Coleman Livingston Blease, Governor, U.S. Senator

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Coleman Livingston Blease

Birthdate: (74)
Death: 1942 (74)
Immediate Family:

Son of Henry Horatio Blease and Mary Ann Livingston

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Immediate Family

About Coleman Livingston Blease, Governor, U.S. Senator

Coleman Livingston Blease (October 8, 1868 – January 19, 1942) was a politician from the U.S. state of South Carolina known for his populist appeals and racism. He served as a Democratic state legislator, as the 90th Governor of South Carolina, and as a U.S. Senator.

Early life and career

Coleman Livingston Blease was born near the town of Newberry, South Carolina, on October 8, 1868, the year that South Carolina's new Reconstruction constitution was adopted, and blacks began participating in public political life. Blease was educated at Newberry College, the University of South Carolina, and Georgetown University, where he graduated from the law department in 1889. At the University of South Carolina, Blease was expelled for plagiarism and henceforth he carried a grudge against the university.

Political career

Blease returned to Newberry to practice law and enter politics. He began his political career in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1890 as a protégé of Benjamin Ryan Tillman. But whereas Tillman drew his support from South Carolina's well-to-do white farmers, Blease recognized that the tenant farmers and textile mill workers lacked a political voice.

In 1895 the state legislature ratified a new constitution that essentially disfranchised African-American citizens, thus suppressing much of the Republican Party in the state. The state had a one-party system, run by the Democrats. Blease's rise to power, as he moved from the South Carolina House of Representatives to the South Carolina Senate in 1900, was built on the support of both the sharecroppers and mill workers, an increasingly important segment of the electorate in South Carolina in this period. His appeal to the millworkers and sharecroppers was based on his personality and his view that made the "inarticulate masses feel that Coley was making them an important political force in the state." This new era saw a sharp division within the state Democratic Party, with the factions known for many years as being "Tillmanites" and "Bleaseites." Shortly before he was elected governor, Blease was elected as the mayor of Newberry in 1910. He held this position until November 1910, when he became the governor of the state.

Blease as Governor

Blease was elected governor in 1910 because he "knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes." His legislative program was erratic and without consistency. Blease favored more aid to schools, yet opposed compulsory attendance. He abolished the textile mill of the state penitentiary for health reasons, yet opposed inspections of private factories to ensure safe and healthful working conditions.

Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Ben Tillman; Tillman branded Blease's style as "Jim Tillmanism", (Jim Tillman being Ben Tillman's nephew). Blease favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, strongly opposed the education of blacks, and derided an opponent for being a trustee of a black school. Blease once buried the severed finger of a black man who had been lynched in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden.

The newspapers did not escape Blease's wrath, and he praised Jim Tillman for the murder of The State editor N.G. Gonzales in 1903. Blease advocated imprisonment for reporters or editors who published candidates' speeches.

Blease failed to enforce laws and was himself a scofflaw. On two occasions, he pardoned his black chauffeur when he was cited for speeding. Enjoying the power to pardon, Blease said that he wanted to pardon at least one thousand men before he exited office because he wanted "to give the poor devils a chance." He was estimated to have pardoned between 1,500 to 1,700 prisoners, some of whom were guilty of murder and other serious crimes. His political enemies suggested that Blease received payments to pardon criminals.

Although the combined opposition of Tillman and the upper classes could not prevent his re-election in 1912, Blease lost the U.S. Senate election of 1914 against the incumbent Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith. In a show of spite for progressive governor-elect Richard Irvine Manning III, Blease resigned five days before the end of his second term on January 14, 1915, so that he did not have to attend Manning's inauguration. Charles Aurelius Smith succeeded to the governorship and performed ceremonial functions during his five days in office.

Later years

Afterward, Blease spent a decade outside the mainstream of politics. Manning's administration (1915–1919) brought many Progressive Era reforms to the state. As the political climate turned more reactionary after 1919, when the state and nation suffered with postwar ecnomic adjustments, Blease's popularity rebounded. Blease lacked a constructive program, but his agitations had permanently quickened the political consciousness of the cotton-mill operatives and other poor whites.

In virtually all of his campaigns, Blease used a catchy, nonsensical, non-specific campaign jingle that became well known to virtually every voter in South Carolina in the era. For instance, he used: "Roll up your sleeves, say what you please...the man for the job is Coley Blease!"

Blease and soft drinks

Blease disliked the newly developed carbonated soft drinks. In his gubernatorial inaugural address in 1911 he said:

“I also, in this connection, beg leave to call your attention to the evil of the habitual drinking of Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and such like mixtures, as I fully believe they are injurious. It would be better for our people if they had nice, respectable places where they could go and buy a good, pure glass of cold beer, than to drink such concoctions.”

Blease as Senator

In 1924, Blease defeated James F. Byrnes in the Democratic primary and was elected to the U.S. Senate. His campaign foreshadowed his style as Senator. Blease's defeat of Byrnes was widely credited to a rumor campaign that Byrnes, who was raised a Roman Catholic in Charleston had not really left that faith when he entered politics. Such an assertion in an overwhelmingly Protestant state in the years when the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power ruined Byrnes' hopes that year. Byrnes later defeated Blease in his 1930 run for re-election.

In 1928, Blease proposed the last and most strict anti-miscegenation amendment to the U.S. Constitution, requiring that Congress set a punishment for interracial couples attempting to get married, and for people officiating an interracial marriage.

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Coleman Livingston Blease, Governor, U.S. Senator's Timeline

Age 74