Sidney Johnston Catts

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Sidney Johnston Catts
Sidney Johnston Catts in 1916 (cropped).jpg
22nd Governor of Florida
In office
January 2, 1917 – January 4, 1921
Preceded byPark Trammell
Succeeded byCary A. Hardee
Personal details
BornJuly 31, 1863
Pleasant Hill, Alabama
DiedMarch 9, 1936(1936-03-09) (aged 72)
DeFuniak Springs, Florida
Political partyDemocrat, Prohibition
Spouse(s)Alice May Campbell Catts
ChildrenRuth Cawthon, Elizabeth Paderick, Alice May Stiegel, Rozier Catts
ProfessionPolitician, Insurance Salesman, Baptist Minister

Sidney Johnston Catts (July 31, 1863 – March 9, 1936) was an American politician and anti-Catholic activist. He served as the 22nd Governor of Florida from 1917 to 1921.


Catts was born in Pleasant Hill, Alabama and he earned a law degree from Cumberland School of Law at Cumberland University in 1882. Catts became a pastor in Alabama and soon he moved to Florida. Catts then left his job as a pastor to sell insurance.

In 1916, he ran for Governor of Florida as a Democrat. He won the party's nomination before a recount was ordered and he came in second. He then received the nomination of the Prohibition Party and won the general election with 43% of the vote. Catts served as governor from January 2, 1917, to January 4, 1921. As governor, his proposals for reform were stopped by the state legislature.

The following is an excerpt from his inauguration speech:

Your triumph is no less in this good hour in beautiful Florida, for you have withstood the onslaughts of the county and state political rings, the corporations, the railroads, the fierce opposition of the press and organization of the negro voters of this state against you and the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against you. Yet over all of these the common people of Florida, the everyday cracker people have triumphed.[2]

At the onset of World War I as Florida teemed with a never-before-seen wave of Anti-German sentiment, Catts attempted to exploit this to further his own anti-Catholic and racist agendas. The governor publicly theorized that the monks of St. Leo Abbey near Tampa (many of whom were either German Americans or German immigrants) were planning to arm Florida's African-American community for a popular revolt in favor of Kaiser Wilhelm II, after which Pope Benedict XV (a well documented pacifist, who was Italian, not German) would take over Florida and move the Holy See to nearby San Antonio and close all of the Protestant churches. This actually caused a fair number of German settlers to move to friendlier parts of the country. The abbot of St. Leo, Right Rev. Charles Mohr, OSB, published several dignified responses to these outlandish conspiracy theories. In support of the St. Leo monks, many Pasco County Protestants made it a point to appear in public with local Catholics. Because of the backlash, Catts was forced to tone down his rhetoric when in the area.[3][4]

Catts publicly labeled black residents as part of "an inferior race," and refused to criticize two lynchings in 1919. He was quoted in the press as saying that "only the vagrant, vagabond, worthless negro is lynched".[5] When the NAACP complained about these lynchings, Catts wrote denouncing the organization and blacks generally, declaring that "Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would . . . [teach] your people not to kill our white officers and disgrace our white women, you would keep down a thousand times greater disgrace."[6]

Catts was ineligible to run for reelection in 1920 and he ran for the United States Senate as a Democrat, losing by a large margin to Senator Duncan U. Fletcher. Catts ran for governor in 1924 and 1928, losing both times. Catts was one of the Democrats who worked against presidential nominee Al Smith due to his religion.

Catts died in DeFuniak Springs, Florida on March 9, 1936.


  1. ^ George Brown Tindall, The Emergence of the New South, 1913-1945, vol. 10, p. 25. LSU Press, 1967, ISBN 978-080-7100-10-3
  2. ^ Krishnaiyer, Kartik (February 20, 2017). "A BRIEF HISTORY OF POLITICAL RACISM IN FLORIDA". The Florida Squeeze. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Horgan, James J. (1990). Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey, and Holy Name Priory. Saint Leo, FL. Saint Leo College Press. ISBN 978-0-945759-01-0
  5. ^ "Race riots at Millen, Ga". Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express. April 24, 1919. p. 9.
  6. ^ Colburn and Scher, Florida's Gubernatorial Politics, 222.

Further reading[edit]

  • Flynt, Wayne. Cracker Messiah: Governor Sidney J. Catts of Florida. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Pr., 1977. 359 pp.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Park Trammell
Governor of Florida
January 2, 1917 – January 4, 1921
Succeeded by
Cary A. Hardee