About Eugene Talmadge
Eugene Talmadge (September 23, 1884 – December 21, 1946) was a 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 1946, he died before taking office. To date only Joe Brown and Eugene Talmadge have been elected four times as Governor of Georgia.
Talmadge was born in Forsyth, Georgia. He went to 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. Eugene had some offices in Telfair County, Georgia. He was unsuccessful twice when running for the Georgia state legislature, but was elected State Agriculture commissioner in 1926 and was re-elected. Talmadge used the newspaper of his department to give advice to farmers and talk about his political views. He was criticized by the State Senate for improperly spending funds and using department funds to make trips to the Kentucky Derby. Accused of "stealing" $20,000 by shipping Georgia hogs to Chicago, Talmadge told one group of farmers, "Sure I stole it! But I stole it for you."
In 1932, Governor Richard B. Russell, Jr. sought a seat in the United States Senate. Talmadge ran for Governor and won a majority of the county unit votes in the Primary (then tantamount to election, since the Republican Party was practically non-existent). The County Unit System gave power to the most rural counties, which were Talmadge's base. He boasted, , "I can carry any county that ain't got street cars." He made 12 campaign promises, the most controversial of which was to lower the price of an automobile license to only $3, which put them within the budgets of the poor farmers. The state legislature intensely debated the $3 license issue but did not pass it. After it adjourned, Talmadge fixed the $3 fee by proclamation.
He was re-elected in 1934. When officials refused to do what he wanted, he was known to take actions, including issuing executive orders, that were called 'dictatorial' by his critics.
Talmadge governed as a conservative, and vehemently attacked the liberalism of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, singling out policies favorable to blacks, the farm programs, and relief programs such as the WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps. He tried to build a region-wide coalition. making a national speaking tour in preparation for a challenge to FDR in 1936. 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. Talmadge pledged to defend the "sovereignty of our States and local self-government" at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. But Roosevelt, who visited Georgia often, 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, and Talmadge's presidential hopes collapsed.
Talmadge challenged Senator Walter George in 1938. Roosevelt tried to purge George and had his own candidate Lawrence Camp. With his opposition split, George won easily.
University of Georgia
Main article: Cocking affair
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 blacks and whites 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 for dismissal of offending faculty members, 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, and it contributed to Talmadge's defeat by Ellis Arnall in 1942.
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 United States Supreme Court's Smith v. Allwright decision as his main issue. Talmadge promised that if he were to be elected, he would restore the 'Equal Primary'.
Talmadge lost the popular vote in the Democratic primary to James V. Carmichael but won a majority of the 'county unit votes'. However, he died in December 1946, before he could be sworn in for his fourth term; his death precipitated the 1947 "three governors" controversy among Arnall, Melvin E. Thompson and Talmadge's son Herman.
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.
(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.