disabled person Bennett promoted the rights of handicapped individuals. He co-sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, fought for architectural improvements to aid the handicapped, and regularly sought to demonstrate the often underestimated capacity of disabled persons. Despite his paralysis, he acquired the longest consecutive record of roll call votes in Congress without an absence - 26 years.

Bennett also was a historian of Florida and U.S. colonial history, writing and publishing nine books and several articles. He was a proponent of environmental conservation and historical preservation. He often sponsored bills to preserve or improve Florida's environment, including the prevention of erosion on Florida's beaches. He was instrumental in the creation of the Fort Caroline National Park Memorial in Jacksonville and its surrounding Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, as well as the Key Deer Preserve in the Florida Keys. He also was co-sponsor of the Wilderness Preservation Act and the Land and Water Conservation Act.

In 1993, Bennett retired from Congress to care for his ailing wife. He suffered a heart attack and a stroke in 2002. He died on September 6, 2003 in Jacksonville at age 92 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.


Scope and Content

The Charles E. Bennett Papers span the dates 1903-2001, with the bulk of the collection representing Bennett's over forty years in the U.S. House of Representatives (1949-1993). The collection includes legislative files, correspondence and subject files, campaign materials, bills and Bennett's voting record, press files, writings and speeches, biographical information, family correspondence, trip files, photographs, audiovisual recordings, scrapbooks and memorabilia.

A majority of the collection is comprised of Legislative Files, which typically contain drafts and final versions of legislation, correspondence and memoranda, floor proceedings, news clippings and reference or background materials. Because of the length of his service in Congress, Bennett's legislative files cover numerous, diverse subjects. There are several files pertaining to ethics, defense, the environment, animal rights, religion (including the "In God We Trust" motto), historical preservation, veterans, and the handicapped. There are also files pertaining to important national and international events and issues, including Vietnam, segregation and Civil Rights, Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, communism and the Soviet Union, Israel and the Middle East, and Cuba.

Closely related to the Legislative Files are the Florida Files and General Files. These two groups contain correspondence and subject files, as well as some materials pertaining to legislation. A number of the Florida Files pertain to Jacksonville, Duval County, the Naval Station at Mayport, the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, St. John's River, the Florida Congressional Delegation, the Cross Florida Barge Canal, state and national parks, and Florida's government and politics. Bennett's research about Fort Caroline and his efforts to establish a national memorial also are included. Topics found in the General Files include the Christian religion, Cuba and Cuban refugees, the U.S. Navy, segregation, and the Democratic Party. Many of the General Files date from the 1950s and 1960s and many are marked as "Project" files. Because there is a great deal of overlap between these groups and the Legislative Files, it is advisable to review all three groups to identify relevant materials.

The collection also includes several smaller series of files. The Voting Record and Bills series is comprised of Bennett's comprehensive voting record, copies of the bills he introduced or co-sponsored, and materials pertaining to his ideas that were enacted into law. The Press Files include press releases and newsletters, including Bennett's "Congress Report," which was published for many decades. The Speech Files include drafts and final versions of Bennett's speeches and statements. The Writings and Publications series includes copies of his articles and opinion pieces, correspondence relating to his writings, and research materials and typescripts for his books. The Campaign Files include correspondence, organizational materials, campaign literature, schedules, press materials, and other information pertaining to Bennett's campaigns from 1941 until the early 1990s. The Trip Files include travel itineraries, appointments, speech materials, meeting agenda and notes, and correspondence.

The Biographical and Family Files contain autobiographical writings, articles about Bennett, biographical information produced by his office and campaigns, and miscellaneous family correspondence. There are files on the awards he received, his family genealogy, correspondence and articles about his retirement from office in 1992, and personal papers from his childhood. The collection includes Photographs that document Bennett's professional and family life. The Memorabilia series includes certificates, badges, awards, buttons, pins, commendations, citations, plaques and other pieces of memorabilia received by Bennett. Most of Bennett's career is documented in a series of Scrapbooks, which primarily include news clippings and occasionally include letters, speeches, programs, and photos. The Audiovisual Materials include various types of audio and visual media with recordings of speeches, interviews and other radio and television appearances made by Bennett.


Access or Use Restrictions

Access

The collection is open for research. The presence of constituent mail in this collection requires mediated access. Researchers must consult with Special Collections staff before using the collection and must agree in writing to the following conditions: Congressional constituent mail is considered a type of privileged correspondence. Reproduction of constituent mail in any format is prohibited. Further, researchers using constituent mail must agree not to divulge the names or addresses of constituents or provide information that could conceivably identify constituents.


Related or Separated Material

The University of Florida Samuel Proctor Oral History Program holds an interview with Charles E. Bennett conducted by Samuel Proctor in 1995. The interview is available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC) at http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00005603.


Administrative Information

Alternate Form of Finding Aid

Due to its large size this descriptive finding aid has been broken into several pages, but an alternate full version of the finding aid is available at http://www.library.ufl.edu/spec/pkyonge/Bennettfull.htm. Warning: The file size for the full finding aid exceeds 1,500 Kb and download time may be affected.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Charles E. Bennett Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Charles E. Bennett.

Processing Information

The materials in this collection were donated to UF throughout Bennett's life and career in the U.S. House of Representatives. Over his several decades in office, Bennett's staff managed his Legislative Files using at least three different filing schemes. The folders from the three schemes have been interfiled alphabetically in a new filing scheme. Refer to the Legislative Files series description for additional information. Similarly, the Florida Files and General Files have been maintained as separate groups even though there is significant overlap between these series and the Legislative Files series. Refer to the series descriptions for all three groups of records for more information.


Contents List

Biographical and Family Files 1903-2001

This series contains autobiographical writings, articles about Bennett, biographical information produced by his office and campaigns, and other miscellaneous biographical materials. There are files on the awards he received, his family genealogy, correspondence and articles about his retirement from office in 1992, and personal papers from his childhood. The series also includes family papers pertaining to his parents, his brother, and his son, Charles Jr., who passed way.
 
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Legislation Files 1944-1997

The largest group of materials in the collection, the Legislation Files, span Bennett's career in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1949-1993. A handful of documents, such as government reports and published committee hearings, date from 1944 to 1949. The files are arranged alphabetically, and often contain drafts and final versions of legislation, correspondence and memoranda, floor proceedings, news clippings and reference or background materials. Folder titles typically reflect legislative subjects, but also may refer to branches of government or congressional committees.

Because of the length of his service in Congress, Bennett's legislative files cover numerous, diverse subjects. There are several files pertaining to his "pet" issues, including ethics, defense, environmental conservation, animal rights (including veal calves), religion (including the "In God We Trust" motto), historical preservation, veterans, and the handicapped. There are also files pertaining to important national and international events and issues, including Vietnam, segregation and Civil Rights, Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, communism and the Soviet Union, Israel and the Middle East, and Cuba.

Over his several decades in office, Bennett's staff filed his legislative papers using three different filing schemes. The earliest legislative materials were filed alphabetically and interfiled with constituent mail referencing both legislative and other non-legislative issues. Using the second and third filing schemes, materials were grouped and filed according to file types: files pertaining to departments in the federal government, files pertaining to legislation, constituent files, press files, etc. Under these later filing schemes, staff segregated most of the constituent mail that was unrelated to legislative issues (e.g., letters asking for assistance with Social Security or immigration matters). At some point, folders from the first filing scheme were interfiled alphabetically with folders from the second scheme and the original order of the records was lost. The folders in the third filing scheme, which primarily date from the late-1980s through Bennett's retirement in 1993, were small in number and they too were interfiled alphabetically in the new, artificial filing scheme. Many of the folders are not dated.

It should be noted that there are two other groups of files, the Florida Files and the General Files, which are closely related to the Legislative Files and there is a great deal of overlap between the three series of files. The Florida and General Files were maintained separately from the Legislative files by Bennett's staff and all folders were marked as "Florida" or "General" on the labels. This arrangement has been retained, although there are folders in both the Florida and General files that certainly are legislative materials. Likewise, the Legislative Files includes folders specifically related to Florida (e.g., Mayport Naval Station and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station). In conducting research in any of these areas, it is advisable to review all three groups to identify relevant materials.

Bennett's staff also maintained a separate group of files documenting his voting record, the bills he introduced or co-sponsored, and his ideas that were enacted into law. Researchers should consult the Voting Record and Bills series to examine these files.
 
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Florida Files 1941-2001

The Florida Files date from 1941 to 1992 and are arranged alphabetically, primarily by geographic names (cities, counties, etc.). Most of the materials pertain to Bennett's district in Jacksonville, Duval County, the Naval Station at Mayport, the Jacksonville Naval Air Station, St. John's River and other parts of northeast Florida. Bennett's research about Fort Caroline and his efforts to establish a national memorial also are included. There are numerous files relating to the Florida Congressional Delegation, the Cross Florida Barge Canal, state and national parks, Florida government and politics, and questionnaires that Bennett sent to Floridians on a variety of topics.

It should be noted that there are two other groups of files, the Legislative Files and the General Files, which are closely related to the Florida Files and there is a great deal of overlap between the three series of files. The Florida Files were maintained separately from the Legislative and General files by Bennett's staff and all folders were marked as "Florida" on the labels. This arrangement has been retained, although there are folders in both the Legislative and General files that certainly are related to Florida (e.g., Mayport Naval Station and the Jacksonville Naval Air Station). In conducting research in any of these areas, it is advisable to review all three groups to identify relevant materials.
 
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General Files 1950-2000

The General Files are comprised of folders that Bennett's staff labeled as "General" and maintained separately from other files in the office. The folders are arranged alphabetically by topic or by name. Correspondents include Reubin Askew, Ed Ball, Hubert Humphrey, Rembert Patrick, and Louis Wolfson. There are also several correspondence files grouped chronologically, including folders labeled "General Correspondence" and "Congratulations Correspondence." Topics include the Christian religion, Cuba and Cuban refugees, the U.S. Navy, segregation, the Democratic Party, and questionnaires that Bennett sent to constituents on a variety of topics. Many of the files date from the 1950s and 1960s and many are marked as "Project" files.

It should be noted that there are two other groups of files, the Legislative Files and the Florida Files, which are closely related to the General Files and there is a great deal of overlap between the three series of files. There are General Files that easily could be filed with the Legislative or Florida files (e.g., questionnaires sent to Floridians, papers pertaining to the "In God We Trust" legislation, etc.). In conducting research in any of these areas, it is advisable to review all three groups to identify relevant materials.
 
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Voting Record and Bills 1949-1992

The Voting Record and Bills series is comprised of Bennett's voting record, copies of the bills he introduced or co-sponsored, and materials pertaining to his ideas that were enacted into law. The majority of the folders are arranged chronologically by Congressional session and date. There is a cumulative index to the bills introduced by Bennett in the first folder, as well as a folder of correspondence congratulating Bennett on his perfect voting record. In addition to documenting those bills and ideas that were enacted into law, the files also include unsuccessful bills introduced or co-sponsored by Bennett. Consult the Legislative Files for information on specific legislative bills, floor actions, and voting decisions.
 
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Press Files 1949-1990

The Press Files include press releases and newsletters, including Bennett's "Congress Report," which was published for many decades. Press releases publicizing his speeches may also be found in the Speech Files.
 
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Speech Files 1949-1992

The Speech Files include drafts and final versions of Bennett's speeches and statements. The folders are arranged primarily chronologically. There are a few folders containing remarks made by Bennett on the floor of the House.
 
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Writings and Publications

Bennett was a prolific author of books, articles, essays and newspaper editorials and opinion pieces. The Writings and Publications series includes copies of his articles and opinion pieces, correspondence relating to his writings, and research materials and typescripts for his books. Topics include ethics, early exploration and settlement of Florida, Laudonniere, Robert Howe, General MacGregor, and Fort Caroline.
 
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Campaign Files 1941-1992

The Campaign Files include correspondence, organizational materials, campaign literature, schedules, press materials, and other information pertaining to Bennett's campaigns from 1941 until the early 1990s. The files are primarily arranged chronologically by campaign year and then alphabetically by folder title within each campaign. The earliest files document Bennett's successful campaign for a seat in the 1942 Florida State legislature. The latest files are from Bennett's last successful campaign in 1990 and there are files from 1992 campaign, in which Bennett did not run for re-election. There are also several files dating from 1966-1967 that pertain to Bennett's possible campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1968 (he decided not to run).

The Campaign Files also include materials pertaining to Bennett's opponents and other politicians running for office (e.g., gubernatorial and presidential campaigns), including Earl Faircloth, George Smathers, Sam Gibbons, and George Grimsley, among others. Subjects covered include campaign ethics, congressional redistricting, campaign finance, and the Democratic Party.
 
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Trip Files 1974-1992

The Trip Files document Bennett's travel from the 1970s until his retirement in 1992. The files contain travel itineraries, appointments, speech materials, meeting agenda and notes, and correspondence.
 
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Photographs

This series includes photographs (including prints, negatives and slides) documenting Bennett's professional and family life. There are numerous studio portraits, photos of Bennett at various events and speaking engagements, including campaign events, and photos of him with other politicians and dignitaries. The series also includes photos of Washington, D.C., Jacksonville, Fort Caroline and other locations.
 
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Memorabilia

This series includes certificates, badges, awards, buttons, pins, commendations, citations, plaques and other pieces of memorabilia received by Bennett throughout his life and career.
 
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Scrapbooks

Most of Bennett's career is documented in these scrapbooks, which primarily include news clippings arranged chronologically. There are a few topical scrapbooks, including two on the 1950 campaign, one on Jacksonville news coverage, and four relating to trips made by Bennett to Egypt, Algeria, etc. In addition to news clippings, the scrapbooks often contain letters, speeches, programs, and photos. Note that some of the scrapbooks have been removed from their covers and placed in folders to better preserve the contents.
 
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Audiovisual Materials

This series includes various types of audio and visual media, including audio cassettes, VHS tapes, audio reel-to-reel tapes, and films. Many are recordings of speeches, interviews and other radio and television appearances made by Bennett. Many of the films are unlabeled and unidentified at this time, and will need to be reformatted to determine the content. There are also a small number of microfilm reels pertaining to Bennett's research into Colonial Florida.
 
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Selected Subjects and Access Points

Florida -- Politics and government -- 1951-
United States. Congress -- Florida delegation.



For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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