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Chesterfield Smith Papers

Identifier: MS 256

Scope and Content

The papers of Chesterfield Smith include personal and business correspondence, speeches, travel files, articles and news clippings, photographs, audiovisual recordings, memorabilia, and files related to the American Bar Association and other legal organizations. The collection spans 1934 to 2008, but the bulk of the collection covers the years 1971-1999. Earlier files were destroyed or have been lost. The records came from several offices of Holland & Knight, mostly Lakeland and Miami, as well as his home. His mentoring and recruitment of new lawyers, including many women and minority lawyers, is well documented. Other topics include: bills and amendments relating to the judiciary, judicial hearings (notably Robert Bork and Ruth Bader Ginsburg), President Jimmy Carter's administration, Governor Lawton Chiles's administration, pro bono and public service work, the Great Floridian Award and other awards, and Smith's travels. Also, the collection documents his work with various professional and political organizations including the American Bar Association, the Florida Bar Association, the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Law Institute, the Governor's Commission for Government by the People, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society. Major political correspondents include: Governor Reubin Askew, Senator Lawton Chiles, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Jimmy Carter, President Bill Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno and Talbot D'Alemberte. Other notable correspondents include: Jacqueline Allee Smith, John Germany, Kirk McAlpin, Burke Kibler, Bill McBride, and Martha Barnett.

The collection is arranged into several groups, or series, that document Smith's professional and social life. These include: Correspondence - General and Subject, Travel Files, Memberships and Affiliations, American Bar Association, Florida Bar Association, Universities and Colleges, Judgeships, Political Campaign Files, Speeches, and Photographs. However, information on particular topics can be dispersed throughout the collection and researchers may find relevant materials in several series. For example, the Correspondence series contains much of the same types of material found in the Political Campaigns, Judgeships, and Universities series. The largest series is the Travel Files series, which includes information pertaining to conferences of professional organizations as well as social gatherings. The Memberships and Affiliations series contains nominations for membership and awards in legal organizations, as well as material from several other organizations.

Of particular interest are the files relating to his term as President of the American Bar Association during the Watergate scandal and the Saturday Night Massacre. These files include correspondence from lawyers and non-lawyers reacting to Smith's stance. The files also include news clippings and articles. There is information on his speech given at the ABA meeting in Hawaii concerning amnesty for Vietnam draft-dodgers. Also of interest are files related to Smith's push for mandatory pro bono work in the legal profession. Files pertaining to this can be found in the Speeches series as well as the ABA and Florida Bar series, and include correspondence, news clippings, and copies of speeches. Several files illustrate Smith's involvement and influence with local, state, and national leaders. This material includes recommendation letters for political figures from judges to Governor Lawton Chiles and President Jimmy Carter; interviews with Bob Graham, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bill McBride; and correspondence between Smith and other political leaders in the Political Campaign series.


  • 1934-2008
  • Majority of material found within 1971-1999



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Smith combined a very successful private practice of law with a remarkable career working in the public interest. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a close friend of Smith, said about him, "He has devoted his extraordinary talent and enormous energy to the improvement of the legal profession - to making the profession more honorable, more responsive to the people law and lawyers serve. He is, in sum, among the brightest, boldest, bravest, all-around most effective lawyers ever bred in Florida and the U.S.A." His longtime friend Sandy D'Alemberte said above all Smith was forthright: "Whether he was with you or against you, it was always candid. When he believed something, he wasn't frightened to say it. A lot of his close friends were really conservative. But he was very outspoken and didn't trim his sails around people he knew didn't agree with him. He didn't have a sneaky bone in him. He would tell you what he was going to do. He would tell you what he thought you ought to do." In 1975, Time named Smith among 35 "non-candidates truly qualified to be president of the United States." Smith had very high standards, for himself and his lawyers, and believed that it is the obligation of lawyers to serve the public will.

Smith was born on July 28, 1917 in Arcadia, Florida, to Grace Gilbert Smith and Cook Hall Smith. His mother was a social columnist for the local newspaper and his father was an electrical contractor who became head of the Desoto County School System. Growing up in Arcadia, Smith, then addressed by his middle name Harvey, was a soda jerk at his uncle's drug store. His uncle, a state legislator, influenced Smith's interest in politics. In 1935, Smith moved away from Arcadia to attend the University of Florida. He was in and out of school, dropping out for a semester to make money to return. After receiving an Associate in Arts degree Smith joined the Florida National Guard which was mobilized for active duty during World War II in November 1940. He was assigned to the 94th Infantry Division of George Patton's 3rd Army and served as a captain for most of the war. His unit was sent into Normandy a month after D-Day and surrounded German submarine stations for approximately four months. They were then moved into Luxembourg and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. After the battle, the troops crossed the Rhine River and occupied the Ruhr Valley area until the war ended. In Germany and later Czechoslovakia, Smith served in the occupation forces. When he heard of conditions at a concentration camp, Smith ordered the camp's commanders to vacate their homes and move into the camps, while the camp prisoners moved into the commanders' houses. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of major and a Bronze Star. On his way back home he won $4,000 playing craps. His winnings and the G.I. Bill financed his postwar education. He attended law school at the University of Florida, and graduated at the top of his class in only two years, in 1948.

Smith and his wife Vivian (d. 1987) moved back to Arcadia where he joined the law firm Treadwell and Treadwell. He worked there for two years before being hired at Holland, Bevis, and McRae in Bartow. He made partner in three years and within seven years Smith was running the firm. Early on, Smith advocated that the firm represent the phosphate companies in the area. After a discussion with the other partners, during which Senator Spessard Holland claimed that the future of the firm was in citrus, Smith's view won out. The phosphate business allowed the firm to prosper, but Smith realized the firm needed to diversify. In 1968, he negotiated a merger with the Tampa firm of Knight, Jones, Whitaker, and Germany. Other mergers and acquisitions followed and Holland & Knight, as it was now called, became the largest law firm in Florida. Smith stressed the value of the firm but also cultivated a work environment that encouraged pro bono work and community involvement.

While working at Holland & Knight, Smith became more involved in organized bar activities. He was elected to the board of governors of the Florida Bar in 1958 and president in 1964. While he was president he led the charge to build a new Bar Center in Tallahassee and to create the Client's Security Fund, a monetary fund designed for people who had been hurt by unethical lawyers. Smith was made a fellow of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers in 1962 and the American College of Trial Lawyers in 1965. He also was appointed by Lewis Powell to the Availability of Legal Services Committee of the American Bar Association. This committee led to more pro bono work in firms and the creation of the Legal Services Corporation. Smith became a life member of the American Bar Association in 1966.

Smith was appointed chairman of the 37-person Florida Constitution Revision Commission by Governor Hayden Burns in 1965. Florida's constitution had not been revised since 1885 and its politics were dominated by a group of powerful rural legislators known as the "Pork Chop Gang." Smith led the Commission, a group with very strong personalities, into drafting a document that would best serve all the people of the state. In 1968 the new constitution was accepted by the voters with many of the changes that Smith had championed. These included: "one man, one vote" representation, provisions for citizens' review, and uniform rules of procedure in Florida courts.

In 1973 Smith was elected President of the American Bar Association. On October 20, 1973, during the height of the Watergate scandal, an event known as the "Saturday Night Massacre" occurred. When Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed tapes from President Richard M. Nixon for the Watergate investigation, Nixon refused and demanded Cox be fired. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than comply with Nixon's order. Finally, Solicitor General Robert Bork fired Archibald Cox. Smith, as the head of the largest professional organization of lawyers in the nation, felt that he needed to take a stand. He condemned "this defiant flouting of laws and courts," and issued a much quoted statement saying, "No man is above the law." Smith also called on Congress to reestablish the special prosecutor's office. Whatever the members of the ABA may have thought about Smith's statement, his outspokenness certainly got their attention. Smith received both praise and condemnation for his actions.

On the opening night of the 1974 ABA meeting in Hawaii, Smith delivered a speech he had crafted with Shirley Hufstedler advocating amnesty for Vietnam draft-dodgers in Canada and amnesty for President Nixon. Smith believed that the nation had suffered enough and it was time to come together and put it in the past. This speech was controversial but it set the legal underpinnings for the eventual amnesty of draft-dodgers. He stated that this speech had the greatest impact of any speech he had ever made, including the one after the Saturday Night Massacre. Whereas other ABA presidents had shied away from controversy, Smith did not let anything get in the way of what he understood to be right and just. Many of his colleagues considered him the most effective president in the history of the ABA. Smith's willingness to take a tough stance and his dedication to the pursuit of justice made him a nationally recognized legal figure. Smith pushed for legal help for people of moderate means, removing secrecy from choosing and disciplining judges, and placement of non-lawyers on grievance committees. He managed to do all this, as well as give 200 speeches and travel over 225,000 miles addressing law schools, bar associations, and legal groups.

Smith influenced political appointments and policy while simultaneously building a national law firm that made pro bono service and diversity cornerstones of the practice. He was a mentor to talented women and minority lawyers. People took notice, and Smith received much recognition throughout his career. Some of the awards he received include: the Great Floridian Award (1997), American Bar Association Medal Award (1981), the Distinguished Floridian Award from the Florida Chamber of Commerce (first recipient, 1969), Jurisprudence Award of the Anti-Defamation League (1992), American Judicature Society, Justice Award (2002), and the Nelson Poynter Award from ACLU. The Smith Center for Equal Justice at Legal Services of Greater Miami is named in his honor. He was also awarded twelve honorary Doctor of Law degrees and was appointed by several Florida governors and federal judges to commissions relating to the judiciary and the law. In 1978 he was inducted into the Bartow Hall of Fame.

In 1983 Smith stepped down as managing partner and chair of Holland & Knight. He kept a very active role in the firm and earned the nickname "Citizen Smith." In 1987 he married Jacqueline Allee, a former dean at St. Thomas University and a partner at Holland & Knight. In 1991 Governor Chiles appointed Smith to the Commission for Government by the People. Smith also chaired the Civil Justice Advisory Commission to the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida from 1991-1993. He died of cardio-vascular complications on July 16, 2003.

Sources: In addition to articles, oral history interviews and other biographical material found in the collection, these sources were consulted for information about Smith's life and career: Interviews conducted for Chesterfield Smith: A Great Floridian (Great Floridians series, Museum of Florida History/Florida History Associates, 1997), and The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw (New York: Random House, 1998).


99.75 Linear feet (163 boxes)

Language of Materials



Papers relating to Chesterfield Smith's career as executive partner and principal architect of the law firm Holland & Knight, his tenure as President of the American Bar Association, and his involvement and influence in local, state, and national politics and law.


The Chesterfield Smith Papers are divided into 21 series.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Gift of Jacqueline Allee Smith, 2007.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in this collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

A Guide to the Chesterfield Smith Papers
Finding aid created by Katherine Walters
June 2009
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America