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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 >>

Deciding to run for United States Senate in 1956

Talmadge describes a conversation he had with Senator Walter George at the National Democratic Convention of 1952. At the time, Talmadge was serving as governor of Georgia. Senator George informed Talmadge that he would not likely seek reelection in 1956 and that he believed Talmadge should succeed him. When the time came, however, George took steps to launch his campaign for reelection. Ultimately, Senator George withdrew and Talmadge was able to win the support of George's political allies in his own bid for the Senate. Talmadge ruminates briefly about what might have happened had he ran against Senator George and the potential impact on political coalitions within Georgia.

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

JACK NELSON:
Now, you told me earlier that ever since you were a kid, you had thought of being in the Senate, that you wanted to be a Senator. When did you first really cast an eye toward Senator George's seat?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I guess that it began with the Chicago convention in 1952. We were running Senator Russell then for the presidency and I had appointed a delegation with a very broad base to the convention, including all the members of the United States Senate and Congress from Georgia and people who were leaders in all walks of life in Georgia, not neccessarily my own political followers. In fact, I suspect a third of the delegates at that time were not political followers of mine. In Chicago at the convention, Senator George and I were sitting around chatting one day and he said to me, "Herman," . . . I think that he called me "Herman" instead of "Governor," he said, "I do not expect to seek reelection to the United States Senate. Of course, I could conceivably change my mind, but I have no idea that that will occur. I hope that you run to succeed me and if you do, I imagine that your opponent will be former governor Ellis Arnall. I will be delighted to take the stump for you if you would like me to do so." I thanked him and then I got to thinking about running for the Senate. Many of my friends had been talking to me about it and I presumed from 1952 onward that I was looking toward running for the Senate in '56. That was the time when Senator George's term would expire. Of course, I went out of the governor's office in January, 1955 and after I went out of the governor's office, I spent about half of my time practicing law and about half of the time getting ready to run for the Senate. Senator George had changed his position from chairman of the Finance Committee to chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and anyone in that position, I think, gets the impression that they are carrying the fate of the world on their shoulders. That was particularly true at the time, John Foster Dulles was working out all of the national security treaties where we were going to protect every little country throughout the world, we were trying to feed and clothe all these little countries throughout the world and I suspect that John Foster Dulles, who was then the Secretary of State, was instrumental in persuading Senator George to change his mind. Sometime between 1952 and 1956, apparently Senator George did change his mind and decided that he would seek reelection. His health at that time was failing pretty rapidly. He came back to the state . . . he rarely made speeches in the state at all during that era, one or two a year maybe and that was about it . . . but he came back and made twelve or fifteen speeches over the state and they would usually invite all the city clubs in the area. If he would speak at Macon, there would be four or five hundred people there at his audiences and some of his speeches were very impressive and others were almost a catastrophe. He would break down and cry and couldn't talk and things of that nature. Then, he went back, he set up a committee, Steve Pace, a former Congressman, was to chair his campaign for reelection. He had a lady from Tocca who was organizing women and then he started calling some of his friends over the state to get a realistic appraisal. It is difficult for a politician to get his friends to tell him teh truth. Most of them tell him what they think that he wants to hear. But for the first time, Senator George's friends thought that they should tell him that he couldn't win and ought not to seek reelection. Well, about that time, I got an invitation to appear on Meet the Press from Lawrence Spivak here in Washington and I accepted. It was published in the paper that I would appear. Senator George thought that I was going to use that occassion to announce for the United States Senate. Of course, I wasn't going to come to Washington to announce for the Senate, I was going to announce before I left Georgia. So, I prepared a statement announcing for the Senate on, I think, about Thursday before the Sunday that I was scheduled to appear on Meet the Press. It was for Friday's release or Saturday's release. Meanwhile, Senator George withdrew about the time that my statement got over to the news services and the paper.
JACK NELSON:
Did he withdraw before or after?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
He withdrew about the time that my statement got to the press and I had to send someone over and pick it up and kill the story after he withdrew. And as I recall, I had an engagement to make a speech in Bainbridge, Georgia to the American Legion down there on the date that Senator George did withdraw from the Senate race. The President appointed him Ambassador to NATO. I had an engagement the next day to go over and visit with Moy Monroe, a friend of mine from Waycross, Georgia, who had a cottage at Vernadino Beach. So, the next morning early, I got up and got his telephone and placed calls to forty or fifty of Senator George's principal leaders throughout the state and spent virtually the whole day talking to them. I told them that Senator George had withdrawn from the race and that I would appreciate it if they would support me and virtually everyone of them announced their support. I asked them to issue statements to the press and many of them did. So, that day, we virtually wound up the campaign because Senator George was not going to run. Most of his principal supporters declared for me and then Governor Thompson announced after Senator George withdrew. As I recall, I got around 82% of the votes, even carrying Governor Thompson's home county of Lowndes two to one and one of his wife's first cousins, from the county where he was born and reared, managed my campaign down there and I carried that one handily for the first time. That was Jenkins County.
JACK NELSON:
Let me ask you, did you ever discuss with Senator George again his conversation with you back at the convention?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I never did.
JACK NELSON:
Did you ever discuss or the two of you discuss again the fact that you would be running or your interest in it?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
No.
JACK NELSON:
In other words, that was the last time?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That was the last time.
JACK NELSON:
You know, this is just sort of a personal note, but I remember that I was a reporter on the Atlanta Constitution at the time, and I remember seeing you walk down Forsyth Street, not far from the Journal-Constitution Building, in fact I hollered at you across the street, you had two arm loads of groceries. I don't know where you had gotten them, I guess they were groceries, two big sacks in your hands. I was thinking how vigorous and young you were and I was thinking about how old Senator George was and how decrepit he was. This was before he withdrew and I think that most people just thought that he didn't stand a chance.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
He was seventy-nine at the time. I am delighted that he didn't run because Senator George was a great Senator. He was probably the most respected member of the Senate. He had served a long time with great distinction, as I recall, some thirty-four or thirty-five years. If he had run, it would have divided many families and personal loyalties in the state, you would have had fathers against sons and brothers against brothers. I think that I would have defeated him overwhelmingly. I think that I would have gotten some 65% of the vote, that I would have gotten it about two to one. It probably would have left him embittered to have been rejected by the electorate after such long and distinguished service. He was seventy-nine years of age at the time and he died about six months later and certainly, I think that I made the wise decision at the time and I think that Senator George made the wise decision.