The First World War erupted in Europe during the summer of 1914, becoming the bloodiest conflict in world history to that time. The United States remained neutral, although the sympathies of most Americans lay firmly with the Allied nations of Great Britain, France, Italy, and (until 1917) Russia. Germany's resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and publication of the Zimmerman Telegram in early 1917 led President Woodrow Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war in April.
Sidney Johnston Catts served as Florida's governor during the war years. The controversial governor had lost the Democratic nomination in 1916, but had run on the Prohibition ticket in the general election and defeated his Democratic and Republican opponents. A biographer stated of Catts: "many loved him as a clerical messiah come to save the abused farmers and laborers of Florida; others despised him as a cynical hypocrite who used his ministerial office to seduce gullible Baptists, while repudiating in private the morality he proclaimed publically." (1)
During the nineteenth months that the United States took part in World War I, more than 40,000 Floridians served in the military, a number of training bases were established in the state, Floridians purchased millions of dollars in Liberty Bonds, and the state's farmers grew tons of food for the Allied war effort. To promote this last endeavor, Governor Catts proclaimed May 6, 1917 as National Crisis Day to urge Florida farmers to produce more food, and to encourage food conservation throughout the state. A copy of Catts's proclamation is reproduced here.
(1) Wayne Flynt, Cracker Messiah: Governor Sidney J. Catts of Florida (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1977), xiii.
STATE OF FLOR I DA
BY THE GOVERNOR A PROCLAMATION
WHEREAS, it has been suggested to the Governor, that Sunday May the 6th, be generally observed throughout the State as National Crisis Day and
WHEREAS, it is the desire of the Governor of Florida to see every practical effort made toward the increasing the production of food supplies in this State and in the United States, and to this end a letter has been sent out to all the clergmen of Florida urging them to call special att- ention to their congregation, especially the farmers, of the need of in- creasing the food supply supply abd urge upon them to do every thing possible to raise more food and conserve the same during the coming year.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, SIDNEY J. CATTS, Governor of the State of Florida, do hereby publish and proclaim,
SUNDAY MAY 6th, 1917
NATIONAL CRISIS DAY
and respectfully call upon the clergmen [sic] of the State to make a strong appeal to their congregations on that day and urge that everything possible be done to raise a larger amount of supplies.
IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Great Seal of the State of Florida to be affixed at Tallahassee, the Capital this the 3rd, day of May. A.D. 1917.
SIDNEY J. CATTS.
BY THE GOVERNOR, ATTEST:
H. Clay Crawford [signature]
SECRETARY OF STATE