Legislator, congressman. Spence was born in Columbia on April 9, 1928, the son of J. W. and Addie Jane Spence of Lexington. He graduated from Lexington High School, where he was an all-state football player. He was a Korean War veteran and served in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1947 until 1988, when he retired with the rank of captain. Spence attended the University of South Carolina on a football scholarship. He received his undergraduate degree in English in 1952 and his law degree in 1956 from the University of South Carolina. He then set up a law practice in West Columbia. His first wife, Lula Hancock Drake, whom he married on December 22, 1952, died in 1978. They had four sons. On July 3, 1988, he married Deborah E. Williams of Lexington.
In 1956 Spence was elected as a Democrat to the South Carolina House of Representatives. During his three terms, he served on the Judiciary and Ways and Means Committees. In 1962 Spence switched to the Republican Party, one of the first legislators in South Carolina to do so, and lost a close race for the U.S. House of Representatives to Democrat Albert Watson (who also later became a Republican). Four years later, in 1966, Spence returned to the state Senate, where he served as minority party leader.
In November 1970 Spence was elected to the U.S. Congress representing the Second Congressional District. He served in Congress from 1971 until his death in 2001. As a congressman, Spence was known for his conservative views. He was a strong supporter of the military as well as an advocate for limited government. He began his service on the House Armed Services Committee in 1971. From 1995 to 2001 he was chair of the Armed Services Committee, which was known as the National Security Committee during most of the six-year period. Upon the completion of his six-year term as chair he became chair of the Armed Services subcommittee on military procurement, where he served until his death. He was also a senior member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Spence considered defense and national security as the first priority of the United States. During his term as chair, he argued that cuts in the defense budget and manpower had jeopardized national security. He was also an early supporter of a national missile defense system. In 2000 he was recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Association of the United States Army. The Army Reserve Center at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, is named in his honor.
While Spence was a strong advocate of defense spending, he was a conservative in terms of domestic programs. In the 1990s he opposed the Clinton health care program, stating that the government could not be expected to succeed in providing health care since the government had been a failure in just about everything else.
In 2001 Floyd Spence underwent surgery for Bell’s palsy and Ramsay Hunt syndrome, two disorders that attack facial nerves. Following surgery he developed a blood clot and died on August 16, 2001, in Jackson, Mississippi. He was buried in St. Peter’s Lutheran Cemetery in Lexington, South Carolina.