Newspaper photo of Talmadge during 1938 U.S. Senate campaign
|67th Governor of Georgia|
January 14, 1941 –January 12, 1943
|Preceded by||Eurith D. Rivers|
|Succeeded by||Ellis Arnall|
January 10, 1933 –January 12, 1937
|Preceded by||Richard Russell Jr.|
|Succeeded by||Eurith D. Rivers|
|Born||September 23, 1884|
Forsyth, Georgia, United States
|Died||December 21, 1946 62) (aged|
Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Mattie Thurmond Peterson|
|Children||Margaret, Vera, Herman Eugene|
|Alma mater||University of Georgia|
Eugene Talmadge (September 23, 1884 – December 21, 1946) was an American 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 inauguration, scheduled for January 1947. Only Talmadge and Joe Brown, in the mid-19th century, have been elected four times as Governor of Georgia. He is known for having actively promoted segregation and white supremacy,and for advocating for racism in the University System of Georgia.
Eugene Talmadge was born in 1884 in Forsyth, Georgia, to Thomas and Carrie (Roberts) Talmadge.He attended 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 a law practice in Telfair County, Georgia. He twice ran for the Georgia state legislature and lost both times. He was elected as state agriculture commissioner in 1926.Talmadge was re-elected commissioner in 1928 and 1930. 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. 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. He maintained widespread support among Georgia's rural community. He was also an “admitted flogger and racial demagogue who presided over a Klan-ridden regime”.
The State Senate concluded that Talmadge violated a state law requiring that fertilizer fees collected by the department be deposited in the state treasury. He was criticized for paying himself and family members more than $40,000 in salaries and expenses, and using department funds to make trips to the Kentucky Derby. 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.”The State House declined requests to impeach Talmadge but agreed to sue him to recover state funds spent on the hog price manipulation scheme. When Governor Richard B. Russell Jr. referred the suit to the state attorney general, however, the request to sue Talmadge was rejected.
In 1932, Governor Richard B. Russell, Jr. sought a seat in the United States Senate. Talmadge ran for governor, appealing to rural Georgia by idealizing the small farmer, and preaching what he said were the true values of rural America, such as rugged individualism, frugality, governmental economy, segregation, limited government, and low taxes.Talmage won a majority of the county unit votes in the primary, and winning the nomination of the Democratic Party was tantamount to automatic victory in the general election. The County Unit System gave power to the rural counties, which were Talmadge's base. He boasted, “I can carry any county that ain't got street cars.” He made twelve campaign promises, the most controversial of which was to lower the price of an automobile license to 3 dollars, putting them within reach of the poorest farmers. The state legislature intensely debated the $3 license fee issue, but did not pass it. After it adjourned, Talmadge fixed the $3 fee by proclamation.
One part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal was hiring unemployed men to work on various public works projects that in the South offered higher wages than could be obtained in the private sector, and moreover black men were paid the same rate as white men.Many of the wealthy land-owning families in Georgia soon complained to Talmadge that their sharecroppers preferred to work on the better-paying New Deal public works projects than as sharecroppers, and asked the governor to intercede with the president. In 1933, one sharecropper wrote to Talmadge: "I wound't [wouldn't] plow nobody's mule from sunrise to sunset for 50 cents a day when I could get $1.30 for pretending to work on a DITCH". A disgusted Talmadge forwarded the letter to Roosevelt alongside his own letter that stated: "I take it that you approve of paying farm labor 40 to 50 cents per day". Roosevelt wrote back: "Somehow I cannot get into my head that wages on such a scale make possible a reasonable American standard of living". Talmadge for all his populism and his self-image as the defender of the small white farmers of Georgia tended to side with the interests of the land-owning families in Georgia and was staunchly opposed to Roosevelt's efforts to raise wages in the South, believing that this would undercut the South's only economic advantage, namely of having the lowest wages in the United States. Roosevelt by contrast believed that raising wages would increase consumption and hence spur the economy out of the Great Depression.
When textile workers went on strike on September 1, 1934, Talmadge declared martial law during the third week of the strike, and directed four thousand National Guard troops to arrest all picketers throughout the state. He ordered the prisoners 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 about one hundred or so picketers, the show of force effectively ended picketing throughout most of the state. When Talmadge discovered that one of the employers had hired the notorious strikebreaker Pearl Bergoff, he had Bergoff and his two hundred men detained by the Georgia National Guard and then deported to New York City.
Talmadge was re-elected in 1934, carrying every county but three in the state's Democratic primary, although he was often tied to both controversy and corruption. When the Public Service Commission, a body elected by the voters, refused to lower utility rates, he appointed a new board to get it done. When the Highway Board resisted his efforts to control it, Talmadge declared martial law and appointed more cooperative members to the board. When the state treasurer and comptroller general refused to cooperate, the governor ordered state police to physically remove them from their offices in the state Capitol. Critics denounced him as a dictator, a demagogue, and a threat to the tranquility of the state. His supporters considered him to be a friend of the “common man” and one of the state's most outstanding governors. In October 1934, Talmadge ousted John Cohen, the pro-New Deal chairman of the Georgia Democratic Party and replaced him with Hugh Howell, a Talmadge partisan.Roosevelt met with Talmadge to ask him to save Cohen's job, a request that was refused, leading the president to suspect that this was the first step towards a possible presidential run by Talmadge in 1936. By late 1934, Talmadge's relationship with Roosevelt was frying. In December 1934, when Roosevelt decided to spent Christmas at Warm Springs, Georgia, Talmadge sent a note requesting a private meeting with the president, only to receive a note apologizing for Roosevelt not having the time to see him and vaguely promised that Talmadge could have his private meeting at the White House sometime in 1935.
By early 1935, Talmadge was working on an alliance with Senator Huey Long who was planning on running against Roosevelt in 1936.When asked what was discussed at his meetings with Long, Talmadge replied: "We both cussed Roosevelt". However, Long had a low opinion of Talmadge's intelligence, saying: "That Talmadge ain't got the brains to match his ambition". Fundamentally, beyond a shared antipathy to Roosevelt, the two had almost nothing in common politically. Long a left-wing populist had the slogan of "share the wealth", promising if elected president he would confiscate all the wealth of the richest Americans and redistribute it to the poor whereas Talmadge was essentially an old-fashioned Southern conservative. Long criticized Roosevelt for not going far enough with the New Deal while Talmadge had felt he had gone too far. Finally, both men wanted to run for president and wanted the other to serve as vice president, which proved to be the issue that ended their alliance and made them enemies.
The Democrat Talmadge governed as a Southern conservative, vehemently attacking the nationalization of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. He objected to policies favorable to black people (President Roosevelt did not introduce any Civil Rights measures),the farm programs, and relief-work programs such as the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps. Talmadge also believed the New Deal relief programs were encouraging people to be lazy, telling a reporter: "The way to handle a relief program was like how Mussolini was handling it in Italy, namely to line these people up and take the troops and make them work".
Talmadge tried to build a region-wide coalition, making a national speaking tour in preparation for a challenge to FDR in 1936. Talmadge's main allies were the Reverend Gerald L. K. Smith who had been the principal organizer of Long's Share Our Wealth Clubs; a wealthy Texas businessman John Henry Kirby who been a leading Long supporter; and the white supremacist novelist Thomas Dixon Jr. whose books glorying the Ku Klux Klan were very popular at the time.Talmadge's bid was being financed with some $41, 000 dollars contributed by Alfred Sloan, the CEO of General Motors together with money from the Raskob and du Pont families. 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. The Macon convention turned out to be media disaster that ended Talmadge's presidential hopes. The populist platform that Talmadge drafted at his Macon convention with its call for more silver to be mined to support the Silver standard, more protectionism, more state rights, more isolationism, and less immigration was widely mocked as a more appropriate for the 19th century than the 20th.
Talmadge pledged to defend the “sovereignty of our states and local self-government” at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. However, Roosevelt, who visited Georgia often because of his past polio, 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 [ page needed ] 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.and Talmadge's presidential hopes collapsed.
In 1936, according to a United Press (UP) article printed in the Atlanta Constitution on August 21, 1936 titled "Gene Selects Hitler as Favorite 'Author'", Talmadge reportedly told a Los Angeles newspaper that while he didn't have time to read many books, he read Adolf Hitler's book Mein Kampf ("My Struggle") seven times. In response, the Nazi publication Die Bewegung reprinted the interview with Talmadge and praised him, stating that "Governor Eugene Talmadge, of Georgia, is obviously a very intelligent man."
In 1938 Talmadge challenged Senator Walter George. Though George had sided with 34 of Roosevelt's 44 New Deal proposals,he refused to support some of the proposals in Roosevelt's second term. The president believed George had now been “put out to pasture.” Roosevelt tried to purge George and campaigned for his own candidate, Lawrence Camp. George, however, refused to criticize Roosevelt during the campaign and blamed the purge on Roosevelt's advisers. Despite the divide among the New Deal vote, George easily won the renomination, securing 141,922 popular votes and a majority of 246 unit votes, while Talmadge won just 102,464 popular votes and 148 unit votes. Talmadge's victory over Roosevelt's candidate Camp, who secured just 78,223 popular votes and 16 unit votes, surprised his critics.
Talmadge returned to the governor's office in 1940, emerging as the leader of racist and segregationist elements in Georgia.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, 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. It also contributed to Talmadge's defeat by Ellis Arnall in 1942.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.
In 1940-1941, Talmadge took a strongly isolationist line and was opposed to Roosevelt's policy of having America be the "arsenal of democracy", charging that money spent in aiding Britain, China and the Soviet Union would have been better spent on helping the poor farmers of Georgia.The fact that Talmadge had an admiration for Hitler and voiced such strong support for Japan's war against China that the Japanese government invited him to visit Japan on all-expenses paid vacation (an offer he declined) led to allegations that he was an Axis-sympathizer. Some commentators felt that Talmadge was merely naive, a man who knew nothing about the affairs of Europe and Asia, while others charged that his authoritarian style of leadership made him naturally sympathetic towards fascist regimes. About the charge that he acting like a dictator, Talmadge replied: "I'm what you call a minor dictator. But did you ever see anybody that was much good who didn't have a little dictator in him?" Talmadge's biographer, William Anderson, wrote that Talmadge's admiration for Nazi Germany, his tendency to surround himself with para-military followers, and his frequent calls for martial law gave "an eerie backing" for his words.
At the same time, the Cocking Affair had badly damaged Talmadge's reputation. At a time when most Georgians were living in poverty and few attended higher education, the possibility that those young people who were lucky enough to attend university or might be would lose their chances to escape lives of poverty was widely regarded as unacceptable. Those Georgians whose children were attending the university were outraged that the futures of their children had been at risk and those whose children were not attending university had hopes that someday they might.Arnall was a supporter of segregation, whose views on race were essentially the same as Talmadge's, but he presented himself as a supporter of better education for Georgians. Arnall noted that nobody could beat Talmadge in what he cynically called the "nigger-hating contest", and argued that the issue in the "Cocking Affair" was not white supremacy as Talmadge claimed, but education. Arnall charged that Georgia's universities losing their accreditation, which Talmadge presented as an achievement on his part, put at risk the futures of all the students attending the universities.
The students at Georgia's universities and colleges championed vigorously against Talmadge, putting on skits that mocked the governor as a power-crazed buffoon just before football games and were disproportionately over-represented as volunteers in the Arnall campaign.When Talmadge held campaign rallies, students showed up to chant "To Hell with Talmadge!" At one Talmadge campaign rally on 2 July 1942, a Talmadge supporter threw a canister of tear gas at the students, an incident that attracted much negative comment and led to demands that Talmadge discipline his "hoodlums" who always patrolled his rallies. Talmadge was so unpopular with students that his campaign workers in the university town of Athens urged him not to hold a campaign rally there, predicating that more people would come out to boo him than cheer him. Realizing that Arnall had cast himself as stronger on the education issue, Talmadge changed tactics and announced simply the loss of accreditation to Georgia's universities did not matter, saying at one rally in a rural area: "They talk about education. It ain't never taught a man how to plant cotton. It ain't made a garden bloom. It ain't never taught the experience necessary to raise cows and chickens. You gotta git out and do them things, and no school education is going to help ya". This message was intended to appeal to the white farmers who traditionally supported Talmadge, but may have inadvertently hurt him as even many of Talmadge's rural supporters knew that a better education represented their children's best hope of escaping poverty, and did not appreciate the implied message that the best thing that could happen to their children would be to follow their parents in lives of drudgery and poverty.
As was always the case, Talmadge presented himself as an aggressive defender of white supremacy, arguing keeping the black people disfranchised and segregated was far more important than education, a message that appealed to his core supporters, but to nobody else.At one campaign rally, Talmadge stated: "We in the South love the Negro in his place-but his place is at the back door". The fact that Arnall had also declared himself a supporter of segregation, albeit not in quite the same crude terms as Talmadge had, meant that for many white Georgians there was no difference between the candidates on "the Negro question", and therefore neutralized Talmadge's advantage as an defender of white supremacy. Furthermore, men were more likely to vote for Talmadge than women, and in 1942, many Georgian men were serving in the military, thus leading to women being over-represented in the Democratic primary. In the primary, Arnall won 174,575 votes to Talmadge's 128,394. Even the "county unit system", which worked to Talmadge's advantage in the past, failed to save him in 1942. Arnall won 242 unit votes to Talmadge's 149.
Just after Talmadge left office in January 1943, it emerged that since 1940 that he had been receiving food grown on the state prison farms for free, an allegation that he admitted to, saying he was saving the state of Georgia money by not paying for his food. In his retirement, Talmadge grew increasingly bitter and became consumed with a violent hatred for Roosevelt. The isolationist Talmadge also deplored the United States fighting in World War II, all the more so as the social changes caused by the war were threatening Talmadge's vision of what an ideal America should be. In particular, the first tentative gains made by the Civil rights movement in the war years enraged Talmadge, who predicated that even the modest gains being made by black Americans during the war would eventually lead to the end of white supremacy in the South.Shortly afterwards, it emerged that he attended a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, which he again admitted to, saying that "everyone had a good time" at the Klan banquet.
Talmadge convinced himself that Roosevelt had deliberately engineered the United States's entry into World War II because he wanted to create the social changes that would end white supremacy, causing him to engage in long tirades against Roosevelt, the New Deal, World War II and black Americans. Anderson wrote during the war Talmadge became a "total cultural isolationist", a man who saw the world outside of the United States as a dangerous, menacing place and believed increasing American involvement with the world beyond would destroy everything that he held sacred. At the same time, Talmadge, always a heavy drinker, started to drink on a scale that began to seriously damage his health.Talmadge's newspaper, The Statesmen printed editorials written by himself claiming that Roosevelt was compromising American sovereignty, making the allegation that the British prime minister Winston Churchill was being allowed to "meddle" in the affairs of Congress with Roosevelt's support. In the 1944 election, The Statesmen ran a headline reading "Election of Roosevelt Means Promoting Negroes in Georgia".
Anderson described Talmadge as "a ghost's voice hellbent on halting the future. But it was a frightened voice, scared that the wave of history had at last washed over the impenetrable culture of his fathers. So easily had his people succumbed to the siren call of change that Gene found himself with one hoary root left, one last undeniable link to yesterday-the black. He alone anchored the old consciousness, the tenacious culture, the old consciousness. Gene Talmadge knew if this one tie was uprooted, his world would be gone forever."When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1944 Smith v. Allwright decision that white-only primaries were illegal and ordered Southern states to hold color-blind primaries, Talmadge was enraged and based his entire effort on a political comeback on a virulently racist platform of upholding white supremacy.
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 Smith v. Allwright decision, ruling that the closed white primary was unconstitutional, as his main red flag issue. Talmadge promised that if he were to be elected, he would restore the "Equal Primary." Talmadge's family and advisers sought to persuade him not to run, warning that due to his failing health that a grueling campaign might kill him, but he refused to step aside in favor of his son Herman who had been groomed as his heir, saying "Naw, I'm the only goddamn son of a bitch who can win".Talmadge's campaign was noted for its violent racist rhetoric as he boasted about assaulting and flogging the black sharecroppers who worked for his family as a young man and he claimed to have chased a black man down the street with an ax because he sat next to a white woman.
In June 2007, evidence from previously sealed FBI files suggested that he was the man behind the Moore's Ford lynching.Through Talmadge was unpopular in the more populous urban areas, his relative popularity in rural areas gave him a fighting chance of still winning the Democratic nomination under the "county unit votes" system in which (essentially) the candidate who won the most counties, not the most popular votes, would receive the nomination. Even then, Talmadge's opponent, James V. Carmichael, still polled well in rural counties, though not as well as in urban counties. Several witnesses stated that they overheard Talmadge speaking to George Hester, the brother of a white man stabbed by a black man named Roger Malcolm, outside of the courthouse in Monroe, Georgia, promising he would "take care of the Negro" in exchange for the Hester family using their influence to help win Walton County. On July 25, 1946, the car carrying Malcolm, who had been bailed out of jail, was stopped by a group of about 30 white men at Moore's Ford. Malcolm, his wife Dorothy, and the other black couple riding in the car, George and Mae Murray Dorsey, were marched out of the car, lined up and shot. The FBI agent investigating the lynching called the allegation that Talmadge led the lynch mob "unbelievable", but he forwarded the allegation to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover "as it may be of some possible future interest."" Talmadge's grandson, Herman Talmadge Jr, told the press: "I don't think my grandfather's involved in any lynching. If y'all are that far off, I feel sorry for you."" About the allegations that it was Talmadge who led the lynch mob at Moore's Ford, the historian Robert Pratt stated: "I'm not surprised...historians over the years have concluded the violently racist tone of his 1946 campaign may have been indirectly responsible for the violence that came at Moore's Ford. It's fair to say he's one of the most virulently racist governors the state has ever had." In 1946, Talmadge won Walton County by only 200 votes.
Talmadge lost the popular vote in the Democratic primary to James V. Carmichael but won a majority of the "county unit votes". He died in December 1946, before he could be sworn in for his fourth term. The cause of death was hepatitis complicated with the effects of liver cirrhosis caused by his heavy drinking.Talmadge's coffin, while lying in state at the Georgia capital, was decorated with a wreath reading KKKK (Knights of the Ku Klux Klan), an organization that Talmadge had at least been friendly with. His 1946 death right before his inauguration precipitated the 1947 "Three Governors Controversy" among Arnall, Melvin E. Thompson, and Talmadge's son Herman. While the general assembly elected his son, Herman Talmadge to take his father's place, the newly elected lieutenant governor Melvin E. Thompson claimed his right to the governor's office, and also the outgoing governor Ellis Arnall refused to leave office. Following the court's decision, Herman Talmadge ceded the office of governor to Thompson, ending the controversy. This controversy damaged Georgia's national reputation.
In 1941, Talmadge received an honorary degree in Doctor of Laws from Oglethorpe University.In 1949, a statue honoring Talmadge was unveiled on the grounds of the Georgia State Capitol.
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. Renaming of the bridge has been suggested due to Talmadge's history as a white supremacist.
|Party political offices|
Richard Russell Jr.
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia |
Eurith D. Rivers
Eurith D. Rivers
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia |
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia |
Richard Russell, Jr.
| Governor of Georgia |
Eurith D. Rivers
Eurith D. Rivers
| Governor of Georgia |
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