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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Eugene Talmadge's political legacy in Georgia

Talmadge discusses his father's political legacy. According to Talmadge, his father dominated Georgia politics from 1926, when he first entered the political scene, until his death in 1946. Although Eugene Talmadge's political career was marked by numerous ups and downs, Talmadge argues that he consistently maintained the loyalty of one-third of the people, the opposition of another third, and the fluctuating support of the remaining third. In general, Talmadge also asserts that his father maintained powerful allies over the course of his career; however, few of those allies were politicians. Instead, Talmadge describes how his father sought to appeal to and work with "the masses" in his political endeavors.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 15 and 24, 1975. Interview A-0331-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

If people tried to look back now and see what Eugene Talmadge, what impact he had on the state and on politics generally in this country, what do you think . . .
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, he really dominated the politics of Georgia from 1926 until he died in 1946. In fact, he dominated it for a time after his death. I would never have been elected governor of Georgia by the legislature or by the people had I not been Eugene Talmadge's son. My father had a following of about a third of the people who thought that he could do no wrong. There was about another third of the people in the state that thought he could do no right. Then, there was about another third that would support him when they thought he was right and oppose him when they thought he was wrong. That was the reason that he could have so many ups and downs in his political career. I don't know of anyone in the history of Georgia that could have been defeated for the Senate by Russell, defeated for the Senate by George and then come back and be elected governor in 1940 and then have been defeated by Arnall in 1942 and then come back and be elected governor again in 1946. Had he not had that solid support that was with him and then when the issues would change somewhat in my father's favor and the third of the people that were neither strong Talmadge people nor strong anti-Talmadge people would tend to support my father, he would win. When they would leave him, he would lose. So, he dominated the politics of the state for more than twenty years, probably to a greater degree than any other man in the history of the state unless it was Tom Watson. Tom Watson made and unmade governors for a period of about ten or fifteen years and then was elected to the United States Senate in 1920 and died in office in the Senate in 1922. Both of them had strong followings that would do most anything that they said. My father could influence his friends to support other candidates and so could Watson. They are probably the only two individuals in the history of the state that could do that, translate their own following, or project it to aid other candidates.
JACK NELSON:
Of course, some of the Georgia political leaders have never really tried that. I think that you usually stayed away from other people's politics as a general rule.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right.
JACK NELSON:
Although I do think that you did help Senator Nunn.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, I helped Senator Nunn and I helped Marvin Griffin. I campaigned openly for Senator Nunn. I did not campaign openly for Marvin Griffin. I did pass the word that he was the most likely choice that could win. Fred Hand was a close friend of mine and if I could have appointed the governor, I think that I would have selected Fred Hand in preference to Marvin Griffin. But Fred was a rather cold and aloof sort of fellow that didn't take on with the voters.
JACK NELSON:
Going back to your father's career, what about the people in Georgia who were his leading political allies? Did he have any over a period of years?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, but very few of them, however, were politicians Politicians, as a rule, didn't support my father. Those were the days of the courthouse rings and the county unit systems and the politicians wanted governors, when they had to do something in their county, they could be a deputy governor of their particular county. In other words, a strong man politically in Tailferr County for a long time was Zack Cravey and then Henry Williams. And we had other strong men like that in counties, both urban and rural. They were the recognized political leaders in those areas. They tended to avoid my father because he was somewhat of a maverick and an independent and they couldn't dictate the policies in the county, the employees in the county and they didn't trust my father for that reason. He was just as apt to take the advice of the two horse farmer as he was that of the sherrif of the county. As a general rule, the local politicians weren't natural Talmadge allies. In some of the counties, my father was so strong, commanding such huge support from counties that the county politicians had to support him whether they liked it or not. But he did have some close allies, Charlie Redwine of Fayette County, who was a politician, a farmer, a banker, a political leader in that county for many years. James S. Peters of Manchester, Georgia, who was a banker, political and civic leader in that area. But it was largely the masses who followed my father. Many, many times, when I was managing his campaigns, I managed his campaign in 1938 for the Senate against Senator George, we lost that one. I managed his campaign for governor in 1940, we won that one. I managed his campaign for governor in 1946, we won that one. In many counties, we didn't have a single political leader in the county for us. Under those conditions, I would pick out some small town merchant or some farmer. We would never officially appoint a Talmadge campaign manager in a county because if you did that, you immediately allienated the voters who didn't like that individual. So, I just had one in my mind who was the political manager in that county and it was never officially announce, but he would be the man that I would deal with. County after county, we would carry them overwhelmingly where there wouldn't be a single political leader in the county supporting myfather.