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Eugene Talmadge (September 23, 1884 – December 21, 1946) was a Democratic politician who served as governor of Georgia from 1933 to 1937 and again from 1941 to 1943. Elected to another 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. 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 twice. 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."[1]

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, similar to the rotten borough system that had once prevailed in Britain, was such that three rural counties with less than 1,000 residents could cast as many votes in the primary as the entire city of Atlanta. Talmadge was fond of saying, "I can carry any county that ain't got street cars."[2].

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 was a critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unable to run for re-election in 1936, Talmadge chose to challenge Senator Russell in the primary, but Russell defeated Talmadge by a wide margin. Talmadge was unsuccessful in his challenge to Senator Walter George in 1938.

Talmadge returned to the Governor's office in 1940. During his third two-year term, he urged that the state university board of regents not rehire Walter Cocking, a dean at the University of Georgia whom he accused of communist and pro-integration sympathies. After the board voted to rehire him, Talmadge had three of its members removed and replaced with his supporters. They then dismissed Cocking. This incident 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. He was thought by some as a fierce racist and segregationist, he regularly attacked blacks and the poor, and he once praised Adolf Hitler as "a mighty fine man," according to news reports.[3] (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.[4])

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.

Notes and references

  1. ^ Current Biography 1941, pp 850-52
  2. ^ Current Biography 1941, p 851
  3. ^ Cook, James F., "Cocking Affair", New Georgia Encyclopedia, Georgia Humanities Council and University of Georgia Press, 2002. Accessed 27 January 2009
  4. ^ Bynum, Russ, "Opera Tells How Georgia Racism Backfired", Associated Press, April 19, 2007. Accessed 27 January 2009.

See also

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Russell, Jr.
Governor of Georgia
1933–1937
Succeeded by
Eurith D. Rivers
Preceded by
Eurith D. Rivers
Governor of Georgia
1941–1943
Succeeded by
Ellis Arnall
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