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This Day in Georgia History

December 21, 1946

Eugene Talmadge Died

Long-time Georgia politician Eugene Talmadge died in Atlanta. Born on Sept. 23, 1884 in Forsyth, Georgia, he had obtained a law degree from the University of Georgia in 1907. Talmadge practiced law for a year in Atlanta before moving to Montgomery County. He married, moved to Telfair County, bought a farm on Sugar Creek, and practiced law while farming for over a decade. After unsuccessful races for the Georgia House and Senate, he ran for the office of Commissioner of Agriculture in 1926 and won. In 1932, he successfully campaigned for governor - the first of four times he would be elected to the state’s highest office (1932, 1934, 1940, and 1946). Sometimes referred to as the “Wild Man from Sugar Creek” for his flamboyant style and emotional speeches, Talmadge used the county-unit system (which magnified the voting power of small, rural counties and minimized the effect of urban voters) to his advantage like no other politician. His down-home demeanor appealed to Georgia farmers, many of whom were struggling in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s.One of Talmadge’s favorite quotes was “the poor dirt farmer ain’t got but three friends on this Earth: God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, and Gene Talmadge.” Talmadge’s terms as governor were rife with controversy, usually brought about by his unique style of governing. He disliked Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal immensely and was not ashamed to say so in blunt terminology - referring to the Civilian Conservation Corps as “bums and loafers.” When the legislature would not do his bidding, he often tried to rule by executive decree. When the Public Service Commission refused to lower rates, he fired the whole group. When a textile strike broke out in 1934, Talmadge declared martial law, sending troops to small textile towns. Perhaps his most controversial action occurred in 1941, when Talmadge wanted to fire two University System administrators, allegedly for advocating integrated public schools. When the Board of Regents refused, Talmadge dismissed all of them and replaced them with people amenable to his will. This lead to ten Georgia public colleges and universities losing their accreditation. The resulting uproar also was influential in Talmadge losing the ensuing gubernatorial race. But Talmadge was not to be kept down for long. Returning to run for governor again in 1946, he launched a grueling campaign in which he delivered 272 of his renowned stump speeches. Though he lost the popular vote, he won the election through county-unit votes. But the campaign proved too much for his already poor health, and he died before he could take office. This led to even further controversy, since, it was now uncertain who should assume the office of governor. This lead to the infamous three-governors controversy in which three separate men, including Talmadge’s son Herman, claimed to be the rightful executive. The matter was eventually resolved by the Georgia Supreme Court.

Image of Eugene Talmadge Died View large image
Source: Photo: Ed Jackson