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Charles Edward Bennett (December 2 1910September 6 2003) was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Floridamarker from 1949 to 1993. He was a Democrat who resided in Jacksonville, Floridamarker.

Early years

He was born in Canton, New York and moved to Floridamarker by the end of his childhood. He graduated from high school in Tampa, Floridamarker. Bennett is an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.

In the history of the University of Floridamarker, he is the only person to have served as editor of The Independent Florida Alligator, the student newspaper, and thereafter president of the student body. As editor of the Alligator, he wrote editorial in favor of isolation and against the nation becoming involved in foreign wars.

After graduating with a Juris Doctorate in 1934, he practiced law in Jacksonville and was elected to the Florida state legislature in 1941. From 1942-1947 he served with distinction in the United States Army as a guerilla fighter during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. While there, he contracted polio which left his legs paralyzed for the remainder of his life. He was awarded the Bronze and Silver Stars and was discharged as a Captain.

He married wife Dorothy Jean in 1953 and they had four children: Lucinda (Cindy), Charles Junior (who died in 1977 from a drug overdose), James and Bruce.

Political career

After the war, he was elected to Congress from what was then the 2nd District. He was re-elected 21 more times from this Jacksonville-based district, which was renumbered as the 3rd District in 1967. He rarely faced serious opposition, even as Jacksonville fell under increasing Republican influence.

In 1951, he began proposing a code of ethics for government employees, nicknamed The Ten Commandments. After the Sherman Adams affair, the document was adopted as the first Code of ethics for Government Service in 1958. In 1955, he sponsored the bill that added the words In God We Trust to both the nation's coins and currency. He signed the Southern Manifesto, but later sought and received strong support in Jacksonville's growing black community.

To prove to his constituents that his handicap did not interfere with his serving in Congress, he amassed the record for the longest unbroken string of recorded roll call votes without being absent when the roll was called. Each year, he returned his veterans disability pension to the U. S. Treasury to reduce the national debt. Leftover campaign funds were given to the National Park Service. According to the Almanac of American Politics 1980, "He opposes unofficial office accounts, outside income for members and congressional pay raises, which led one colleague to call him 'a bit too pious.' "

However, his staunch ethical stance appeared to be too much for his colleagues in the House of Representatives, who nicknamed him, "Mr. Clean". Although he was responsible for the establishment of the first temporary committee on ethics in the House, when the first permanent committee was established, he was not named to the panel.

Based on seniority, he was in line to become chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, one of the most powerful panels in the body. However, he was defeated for the post by Les Aspin.

Bennett was set to run for a 23rd term in 1992 in the newly renumbered 4th District against Jacksonville City Council president Tillie Fowler--his strongest Republican opponent in decades. However, he abruptly ended his bid for reelection when his wife became ill in the spring of 1992. Fowler went on to win in November.

History

Charles Bennett was an historical scholar who researched and wrote nine books about the history of north Florida, including General MacGregor: Hero or Rogue, Laudonniere & Fort Caroline, Three Voyages and Twelve on the River St. Johns.The Fort Caroline National Memorialmarker and the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve were both created through his efforts.He is the only person to receive the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the society stated, "His contributions of original research and his additions to the body of knowledge on the area’s history are staggering."The Charles E. and Dorothy J. Bennett Fund was established in 2008 at the University of Florida to encourage research and publication of Florida history.

Death

Bennett suffered a heart attack and a stroke in 2002 and his health steadily declined. He died in Jacksonville in 2003 at age 92 and is buried at Arlington National Cemeterymarker. He is still the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in Florida's history.

The Charles E. Bennett Federal Building in Jacksonville is named after him as is the Charles E. Bennett Elementary School in Green Cove Springs, Floridamarker. The bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Jacksonville's Wonderwood Connector was dedicated on August 27, 2004 as the Charles E. Bennett Memorial Bridge.

A life-size cast bronze statue of Bennett was installed on a granite base in a shady corner of Hemming Plazamarker on April 23, 2004.

References

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