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Coleman Livingston Blease

United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
1925 – 1931
Preceded by Nathaniel B. Dial
Succeeded by James F. Byrnes

Born October 8, 1868
Newberry, South Carolina
Died January 19, 1942
Columbia, South Carolina
Resting place Rosemont Cemetery,Newberry, South Carolina
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lillie B. Summers
Carolina Floyd
Alma mater Georgetown University
Occupation Attorney

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 state legislator, as 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 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.[1]

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 protege 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. His own 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.[2] 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."[3] This new era saw a sharp division within the state Democratic Party (the Republican Party being virtually non-existent in South Carolina and much of the rest of the South at this time), with the factions known for many years as being "Tillmanites" and "Bleaseites."

Blease as Governor

Blease was elected governor in 1910 because he "knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes."[3] His legislative program was erratic and entirely 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 factories to ensure safety 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 such that even Tillman branded Blease's style as "Jim Tillmanism." Blease favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, he was steadfastly against the education of blacks, and he even derided one of his opponents 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 scrutiny and he had praised Jim Tillman for the murder of The State editor N.G. Gonzales in 1903. Blease recommended that imprisonment be given to reporters or editors who publish candidates' speeches.

In addition, Blease failed to enforce laws and even encouraged breaking the law. His black chauffeur was fined twice for speeding and both times Blease pardoned him. Blease enjoyed the use of the pardon and he stated that he wanted to pardon at least one thousand men before he exited office because he wanted "to give the poor devils a chance."[4] He far exceeded his goal and it is estimated that he pardoned between 1,500 to 1,700 prisoners, some of whom were guilty of murder and other heinous crimes. It was rumored by his enemies 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, he lost the U.S. Senate election of 1914 against incumbent Senator Ellison D. Smith and spent a decade outside the mainstream of politics. The administration of Governor Richard Irvine Manning III (1915-1919) brought many Progressive Era reforms to the state, but as the political climate turned more reactionary after 1919, Blease's popularity rebounded. Blease lacked a constructive program and the prudence of a successful organizer. 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: "Do what you want, say what you please...the man for the job is Coley Blease!"


Blease and soft drinks

Governor Blease disliked carbonated soft drinks and gave voice to his beliefs in his gubernatorial inaugural address in 1911.

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. [5]

Blease as Senator

In 1924, Blease defeated James F. Byrnes in the Democratic primary and was elected to the U.S. Senate. His campaign showed that he was the same politician he had always been and 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's hopes that year, though it was Byrnes who defeated Blease in his 1930 run for re-election.


  1. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, page 141. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  2. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, page 49. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  3. ^ a b Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, page 50. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  4. ^ Lander, Ernest: A History of South Carolina 1865-1960, pages 51-52. University of South Carolina Press, 1970.
  5. ^ Blease 1911 inaugural address, page 85


  • Adams, James Truslow (1940). Dictionary of American History. Charles Scribner's Sons.  
  • Simon, Bryant (1996). "The Appeal of Cole Blease of South Carolina: Race, Class, and Sex in the New South". Journal of Southern History 62: 57–86 –. doi:10.2307/2211206.  
  • Burnside, Ronald Dantan (1963). The Governorship of Coleman Livingston Blease of South Carolina, 1911-1915. Indiana University.  
  • Hollis, Daniel W. (1979). "Cole Blease: The Years Between the Governorship and the Senate, 1915-1924". South Carolina Historical Magazine 80: 1–17 –.  
  • Hollis, Daniel W. (1978). "Cole L. Blease and the Senatorial Campaign of 1924". Proceedings of the South Carolina Historical Association: 53–68 –.  
  • Lander, Jr., Ernest McPherson (1970). A History of South Carolina, 1865-1960. University of South Carolina Press. pp. 49–53, 141. ISBN 0872491692.  
  • Miller, Anthony Barry (1971). Coleman Livingston Blease. University of North Carolina, Greensboro.  
  • Simon, Bryant (1998). A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4704-6.  
  • Stone, Clarence N. (1963). "Bleaseism and the 1912 Election in South Carolina". North Carolina Historical Review 40: 54–74. –.  

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Martin Frederick Ansel
Governor of South Carolina
1911 – 1915
Succeeded by
Charles Aurelius Smith
United States Senate
Preceded by
Nathaniel B. Dial
United States Senator from South Carolina
1925 – 1931
Succeeded by
James F. Byrnes


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