The Key West Seccession
It all started in early 1982. With raised concerns over drug smuggling in the Florida Keys, the United States Border Patrol set up a blockade and checkpoint on Highway 1 at Florida City. The agents began stopping and checking cars, searching glove boxes, the spaces under seats and trunks. The only real result was the 17 mile traffic jam on the only road into the Keys.
At the same time, the media began to spread news of a new type of border check located deeply within the United States. As reservations were cancelled, hotels in Key West emptied and deliveries were delayed—commerce in Key West shut down.
The Key West community leaders met with the Mayor to formulate a response to the threat to the island’s tourist industry posed by the federal government. Suddenly, there were those talking about secession, as Mayor Wardlow, Commissioner Ed Swift, and Attorney David Paul Horan flew to the city of Miami to visit the federal courthouse with the intention of filing an injunction. This failed when the court refused to order the Border Patrol to cease roadblock operations.
As the press moved into Key West, the Mayor announced that Key West would be seceding from the rest of the United States. When preparations were announced, the city became divided, and many Key West citizens were emotional when the American flag was removed in favor of the new Key West flag.
It didn’t take long for the federal government to act as rumours of mass arrest and martial law were rampant when Mayor Wardlow and several other Keys loyalists assembled on the back of a flatbed truck parked in front of an old building. As the Mayor gave a proclamation of secession on April 23rd 1982, the newly titled Prime Minister Wardlow and other members of the new government broke 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.
No aid was ever forthcoming—but the week-long Conch Republic independence celebration is still held each year from April 18th-27th and is still considered to be one of the best parties in the Keys.