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Floyd Davidson Spence Papers

Identifier: SCU-SCPC-FDS

The Spence papers are divided into six series comprising 74 linear feet of material, chiefly 1970 to 2001. The series are Public Papers, Personal Papers, Travel, Speeches, Audiovisual, and Clippings. Public papers are further divided into Administrative, Contacts, Public Relations, Schedules, Topical, and Voting Record files.

In the Public papers, the Topical subseries includes material on the issues and legislation coming before Congress. These files tend to include memos, reports, bill language, notes for floor or committee remarks, and, particularly, extensive clippings which Spence read and annotated as part of his work on such issues. Clippings have been photocopied. There is little correspondence to or from constituents, with the exception of a library of form letters generated by Spence‘s office to be sent in reply to constituent issue mail. Documents printed on thermal fax paper were generally faded beyond legibility and were photocopied or scanned where possible.

Because of the extremely complex nature of the Topical material, particularly in the field of Armed Services, researchers should consider that relevant material may be found in several different areas within the subseries. For example, the budget process in any given year includes ample information on the legislative authorization, administration, and progress of various programs and projects being considered for funding. Material on National Security includes information on other countries‘ military power, debates on the direction of geopolitics during and after the Cold War, and assessments of nuclear and other weaponry.

More than half of the Topical subseries is made up of files relating to national defense and military operations and readiness. Files on the Navy and on each year‘s military budget process document Spence‘s earlier work on the Seapower Subcommittee and his rise to increasing power on the HASC. In addition, there is extensive documentation of Spence‘s service as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and his efforts to shore up military spending and Congressional support.

Of particular note are Spence‘s reports on readiness, mainly issued as part of his role as HASC chairman. He also wrote and spoke extensively on the subject. Undated speech notes, circa 1999, state "My highest priority as an American, a Member of Congress and Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is to ensure that our nation is properly defended. My goal: Change DoD [Department of Defense] to Department of Offense....We face more threats than ever—more varied. We are unprepared to deal with them. Most people are unaware of both of these facts." Spence seemed to see the decline of the military as indicative of an overall decline in American strength and values. An ever-present theme in his speeches and notes on the subject is the need to show leadership on the world stage, to "show rest of world we‘re still same kind of people our forefathers were." One of Spence‘s particular issues of interest, documented in numerous files, was the potential construction of a ballistic missile defense system for the United States.

One of the most important issues facing Spence in the early part of his Congressional career was the preservation of the Congaree Swamp, located in his district. The area was and is one of the last remaining examples of an old-growth floodplain forest in the Southeast United States. Concerned about private owners cutting timber from the land, conservation groups began a national campaign to protect the land as a federal preserve, asking Spence to introduce legislation to that effect. He declined to do so, citing the need for more studies to be conducted. As a result, he became one of the main targets for letter-writing campaigns and public criticism by environmentalists. Several clippings assert that this was the issue on which Spence had received the most constituent mail since coming to Congress, and the files include a sampling of correspondence both to and from constituents and lobbying groups. In a 6 October 1975 response to Dr. Edmund Taylor of Columbia, Spence wrote, "While you were very kind to suggest that everything depends on me, as I stated in the press a few days ago, I cannot get a bill through Congress by myself. My objective is to make an honest determination of what should be done and I do not believe I can do this without the benefit of recommendations from state and local officials and agencies, as well as an updated study by the National Park Service." Also included in the files on the issue are information on the taking of private property by the government, studies of the swamp and the comparable Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas, air quality reports, and maps. After much controversy, a portion of the swamp was established as a national monument in 1976. Despite this designation, there were ongoing calls for increased federal protections for the area, which finally resulted in the land being granted national park status in 2003.

Also of interest are files relating to the House Ethics Committee, formally known as the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. Spence‘s tenure on the committee included the investigations into the Abscam bribery scandal and the "Koreagate" scandal of the late 1970s.

Files created and named by Spence are listed in the box list in quotes and italics.

The Administrative series contains a limited amount of correspondence with constituents, mainly regarding appearances and assistance given by Spence. There are also files pertaining to Spence‘s Congressional staff and their responsibilities and work. Spence in his Rayburn Building office with HASC colleagues Duncan Hunter and Saxby Chambliss.

Schedules files contain copies of daily schedules prepared by staff, as well as requests for meetings and background information.

Contacts consist of index card files (called "Good Little Cards" by Spence and his staff) and loose business cards, mostly annotated, documenting Spence‘s personal and professional contacts. The earliest cards date from his time in the South Carolina Senate; many were created or updated as late as 2001. The cards include such information as where Spence met someone, mutual acquaintances, addresses and phone numbers, and names of family members. They also document campaign contributions or volunteer service, issue mail or casework requests sent to Spence‘s office, and social exchanges. Many include comments such as "helped FDS form Lexington County Historical Society" or "was 'water boy‘ at USC when FDS ran track."

Public Relations includes articles written by Spence, notes and talking points provided by staff for interviews and television appearances, and newsletters and questionnaires sent to constituents. Of particular note is an article Spence wrote for Brown University‘s Journal of World Affairs in 1996, "What to Fight For? American Interests and the Use of Force," as well as a warm tribute to fellow Congressman and Veterans‘ Affairs Chairman Sonny Montgomery, who was instrumental in facilitating Spence‘s lung transplant surgery in his home state of Mississippi.

Personal files chiefly consist of campaign materials from Spence‘s many races. Also present are papers relating to Spence‘s education, Naval service, family, and membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and St. Peter‘s Lutheran Church. There is also extensive material regarding Spence‘s medical problems and his two resulting organ transplants—a double lung transplant in 1988 and a kidney transplant in 2000. Early in his illness, his doctors were unsure of the nature of his lung ailment. Many different diagnoses, including allergies, were suggested and numerous courses of treatment tried. Also of note are files relating to the interest Spence took in other transplant recipients and candidates. He often made personal calls or wrote notes of encouragement to such patients at the request of friends, staff, or constituents.

Travel files mostly depict Spence‘s participation in official Congressional travel ("CODELs") abroad, with some personal and Republican Party-related travel. A sizable portion of the series relates to Spence‘s travel from 1991 to 2001 as a participant in the North Atlantic Assembly (now the NATO Parliamentary Assembly), a meeting of members of the legislative bodies of NATO countries. The travel files include briefing materials, schedules, meeting agendas, invitations, and notes and diary entries made by Spence. He was an avid collector of souvenirs, including postcards, menus, and information on sights, stores, and restaurants he visited. Corresponding photographs from his travels are found in the Audiovisual series.

Speeches includes General files, mostly speech texts and talking points for specific speeches, and Speech Material, which consists largely of quotes, anecdotes, general talking points on a variety of subjects, and notes. An attached speech index lists the identifiable speech texts in the General files. Texts of and notes for speeches made on the floor of the House, and statements made in committee hearings and meetings, are mostly found in the Topical series.

The Audiovisual materials include a large number of audio recordings from the mid-1970s, as well as extensive photographs. The photographs include many of his travels and of events he attended, as well as portraits and photos of him with various dignitaries.

Clippings files contain mostly news articles which mention Spence, many of which were collected by clippings services or office staff. Spence collected and made notes on many more news clippings as part of his work as a Member of Congress, and those clippings are retained in the Topical files.


  • 1928 - 2007



Library use only


75 Linear Feet


This large collection primarily documents Floyd Davidson Spence's tenure serving South Carolina's 2nd District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971-2001, where he chaired the Committee on National Security, later renamed the Committee on Armed Services (1995-2000). Spence served in the S.C. House of Representatives (Lexington County) from 1957-1962, when he announced he was leaving the Democratic Party and would run for Congress as a Republican, making him the first notable office holder in S.C. to switch parties. He served as minority leader in the S.C. Senate from 1966-1970.

Biographical Note

"His tireless efforts on behalf of our national defense are a testimony to his enduring will to serve and to triumph in the face of adversity." –Gov. Jim Hodges, upon Spence‘s death, August 2001

"He said he was a common man, but he was a very uncommon man, an extraordinary man. He was tried in his life, many times and in many ways. He endured those trials with grace and no bitterness." –Dr. Seshadri Raju, surgeon in his lung transplant, at Spence‘s funeral, Aug. 22, 2001

"Floyd was a bit of an anomaly in Washington, a soft-spoken gentle man, who was proudly one of the staunchest hawks in Congress." –Vice President Dick Cheney, at Spence‘s funeral

Floyd Davidson Spence was born in Columbia on April 9, 1928 to James W. and Addie Lucas Spence. Spence‘s father, employed by what would become South Carolina Electric and Gas, settled the family in West Columbia and Lexington, investing in land around newly constructed Lake Murray. Floyd Spence played football at Lexington High School, earning him an athletic scholarship to the University of South Carolina, where he made his mark as president of the student body as well as a star athlete in football, track, and basketball. He graduated in 1952 and married Lula Hancock Drake in December of that year. They went on to have four sons: Floyd, Jr. (David), Zachariah, Benjamin, and Caldwell.

Even before starting college Spence had registered for training in the Naval Reserve, and after graduating he served aboard the USS Carter Hall and USS LSM 397. He remained in the Reserve until the 1980s, serving for a time as Group Commander of Naval Reserve Units in Columbia, and retiring with the rank of Captain.

Returning to Columbia from his active duty, Spence earned a law degree from USC in 1956 and established a law practice, Callison and Spence, in West Columbia. He first ran for office that same year, winning a seat in the South Carolina House as a Democrat. He served for six years. One of his most notable accomplishments was serving on the joint committee which worked toward establishing South Carolina‘s technical education system.

In 1962, he switched from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, a landmark event in a state which, typical of the South, was at that time thoroughly dominated at the state and local levels by the Democrats. In a statement about his decision, he said: "My basic convictions are being compromised by remaining in the South Carolina Democratic Party," due to "trends in this country toward a more centralized government with its utter disregard for the rights of the individual and our local governments." In making this move, Spence became the first Democratic officeholder in South Carolina to switch parties. At the same time, he announced his candidacy for the Second Congressional District seat left vacant by the death of Congressman John J. Riley. He was ultimately defeated in the race by Democrat Albert Watson, who had the backing of influential U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond. Ironically, both Thurmond and Watson became Republicans themselves within three years of the 1962 Congressional race. Spence‘s action in switching parties was a harbinger of things to come across the South.

In 1966, Spence returned to public life by winning election to the South Carolina Senate, where he was the lone Republican. In 1970, after four years as a state senator, Spence ran again for the Second Congressional District seat. He won a narrow victory in the first of what would be sixteen successful races for the seat. Thereafter, he rarely faced a serious challenge in his re-election efforts. His 1970 campaign literature foreshadowed his eventual legislative interests and emphases, highlighting his status as "one of South Carolina‘s most knowledgeable authorities on Communism and Subversion" and stating that "a strong America is essential to world freedom as well as our individual freedom."

As a freshman legislator, Spence won a coveted seat on the House Armed Services Committee, an unusual achievement that may have been partly due to the recent death of South Carolina‘s HASC giant, Mendel Rivers, in 1971, as well as to the presence of Columbia‘s Fort Jackson in Spence‘s district. He served on that committee throughout his tenure in Congress, and was also a longtime member of the House Ethics Committee. One of his early legislative efforts was the introduction of a balanced budget amendment in 1971. However, during his early years in Congress, he seemed to be generally best known for his warm personal style. He acquired the nickname "The Kissing Congressman" after Washington Post columnist Dorothy McCardle received the signature courtly Spence treatment. A brochure from Spence‘s 1972 campaign comments, "Probably the new Republican House member already knows more of his fellow members than any other first-termer. An outgoing, gregarious man, Spence has made it a point to drop in on other Congressional offices to chat. He introduces himself to the entire staff, and sips a cup of coffee with them. 'I‘ve gotten a wonderful response from my visits,‘Spence notes."

As early as the late 1970s Spence was actively involved in military issues, particularly through his work on the Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, which helped oversee naval shipbuilding programs. By 1982 he was the ranking member on the subcommittee. The mid-to late 1980s, however, were a difficult time for Spence. His wife, Lula, had passed away in 1978 due to a stroke, and his own health declined precipitously due to what was variously described as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. By 1987, his respiratory disease had been progressing for at least ten years. Discussing his efforts to keep up his Congressional work during that time, Spence recalled: "It would take me about three hours in the morning to get ready to come to work. I couldn‘t even brush my teeth without stopping to rest." [Greenville News, 9 Apr. 1989] He was confined to a wheelchair and used portable oxygen, and doctors were pessimistic. Nonetheless, Spence sought out a new experimental lung transplant program at the University of Mississippi.

In May 1988, Spence was notified of a possible lung donor match, and underwent a double-lung transplant--only the fourth ever done in the U.S. Afterwards, he considered the date of the transplant, May 6, as a secondary "birthday" for him. He and his second wife, Deborah Williams, were married in the hospital during his recovery, and both were active for years in transplant advocacy and patient organizations. In addition, Spence was contacted by the family of his organ donor, and he became close friends with the donor‘s mother, Laura Saxon.

By the early 1990s, Spence had moved up in seniority on Armed Services, and, restored to health, took on a more forceful, leading role. He was outspoken in budget debates and on issues pertaining to personnel and the concept of "readiness." He was particularly dismayed by cuts made by President Bill Clinton in military spending, and convinced that what he saw as a general lack of support for the military was due to a widely-held misconception, among Congressional colleagues as well as the public, that the world was becoming safer. "The average American is neither aware of how threatening the post Cold War world is, nor aware of the fact that our military is confronting the most serious quality of life, readiness and modernization shortfalls in a generation--since the 'hollow military‘ days of the late 1970s. As long as they remain unaware or unconvinced, Americans are much more likely to be focused on the potential benefits of a tax cut, debt reduction or increased social spending..." [Spence comments in HNSC hearing with former chiefs, 7 Oct. 1998]

Spence‘s elevation to Ranking Member of the Armed Services Committee, in the 103rd Congress, was quickly followed by his becoming chairman of the committee with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives following the 1994 election. He would serve in that highly visible role for the next five years. There seemed to be the potential for a dramatic shift in Congressional leadership on military issues, especially with Spence and fellow South Carolinian Strom Thurmond holding the chairmanships of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees respectively.

However, the mechanics of the budget function in the House, as well as the priorities of the House leadership, made it difficult for Spence to make substantive changes in military funding. His frustration is apparent in undated notes he made, where he complained that the Budget Committee, "controlled by liberals," settled on a binding budget figure for defense with "no hearings, expertise, no consideration of threat or alliance & commitments—a political figure." The first budget process (FY1996) under Republican leadership was especially rocky. Despite the fact that "liberals" no longer controlled the House‘s priorities for spending and policy, Spence still seemed limited by the realities of intraparty politics. Tom Donnelly, a HASC staff member, wrote in a 2001 remembrance of Spence for The Weekly Standard:


He was in some ways out of step with the GOP by the time of the Republican Revolution of 1994....Gingrich‘s revolutionaries represented a younger generation of conservative politicians, a post-Vietnam and even a post-Cold War cohort who came to Washington intending first and foremost to reduce the size of government, restrain spending, and lower taxes. Though they considered themselves heirs of Ronald Reagan, they...saw the Pentagon as a wasteful federal bureaucracy. For Spence, whose defense program was simple and clear--'Mo‘ money'--the realization that his ostensibly conservative allies had no wish to restore the defense funds cut in the early Clinton years was deeply shocking.

Nevertheless, Spence continued his efforts to draw attention to the problem, if not remedy it to the extent he would have wished. At the same time, Spence was noted for a generally courteous and cooperative spirit in working with both Republican and Democratic colleagues. After Spence‘s death, Congressman John Spratt (D-SC) noted,"There was a civility and kindness about the man that made him effective with Members on both sides of the aisle."

Spence remained as chairman of Armed Services until 2000, when the House Republican Conference‘s internal term limits required him to step down. That same year, his kidneys damaged by anti-rejection medication for his lungs, he received a transplanted kidney from his oldest son, David. In 2001, Spence began to suffer from Bell‘s palsy and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, both neurological problems, and subsequently underwent surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. The surgery was considered a success, but Spence ultimately passed away on August 16.

Spence‘s casket lay in state in the State House before he was buried in Lexington. At the time of his death he was among the ten most senior Members of Congress. In the special election held to fill his vacant seat, the Second District elected Addison "Joe" Wilson, alongtime Spence protégé.


Donated by the Honorable Floyd D. Spence. Additions, 2013, donated by Mr. Hemrick N. Salley.


Copyright of the Floyd Spence Papers has been transferred to the University of South Carolina.

Processing Information

Processed by Dorothy Hazelrigg, 2009; additions by Katharine Klein, 2011; additions by Chelsea Grayburn, 2014.

Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA

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