Joseph E. Lee was arguably the most prominent black Republican in Florida during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in Philadelphia in 1849, Lee moved to Florida in 1873. He represented Duval County in the Florida House of Representatives from 1875-1881 and then served a term in the Florida Senate. In addition, Lee attended the Republican National Conventions in 1880 and 1884, was secretary of the Florida Republican State Central Committee from 1912 until 1920, and held positions as municipal judge, and as collector of customs and deputy internal revenue collector for Jacksonville. The Florida State Archives maintains a collection of Lee's papers, two of which are reproduced here.
The letters relate to the controversial gubernatorial election of 1916, which was the only election from the late 1800s through the 1960s not won by the Democratic nominee. In 1916 Sidney J. Catts, a colorful Baptist minister, lost a bitter primary fight with Democrat William V. Knott. Rather than admit defeat, Catts ran in the general election on the Prohibition Party ticket against Knott, Republican George W. Allen, and Socialist C.C Allen. Surprisingly, Catts won the general election, defeating Knott by 39,546 votes to 30,343. Allen finished a distant third with 10,333 votes. During this era legal restrictions kept many African Americans from voting, and white voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party. Consequently, virtually no Republicans won election to statewide offices. In the first letter, John Edwards, secretary of "Club #2," evidently a Republican organization, asks Lee his opinion as to the merits of the various gubernatorial candidates. In his reply, Lee states that he will vote for Allen, and that "I wish you and all other Republicans would vote . . . the whole Republican ticket."
Hon Joseph E Lee.
Dear Sir-- I Received the matter Sent from your office last week, I would be very pleased to you give me some information relative to the Campaign. Mr H.S. Chubb was in DeLand on last Friday, unfortunately I did not see him; Now relative to Mr Geo W. Allen Candidate for Governor. we would like to know are you supporting him We understand that he is a lilly White and held his meeting in the Seminole Hotel in the city of Jaxville While an other meeting was in progress elsewhere. What is your instructions regarding this issue. Some of our men are favoring Mr V.W. Knott for Gov, and some are for Rev Sidney J Catts and a few for Mr Allen but we want to do the best thing and follow the leaders to victory if such is the