About Ellison D. Smith ("Cotton Ed"), U.S. Senator
Ellison DuRant "Cotton Ed" Smith (August 1, 1864 – November 17, 1944) was a Democratic Party politician from the U.S. state of South Carolina. He represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1909 until 1944.
Smith was born in Lynchburg, South Carolina. Smith attended the University of South Carolina, where he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, and graduated from Wofford College in 1889. Smith served in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1896 to 1900. Smith was unsuccessful in his bid to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1900. Smith then worked in the Agriculture industry, becoming a figure in the cotton industry. Smith received the nickname "Cotton Ed" after he declared "Cotton is king and white is supreme."
Smith was elected to the United States Senate in 1908. He was re-elected five times, although from 1920 until 1944, Smith had four close elections, with three of them leading to run-off elections. Smith never won more than 61% in Democratic party primaries in this time. During his time in Congress, he had a goal to "keep the Negroes down and the price of cotton up." He also developed a reputation for having a violent temper while speaking in Congress and would at times stand on his feet and try to get the floor speaker's attention by repeatedly hacking his armchair with a penknife whenever the speaker angered him. In the 1930's, Smith became Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry and would imperiously summon the fellow Senators on the Committee by saying "tell those butt-heads we will assemble tomorrow morning." When he would speak, Smith would usually chew tobacco and keep a spittoon next to him.
Smith was described as a person who "could never join the twentieth century." In the 1930s, Smith emerged as an opponent to the New Deal, which he dubbed as "the Jackass Age," leading President Franklin Roosevelt to try unsuccessfully to have Smith defeated in the 1938 primary. Smith won re-election in a close election in that year, thanks mainly to the unpopularity of Roosevelt interfering in the primary and a huge endorsement from his fellow South Carolina Senator James Byrnes, a highly popular outspoken New Dealer who was renominated in 1936 after winning by a margin of over 87%; Byrnes, however, despised Smith and only endorsed him because he thought Smith would retire in 1944 and his friend Burnet R. Maybank- the mayor of Charleston who was running for Governor of South Carolina that year- would then go on to successfully win Smith's Senate seat. It was also believed that the people of South Carolina at the point in time were fed up with Smith and that he would have lost the primary if Roosevelt had not interfered. Cotton Ed Smith lost the renomination for the Senate in 1944 to Olin D. Johnston, a pro-Roosevelt New Dealer who had previously challenged Smith in 1938, and he died soon afterward, even before his Senate term had expired.
Smith opposed the woman's suffrage movement, and specifically the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Tying the amendment to black suffrage, he warned on the Senate floor "Here is exactly the identical same amendment applied to the other half of the Negro race. The southern man who votes for the Susan B. Anthony Amendment votes to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment."
At the 1936 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Smith walked out of the convention hall once he saw that a black minister was going to deliver the invocation. Smith recalled, "He started praying and I started walking. And from his great plantation in the sky, John C. Calhoun bent down and whispered in my ear – 'You done good, Ed.'"
In 1944, Johnston again challenged Smith in the Democratic Primary. During the campaign, Johnston, now Governor of South Carolina, was strongly supportive of Roosevelt's foreign policy, but was now lukewarm towards the New Deal and was able to the snatch the "flag of white supremacy" from Smith by boasting how he passed a law making the state's Democrat Party a private club which could keep blacks from voting in the primary. During the campaign, presented himself as an aged and tired old man and during at least one debate with Johnston, he spoke for only a few minutes and then played a recording of a speech he had made six years earlier. After hearing word of his defeat on his 2,500 acre farm near Lynchburg, Smith stood up in frustration and said "Well, I guess I better go out and look at the pigs."