| United States Senator |
January 3, 1957 – January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Walter F. George|
|Succeeded by||Mack F. Mattingly|
|Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry|
January 21, 1971 –January 3, 1981
|Preceded by||Allen Ellender|
|Succeeded by||Jesse Helms|
|71st Governor of Georgia|
November 17, 1948 –January 11, 1955
|Preceded by||Melvin E. Thompson|
|Succeeded by||Marvin Griffin|
January 15, 1947 –March 18, 1947
|Lieutenant||Melvin E. Thompson|
|Preceded by||Ellis Arnall|
|Succeeded by||Melvin E. Thompson|
Herman Eugene Talmadge
August 9, 1913
McRae, Georgia, U.S.
|Died||March 21, 2002 88) (aged|
Hampton, Georgia, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||1st: Katherine Williamson, 2nd: Betty Shingler, 3rd: Lynda Cowart Pierce|
|Children||Herman Talmadge, Jr.|
Robert Shingler Talmadge
|Alma mater||University of Georgia|
|Branch/service||United States Navy|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Herman Eugene Talmadge (August 9, 1913 – March 21, 2002) was an American politician who served as a U.S. Senator from Georgia from 1957 to 1981. A staunch segregationist, he was denounced by the Senate for financial irregularities, which were revealed during a bitter divorce from his second wife.He previously served as governor of the state from 1948 to 1955, taking over after the death of his father Eugene Talmadge, the governor-elect. Talmadge was known for his opposition to civil rights, ordering schools to be closed rather than desegregated.
The younger Talmadge had been a write-in candidate and was one of three competitors serving briefly as the 70th Governor of Georgia before yielding to a court decision in favor of the elected lieutenant governor. Talmadge was elected as governor in a special election in 1948, and elected again to a full term in 1950, serving into 1955. After leaving office, Talmadge was elected in 1956 to the U.S. Senate, serving four terms from 1957 until 1981. He gained considerable power over the decades. He gained chairmanship by seniority of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee. Talmadge lost the 1980 general election to Republican Mack Mattingly.
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 supported infrastructure improvements and increased teachers' salaries.He tried unsuccessfully to undo the reforms of his progressive predecessor. In the Senate, he dealt mainly with issues relating to farmers and rural Americans. He remains a controversial figure in Georgia history, especially due to his opposition to civil rights, and although some Georgians praised him for his infrastructure improvements brought about by the passage of the sales tax, historians often rank him as a below-average governor and senator.
Talmadge was born in 1913 in McRae in Telfair County in south central Georgia, the only son of Eugene Talmadge and his wife, Mattie (Thurmond).His father served as Governor of Georgia during much of the 1930s and the 1940s. Herman Talmadge earned a degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1936, where he had been a member of the Demosthenian Literary Society and Sigma Nu fraternity. Through his mother, he was a second cousin of South Carolina Senator and 1948 Dixiecrat Presidential Candidate Strom Thurmond.
Talmadge married his first wife, Katherine Williamson, a professional model, in 1937. They divorced in the 1930s after three years of marriage. She initiated the divorce after claiming that he stank of cigars, drank excessively, and neglected his family. In 1941, he married the former Betty Shingler, who was 18 years old at the time. The couple did not have a particularly close and affectionate marriage, but they remained on respectable terms and lived largely separate lives until their divorce in 1977. Talmadge's wife, a successful businesswoman, immersed herself in politics, partly due to the lack of marital affection, frequently campaigning for her husband and hosting several functions in both Georgia and Washington. Talmadge's wife and friends later pointed to his arrogant behavior, alcoholism, jealousy, unwillingness to spend time with the family, and occasional extramarital affairs as the reason for the bad marriage.
He returned to McRae to set up a law practice. When World War II broke out, Talmadge joined the United States Navy, serving in combat in the South Pacific. He reached the rank of lieutenant commander.
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.
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. Many African-American veterans began to seek social justice.
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.
Talmadge was elected to the United States Senate in 1956. Most blacks 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.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. Given his successive re-elections from the one-party state of Georgia, Talmadge gained the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee by seniority. He sponsored bills to help white farmers, an important constituency.
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.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.
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.
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.
After the trial, he faced significant opposition in the state's Democratic primary for the first time in 24 years. Though he succeeded in winning the primary runoff against the state's lieutenant governor, Talmadge's ethical conduct was a significant issue and he was defeated by the Republican candidate, Mack Mattingly.
Talmadge filed for divorce from his wife in 1977 against her will. Betty Talmadge, who did not want the divorce, fought her husband in courts, stating that he was guilty of habitual intoxication and cruel treatment.She eventually won a massive divorce settlement, including $150,000 in cash and 100 acres of their Lovejoy plantation. She was also allowed to use the remaining 1,200 acres on the plantation. His wife testified against him in 1980 during the investigation into his finances, contributing to the Senate denunciation, which helped destroy his reputation and end his long political career.
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.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. At the time of his death, Herman Talmadge was the second earliest serving former governor.
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|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia |
Walter F. George
| Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Georgia (Class 3) |
1956, 1962, 1968, 1974, 1980
| Governor of Georgia |
Melvin E. Thompson
Melvin E. Thompson
| Governor of Georgia|
Allen J. Ellender
| Chairman of Senate Agriculture Committee |
Walter F. George
| U.S. senator (Class 3) from Georgia |
Served alongside: Richard B. Russell, Jr., David H. Gambrell, Sam Nunn