Ellis Arnall, Governor

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Ellis Gibbs Arnall

Birthdate: (85)
Birthplace: Newnan, Georgia
Death: 1992 (85)
Immediate Family:

Son of Joseph Gibbs Arnall and Bessie E. Arnall
Husband of Mildred Delany Arnall

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Ellis Arnall, Governor



Ellis Gibbs Arnall (March 20, 1907, Newnan, Georgia – December 13, 1992) was an American politician, a liberal Democrat who served as the 69th Governor of the U.S. state of Georgia from 1943 to 1947.


Arnall attended Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, the University of the South, and the University of Georgia School of Law. He was admitted to the practice of law in 1931. While attending Mercer University, Arnall was initiated into Kappa Alpha Order.

Early career

In 1932, Coweta County voters elected Arnall to the Georgia House of Representatives. Arnall was elected 'Speaker Pro Tempore', the second highest officer position in the Georgia House. Governor Eurith D. Rivers appointed Arnall, then thirty-one, to a vacancy in the office of state attorney general.


Actions undertaken by Governor Eugene Talmadge's had caused the state's colleges to lose accreditation. Arnall unseated Talmadge in the 1942 primay, 174,757 (57.7 percent) to 128,394 (42.4 percent). Without Republican opposition, Arnall hence became the youngest governor then serving in the United States.

Arnall obtained the repeal of the poll tax, rarification in 1945 of a new state constitution, and a state employee merit system. He also retired the Georgia state debt. When young men were drafted into the armed forces during World War II, Arnall argued that youths old enough to fight in war should be able to vote for their country's leadership. He succeeded in lowering the voting age to eighteen more than two decades before the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution implemented that change nationally. Georgia thus became the first state to grant the franchise to 18-year olds. Arnall also removed the prison system under the governor's control. He established a board of corrections to oversee state prisons and a pardon and parole board to handle such requests. He removed the University of Georgia from political machinations, and he led efforts to prevent a governor from exercising dictatorial powers, as opponents of Governor Eugene Talmadge had alleged occurred during that administration. Arnall's reforms won him attention from the national press.

Re-election attempt

But his career declined as he was unable to persuade the legislature to allow him to seek re-election. Arnall stood behind Henry A. Wallace's efforts to remain Vice President in 1944, when the former United States Secretary of Agriculture was instead replaced by U.S. Senator Harry Truman of Missouri. Arnall adhered to the United States Supreme Court decision banning the all-white Democratic party primary in the case Smith v. Allwright and hence opened the crucial Democratic primary elections to African Americans. This move particularly enraged Talmadge and his supporters, who used the issue to brand Arnall a 'race-traitor'.

Eugene Talmadge was elected governor once again in 1946, but he died a month before he was scheduled to take office in January 1947. The state legislature then elected Talmadge's son, Herman Talmadge, as governor. Arnall refused to resign the office during the controversy, and the younger Talmadge ended up locking Arnall out of his office in the state capitol. Arnall soon endorsed Melvin E. Thompson's unsuccessful claim to the office.

Later career

After leaving office, Arnall worked as an attorney and a businessman in Atlanta, founding Arnall Golden & Gregory (now Arnall Golden Gregory LLP), which continues to be one of Atlanta's leading law firms. For a time one of his law partners was later U.S. Representative Elliott Levitas. Arnall served in the Truman administration for a short time as Director of the Office of Price Administration. Truman offered Arnall the post of Solicitor General but he declined in order to return to private practice.

The 1966 election

Arnall's last campaign was for governor was in 1966. His principal opponent for the nomination was Lester Maddox, an Atlanta businessman who had hoisted ax handles as a symbol of his opposition to desegregation. Maddox shelled Arnall as "the granddaddy of forced racial integration ... a candidate who would never raise his voice or a finger - much less an ax handle - to protect the liberty of Georgia." Arnall practically ignored Maddox and concentrated his fire on Republican Howard Callaway, on whom Arnall had compiled a dossier which he said would guarantee Republican defeat in the general election. Arnall won a plurality of the vote in the primary but was denied the required majority because of support for future U.S. President Jimmy Carter, then an obscure state senator from Plains, Georgia. Arnall barely campaigned in the run-off election, and the result was a surprising victory for Maddox. After his own elimination, Carter refused to endorse Arnall, but he did formally support Maddox in the general election against the Callaway.

Maddox defeated Arnall in the runoff, 443,055 to 373,004. The civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr., denounced what he called "a corroding cancer in the Georgia body politic. Georgia is a sick state produced by the diseases of a sick nation. This election revealed that Georgia is desperately competing with Mississippi for the bottom." Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., of Atlanta, who once worked for Arnall's law firm, blamed Arnall's loss on the "combined forces of ignorance, prejudice, reactionism, and the duplicity of many Republican voters," many of whom are believed to have voted for Maddox in the Democratic runoff on the theory that Maddox would be a weaker opponent for Callaway than would have been Arnall. Stunned Arnall backers announced a write-in candidacy for the general election, a move which impacted Callaway more than it did Maddox. In the general election, Callaway finished in the tabulation with a slight plurality over Maddox. Arnall received more than 52,000 write-in ballots and led the field in one county, Liberty County in the southeastern portion of the state. Under the election rules then in effect, the state legislature was required to select a governor from the two candidates with the highest number of votes. With the legislature overwhelmingly dominated by Democrats and despite court challenges, Maddox became governor early in 1967.

Death and legacy

After the 1966 campaign, Arnall never again sought public office. Harold Paulk Henderson's published the 1991 biography, The Politics of Change in Georgia: A Political Biography of Ellis Arnall.

Arnall wrote the 1946 book, The Shore Dimly Seen (J. B. Lippincott & Co.), about politics and challenges of the South.

Arnall was an active Civitan.

Arnall is interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery in his native Newnan.

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Ellis Arnall, Governor's Timeline

Newnan, Georgia
Age 85