Herman Talmadge (1913-2002)
Herman Talmadge, son of Eugene Talmadge, served as governor of Georgia
Herman Eugene Talmadge was born on August 9, 1913, in Telfair County. Talmadge was the only son of Eugene and Mattie Thurmond Talmadge.
Upon returning home, he soon found himself running his father's last gubernatorial campaign in 1946. Eugene Talmadge was one of only two people elected governor of Georgia on four separate occasions. Thus the stage was set for Herman Talmadge to follow his father into politics. Before the year ended, Talmadge became embroiled in a political controversy following the death of his father.
When Eugene Talmadge died after winning his fourth election for governor but before being sworn in, the General Assembly eventually elected Herman Talmadge as governor. This move led to the "three governors controversy."
During Talmadge's administration the state enacted its first sales tax, which helped fund a vast improvement in the state's public education system. Talmadge also helped attract new industry to the state and was an early advocate for the burgeoning timber industry. His years as governor can be considered generally progressive in the context of Georgia politics at that time. However, like most southern governors of that era, Talmadge was a staunch segregationist who resisted all attempts to integrate the public school system. In May 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down segregation as unconstitutional, he was among the loudest critics of the court decision and wrote a book entitled You and Segregation (1955).
U.S. Senate Career
In 1956 Herman Talmadge was elected to the first of four terms in the U.S. Senate. Joining Richard B. Russell Jr. as Georgia's junior senator,
Talmadge's main focus in the Senate was the protection of rural America. He sponsored a bill creating the food-stamp program to assist the nation's poor.
Besides his contributions in agriculture, Talmadge was also a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which oversaw the nation's tax system. He consistently supported balanced budgets, and in 1973 he favored a constitutional amendment that would have required Congress to pass only balanced budgets except during a national emergency. He advocated a variety of bills over the years to cut federal spending to balance the budget.
In 1973 Senator Talmadge received national attention as part of the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal, which involved corruption and its coverup by U.S. president Richard Nixon and members of his administration, leading to the Nixon's resignation from office in August 1974. Talmadge won praise for his folksy yet intelligent questions during the committee's televised hearings.
End of a Career
After his long years of Senate service, Talmadge was defeated for reelection in 1980. A combination of factors led to his downfall. One was his self-admitted alcoholism, which spiraled out of control after his son, Bobby, drowned in 1975. More destructive to his career, though, were allegations of financial misconduct.
After his defeat Talmadge kept mostly out of the public eye, retiring to his home in Hampton, in Henry County. Always conservative, the lifelong Democrat quietly supported Republican Johnny Isakson's 1990 gubernatorial run. His health declined in the late 1990s, and he died at his home on March 21, 2002, at the age of eighty-eight.
As governor, Talmadge helped effect a great deal of progressive change in Georgia government and public education. Although he was never influential in military and international affairs as Georgia senators Walter F. George, Richard B. Russell, and Sam Nunn were, he was a key national figure in the formation of legislation aimed at aiding rural America.
James F. Cook, The Governors of Georgia, 1754-2004, 3d ed. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2005).
Harold P. Henderson and Gary L. Roberts, eds., Georgia Governors in an Age of Change: From Ellis Arnall to George Busbee (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988).
Scott E. Buchanan, Columbus State University
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.