It was with this uncle that Broward first worked on the river, doing odd jobs on his uncle's steamboat during the summer. In 1876, having graduated high school, Broward became a ship's mate and traveled to New England, where he stayed for two years, taking odd jobs on ships up and down the New England coast. He returned to Jacksonville in 1878 and took a job working tugboats on the St. Johns River.
Broward married his captain's daughter (Georgiana Carolina "Carrie" Kemp) in January 1883. That spring he applied for a license to lead ships over the St. Johns Bar, a constantly shifting sandbar that stretched across the mouth of the St. Johns, sometimes above water and sometimes many feet below; piloting ships over the treacherous bar was quite lucrative. Broward seemed destined for a life of comfort when in December his wife died during childbirth; Broward's son died a few days later.
Broward withdrew from the river for a while and again traveled north, but by 1885 he was back on the St. Johns, piloting his father-in-law's steamboat Kate Spencer. On the ship he met Annie Isabell Douglass, a frequent passenger.They were married in 1887.
Broward soon took an active part in city politics. In the early 1890s the Democratic Party in Florida was undergoing some internal strife. Two factions developed in Jacksonville that eventually became the major statewide camps, the Antis and the Straightouts. The Antis were conservative and pro-business, whereas the Straightouts were Populists and agrarians; Broward fell in with the Straightout camp.
In the election of 1892, the Straightouts, under Broward's leadership, swept the city offices - Broward's close friends, John N.C. Stockton and John M. Barrs, became city attorney and councilman, respectively, while Broward retained the sheriff's office. The Antis were not dead yet, though; two years later, the split between the two camps was more severe. Antis and Straightouts accused each other of vote fraud, complaining to the secretary of state and the governor; Anti sympathizers held most of the state offices, and the Antis won out. Broward was removed from office and Antis again took over the city.
Broward continued this filibustering operation until President William McKinley declared war on Spain. Several times he was nearly caught and destroyed by Spanish gunboats; the Spanish ambassador to the United States demanded that Broward be stopped and his ship impounded. U.S. authorities attempted to do just that, but Broward managed to thwart them, by loading The Three Friends under cover of darkness in secluded locations, by hiding her behind larger ships as she left the St. Johns, and by picking up Cubans and munitions from other ships at various points near the mouth of the river. Except when trying to evade capture, though, Broward never pretended not to be a filibusterer, and gained notoriety around the state for his deeds.
Broward was not naïve when it came to politics. As a Straightout and supporter of the "common man," Broward would have been naturally opposed to Flagler's control of the party nominating system in the state. It tended to produce Democratic candidates from the Anti faction, and as Florida was at the time a one-party state, it also ensured Anti control of the state government. Broward was smart enough to sponsor Flagler's requested divorce bill, but still wanted power out of the big man's hands.
Broward began campaigning immediately. His strongest opponent was Robert W. Davis, the railroad (and hence Flagler) candidate; two other candidates presented smaller threats. Broward hit Davis early and throughout the election for being a railroad man; Davis and the city newspapers generally derided Broward as a liberal whose time had passed and an idiot.
The greatest issue in the campaign was Everglades drainage, a program first examined by the sitting governor, William S. Jennings. Broward came out strongly in favor of drainage, calling the ground "the fabulous muck" and carrying with him an elevation map of the various parts of the Glades; when Broward found that he was losing an argument over drainage, he would point to his map and say, "Water will run downhill!"
Davis and Broward easily moved ahead into the second primary, and the campaign grew fiercer, with Davis at one point saying, "Mr. Broward is a man of but little ability and no intellectual brilliance whatever?" Broward used Davis' Congressional record to hit him for his railroad ties again and again. Broward appealed to few urban voters and no business interests, while Davis could not win support among farmers or rural voters. On election day, Broward's rural voters gave him the victory by only 600 votes out of 45,000. The general election some weeks later was uneventful, and Broward was inaugurated on January 3, 1905.
It was through this drainage program that Broward gained national prominence. As his administration progressed, Broward became more involved in Washington, getting federal funds for the drainage project and eventually bringing President Roosevelt down to the Glades for a trip through the drainage areas. Roosevelt was an avid supporter of drainage and became an important advocate for the program.
Broward did tackle other problems during his tenure as governor. The state universities were in bad shape and Broward determined that they were not offering an education beyond the high school level. Broward helped guide a reorganization bill through the legislature which closed some of the schools and set up a commission to determine where the remaining schools should be located. A fight ensued about where to locate the major state university, which at the time was in Lake City. The Control Board (consisting of Broward and the cabinet) eventually selected Gainesville, and for many weeks there were accusations by both cities that the commission members had been bought off.
Broward introduced a bill to the legislature in 1905 directing the state to provide life insurance for its citizens and setting up an Insurance Commission and a cabinet-level post to go along with the program, but the legislature was uninterested and voted the bill down with little debate. Broward also supported measures creating a state textbook commission, reforming the state hospital system, and making the state's Railroad Commission permanent.
In December 1908, U.S. Senator Stephen R. Mallory, Jr. died suddenly and Broward appointed William James Bryan, who was his campaign manager and already a candidate for the seat, to fill the vacancy. Newspapers criticized Bryan, then only 31, with the Tampa Tribune saying, "if Mr. Bryan has given any symptoms of being worthy of this distinction then we are utterly at a loss to know it; it must be a weighty secret hidden in the governor's brain."
Despite all his work, Broward and Stockton both lost. Newspapers statewide loudly proclaimed the end of the Broward era, and the drainage project seemed doomed. But Broward was not through. The 1908 Democratic National Convention was to be held shortly in Denver, and Broward planned to attend. He had been mentioned for months in newspapers throughout the South as a potential candidate for the Vice Presidency, and he was nationally known through his drainage work and for his earlier filibustering. Upon his arrival in Denver he was greeted by banners reading' "Bryan, Broward, and Bread," and an editorial in the Denver Post spoke very favorably of him, concluding that he was an excellent choice for the position. But presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan telegraphed from his home that he wanted a Midwesterner, rather than a Southerner. Although the crowd at the convention continued to back Broward, Bryan was able to name his own candidate.
The 1908 election was not all bad for Broward. Fletcher was an old friend and still a mild progressive, and Gilchrist proved to be much more liberal than anyone had believed, becoming an avid supporter of drainage and greatly furthering the program.
In 1910 James Taliaferro's Senate seat was up for election. Big city newspapers endorsed Taliaferro for re-election, but Broward soon entered the race against him. The race, expected to be an exciting showdown, proved to be such a bore that election news was pushed off the front page by coverage of Halley's Comet. Broward and Taliaferro entered the second primary after a quiet election.
The second primary campaign proved scarcely more interesting, though Broward took to the stump, travelling throughout the state. After an exciting election eve rally at which Broward's supporters got so carried away that Taliaferro left in disgust, Broward pulled out a victory.
Exhausted by the campaign, Broward retired with his family to the beach at Fort George. Late in September Broward took ill with gallstones, which had been a concern for some months though Broward had been too busy for surgery. He languished in the hospital for a few days, and died just before he was to enter surgery. He was buried on October 4. The Florida Times-Union wrote,
Broward remains one of the very few Florida politicians to achieve any lasting national recognition, and was for many years after his death the one Florida politician whose name was still known by many in the state (Claude Pepper being one of the others). As recently as the 1950s, Floridians still referred to the Broward Era and to Browardism—remarkable staying power in a state that changed as much and as quickly as did Florida. The main aspect of his legacy was the draining of the Everglades- opponents have argued this damaged the Everglades more than helped, while pro-Broward, and pro-Floridan supporters have recognized the longterm agritarian effects his efforts had on the Florida citrus industry making it into the international powerhouse it is today. Broward remains a rather bright and fascinating star in Florida's admittedly questionable political constellation.