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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 >>

The 1947 "Two Governor Row" as described by Talmadge

Talmadge describes the "Two Governor Row" scandal of 1947. Following his father's unexpected death during his gubernatorial campaign in 1946, Talmadge became determined to take his father's place. The Georgia General Assembly selected Talmadge rather than opponent James Carmichael; however, outgoing governor, Ellis Arnall, refused to surrender his office because he believed the decision of the General Assembly to be unconstitutional. Talmadge recalls how his men virtually chased Arnall from the office before temporarily taking over and alludes to interpersonal dynamics within the Democratic Party in Georgia at that time.

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

Meanwhile, prior to the November election, one of my friends who was a county school supertindent in Jasper County . . . he's dead now, I afterwards made him U.S. Marshal after I came to the Senate . . . called my attention to a provision in the Georgia constitution at the time, you know originally, the General Assembly elected all public officers and the same thing was true in many other states. then gradually, that power was delegated to the people. But there was an old provision that had come down from the early constitution that in the event of a failure of election, the General Assembly of Georgia would proceed to elect the governor of Georgia from those then in line from the next highest number of votes. So, I had some lawyers look into the doggoned thing and we decided that if something happened to my daddy, that the General Assembly of Georgia had to elect the governor . . .
JACK NELSON:
Do you recall the lawyers that you checked with?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, Buck Murphy and Sam Hewlitt and W. S. Mann and a good many others and I had studied the thing pretty carefully myself. I reached that conclusion and we reached the conclusion that if my father died before he was inaugurated in January, that the General Assembly would have to elect the governor from among those then living with the next highest number of votes, in the next general election in November. So, I passed the word to about half a dozen Talmadge leaders to get me . . . we knew that Carmichael was going to get some write-in votes because he had opposed my daddy and a lot of people were bitter about him being defeated. We figured that we had to have several hundred write in votes for me.
JACK NELSON:
And that was because the legislature would have to elect from the people who got votes?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right, because that constitutional provision had been called to my attention by a county school supertindent in Jasper County. So, I got several hundred votes in Tellfair County and I think that I got a few hundred in Worth County and a few hundred in Macon County and a scattering number of other counties. And when we had that famous two governor row, it finally wound up that Jimmy Carmichael had four or five hundred write in votes and I had about a hundred more write in votes than he had. So, that's when we had that famous Two Governor Row down there in 1947, when the General Assembly elected me governor by a vote of about two to one. The networks stayed on the air all night, I was inaugurated about one thirty or two in the morning, made an extemperaneous speech to the General Assembly of Georgia that was broadcast all over the United States . . . (laughter)
JACK NELSON:
Did you fully expect to remain as governor or . . .
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, I thought that I would. In those days, I was pretty naive. I thought that judges, regardless of their political inclinations, would uphold the law as they saw it. I had been taught to respect the courts, I had been trained as a lawyer. Then the General Assembly sent the escort committee down there to see me, to take me to the governor's office. We got to the governor's office and Governor Arnall wouldn't surrender the office. Well, there were about ten thousand people there around the capitol, about 90% of them my friends and they were absolutely furious and if they could have gotten to Governor Arnall, they would probably have physically harmed him. That was shortly after World War II. The Georgia National Guard was loyal to me, they had just returned from combat overseas. Then, they had the Home Guard that Governor Arnall had set up in the absence of the National Guard and the Home Guard was loyal and taking orders from Governor Arnall.
JACK NELSON:
How many members were in the Home Guard?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I don't remember now. But everyone was wondering when the National Guard and the Home Guard were going to start shooting each other. In any event, after Governor Arnall refused to surrender the office, I gave orders to the National Guard to see that Governor Arnall was escorted all the way to Newnan, Georgia and no harm befell him and then when they did that, to come back to the capitol and change locks on the capitol door, the governor's office. I would be in early the next moring and take possession of the governor's office, which I did.
JACK NELSON:
I think that he showed up the next morning, didn't he?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
He showed up . . .
JACK NELSON:
It was Bill Benton wasn't it, that came to the door and . . .
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I had been in the office, I guess, for about an hour and Governor Arnall came in demanding his office. Benton said, "If you want to see the governor, you will have to sit down and wait your turn like everybody else." (laughter)
JACK NELSON:
So, he didn't come in, then did he?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
No, he stormed out, took him a seat under the rotunda of the state capitol and he stayed there for a day or two and finally one of my friends in the state Senate, Jimmy Dykes, got one of those huge firecrackers about six inches long and he got up on the floor above Governor Arnall there and lit that firecracker and dropped it right behind Governor Arnall's desk and it it went off, ca-whoom! I think that Arnall thought that somebody was throwing a bomb at him or shooting him or something. (laughter) So, he rushed out of the capitol as fast as he could and went up to his law offices in the Candler Building and didn't come back to the capitol anymore.