Coleman Livingston Blease

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Coleman Livingston Blease
Coleman Livingston Blease.jpg
United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
March 4, 1925 – March 3, 1931
Preceded by Nathaniel B. Dial
Succeeded by James F. Byrnes
90th Governor of South Carolina
In office
January 17, 1911 – January 14, 1915
Lieutenant Charles Aurelius Smith
Preceded by Martin Frederick Ansel
Succeeded by Charles Aurelius Smith
President Pro Tempore of the South Carolina Senate
In office
January 8, 1907 – January 12, 1909
Governor Duncan Clinch Heyward
Martin Frederick Ansel
Preceded by Richard Irvine Manning III
Succeeded by William Lawrence Mauldin
Member of the South Carolina Senate from Newberry County
In office
January 8, 1907 – January 12, 1909
Preceded by George Sewell Mower
Succeeded by Alan Johnstone
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Newberry County
In office
January 10, 1899 – January 8, 1901
In office
November 25, 1890 – November 27, 1894
Personal details
Born October 8, 1868
Newberry, South Carolina
Died January 19, 1942 (aged 73)
Columbia, South Carolina
Resting place Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, South Carolina
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lillie B. Summers
Carolina Floyd
Parents Henry Horatio Blease
Mary Ann Livingston Blease
Alma mater Georgetown University
Occupation Attorney
Religion Methodist

Coleman Livingston Blease (October 8, 1868 – January 19, 1942) was a South Carolina politician who served as a Democratic state legislator, 90th Governor of South Carolina, and U.S. Senator.

Blease was notorious for playing on the prejudices of poor whites to gain their votes. He was pro-lynching and anti-black education. As Senator, he advocated penalties for interracial couples attempting to get married, as well as criticizing First Lady Lou Hoover for inviting a black guest to tea at the White House.

Early life and career[edit]

Coleman Livingston Blease was born to Henry Horatio Blease (1832-1892) and Mary Ann Livingston Blease (1830-1874) near the town of Newberry, South Carolina, on October 8, 1868, the year that South Carolina's new Reconstruction constitution was adopted, and blacks began participating in public political life. Blease was educated at Newberry College, the University of South Carolina, and Georgetown University, where he graduated from the law department in 1889. At the University of South Carolina, Blease was expelled for plagiarism and henceforth he carried a grudge against the university.[1]

Political career[edit]

Blease returned to Newberry to practice law and enter politics. He began his political career in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1890 as a protégé of Benjamin Ryan Tillman. But whereas Tillman drew his support from South Carolina's successful white farmers and planters, Blease recognized that the white tenant farmers and textile mill workers lacked a political voice.

In 1895 the state legislature ratified a new constitution that essentially disfranchised African-American citizens, thus crippling the Republican Party in the state. The state had a one-party system, run by the Democrats. Blease's rise to power, as he moved from the South Carolina House of Representatives to the South Carolina Senate in 1900, was built on the support of both the sharecroppers and mill workers, an increasingly important segment of the electorate in South Carolina in this period.[2]

His appeal to the millworkers and sharecroppers was based on his personality and his view that made the "inarticulate masses feel that Coley was making them an important political force in the state."[3] This new era saw a sharp division within the state Democratic Party, with the factions known for many years as being "Tillmanites" and "Bleaseites." Shortly before he was elected governor, Blease was elected as the mayor of Newberry in 1910. He held this position until November 1910, when he became the governor of the state.

Blease as Governor[edit]

Blease was elected governor in 1910 because he "knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes."[3] His legislative program was erratic and without consistency. Blease favored more aid to schools, yet opposed compulsory attendance. He abolished the textile mill at the state penitentiary for health reasons, yet opposed inspections of private factories to ensure safe and healthful working conditions.

Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman; Tillman branded Blease's style as "Jim Tillmanism", (Jim Tillman being Ben Tillman's nephew). Blease favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, strongly opposed the education of blacks, and derided an opponent for being a trustee of a black school. Blease once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden.

The newspapers did not escape Blease's wrath, and he praised Jim Tillman for the murder of The State editor N.G. Gonzales in 1903. Blease advocated imprisonment for reporters or editors who published candidates' speeches.

Blease failed to enforce laws and was himself a scofflaw. On two occasions, he pardoned his black chauffeur when he was cited for speeding. Enjoying the power to pardon, Blease said that he wanted to pardon at least one thousand men before he exited office because he wanted "to give the poor devils a chance."[4] He was estimated to have pardoned between 1,500 to 1,700 prisoners, some of whom were guilty of murder and other serious crimes. His political enemies suggested that Blease received payments to pardon criminals. Among those he pardoned was former US congressman George W. Murray in 1912. The African-American Republican had lost an appeal for his conviction of forgery in 1905 by an all-white jury, and was sentenced to hard labor. Refusing to serve for a conviction that he claimed resulted from discrimination, Murray had left the state permanently for Chicago.

Although the combined opposition of Tillman and the upper classes could not prevent Bease's re-election in 1912, he lost the U.S. Senate election of 1914 against the incumbent Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith. This was the first US senatorial election to be decided by popular vote, following ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1913.

In a show of spite for progressive governor-elect Richard Irvine Manning III, Blease resigned five days before the end of his second term on January 14, 1915, so that he did not have to attend Manning's inauguration. Charles Aurelius Smith succeeded to the governorship and performed ceremonial functions during his five days in office.

Later years[edit]

Afterward, Blease spent a decade outside the mainstream of state politics. Manning's administration (1915–1919) brought many Progressive Era reforms to the state. As the political climate turned more reactionary after 1919, when the state and nation suffered with postwar economic adjustments, Blease's popularity rebounded. Blease lacked a constructive program, but his agitation had permanently quickened the political consciousness of the cotton-mill operatives and other poor whites.

In virtually all of his campaigns, Blease used a catchy, nonsensical, non-specific campaign jingle that became well known to virtually every voter in South Carolina in the era. For instance, he used: "Roll up your sleeves, say what you please...the man for the job is Coley Blease!"

Blease and soft drinks[edit]

Blease disliked the newly developed carbonated soft drinks. In his gubernatorial inaugural address in 1911 he said:

Blease as Senator[edit]

In 1924, Blease defeated James F. Byrnes in the Democratic primary and was elected to the U.S. Senate. His campaign foreshadowed his style as Senator. Blease's defeat of Byrnes was widely credited to a rumor campaign that Byrnes, who was raised a Roman Catholic in Charleston, had not really left that faith. Such an assertion in an overwhelmingly Protestant state in the years when the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power ruined Byrnes' political hopes that year. Byrnes later defeated Blease in his 1930 run for re-election to the Senate.

In 1928, Blease proposed the last and most strict anti-miscegenation amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring that Congress set a punishment for interracial couples attempting to get married, and for people officiating an interracial marriage. It was not submitted to the states.

In 1929, in protest of First Lady Lou Hoover's inviting Jessie DePriest, the African-American wife of Illinois congressman Oscar DePriest, to tea at the White House, Blease proposed a resolution- "To request the Chief Executive to respect the White House," demanding that the Hoovers "remember that the house in which they are temporarily residing is the 'White House'."[6] In support of the resolution, Blease read the 1901 poem, "Niggers in the White House," on the floor of the Senate. Following immediate protests from Republican senators Walter Edge (from New Jersey) and Hiram Bingham (from Connecticut), the racist doggerel was excluded from the Congressional Record.[6][7] Bingham described the poem as "indecent, obscene doggerel" which gave "offense to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens and [...] to the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution."[7] Blease withdrew the resolution, but said he did so "because it gave offense to his friend, Senator Bingham and not because it might give any offense to the Negro race."[7]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, p. 141. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  2. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, p. 49. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  3. ^ a b Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, p. 50. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  4. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, pages 51-52. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  5. ^ Blease 1911 inaugural address, page 85
  6. ^ a b "Offers 'Nigger' Poem". Providence Evening Tribune. June 18, 1929. p. 7. Retrieved September 16, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c "Blease Poetry is Expunged from Record". The Afro-American. 22 June 1929. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 

References[edit]

  • Adams, James Truslow (1940). Dictionary of American History. Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  • Simon, Bryant (1996). "The Appeal of Cole Blease of South Carolina: Race, Class, and Sex in the New South". Journal of Southern History 62 (1): 57–86. doi:10.2307/2211206. JSTOR 2211206. 
  • Burnside, Ronald Dantan (1963). The Governorship of Coleman Livingston Blease of South Carolina, 1911-1915. Indiana University. 
  • Hollis, Daniel W. (1979). "Cole Blease: The Years Between the Governorship and the Senate, 1915-1924". South Carolina Historical Magazine 80: 1–17. 
  • Hollis, Daniel W. (1978). "Cole L. Blease and the Senatorial Campaign of 1924". Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association: 53–68. 
  • Lander, Jr., Ernest McPherson (1970). A History of South Carolina, 1865-1960. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 49–53, 141. ISBN 0-87249-169-2. 
  • Miller, Anthony Barry (1971). Coleman Livingston Blease. University of North Carolina, Greensboro. 
  • Simon, Bryant (1998). A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4704-6. 
  • Stone, Clarence N. (1963). "Bleaseism and the 1912 Election in South Carolina". North Carolina Historical Review 40: 54–74. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Martin Frederick Ansel
Governor of South Carolina
1911–1915
Succeeded by
Charles Aurelius Smith
United States Senate
Preceded by
Nathaniel B. Dial
United States Senator from South Carolina
1925–1931
Succeeded by
James F. Byrnes