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About Walter Franklin George
Walter Franklin George (January 29, 1878 – August 4, 1957) was an American politician from the state of Georgia. He was a long-time United States Senator and was President pro tempore of the Senate from 1955 to 1957. He was a Democrat.
George was born on a farm near Preston, Georgia. He attended public schools and then Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. He received his law degree from Mercer in 1901 and entered the practice of law. George served as a Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1917 and as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia from 1917 to 1922.
George resigned from the Supreme Court of Georgia to run for a seat in the United States Senate, which became available due to the death of Thomas E. Watson. George won the special election but rather than take his seat immediately when the Senate reconvened on November 21, 1922, George allowed the appointed Rebecca Latimer Felton to be officially sworn in, making her the first woman seated in the Senate, and serving until George took office on November 22, 1922, one day later. George was re-elected to his first full six year term in 1926. He served in the Senate from 1923 until 1957, declining to run for a sixth full term in 1956. At that time, the Republican Party in Georgia was very weak, so the real reelection contests for George were in the Democratic primaries.
During the 1920s George, a Democrat, tended to vote much like his fellow senators from the South—conservatively. He supported prohibition and opposed civil rights for blacks, even voting against anti-lynching measures. He was a strong supporter of large corporations, particularly those based in Georgia, like the Coca-Cola Company and Georgia Power Company.
In 1928 Georgia's congressional delegation selected George as their candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Al Smith from New York received the national nomination but was soundly defeated by Republican candidate Herbert Hoover.) Even though George was never a serious candidate for the nomination, it was clear that he was very popular among his fellow Georgians.
The stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression of the 1930s, and with it a new era in American politics. Still very conservative, George opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt's nomination for president in 1932. Although never a strong proponent of the New Deal (and certainly not to the degree that his fellow senator Richard B. Russell Jr. was), George did support some programs that he saw as beneficial to Georgia—primarily the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. He would also support several of the earlier New Deal policies George found far more to oppose during Roosevelt's second term, however, including rigorous regulation of utility companies, the Wealth Tax Act, and Roosevelt's attempt to pack the U.S. Supreme Court with justices favorable to his New Deal policies. Roosevelt—who considered Georgia his "second home," given the time he spent at Warm Springs—undertook to actively try and unseat George. In a famous speech delivered in Barnesville on August 11, 1938, Roosevelt praised George for his service and acknowledged his intelligence and honor but urged voters to choose George's opponent Lawrence Camp in the upcoming Democratic primary. George shook the president's hand and accepted the challenge.
George was astute enough not to openly attack President Roosevelt himself; Roosevelt was extremely popular in Georgia. Instead George accused the President's advisors of promoting his interference in Georgia politics, painting a dire picture of another round of Reconstruction to be visited upon Georgia if the northern advisors had their way. George easily won renomination for his senate seat and, with the Democratic Party firmly in control of Georgia, easily won reelection also.
When World War II began in Europe, George was at first a member of the isolationist faction in the United States Senate, but later supported the lend-lease program between the United States and Britain. When the United States entered the war, George helped guide legislation to finance it while he was chairman of the finance committee. Throughout his career, George was known as a supporter of legislation to help farmers. He also supported racial segregation like most southern senators of the time, signing "The Southern Manifesto" in 1956 and introducing it into the Congressional Record.
George was a member of twelve committees while he was in the Senate, and chairman of five, including the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations from 1940 to 1941 and from 1955 to 1957, and the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance from 1941 to 1947 and from 1949 to 1953. He was also President pro tempore of the Senate from 1955 to 1957. While in the Senate, George became known for his polished oratory and was considered one of the Senate's best public speakers.
Early in 1957, shortly after his retirement from the Senate, George was appointed special ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by President Dwight Eisenhower. He served in this position for about six months before becoming seriously ill. He died in Vienna, Georgia and is interred in the Vienna cemetery.
The Walter F. George School of Law of Mercer University, the former Walter F. George High School (presently South Atlanta High School) in Atlanta, Georgia, and Walter F. George Lake in western Georgia are named for him. The Walter F. George Foundation, created at Mercer when the university's law school was named in honor of George in 1947, continues to award scholarships to Mercer law students who plan to pursue careers in public service. George's portrait hangs in the Georgia state capitol in Atlanta.
In 1960, the United States Postal Service issued a $.04 cent stamp honoring George. The official place of issue was Vienna, Georgia, George's final home.
Jacqueline Kennedy recalled that her late husband, John F. Kennedy, considered George the finest Senator he had served with, and he frequently made certain he was in attendance in the Senate chamber whenever George was making an address.