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Congressman James A. Haley: An Overview

By Jeffrey Zines, Archives Technician

Soldier, businessman, community leader, politician, and statesman, James A. Haley served his nation for over sixty years.

James Andrew Haley was born in Anniston, Alabama on January 4, 1899.  He served in the United States Army in France during the First World War and attended the University of Alabama upon his return home.  In 1920, he relocated to Sarasota, Florida where he worked as an accountant and auditor.  In 1933, he became the general manager of the John Ringling estate.

In 1942, he married Aubrey Ringling, widow of Richard T. Ringling

Aubrey Ringling sitting at a desk
Aubrey Haley (no date)
In 1942, James A. Haley became first vice-president of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus organization. He became president of the organization in 1945.
James Haley standing outside a circus tentJames A. Haley, left, with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus (no date)

In 1944, a fire broke out as the circus was performing in Hartford, Connecticut. Over one-hundred people were killed, many of whom were children. Haley and five other members of the circus pleaded no-contest to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. He spent a year in prison before he was pardoned by Florida Governor Millard Caldwell.

James Haley at a desk with John Ringling. Ringling writes on a piece of paper while Haley and a group of people watch
James Haley with John T. Ringling (no date)

James A. Haley was involved in Democratic Party politics, as well as many civic and veterans' organizations in the Sarasota area.  An act of the Florida Legislature restored his full civil right and in 1948 he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives.  He was subsequently re-elected in 1950.  In 1951, he was chosen to head a committee assigned to the investigation of crime and corruption in state government.

People standing in front of their cars in a line
Campaign Photo (c. 1954)

Campaign poster: Re-elect Haley For Congress, Dem. Paid for by Frank D. Henderson, Campaign Treasurer.

A group of people posing for a photo in front of a sign reading "Democratic Headquarters"
Campaign Photo (Undated)

James Haley served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1952, 1956, and 1960.

A group of people holding "Smathers for President" signs

In the above picture, Haley is in the center, showing his support for Florida Senator George Smathers, the "favorite son" candidate for president at the 1960 Democratic Convention in Los Angeles.

James Haley sitting in his officeHaley in his office at the Longworth House Office Building (c. early 1960s)

James Haley standing on the steps to the Capitol BuildingHaley in his office at the Longworth House Office Building (c. early 1960s)

Congressman Haley's time in office spanned one of the most turbulent and fascinating periods in American History.  Issues ranging from Civil Rights and Communism to Vietnam and Watergate dominated the headlines.  Haley's congressional papers (at the McKay Archives, Florida Southern College) contain correspondence, articles, and documents relating to nearly every major and minor issue of the 1950s through the 1970s.

James Haley and Alice Myers holding large mail bagsJames Haley and Alice Myers check the mail (no date)

During his twelve terms in congress, James Haley served on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Haley serving on the Veterans' Affairs CommitteeHouse Veterans' Affairs Leadership (c. 1969)

He also served as chairman of the Hospital Subcommittee and the Indian Affairs Subcommittee.

From 1973-1977, he served as chairman of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs.

House Interior and Insular Affairs CommitteeHouse Interior and Insular Affairs Committee (July 28, 1961)

James Haley sitting at a desk in front of several flags

Haley at the Hawaiian Statehood HearingHawaiian Statehood Hearing, House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs (c.1955)

James A. Haley retired from the United States Congress on January 3, 1977 and was succeeded by Andy Ireland. Haley passed away at his home in Sarasota on August 6, 1981

For more information on James A. Haley, please visit the James A. Haley Congressional Papers at the Sarah D. and L. Kirk McKay Archives Center at Florida Southern College.