The area of Spanish Florida diminished with the establishment of British colonies to the north and French colonies to the west. The English weakened Spanish power in the area by supplying their Creek Indian allies with firearms and urging them to raid the Timucuan and Apalachee client-tribes of the Spanish. The English attacked St. Augustine, burning the city and its cathedral to the ground several times, while the citizens hid behind the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos. The Spanish, meanwhile, encouraged slaves to flee the British-held Carolinas and come to Florida, where they were converted to Roman Catholicism and given freedom. They settled in a buffer community north of St. Augustine, called Gracie Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, the first completely black settlement in what would become the United States. Great Britain gained control of Florida diplomatically in 1763 through the Peace of Paris (the Castillo de San Marcos surrendered for the first time, having never been taken militarily). England tried to develop Florida through the importation of immigrants for labor, including some from Minorca and Greece, but this project ultimately failed. Spain regained Florida after England's defeat by the American colonies and the Treaty of Paris, in 1783. Finally, in 1819, by terms of the Adams-Ons Treaty, Spain ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for the American renounciation of any claims on Texas. On March 3, 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States of America. On January 10, 1861, before the formal outbreak of the Civil War, Florida seceded from the Union; ten days later, the state became a founding member of the Confederate States of America. The war ended in 1865. On June 25, 1868, Florida's congressional representation was restored.
Until the mid-twentieth century, Florida was the least populous Southern state; however, the local climate, tempered by the growing availability of air conditioning, made the state a haven, and migration from the Rust Belt and the Northeast sharply increased the population. Today, Florida is the most populous state in the South besides Texas, and the fourth most populous in the United States.
As of 2000, 76.9 percent of Florida residents age 5 and older speak English at home, and 16.5 percent speak Spanish. French is the third most spoken language at 2.2 percent, followed by German at 0.6 percent and Italian at 0.4 percent.
Article II, Section 9, of the Florida Constitution provides that "English is the official language of the State of Florida." This provision was adopted in 1988 by a vote following an Initiative Petition.
The basic structure, duties, function, and operations of the government of the State of Florida are defined and established by the Florida Constitution, which establishes the basic law of the state and guarantees various rights and freedoms of the people. The state government consists of three separate branches: judicial, executive, and legislative. The legislature enacts bills, which, if signed by the governor, become Florida Statutes.
The legislature has a Senate of 40 members and a House of 120 members. The current governor is Republican Jeb Bush, brother of U.S. President George W. Bush and son of former President George H. W. Bush.
Florida was traditionally a Democratic state; at one time, 68.5 percent of all Floridians were registered Democrats. In the last decades of the twentieth century, the realignment of the "Solid South" led many conservative Democrats of Florida to vote with the Republican Party. This tendency, combined with explosive population growth, which has brought many Republicans into the state, has given Florida a Republican edge in practice, though registered Democrats still outnumber registered Republicans. As a result, Republicans control the governorship and most other statewide elective offices: both houses of the state legislature, 18 of the state's 25 seats in the House of Representatives, and one of the state's two Senate seats. The 2000 Presidential election in Florida was extremely close. Because of the state's population and number of electoral votes, political analysts consider it to be a key swing state in presidential elections. The Tampa area, once a major center of Democratic union support, is now almost evenly split between registered Republicans and Democrats, making it part of the important I-4 Corridor swing region.
The gross state product of Florida in 2003 was $599 billion. Personal income was $30,098 per capita, ranking 26th in the nation.
Florida's economy relies heavily on tourism. About 60 million visitors visit the state every year. Warm weather and hundreds of miles of beach attract vacationers from around the world. The Walt Disney World Resort—with four theme parks and more than twenty hotels, plus countless water parks, shopping centers, and other facilities—located in Lake Buena Vista, drives the economy of Central Florida, along with more recent entries into the theme-park arena, such as the Universal Orlando Resort. Sales- and tourist-tax revenue allows the state to remain one of the few not to levy a personal income tax. Other major industries include citrus fruit and juice production, banking, and phosphate mining within the Bone Valley region. With the arrival of the space program at Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s, Florida has attracted a large number of aerospace and military industries. The state did not have any state minimum wage laws until November 2, 2004, when voters passed a constitutional amendment establishing one and mandating that it be adjusted for inflation every six months.
Historically, Florida's economy was based upon cattle farming and agriculture (especially sugarcane, citrus, tomatoes, and strawberries). In the early 1900, land speculators discovered Florida, and Plant and Henry Flagler developed railway systems, which led people to move in, drawn by the weather and local economies. From then on, tourism boomed, fueling a cycle of development and tourism that overwhelmed a great deal of farmland.
In 2004 and 2005, key industries along the west coast—commercial fishing and water-based tourist activities (sports fishing and diving)—were threatened by outbreaks of red tide, a discoloration of seawater caused by an efflorescence of toxin-producing dinoflagellates.
Florida is one of the nine states that do not impose a personal income tax (list of others). The state imposes a tax on "intangible personal property" (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, etc.), but in April, 2006, the state legislature was considering a repeal of the tax.  The state sales tax rate is 6% . Local governments may levy an additional local option sales tax of up to 1.5%. A locale's use-tax rate is the same as its sales-tax rate, including local options, if any. Use taxes are payable for purchases made out of state and brought into Florida within six months of the purchase date. Other taxes are mostly levied on businesses. They include the following taxes: corporate income, communication services, intangibles, unemployment, solid waste, documentary stamps, insurance premium, pollutants, and various fuel taxes. For more information, visit the Florida Department of Revenue website at .
Florida's public-school revenue per student and spending per $1000 of personal income usually rank in the bottom 25 percent of U.S. states. Average teacher salaries rank near the middle of U.S. states.
Florida public schools have consistently ranked in the bottom 25 percent of many national surveys and average test-score rankings. Many education surveys are not scientific, but do measure prestige. Governor Jeb Bush has been criticized by many Florida educators for a program that penalizes underperforming schools (as indicated by standardized tests, most prominently the FCAT) with fewer funding dollars, though supporters claim the program's tough measures have resulted in vast improvements to the education system. Major testing organizations frequently discount the use of state's average test-score rankings, or any average of scaled scores, as a valid metric (for details on scaled test scores, see psychometrics).
Despite the inadequacy of the primary and secondary schools, Florida is home to many well-respected institutions, such as University of Florida, the University of Miami, and New College of Florida.
In 2000, the governor and the state legislature abolished the Florida Board of Regents, which long had governed the State University System of Florida, and created boards of trustees to govern each university. As is typical of executive-appointed government boards, the appointees so far have overwhelmingly belonged to the governor's party. This effect has not been without controversy.  In 2002, former governor and then U.S. Senator Bob Graham (Dem.) led a consitutional-amendment ballot referendum designed to restore the board-of-regents system. Voters responded by creating the Florida Board of Governors; however, each university still maintains a board of trustees, which works under the new board.