Inside the Conch Republic Independence Celebration
“Dedicated to the fundamentally American spirit of a people unafraid to stand up to ‘government gone mad with power’ that embodied the founding of the Conch Republic in 1982. As the world’s first fifth world nation, a sovereign state of mind seeking only to bring more humor, warmth and respect to a world in sore need of all three, the Conch Republic remains the country who seceded where others failed.” Sir Peter Anderson, Secretary General of the Conch Republic
In early 1982, citing concerns over increased human and drug smuggling activity in the Florida Keys, the United States Border Patrol set up a blockade and check point on US Highway 1 at Florida City, the first major town on the Florida mainland north of the Keys. Agents began stopping and searching cars and questioning drivers, with the most immediate result being a seventeen-mile long traffic jam on the only road leading to and from the Keys.
When the alarming news of a border checkpoint located deep within United States’ territory spread across the nation and the world, the developing Keys tourist industry felt the first impacts. Reservations were canceled, hotels emptied, deliveries delayed, and commerce and tourism in Key West effectively shut down. Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow and community leaders gathered to formulate a response to the threat to the island’s nascent tourist industry. As a first step, Mayor Wardlow, Commissioner Ed Swift, and Attorney David Paul Horan flew to Miami to file an injunction in federal court. Despite Horan’s brilliant argument, the court refused to order the Border Patrol to cease roadblock operations.
As the Key Westers left the courthouse, members of the media demanded to know what Mayor Wardlow’s next response would be. On the advice of Counselor Horan, the Mayor announced that Key West would be seceding from the Union. When the Mayor’s party returned to Key West, announcements were made and preparations for secession were begun. The city was divided and emotions ran high, because many citizens were loath to see the American flag struck in favor of the new Conch Republic banner. Others were afraid of Central Government reaction as blue-suited Federal Agents began to pour into town.
Fears of mass arrest and martial law were very real when Mayor Wardlow and several staunch Keys loyalists assembled on the back of a flatbed truck parked in front of the Old Customs building in Clinton square and delivered a Proclamation of Secession on April 23, 1982. Following the Proclamation, the new Prime Minister and other members of the new government symbolically attacked the US by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a US Navy sailor.
After a one-minute rebellion, Prime Minister Wardlow surrendered to the Admiral in charge of the Key West Naval Station, and immediately demanded billions in foreign aid and war relief funding from the United States Government. Although no official response to the secession was ever forthcoming from the central government in Washington DC, in terms of aid money or otherwise, proud citizens of the Conch Republic continue to obtain passports and government information from the official Conch Republic web portal.
More importantly, the week-long Conch Republic Independence Celebration held each year from April 18-27 is one of the best parties in the Keys! The 2014 extravaganza begins at High Noon on Friday, April 18th with the raising of the colors at Fort Taylor, followed by a 7:00 pm kick-off party at the Schooner Wharf Bar. The celebration continues with special events and parties throughout the week, leading up to the Conch Republic Naval Parade & Great Battle for the Conch Republic in Key West Harbor at 7:00 pm on Friday, April 25th, and a final weekend of fun highlighted by The Conch Crawl – The World’s Longest Bar Stroll from the Atlantic to the Gulf, followed at 7:00 pm by the Pirate’s Ball & Pig Roast at the Schooner Wharf Bar. The Independence Celebration is a wonderful time to come on down and take part in the Key West state of mind.
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