Herman Talmadge

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Herman Talmadge
Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
In office
January 21, 1971 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byAllen Ellender
Succeeded byJesse Helms
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1981
Preceded byWalter F. George
Succeeded byMack Mattingly
71st Governor of Georgia
In office
November 17, 1948 – January 11, 1955
LieutenantMarvin Griffin
Preceded byMelvin E. Thompson
Succeeded byMarvin Griffin
In office
January 15, 1947 – March 18, 1947
LieutenantMelvin E. Thompson
Preceded byEugene Talmadge (elect)
Succeeded byMelvin E. Thompson
Personal details
Herman Eugene Talmadge

(1913-08-09)August 9, 1913
McRae, Georgia, U.S.
DiedMarch 21, 2002(2002-03-21) (aged 88)
Hampton, Georgia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Katherine Williamson
Betty Shingler
Lynda Cowart Pierce
RelativesEugene Talmadge (father)
EducationUniversity of Georgia (BA, LLB)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Navy
Years of service1941–1945
RankLieutenant Commander
Battles/warsWorld War II

Herman Eugene Talmadge (August 9, 1913 – March 21, 2002)[1] was an American politician who served as governor of Georgia for a short period in 1947 and then again from 1948 until 1955 then as U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1957 to 1981. Talmadge, a Democrat, was governor at a time of political transition in the state, and he served in the Senate during a time of great political change in the nation as well.[2] Talmadge began his career as a staunch segregationist and was known for his opposition to civil rights, ordering schools to be closed rather than desegregated.[3] However, by the later stages of his career Talmadge had modified his earlier views and his life eventually encapsulated the emergence of his native Georgia from entrenched white supremacy into a political culture where white voters regularly elect black Congressmen.[4][5]

When his father, Eugene Talmadge, won the 1946 Georgia Gubernatorial election but died before taking office, Herman Talmadge was one of three competitors asserting claims to be the 70th Governor of Georgia, in what is known as the Three Governors Controversy. Talmadge occupied the governor's office from January until March 1947, before yielding to a court decision in favor of Melvin E. Thompson, the elected lieutenant governor. In 1948 a special election was held to determine who would finish the rest of the term and Herman Talmadge defeated Thompson by over 6% (51.77% vs. 45.14%). Talmadge was re-elected in 1950 to a full term as governor- this time again defeating Thompson in the Democratic Primary in a closer race (49.33% vs. 47.88%). Talmadge would then serve until the end of his term in 1955.[6][7]

Talmadge, who became governor as a political novice at just age 33, supported the passage of a statewide sales-tax and the construction of new schools. Talmadge also supported infrastructure improvements and increased teachers' salaries.[8] While he remains a controversial figure in Georgia history, especially due to his opposition to civil rights, some Georgians praised him for his infrastructure improvements brought about by the passage of the sales tax.[7][2]

In the senate, Talmadge first rose to prominence as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and later as a member of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (better known as the United States Senate Watergate Committee). As chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Talmadge oversaw the passing of several major pieces of legislation, including the expansion of the Child Nutrition Act and the Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act of 1972, the first major legislation dealing with rural development since the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. Talmadge was later denounced by the Senate for financial irregularities, which were revealed during a bitter divorce from his second wife.[2] The denunciation by the Senate and the changing demographics of Georgia helped lead to Talmadge's defeat in his 1980 re-election campaign against Republican Mack Mattingly- Talmadge's first ever electoral loss.

Early life, education and military service[edit]

Herman Talmadge was born on August 9, 1913, on a farm near the small town of McRae in Telfair County in the southeastern part of Georgia. He was the only son of Eugene Talmadge and his wife, Mattie (Thurmond) and through his mother, he was a second cousin of South Carolina Senator and 1948 Dixiecrat Presidential Candidate Strom Thurmond.[9][10][11] Herman attended public schools in Telfair County until his senior year of high school when his family moved to Atlanta and he enrolled at Druid Hills High School, graduating in 1931.[12] In the fall of 1931, he entered the University of Georgia for his undergraduate degree and was a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society and Sigma Nu fraternity. After completing his undergraduate studies, Talmadge enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law. Talmadge received his law degree in 1936 and joined his father's law practice.[13]

In 1937 he married his first wife, Katherine Williamson and the marriage ended in divorce after three years. In 1941 he married his second wife, Betty Shingler, and they had two sons, Herman Eugene Jr. and Robert Shingler.[13]

When World War II broke out, Talmadge volunteered to serve in the United States Navy. Talmadge served as an ensign with the Sixth Naval District at Charleston,SC and with the Third Naval District in New York after graduating from midshipman's school at Northwestern University. In 1942, Talmadge participated in the invasion of Guadalcanal aboard the USS Tyron. He served as flag secretary to the commandant of naval forces in New Zealand from June 1943 to April 1944 and then as executive officer of the USS Dauphin. Talmadge participated in the battle of Okinawa and he was present in Tokyo Bay for the Japanese surrender. He attained rank of lieutenant commander and was discharged in November 1945.[14]

After his service in World War II, Talmadge returned to his home in Lovejoy, Georgia. While continuing to practice law and to farm, Talmadge took over publishing his father's weekly newspaper, The Statesman, and started a ham-curing business.[15]

The Three Governors Controversy[edit]

After returning from the war, Talmadge became active in Democratic Party politics. He ran his father's successful 1946 campaign for governor. Eugene Talmadge had been ill, and his supporters were worried about his surviving long enough to be sworn in. They studied the state constitution and found that if the governor-elect died before his term began, the Georgia General Assembly would choose between the second and third-place finishers for the successor. The elder Talmadge ran unopposed among Democrats, so the party officials arranged for write-in votes for Herman Talmadge as insurance.

In December 1946, the elder Talmadge died before taking office. Melvin E. Thompson, the lieutenant governor-elect; Ellis Arnall, the prior governor; and Herman Talmadge as write-in candidate, all arranged to be sworn in and were concurrently trying to conduct state business from the Georgia State Capitol. Arnall relinquished his claim in favor of Thompson. Ultimately, Thompson was supported by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Career after 1946[edit]

Talmadge as governor.

Talmadge prepared to run for the special gubernatorial election in 1948, and defeated incumbent Governor Thompson. Two years later, Talmadge was elected to a full term in the 1950 election. During his terms, Talmadge attracted new industries to Georgia. He remained a staunch supporter of racial segregation, even as the Civil rights movement gained momentum in the postwar years.

Talmadge was barred by law from seeking another full term as governor in 1954. That year the United States Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated public schools were unconstitutional, and advised school systems to integrate.

United States Senate career[edit]

Talmadge was elected to the United States Senate in 1956. Most Black people in Georgia were still disenfranchised under state laws passed by white Democrats and discriminatory practices they had conducted since the turn of the 20th century. During his time as U.S. Senator, Talmadge continued as a foe of civil rights legislation, even as the Civil rights movement gained media coverage and increasing support across the country. After President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Talmadge, along with more than a dozen other southern senators, boycotted the 1964 Democratic National Convention.[16]

With the help of Senator Richard Russell, Talmadge had gained appointment to the Agriculture Committee during his first year in Washington and to the Senate Finance Committee shortly thereafter. As a junior member of the Agriculture Committee, Talmadge worked to address the constantly changing needs of the nation's farmers in an evolving global economy. Talmadge also worked to expand support for both farmers and children and families in hunger through his work on the passage Child Nutrition Act of 1966, but most significantly in 1969 and 1970 as part of the re-authorization and expansion of the 1946 School Lunch Act which Russell had authored and considered to be his greatest legislative achievement.

Talmadge was a great admirer of the work Russell had done on the 1946 act but recognized that significant improvements were needed. Talmadge, after noting that only one-third of American children living in families making less than $2000 a year were able to participate in the program said “We must use food as a tool of education. A child cannot learn if he is hungry. It has been the experience of school administrators in economically deprived areas that there is a marked improvement in school attendance when children can look forward to the prospect of a good meal at school.” Major goals of the new Talmadge proposal were in providing funding for equipment, increasing the required level of support from states, allowing the “lunch to follow the child”- allowing students from low income families that lived in higher income areas to remain eligible for the program, establishment of the  National Advisory Council on Child Nutrition, and special assistance for needy children. The amendments for these purposes became law on May 14, 1970.[17][18]

When Sen. Allen Ellender of Louisiana assumed chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee following Richard Russell's death in January 1971, Talmadge became chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, a position he held until leaving office in 1981.[19]

Talmadge's elevation to Agriculture Committee Chairman came at a time when many analysts were forecasting that the world's need for food would soon outstrip its productive capacity. Under Talmadge's leadership, the Senate Agriculture Committee confronted these problems throughout the 1970s.  Talmadge oversaw the passage of several bills that more than doubled spending on farm programs by the end of the 1970s. In addition to the Rural Development Act of 1972, some of the other major bills passed under Talmadge's chairmanship included: The Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973 (also known as the 1973 U.S. Farm Bill) which provided for commodity price support, soil conservation, and food stamp expansion for four years. The four year period established a cycle that ensured the next three farm bills appeared on the congressional agenda after presidential elections, and thereby preventing them from becoming entangled in election-year politics. The Food and Agriculture Act of 1977 continued the market-oriented loan and target-pricing policies of its predecessor.  Title XIV of the Act confirmed the USDA's historic role in agricultural research under the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act.  The bill also made major modifications to food stamps and solidified the program as a part of the Farm Bill.

Additionally in 1977, as a result of Senate committee reorganization and in recognition of the Agriculture Committee's increased role in addressing hunger and nutrition, growing spending for federally-supported child nutrition (which rose from $2.4 billion to more than $8 billion during the decade), and increase of staff size (rising from seven in 1971 to 32 in 1980), the Committee's name was changed to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. This was the first change to the Committee's name since adding “Forestry” in 1884.[20]

In 1968, Talmadge faced the first of his three Republican challengers for his Senate seat. E. Earl Patton (1927–2011), later a member of the Georgia State Senate, received 256,796 votes (22.5 percent) to Talmadge's 885,103 (77.3 percent). Patton, a real estate developer, was the first Republican in Georgia to run for the U.S. Senate since the Reconstruction era, when most Republicans had been African-American freedmen.[21] He was a sign of the shifting white electorate in the South, where white suburbanites moved into the Republican Party.

Talmadge ran a disciplined office, requiring his staff to respond to every constituent letter within 24 hours of receipt.[22] In 1969, Talmadge hired Curtis Lee Atkinson onto his senate staff as an administrative aide, making Atkinson the first African-American hired to work on a Southern senator's personal staff since the Reconstruction Era.[23]

In early 1973, Talmadge was appointed to the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (better known as the United States Senate Watergate Committee) which investigated the activities of members of the Nixon administration. He served on the committee until its final report was issued in June 1974. Talmadge's service on the committee is generally considered the high-water mark of his time as a U.S. Senator.[24]


Late in his Senate career, Talmadge became embroiled in a financial scandal. After an extensive investigation by the Senate, on October 11, 1979, the U.S. Senate voted 81-15 to "denounce" Talmadge for "improper financial conduct" between 1973 and 1978. He was found to have accepted reimbursements of $43,435.83 for official expenses not incurred, and to have improperly reported the "expenses" as campaign expenditures.[25][26][27][28]

After the trial, he faced significant opposition in the state's Democratic primary for the first time in 24 years. Lieutenant Governor Zell Miller challenged Talmadge in the primary with the support of liberals disenchanted with Talmadge's conservatism.[29] Though he succeeded in winning the primary runoff against Miller, Talmadge's ethical conduct was a significant issue and he was defeated by the Republican candidate, former state GOP chairman Mack Mattingly. [30] It was also believed that the bruising primary battle with Miller left Talmadge weakened for the general election.[29]


Talmadge filed for divorce from his wife, Betty, in 1977 following a long period of personal troubles for Talmadge, including self-admitted alcoholism, which spiraled out of control after his son, Bobby, drowned in 1975.[31] The Talmadges eventually reached a divorce settlement in 1978, with Betty receiving $150,000 in cash and 100 acres of their Lovejoy plantation.[32] She was also allowed to use the remaining 1,200 acres on the plantation.[32] His wife testified against him in 1980 during the investigation into his finances, resulting in a denunciation from the U.S. Senate, which contributed to the end his long political career.

Later life[edit]

After his defeat, Talmadge retired to his home; his plantation and mansion were now in the hands of his ex-wife, Betty. In 1984, he married his third wife, Lynda Pierce, who was 26 years younger than himself.[33] He lived on for more than two decades, dying at the age of 88. Talmadge and his second wife, Betty, who eventually reconciled and remained on respectful terms after the divorce, had had two sons together, Herman E. Talmadge, Jr. (died 2014), and Robert Shingler Talmadge (died 1975). Betty Talmadge died in 2005, surrounded by family, on her estate.[34] At the time of his death, Herman Talmadge was the earliest serving former governor.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Henderson, Harold Paulk (August 25, 2004). "Eugene Talmadge (1884-1946)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  2. ^ a b c Buchanan, Scott E. (August 1, 2019) [2002]. "Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2021-06-04.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Clymer, Adam. "Herman Talmadge, Georgia Senator and Governor, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  4. ^ Frug, Stephen (2008-07-07). "Accepting Equality: Rhetorical Reactions to the Changing Politics of De Jure Segregation". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  5. ^ "Obituary: Herman Talmadge". the Guardian. 2002-03-25. Retrieved 2021-06-05.
  6. ^ "Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  7. ^ a b Write, C.C. Wilson III, Rome News-Tribune Staff. "As governor, senator, Talmadge leaves powerful legac | Local New". Northwest Georgia News. Retrieved 2018-09-24.
  8. ^ Mayhew, Paul (July 23, 1956). "The Talmadge Story". The New Republic. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  9. ^ "Herman Talmadge, 88; Georgia Senator". March 22, 2002 – via LA Times.
  10. ^ "Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition. Senator Herman Talmadge Recalls His Early Involvement in Georgia Politics, His Father's Political Legacy, and His Rise to Prominence".
  11. ^ Browning, Joan C.; Burlage, Dorothy Dawson (March 2002). Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. ISBN 9780820324197.
  12. ^ "Famous Alumni". druidhillshs.dekalb.k12.ga.us. Retrieved 2021-09-27.
  13. ^ a b Hackbart-Dean, Pamela (1993). "Herman E. Talmadge: From Civil Rights to Watergate". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 77 (1): 145–157. ISSN 0016-8297. JSTOR 40582658.
  14. ^ Reynolds, Clifford P. (1961). Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1961: The Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788 and the Congress of the United States, from the First to the Eighty-sixth Congress, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 1961, Inclusive. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 1688.
  15. ^ Hackbart-Dean, Pamela (1993). "Herman E. Talmadge: From Civil Rights to Watergate". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 77 (1): 146. ISSN 0016-8297. JSTOR 40582658 – via JSTOR.
  16. ^ Kornacki, Steve (2011-02-03) "The 'Southern Strategy', fulfilled" Archived 2011-04-13 at the Wayback Machine, Salon.com
  17. ^ Gay, James Thomas (1996). "Richard B. Russell and the National School Lunch Program". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 80 (4): 871–872. JSTOR 40583600 – via JSTOR.
  18. ^ Hearings, Reports and Prints of the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1969. p. 3644.
  19. ^ Talmadge: A Political Legacy, A Politician's Life. Herman Talmadge with Mark Royden Winchell
  20. ^ "A Brief History of the Senate Committee on Agriculture". United States Capitol Historical Society. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  21. ^ Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, p. 1441
  22. ^ Clymer, Adam (March 22, 2002). "Herman Talmadge, Georgia Senator and Governor, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  23. ^ Farlow, Emily. "Curtis Lee Atkinson, 83: Assistant secretary of state for Max Cleland". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 2021-09-28.
  24. ^ Hackbart-Dean, Pamela (Summer 1999). "" 'The Greatest Civics Lesson in Our History': Herman Talmadge and Watergate from a Twenty-five-Year Perspective"". The Georgia Historical Quarterly. 83 (2): 321. JSTOR 40584148 – via JSTOR.
  25. ^ "Expulsion and Censure". United States Senate. Retrieved May 31, 2006.
  26. ^ "Trial Of a Lion: Talmadge fights for survival". Time. Vol. 113, no. 20. May 14, 1979. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  27. ^ "U.S. Senate: The Censure Case of Herman e. Talmadge of Georgia (1979)".
  28. ^ B. Drummond Ayres Jr. (October 12, 1979). "SENATE DENOUNCES TALMADGE, 81 TO 15, OVER HIS FINANCES". The New York Times.
  29. ^ a b Harris, Art (August 23, 1980). "Drawlin' and Brawlin'". The Washington Post.
  30. ^ Senate Historical Office. "The Censure Case of Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia (1979)". senate.gov.
  31. ^ "Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  32. ^ a b "Settlement Ends Talmadge Suit At Last Minute". Washington Post. 1978-12-12. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  33. ^ "Account Login | Whitepages Premium". premium.whitepages.com. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  34. ^ Jr., B. Drummond Ayres. "Mrs. Talmadge Tells of a Coat Stuffed With $100 Bills". Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  35. ^ "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
  36. ^ "Former Ga. Gov. Talmadge Dies". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2021-06-06.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Preceded by Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
1948, 1950
Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Georgia
(Class 3)

1956, 1962, 1968, 1974, 1980
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Served alongside: Richard B. Russell Jr., David H. Gambrell, Sam Nunn
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by