Eugene Talmadge

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Eugene Talmadge
67th Governor of Georgia
In office
January 10, 1933 – January 12, 1937
Preceded by Richard Russell, Jr.
Succeeded by Eurith D. Rivers
In office
January 14, 1941 – January 12, 1943
Preceded by Eurith D. Rivers
Succeeded by Ellis Arnall
Personal details
Born (1884-09-23)September 23, 1884
Forsyth, Georgia, United States
Died December 21, 1946(1946-12-21) (aged 62)
Political party Democratic Party
Alma mater University of Georgia
Profession Politician

Eugene Talmadge (September 23, 1884 – December 21, 1946) was a Democratic politician who served two terms as the 67th Governor of Georgia from 1933 to 1937, and a third term from 1941 to 1943. Elected to a fourth term in November 1946, he died before his (January 1947) inauguration. To date only Joe Brown and Eugene Talmadge have been elected four times as Governor of Georgia.

Early career[edit]

Talmadge was born in 1884 in Forsyth, Georgia, to Thomas and Carrie (Roberts) Talmadge.[1] He went to the University of Georgia and graduated from the university's law school. While at UGA, he was a member of the Phi Kappa Literary Society and Sigma Nu fraternity. Talmadge set up offices in Telfair County, Georgia, and twice ran for the Georgia state legislature. He lost both times. He was elected state agriculture commissioner in 1926.[2] Talmadge was re-elected commissioner in 1928[3] and again in 1930.[4]

As commissioner, Talmadge used the newspaper of his department to give advice to farmers and talk about his political views, extolling the virtues of a laissez-faire economic policy and individual action to improve the well-being of farmers.[5] During his time as agriculture commissioner, Talmadge also developed a reputation for being a corrupt, freewheeling individual who disregarded standard ethics and played by his own set of rules.[5] Nevertheless, he maintained widespread support among Georgia's rural community.[5] He was also an "admitted flogger and racial demagogue who presided over a Klan-ridden regime".[6]

The State Senate concluded that Talmadge violated a state law requiring that fertilizer fees collected by the department be deposited in the state treasury.[5] He also was criticized for his paying himself and family members more than $40,000 in salaries and expenses and using department funds to make trips to the Kentucky Derby.[5] Accused of "stealing" $20,000 in order to raise the price of hogs, Talmadge told one group of farmers, "Sure, I stole it! But I stole it for you."[7] The State House declined requests to impeach Talmadge but agreed to sue him to recover state funds spent on the hog price manipulation scheme.[5] When Governor Richard B. Russell Jr. referred the suit to the state attorney general, however, the request to sue Talmadge was rejected.[5]


In 1932, Governor Richard B. Russell, Jr. sought a seat in the United States Senate. Talmadge ran for governor and won a majority of the county unit votes in the primary (then tantamount to election, because the Georgia Republican Party was practically non-existent).[8] The County Unit System gave power to the most rural counties, which were Talmadge's base. He boasted, "I can carry any county that ain't got street cars."[9] He made 12 campaign promises, the most controversial of which was to lower the price of an automobile license to $3, which put them within reach of the poorest farmers.[10] The state legislature intensely debated the $3 license issue, but did not pass it. After adjournment, Talmadge fixed the $3 fee by proclamation.[11]

He was re-elected in 1934, carrying every county but three in the state's Democratic primary,[5] though he was often tied to both controversy and corruption.[5] When the Public Service Commission, a body elected by the voters,[5] refused to lower utility rates,[5] he appointed a new board to get it done.[5] When the Highway Board resisted his efforts to control it, he declared martial law and appointed more cooperative members to the board.[5] When the state treasurer and comptroller general refused to cooperate, the governor had them physically removed from their offices in the state Capitol.[5] Critics denounced him as a dictator,[5] a demagogue,[5] and a threat to the tranquility of the state[5] while his supporters considered him to be a friend of the common man and one of the state's most outstanding governors.[5]

The governor's reaction to the textile workers strike of September 1, 1934, was to declare martial law in the third week of the strike, and direct 4,000 National Guard troops to arrest all picketers throughout the state. Those prisoners were to be held behind the barbed wire of a former World War I prisoner of war camp for trial by a military tribunal. While the state interned only a hundred or so picketers, the show of force effectively ended picketing throughout most of the state. On balance, when Talmadge discovered that one of the employers had hired the notorious strikebreaker Pearl Bergoff, he had Bergoff and his 200 men deported to New York City.[12]

Though Democratic, Talmadge governed as a conservative and vehemently attacked the liberalism of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, singling out policies favorable to black people,[13] the farm programs, and relief programs such as the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. He tried to build a region-wide coalition. making a national speaking tour in preparation for a challenge to FDR in 1936. His Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution organized a convention in Macon, Georgia, in January 1936 that brought together fragments of the old Huey P. Long coalition.

Talmadge pledged to defend the "sovereignty of our states and local self-government" at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. But Roosevelt, who visited Georgia often, was more popular with the poor farmers. Unable to run for re-election in 1936, Talmadge chose to challenge Senator Russell in the primary, but Russell defeated Talmadge by a landslide,[14] and Talmadge's presidential hopes collapsed.[15] Talmadge's handpicked candidate for governor, Charles Redwine, lost the 1936 Georgia gubernatorial election to pro-New Deal Democrat Eurith D. Rivers by an overwhelming margin.[14]

Talmadge challenged Senator Walter George in 1938. Though George had sided with 34 of Roosevelt's 44 New Deal proposals,[16] he refused to side with some of the proposals in Roosevelt's second term[16] and the president believed George had now been "put out to pasture."[16] Roosevelt tried to purge George and campaigned for his own candidate, Lawrence Camp.[17] George, however, refused to criticize Roosevelt during the campaign and blamed the purge on Roosevelt's advisers.[17] Despite the divide among the New Deal vote, George would easily win the renomination, securing 141,922 popular votes and a majority of 246 unit votes, while Talmadge would secure just 102,464 popular votes and 148 unit votes.[14] However, Talmadge's victory over Roosevelt's candidate Camp, who managed to secure just 78,223 popular votes and 16 unit votes,[14] surprised his critics.[14]

University of Georgia[edit]

Main article: Cocking affair

Talmadge returned to the governor's office in 1940, emerging as the leader of racist and segregationist elements in Georgia.[18] Responding to reports that Walter Cocking, a dean at the University of Georgia, had advocated bringing black and white students together in the classroom, he launched an attack on the university, charging elitism, and called for the regents to remove Cocking and purge the university of Communists, "foreigners" (non-Georgians), and subscribers to racial equality. The university board of regents at first refused Talmadge's demands for dismissal of offending faculty members, but after the governor restructured the board, the dismissals took place. This intervention into academic affairs caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to remove accreditation from the Georgia state universities, and it contributed to Talmadge's defeat by Ellis Arnall in 1942.[19][20]

During Arnall's term, the state legislature lengthened his term to four years and prohibited him from seeking re-election in 1946. Talmadge ran for governor and used the United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Allwright decision as his main issue. Talmadge promised that if he were to be elected, he would restore the 'Equal Primary'.

Talmadge lost the popular vote in the Democratic primary to James V. Carmichael but won a majority of the "county unit votes". However, he died in December 1946, before he could be sworn in for his fourth term; his death precipitated the 1947 "Three Governors Controversy" among Arnall, Melvin E. Thompson and Talmadge's son Herman.[21]


In 1941, Talmadge received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from Oglethorpe University.[22]


The Talmadge Memorial Bridge in Savannah, Georgia, is named after Eugene Talmadge and connects downtown Savannah, Georgia with the Carolina Low Country via the Savannah River.

(The "Cocking affair" later became the subject of Michael Braz's opera, A Scholar Under Siege, composed for the centenary of Georgia Southern University and premiered in 2007.[23])

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University, 1975) p. 6.
  2. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, pp. 48-49.
  3. ^ William Anderson, The wild Man from Sugar Creek, p. 52.
  4. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, p. 56.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Eugene Talmadge (1884-1946) | New Georgia Encyclopedia
  6. ^ King, Gilbert (2012). Devil in the Grove. Harper Collins. p. 262. ISBN 978-0-06-179228-1. 
  7. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp 850-52
  8. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, pp. 78-79.
  9. ^ Current Biography 1941, p 851
  10. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek, p. 83.
  11. ^ Tammy Harden Galloway, "Tribune of the Masses and a Champion of the People": Eugene Talmadge and the Three-Dollar Tag," Georgia Historical Quarterly, Fall 1995, Vol. 79 Issue 3, pp. 673–684
  12. ^ Labor in the South, by F. Ray Marshall, pages 167-168
  13. ^ National Affairs: Black on Blacks, TIME Magazine, April 27, 1936
  14. ^ a b c d e
  15. ^ William Anderson, The Wild Man from Sugar Creek: The Political Career of Eugene Talmadge (1975)
  16. ^ a b c
  17. ^ a b Walter F. George (1878-1957) | New Georgia Encyclopedia
  18. ^ Glenn Feldman, Politics and religion in the White South (2005) p. 111
  19. ^ James F. Cook, "Cocking Affair", New Georgia Encyclopedia, 2002.
  20. ^ Sue Bailes, "Eugene Talmadge and the Board Of Regents Controversy," Georgia Historical Quarterly, Winter 1969, Vol. 53 Issue 4, pp 409-423
  21. ^ William L. Belvin, Jr.. "The Georgia Gubernatorial Primary of 1946, Georgia Historical Quarterly, Spring 1966, Vol. 50 Issue 1, pp. 36–53
  22. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Retrieved 2015-03-18. 
  23. ^ Bynum, Russ, "Opera Tells How Georgia Racism Backfired", Associated Press, April 19, 2007. Accessed 27 January 2009.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, William. The Wild Man from Sugar Creek: The Political Career of Eugene Talmadge (1975)
  • Lesseig, Corey T. "Talmadge, Eugene" in American National Biography Online (2000)
  • Logue, Cal McLeod. Eugene Talmadge: rhetoric and response (1989)

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Russell, Jr.
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Eurith D. Rivers
Preceded by
Eurith D. Rivers
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Ellis Arnall