Charles E. Bennett Papers
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 disabled people. 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.
- Majority of material found within 1949-1992
- Bennett, Charles E., 1910-2003. (Person)
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.
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 disabled individuals. He co-sponsored the Americans with Disabilities Act, fought for architectural improvements to aid disabled persons, 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.
253.5 Linear feet (190 Boxes, 9 Volumes and 1 Oversize Folder)
Language of Materials
Congressional papers of U.S. Representative Charles E. Bennett from Florida.
The Charles E. Bennett Papers are divided into 14 records series.
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.
Gift of Charles E. Bennett.
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.
This finding aid was revised in August 2022. Recognizing that historical terms do not always completely or directly map to contemporary terms, that historical terms can be offensive or inaccurately describe a person or group, and that the presence of both historical and contemporary terms may be useful for researcher discovery, the archivist has attempted to employ historical terms as they originally appear in the context of the collection, in the description, along with contemporary terms in brackets. In the case of direct quotes and published works, the archivist has retained the language as it originally appeared. Copies of the finding aid with the original language have been retained for historical record.
- A Guide to the Charles E. Bennett Papers
- Finding aid created by Dept. Staff
- July 2011 (Updated August 2022)
- Description rules
- Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is written in English.
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