Documenting the American South Logo
Loading
Title: Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975. Interview A-0331-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Talmadge, Herman, interviewee
Interview conducted by Nelson, Jack
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Mike Millner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 72 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2006.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2006-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2006-12-31, Mike Millner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975. Interview A-0331-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0331-3)
Author: Jack Nelson
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975. Interview A-0331-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series A. Southern Politics. Southern Oral History Program Collection (A-0331-3)
Author: Herman Talmadge
Description: 70.1 Mb
Description: 17 p.
Note: Interview conducted on December 18, 1975, by Jack Nelson; recorded in Washington, D.C.
Note: Transcribed by Joe Jaros.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series A. Southern Politics, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Editorial practices
An audio file with the interview complements this electronic edition.
The text has been entered using double-keying and verified against the original.
The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
All quotation marks, em dashes and ampersand have been transcribed as entity references.
All double right and left quotation marks are encoded as "
All em dashes are encoded as —

Interview with Herman Talmadge, December 18, 1975.
Interview A-0331-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Talmadge, Herman, interviewee


Interview Participants

    HERMAN TALMADGE, interviewee
    JACK NELSON, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
JACK NELSON:
Today is December 18, 1975 and I think that at long last, Senator, we are going to conclude this Southern Oral History project and since you and I last talked in Lovejoy, there have been a lot of disclosures about various institutions in this country and various individuals and one of them, of course, is J. Edgar Hoover. I think that Hoover is a man that has enjoyed tremendous respect over the years.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
In his lifetime, I suspect that he was one of the most admired Americans.
JACK NELSON:
Was he also one of the most powerful?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, he was.
JACK NELSON:
And do you think that would . . . did he have too much power?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Possibly did have. I believe that it is one of the English lords who said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." There is some truth in that.
JACK NELSON:
You know, I incidentally filed earlier this year and got my own FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, and found that they had kept a file because I had written various articles that Hoover didn't like or that the FBI didn't like. They've also found that a number of political figures and civil rights figures and so forth had files. Did you ever have any idea that they kept a file on you?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I supposed that they did have. I visited Japan in 1939 as a guest of the Japanese government and when Ellis Arnall was

Page 2
running against my father in 1942, he portrayed me as somewhat of a traitor at that time, even though I was engaged in combat in the South Pacific, for having gone to Japan as a guest of the Japanese government. I presume that might have triggered an FBI investigation on me, I don't know. I never cared, really.
JACK NELSON:
You know, I was probably . . . like an awful lot of people say at my age, when I was a kid, I not only looked up to the FBI but I even applied for a job with them when I got out of high school and was accepted for a clerical job. I went into newspapering instead and I know that you had tremendous respect, and so did everyone else, for the Bureau. What do you think about disclosures of both the FBI and the CIA, what they did? For example, the plots to assassinate foreign leaders and the information that has come out on that?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
It undoubtedly has adversely affected the morale of both agencies, the CIA and the FBI. Senators who have been overseas during the past year tell me that the CIA's sources of information are drying up. All these disclosures have undoubtedly affected the efficiency of both departments, in my judgement. Particularly the CIA, whose primary sources of intelligence, of course, are foreigners.
JACK NELSON:
Do you think that the disclosures have been good overall?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Overall, in the end, I think that it will have a salutary effect. These things have a way of cleansing themselves and I don't think that you will ever see circumstances occur like that again in your lifetime.
JACK NELSON:
Would you ever have had any idea at all, for example, going back to J.Edgar Hoover, that he would have been supplying presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt on up with political information on various people?

Page 3
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, I had assumed they had done that. I remember back during my father's lifetime, he was probably the first Democrat to get at odds with President Roosevelt. They set the tax people on him and investigated him for ten years, going into all of his farms and counting chickens and hogs and cows and searching for concealed bank accounts in Cuba, Mexico and Canada. They completed their investigation about the time that I returned from the Navy. One of them came up and presented him with a bill, I think, of something like two thousand plus dollars and he used some profanity and told them that if they thought he owed any income tax to go over to the courthouse and get him indicted and he would meet them there. That was the end of it and when he died, they never even presented the bill.
JACK NELSON:
And he never paid the bill?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
He never paid it.
JACK NELSON:
Well, was that accepted then as just sort of hard boiled politics?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes. Roosevelt was a hard boiled politician and probably one of the hardest boiled in the history of the country and I think that he thought deep down that all politicians were crooks. Of course, they had moved in on the Long dynasty, as you remember, in Louisiana and sent several of them to the penitentiary, but they never did find anything wrong with my father.
JACK NELSON:
Have there ever been any investigations aimed at you that you know of? I mean, were they out in the open?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Not that I know of. They have denied some depreciation on our ham plant down there many years ago. I think that I could have

Page 4
gone to court and won, but politicians can't get into litigations about their income taxes.
JACK NELSON:
I think that President Nixon learned that, didn't he?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right.
JACK NELSON:
Let me ask you, going back to Nixon, and I guess that we can skip around on some of these subjects, we never talked about the Ford pardon of Nixon.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think that all Americans had somewhat of an ambivalent feeling on that and that was my own reaction. I don't think many, if any, Americans wanted to see a former President of the United States serving in the penitentiary, but they were indignant that Ford pardoned Nixon before an indictment or trial. From his standpoint, it was a grave political error. From the standpoint of the country at large, getting that issue behind us probably was a good thing.
JACK NELSON:
And you still think that? Even the timing of the pardon?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.
JACK NELSON:
You don't think that there was a deal or anything?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No. I think that Gerald Ford is a completely honorable man.
JACK NELSON:
Another issue that I think we didn't touch before, Senator, were your feelings on the Vietnam war.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, from the very outset I thought that we were making a mistake getting in there. My own patriotism is somewhat like Stephen Decatur's, I believe it was, who said, "My country, in her intercourse with a foreign country, may she always be in the right, but my country right or wrong." My loyalty follows the flag and troops wherever they may be.
JACK NELSON:
Well, did you think when we did get out that we got out as

Page 5
gracefully or the only way that we could?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
We got out about the only way that we could. It was a no win proposition. The country was not behind the war effort. The President was not behind the war effort. When you get involved in a war, the only way to fight it is with every resource that the country possesses and go for the jugular vein. We didn't do that. We had our troops over there fighting with one or both hands tied behind them, the country badly divided and generally nonsupportive of the war.
JACK NELSON:
You think that we should have moved in earlier, then, and won the war?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Once we committed troops there, we should have gone all out to win and in my judgement, if we had utilized the full resources of the country at that time, we probably could have won it in ninety days to six months.
JACK NELSON:
Currently, there is a discussion going on about how much aid or whether there should be any aid at all of the United States put into Angola, the feeling being that it could be another Vietnam. Did you see it not only there, but a possibility of our getting into other Vietnams?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I don't think that there is a possibility of us committing troops there. I think that we learned too great a lesson from Vietnam on that ground. I do think it is a mistake for this country to get involved in these tribal wars and when Russia moves in, we move in and vice-versa, because in the long run, I don't think that any white power can gain any advantage in Africa under present conditions. They are intensely nationalistic and I think that those countries will either go

Page 6
Communist or have some local variety of a dictatorship. I think that we have nothing to gain by getting involved there.
JACK NELSON:
Well, do you see the possibility of our ever getting involved in any other Vietnams or do you think that the country has really learned that lesson? Not just Africa, but . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think that we have learned that lesson. I can only speak for myself and I am not in favor of getting involved anywhere with any power at any time anywhere in the world, unless our own national security is involved.
JACK NELSON:
Senator, we talked quite a bit over these previous interviews about your past stand on racial issues and so forth. Is race dead as a political issue in this country?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, it depends on how you mean "race as a political issue." If you resort to compulsion to move people around to try to get some sort of mythical racial balance, it is the most volatile issue there is in America today. Race as such, arraying blacks against whites or whites against blacks is, I think, relatively dead, unless you resort to this business of compulsion which all people resent, black and white.
JACK NELSON:
But that's not an issue today in Georgia, your own state?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No, it's not an issue in Georgia except that the overwhelming majority of people in Georgia and everywhere else in the nation, both black and white, are violently opposed to this forced busing. They think that it is a denial of their basic freedoms and I certainly think so.
JACK NELSON:
Are there any other areas at all where you see that as an issue?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No.

Page 7
JACK NELSON:
One thing that we did talk about quite a bit before was when you, in 1966 I believe it was, considered returning to Georgia to run for governor. I've had some people tell me that that was the one political mistake that you made, getting involved in that whole exercise of thinking you were going to run and then deciding that you weren't going to run. Do you agree with that assessment, that it was a big political mistake?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, I don't know what you mean by "mistake." I didn't run. In fact, it would have been a mistake if I had run. Here's what happened in that regard. Vandiver, who had been governor and was expected to run again, was an odds on favorite to win overwhelmingly and he had no great substantial opposition, as a matter of fact. He called me one day and said, "Senator, I need to see you and I am coming up to Washington tomorrow morning, arriving at Dulles Airport at such-and-such a time . . . " It was five or six o'clock in the morning as I recall. I said, "Well, Ernie, I'll meet you out there and bring you in for breakfast at the house." So, he told me coming in that his doctor told him that he had serious heart trouble and if he ran for governor, he would be taking his life in his hands and he had some young children that he had to educate and couldn't afford to sacrifice his family and that he thought I ought to come home and run for governor. He knew that I had been somewhat unhappy in the Senate. All former governors are. A governor can make a decision and execute it. A Senator can make a decision and talk about it. There is a tremendous difference between the roles of the two. I gave it some thought and about the next day, I announced the fact that I was considering

Page 8
coming home and running for governor. I had an amazing reaction. Telephones in the office, all of them, and in my residence were ringing constantly twenty-four hours a day and every two minutes, a stack of telegrams would come in a foot high. Within forty-eight hours, the mail started arriving and in the course of two or three days, we recieved something like 10,000 communications from Georgia. Politicians, black and white, liberal and reactionary and moderate were of one choice only, "For God's sake, come home and run for governor and save us." Rank and file of the people, what we called the "butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker," had a different reaction. They said, "The real issues are being fought in Washington now and not in the governor's office. The governor's office has virtually degenerated to a federal clerkship. You have just been in the Senate long enough to begin to render real service there. Senator Russell is not getting any younger and we don't want two rookies in the Senate at the same time." Most of them wound up by saying, "Regardless of what you decide to do, I'll support you." I could see that the politicians wanted me to run and the people wanted me to stay in the Senate and I opted for that course.
JACK NELSON:
Can I go back to one other thing that we talked about, the base of your support in Georgia? You've had such broad support. How have you managed to turn people who are opposed to you politically into your allies?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think two things, really. You see, when my father died, people were pretty much polarized in Georgia with about a third of the state going to Gene Talmadge when he died, about a third of the state hated him with a passion and about a third of the state was essentially neutral on him and voted for him when they thought he was

Page 9
right and against him when they thought he was wrong. Upon his death, I inherited most of his enemies and most of his friends. I served as governor down there for little over six years and I think most people think my administration was one of the better administrations in the history of the state. Some of them, of course, recognized that fact and became my friends instead of my enemies. Then, I was never punitive in my political career. I tried to make friends out of my enemies and succeeded to a remarkable degree.
JACK NELSON:
You have had some very powerful friends over the years in the people who have loomed very large, say, in the business or on the financial front. Who would you count among those in Georgia? Bob Woodruff?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Woodruff, of course, has always been my friend.
JACK NELSON:
Harley Branch?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Harley Branch has always been my friend.
JACK NELSON:
That's Georgia Power.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes. Contrary to what a lot of people think, they were very minor contributors and sometimes, not at all. In fact, I don't think that Harley Branch contributed more than a token amount to my race for the Senate, as I recall. I don't think that he made any contribution at all when I ran for governor.
JACK NELSON:
But they are influential people?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.
JACK NELSON:
What about other people, Senator, who would be well known and who have been substantial backers of you? I don't mean substantial in that . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Virtually all of the business community has supported

Page 10
me. As you pointed out, my support has been broad based, particularly in the white community, and in recent years, in the black community.
JACK NELSON:
Do you recall an incident where you were supposed to speak before the Georgia Teacher's Education Association and Leroy Johnson was supposed to introduce you or something and at the last minute, he didn't do it?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.
JACK NELSON:
Can you tell me what that was about?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think that I was the first white politician in Georgia to accept an invitation to speak before the black teacher's group.
JACK NELSON:
That was the Georgia Teacher's . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Educational Association, as I recall. I was a United States Senator and Leroy Johnson was the first black senator in Georgia and they had Leroy Johnson scheduled to introduce me, as I recall and Leroy didn't show up. I don't know whether he chickened out or had other business.
JACK NELSON:
But he didn't show up?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
He didn't show up.
JACK NELSON:
Let me ask you, I don't remember the year, but back at the time of the county unit system, you and Bob Elliot . . . who is what now?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
U.S. federal judge.
JACK NELSON:
U.S. District judge, stumped the state at that time pushing for a constitutional amendment that would extend the county unit system to the general election. Can you tell me something about that and how . . .

Page 11
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, we lost. We carried most of the counties in the state, as you recall. Fulton County was overwhelmingly against it and that was the difference.
JACK NELSON:
Well . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
We could anticipate at that time that if we didn't get it written in the constitution that some federal court might dump it, which they ultimately did.
JACK NELSON:
In retrospect, do you look upon the county unit system as an instrument that was not fair?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, it depends on what you mean by "fair." I understand the feeling in some of the urban areas that they feel that they are being discriminated against. All republican forms of government traditionally have recognized the fact that you can't have a republic based essentially on numbers. We recognize that in our federal system by the U.S. Senate having two Senators from each state regardless of population. We recognize that in our Presidential elections because it is based on the electoral system. You see, our form of government originally arose in Greece and the Greeks carried it to the Romans and the Romans carried it to the English and ours is derived from that. The county unit system was based on the historical basis that every tribe, no matter how small or how remote, would have representation. You still have that in the British parliament. Of course, their Prime Minister is elected by members of pariliament and not all of their districts are equal in population at all. They are very unequal, as a matter of fact.
JACK NELSON:
What about personal background now, Senator? You had a

Page 12
very shortlived, if early, marriage and I saw some news article on it that said that part of the grounds for the divorce were that you just had no social life. I think there was the mention of strong cigars and unending political junkets or something. Is that . . . you still don't seem to have a tremendous social life.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I've never had much of a social life. In fact, I don't particularly care for it. I enjoy being with friends, having dinner with them, having a drink with them occasionally, but going to cocktail parties and grining at strangers and hearing the chattering noise doesn't appeal to me at all.
JACK NELSON:
And of course, Washington has a tremendous number of cocktail parties.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I very, very rarely go to any of them. In fact, I don't even go to the White House if I can avoid it. I was invited over there last night to a dance and I rejected it.
JACK NELSON:
Well, I think that you've told me before that what you do like to do when you leave Washington is to go back and hunt and fish and really stay on the telephone with your constituents.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I visit around during the Christmas holidays and I have at least three quail hunting invitations that I've accepted and hunting and fishing is my principal relaxation.
JACK NELSON:
Can you tell me . . . now you and your father together have sort of dominated Georgia politics for almost a half century.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Just about that.
JACK NELSON:
What do you see as the Talmadge impact on the state and can you tell me something about the difference between your own style and the

Page 13
style of your father?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
My father was constantly involved in controversy. He would have two or three major rows and four or five minor rows going on all the time.
JACK NELSON:
Did he enjoy that?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I think he did. My style is somewhat different from that. If I can avoid a row I do so. I don't back away from them but if you can flank a position rather than storm it, I prefer that.
JACK NELSON:
Your father would rather have stormed it?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
He would rather have stormed it, yes.
JACK NELSON:
What do you see as your own imprint?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, my imprint I think, is primarily what I did as governor of Georgia and of course, I've made some contributions since I've been in the Senate, too. I think that most of the real progress that our state has made in recent years began with my administration as governor of the state. I'll give you just one illustration. Timber resources alone. When I took office as governor, most of the counties were burning the woods and driving through the state, you would have to stop during most of the winter and the spring months to let the smoke clear away so you could see the roads. In eighteen months, we adopted a forestry program that brought us from 46th position out of the 48 states to number one. Timber resources brings into Georgia now, including the end products, about three billion dollars a year. When I took office as governor, it was three hundred million dollars a year. That's an increase tenfold. Now, assuming that half of that is attributable to inflation, it is still a fivefold increase. Things like that. That's merely one example.

Page 14
JACK NELSON:
What about federal judge appointments during your time as Senator? Have you ever had any problem getting people appointed who you were interested in?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
No. There was some delay on J. Robert Elliot and Kennedy was Attorney General at that time and one of his flunkies was in my office there and something came up about a federal judgeship . . . I don't think they mentioned Elliot by name, I told them the Constitution of the United States provided that federal judges would be appointed with the advice and consent of the United States Senate, that I had advised and had not yet consented and Elliot's name came before the Senate within forty-eight hours.
JACK NELSON:
Now, there used to be, I know, during the Kennedy Administration, sort of trade-offs between President Kennedy and Senator Eastland. If Kennedy would be willing to appoint a certain federal judge, Eastland would be willing as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee to approve some other appointment that Kennedy was interested in. Would the same have been true, I mean, did politics work that way as far as you were concerned?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
He never tried to make any sort of trade or deal with me on any proposition at any time.
JACK NELSON:
You mean that it just wasn't necessary?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Well, it was not only not necessary, but John Kennedy knew me well enough to know that I didn't deal in that manner.
JACK NELSON:
Well, wouldn't that be politics though, sort of as . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I have never played politics on that basis.
JACK NELSON:
You know, I asked you before we discontinued the last interview whether or not you had anything that you thought we ought to put into the Southern Oral History project, you like your history warts and all. Can you look back and see any warts that people ought to look for when they are

Page 15
trying to judge Herman Talmadge as a public figure? If you were reading a biography of Herman Talmadge, some episodes or some parts would . . .
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, I'm sure that if I had my life to live over again there would be some things that I would do differently. Hopefully, people as they get older and have more experience and have more knowledge, utilize that knowledge to better advantage and I guess that is true not only of Herman Talmadge but of every other individual who ever lived.
JACK NELSON:
Sure. Is there anything, though that you could look back as a matter of public record now and say, "Well, if I was reading a biography of Herman Talmadge, I would like to know more about this particular episode in his life."
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Not that I can think of at the moment, Jack. Of course, I don't suppose that any individual can appraise himself with any 100% objectivity.
JACK NELSON:
Well, let me ask you something. Going back once more to the segregation thing, you wrote a small book one time about segregation and apparently, a lot of the copies of the book were picked up and there are few in circulation, although there is a Library of Congress card on the book. I forget the title of the book.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
You and Segregation.
JACK NELSON:
Yes, You and Segregation. What was the background of that and can you tell me why the copies did disappear?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Some publishing house over in Alabama . . .
JACK NELSON:
The Vulcan Press.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
. . . asked me to write such a book and I did. I don't know what the sales were or what the circulation was, as a matter of fact.

Page 16
JACK NELSON:
Do you look back on that, though, as something that you just as soon you hadn't done or does it make any difference?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
If they made me the same deal today, I probably would reject it.
JACK NELSON:
You'd probably reject it?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.
JACK NELSON:
Are you going to write a book?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I have no plans to. It's not beyond the realm of possibility. If and when I retire and have some time on my hands, I might. I have no plans to do so. I haven't kept a diary and unfortunately, I didn't even keep the papers for the terms that I served as governor. We had no storage facilities for them and we just took them out, all except the official records, my personal papers, and burned them. Unfortunately, my father did the same thing during his career and the only papers I have are those that I have maintained since I have been in the Senate.
JACK NELSON:
So, if someone were going back over the careers of both Talmadges, the only thing they would have is what is a matter of public record?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right. To get a really objective report, they would have to do like Williams did on Huey Long, do an oral interview and of course, most of my father's contemporaries are dead. That's one reason that Anderson's book on my father is not objective.
JACK NELSON:
There's no depository at all in Georgia where you could find Eugene Talmadge papers?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
I suppose that you could find some in the official archives of the state, but that would be only his official acts and there wouldn't be

Page 17
the copies of his speeches that he gave and things of that nature, except for his inaugural addresses, which would be in the state records.
JACK NELSON:
And you can't think of any other sources where historians or someone who is doing a biography could go?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Of course, they can get the newspaper files, but they are not objective, as you know
JACK NELSON:
Well, you would have to start somewhere, I suppose, as a lead.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
There have been two or three theses written about my father, but most of the stuff that has been written about my father was either so partisanly favorable or so partisanly unfavorable that it is not very objective.
JACK NELSON:
What about yourself?
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, I've had some both ways. I think that I've been treated with more objectivity than my father was by the press.
JACK NELSON:
Well, he was a more controversial person.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.
JACK NELSON:
Well, Senator, I've enjoyed it very much.
HERMAN TALMADGE:
The pleasure has been mine.
END OF INTERVIEW