Herman Talmadge

Last updated
Herman Talmadge
United States Senator
from Georgia
In office
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
In office
January 21, 1971 January 3, 1981
Preceded by Allen Ellender
Succeeded by Jesse Helms
71st Governor of Georgia
In office
November 17, 1948 January 11, 1955
LieutenantMarvin Griffin
Preceded by Melvin E. Thompson
Succeeded by Marvin Griffin
In office
January 15, 1947 March 18, 1947
LieutenantMelvin E. Thompson
Preceded by Ellis Arnall
Succeeded by Melvin 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 party Democratic
Spouse(s)1st: Katherine Williamson, 2nd: Betty Shingler, 3rd: Lynda Cowart Pierce
ChildrenHerman Talmadge, Jr.
Robert Shingler Talmadge
Father Eugene Talmadge
Alma mater University of Georgia
Profession Lawyer
Military service
AllegianceFlag of the United States (1912-1959).svg  United States
Branch/serviceUS Naval Jack 48 stars.svg  United States Navy
Years of service1941–1945
Rank Lieutenant Commander
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. [2] 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. [2] Talmadge was known for his opposition to civil rights, ordering schools to be closed rather than desegregated. [3]


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. [4] 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. [5] [2]

Early life, education and military service

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). [6] [7] 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. [8]

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. [9]

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.

The Three Governors Controversy

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

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.

United States Senate career

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. [10] 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. [11] 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. [12] 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. [13]

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. [14] [15] [16] [17]

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. [18]


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. [9] She eventually won a massive divorce settlement, including $150,000 in cash and 100 acres of their Lovejoy plantation. [19] She was also allowed to use the remaining 1,200 acres on the plantation. [19] 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.

Later life

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. [20] 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. [21] At the time of his death, Herman Talmadge was the second earliest serving former governor.


See also

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  1. Henderson, Harold Paulk (August 25, 2004). "Eugene Talmadge (1884-1946)". New Georgia Encyclopedia . Retrieved 2020-06-08.
  2. 1 2 3 Buchanan, Scott E. (August 1, 2019) [2002]. "Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  3. Clymer, Adam. "Herman Talmadge, Georgia Senator and Governor, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  4. Mayhew, Paul (July 23, 1956). "The Talmadge Story". The New Republic. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  5. 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.
  6. https://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/html_use/A-0331-1.html
  7. Browning, Joan C.; Burlage, Dorothy Dawson (March 2002). Deep in Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. ISBN   9780820324197.
  8. "Herman Talmadge, 88; Georgia Senator". March 22, 2002 via LA Times.
  9. 1 2 "Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)". New Georgia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2018-09-13.
  10. Kornacki, Steve (2011-02-03) "The 'Southern Strategy', fulfilled" Archived 2011-04-13 at the Wayback Machine , Salon.com
  11. Talmadge: A Political Legacy, A Politician's Life. Herman Talmadge with Mark Royden Winchell
  12. Congressional Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, p. 1441
  13. Clymer, Adam (March 22, 2002). "Herman Talmadge, Georgia Senator and Governor, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved October 14, 2014.
  14. "Expulsion and Censure". United States Senate. Retrieved May 31, 2006.
  15. "Trial Of a Lion: Talmadge fights for survival". Time. 113 (20). May 14, 1979. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  16. B. Drummond Ayres Jr. (October 12, 1979). "SENATE DENOUNCES TALMADGE, 81 TO 15, OVER HIS FINANCES". nytimes.com.
  17. Senate Historical Office. "The Censure Case of Herman E. Talmadge of Georgia (1979)". senate.gov.
  18. 1 2 "Settlement Ends Talmadge Suit At Last Minute". Washington Post. 1978-12-12. ISSN   0190-8286 . Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  19. "Account Login | Whitepages Premium". premium.whitepages.com. Retrieved 2018-09-19.
  20. Jr., B. Drummond Ayres. "Mrs. Talmadge Tells of a Coat Stuffed With $100 Bills" . Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  21. "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Archived from the original on 2015-03-19. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
Party political offices
Preceded by
Eugene Talmadge
Democratic nominee for Governor of Georgia
1948, 1950
Succeeded by
Marvin Griffin
Preceded by
Walter F. George
Democratic Party nominee for United States Senator from Georgia (Class 3)
1956, 1962, 1968, 1974, 1980
Succeeded by
Wyche Fowler
Political offices
Preceded by
Ellis Arnall
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Melvin E. Thompson
Preceded by
Melvin E. Thompson
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Marvin Griffin
Preceded by
Allen J. Ellender
Chairman of Senate Agriculture Committee
Succeeded by
Jesse Helms
North Carolina
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Walter F. George
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Served alongside: Richard B. Russell, Jr., David H. Gambrell, Sam Nunn
Succeeded by
Mack Mattingly