Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 33rd Visit to Georgia
August 10 - August 11, 1938
While campaigning occupied most of his time this visit, Roosevelt did take time to have a quick luncheon with patients at Warm Springs, where he gave some brief remarks. [see text] Roosevelt had spent much of the summer and fall of 1938 campaigning for his supporters. He had some early success in the primaries helping defeat those who had opposed his policies. In August he turned his attention to Georgia and her senior senator Walter F. George. George, a very well respected Congressman, had supported much of Roosevelt’s early New Deal ideas, such as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Labor Relations Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, Social Security, and the National Recovery Administration. But more recently George had opposed several Roosevelt proposals—primarily on government reorganization and a wages and hours bill—which would have established a minimum hourly wage for industrial workers. Roosevelt himself respected George, but knowing the influence George had in Congress, hoped to see him lose the primary election in September. Former governor Eugene Talmadge was running for George’s seat, but Roosevelt and Talmadge thoroughly disliked each other. So Roosevelt had convinced the U.S. district attorney in Atlanta—Lawrence Camp—to run against George, hoping to use his presidential influence and his popularity in Georgia to help Camp win.
On the morning of August 11, Roosevelt spoke before the graduating class of the University of Georgia in Athens. He spoke of his many experiences in Georgia and how they had shaped many of his New Deal ideas. He alluded to the poverty still prevalent in much of Georgia and how Georgians needed to support his efforts to raise purchasing power throughout the South with measures such as his wages and hours bill. He concluded his speech by saying:
“At heart, Georgia shows devotion to the principles of democracy. Georgia, like other states, has occasional lapses; but it really does not believe either in demagoguery or feudalism, even though they are dressed up in democratic clothes.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 159-60.
While no names were mentioned, these were obvious references to Talmadge (an avowed racist) and George (a noted proponent of big business—which opposed the wages bill).
Roosevelt was then driven to Barnesville, Ga., where he was to speak at Gordon Military College; the occasion being the beginning of electrical service to local rural customers—made possible through the efforts of the Rural Electrification Administration. But the crowd was not there to hear about electricity, but to hear Roosevelt and George speak on the same stage. Close to 30,000 people jammed the stadium where the two men would speak. Roosevelt spoke first, and briefly, about rural electrification, then turned his comments toward the need for more allies in Congress (see photo on this page):
“...The man who says he is for progress but whose record shows that he hinders or hampers or tried to kill new measures of progress is dangerous. . . .” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 167.
At this point George took a piece of paper from his pocket and started making notes. Roosevelt continued:
“You, the people of Georgia, in the coming senatorial primary…have a perfect right to choose any candidate you wish…but because Georgia has been good enough to call me her adopted son and because for many long years I have regarded Georgia as my ‘other state,’ I feel no hesitation in telling you what I would do if I could vote here next month. . . . What I am about to say will be no news to my old friend…Senator Walter George. . . . Let me make it clear that he is, and I hope will always be, my personal friend. He is beyond question a gentleman and a scholar, but with whom I differ heartily and sincerely on the principles and policies of how the government of the United States ought to be run.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 167.
Turning to the two candidates (Camp also was on stage), Roosevelt dismissed Talmadge as someone “who concerns me not all,” and then said of Camp:
“I have known him for many years. . . . I regard him not only as a public servant with successful experience but as a man who honestly believes that many things must be done and done now to improve the economic and social conditions of the country, a man who is willing to fight for those objectives. . . . I have no hesitation in saying that if I were able to vote in the September primaries in this state, I most assuredly should cast my ballot for Lawrence Camp.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 168.
A huge roar erupted from the audience—some in favor (Camp had arranged to have many supporters present) and some opposed—George was very popular . As Roosevelt left the stage George stood up, shook the president’s hand, and said:
“Mr. President, I regret that you have taken this occasion to question my democracy and to attack my public record. I want you to know that I accept the challenge!” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 168.
And accept it he did. Roosevelt was the focus of the campaign. George insisted no one, not even the President, had the right to tell Georgians how they should vote, saying:
“The people of Georgia do not need to be told by the President of the United States whom to vote for. That is their business. We are capable of managing our affairs without outside help from the President.” Source: Theo Lippman, Jr., The Squire of Warm Springs: F.D.R. in Georgia 1924-1945, (Playboy Press, Chicago, 1977), p. 169-70.
George also turned his verbal guns on many of the President’s advisors, speaking of the Wall Street lawyers who were trying to assume the power of saying who should or should not be senator from Georgia. Playing the Yankee card—“the purge is a second march through Georgia . . . carpet-baggery glorified”—was successful for George; he easily defeated Camp in the September 14 primary, handing Roosevelt one of his few political defeats.