The Wild Man from Sugar Creek: Part 3

By the middle of 1934, Eugene Talmadge was back on the campaign trail to get reelected for Governor (in that era, governor terms were two years, instead of four). Talmadge overwhelmingly won the white primary, thus giving him two more years as the governor of Georgia. He would be sworn in again in early 1935. During these two years of his term, he would be at the highlight of his career in the 30’s, and would constantly travel around the United States on a crusade against FDR’s New Deal.

1935-36 Georgia

In 1935, Talmadge would buck FDR due to his more leftist economic policy and the New Deal. This would cause Talmadge various problems due to the President’s powerful support and influence throughout Georgia during the 1930’s. Talmadge was an ultra-conservative and FDR an ultra-liberal as far as economic policy was concerned. While being at opposite ends of the economic spectrum, both had valid points in some areas. Talmadge rightfully feared a growing welfare state and its connections to socialism and communism. This will be explored at a later point.

Mill Strikes of ’34

One major event that would happen in the inter-election period of 1934 and 1935 that would hurt Talmadge’s career was the massive textile strikes that broke out throughout the South. Talmadge would lose the mill workers of Georgia after sending the National Guard to brutally put down strikers in the mill cities of Georgia in 1934-35. Governor Talmadge, to his credit, would also use the state forces to round up and deport New York strike breakers sent from the North to put down the Georgia textile strikers. Talmadge considered it a shame to have outsiders solving Georgia’s labor problems, so he had his state forces round up the strikebreakers at gun point and had them deported back to New York. The press in National Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy would both praise this as a growing sign of Fascism in America, thus further angering the liberal press in America who hated Talmadge with a fury. This incident would affect his later political races.

strike
Georgia troopers preparing to put down strikes.

1935 King Fish & The Wild Man

For most of 1935, Talmadge would flirt with the idea of running for president in 1936. In fact, he briefly made an alliance with the “King Fish” Huey Long, the leftist (economically) version of Talmadge. The idea was being pushed by a wealthy friend of the two that they should run on the ticket in 1936 to defeat FDR. This indeed was an odd, yet inspiring, alliance considering they were both on different sides of the economic spectrum. Although they were very different, they shared a common enemy in FDR and the North. The North at the time still conceitedly looked down its nose at the Southland, something that Huey and Gene both profoundly understood and rightly resented. Both men were organic Nationalist who believed in fighting for their folk and took heat from the hostile (((Northern))) press for doing so. Their alliance was hurt by Long’s arrogance, however, and both were unwilling to run as second fiddle to the other (vice president on the presidential ticket). Long’s rude comments made while visiting an Atlanta dinner party about Talmadge also didn’t help matters either. Talmadge would go on to say about one their meetings, “We cussed Roosevelt.”

In February, Gene invited Long to speak about his cotton holiday before the general assembly. Aide-de-camp Henry Spurlin remembers, “Huey was very security conscious and traveled with bodyguards. Georgia law wouldn’t let them enter the state carrying guns, so Gene had ‘em all sworn in as Fish and Game Wardens and they came armed, Huey was an extremely nervous man. He even paced while he was shaving. He and Gene were friends at first. They were trying to work out some alliance against Roosevelt where one would run as president and the other as vice president. The whole thing was being pushed by a rich man named John H. Kirby (Anderson118).

Sadly, Long would later be gunned down by a Jewish man in Baton Rouge later that year. Just a coincidence, right?

FDR vs. The Wild Man, 1936

By 1936, Talmadge was at his rope’s end with FDR and his liberal economics. In January of that year, he would ready himself in another attempt to stop FDR. In Macon, he would rally a loose collection of the slain Huey Long coalition and formed his ‘Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution’. Talmadge wanted to run for president and stomp out FDR’s control over America once and for all. Talmadge wanted to build a Southern vanguard to strike at the threat of liberalism being pushed by FDR. The meeting in Macon, Georgia among the southern leaders would give him the chance he wanted.  Talmadge would crown himself the leader of the South’s backlash to FDR liberalism and indeed he was. After the crushing death of Long, the South had lost her most well-spoken opponent to FDR, and Talmadge now sought to replace him. Talmadge honestly was not prepared for this swift change, for he had presumed that Long would be the man to stop FDR. With such determination by Talmadge to stop FDR, one might wonder exactly why Talmadge feared FDR’s influence.

Governor Talmadge foresaw that the changing economics would cause the North to try to further intervene in Southern affairs. He was worried that the Georgia’s reliance on the Federal “New Deal” programs would jeopardize state’s rights in the future – and he wasn’t wrong? One of the major reasons (besides cowardice) that our states bend the knee before every unlawful Federal court and Supreme Court ruling is the fear of losing federal funding. One only needs to remember the Muslim refugees in Tennessee and the corrupt federal program there. I should also add that Tennessee was one of the states that relied the most on the New Deal Programs and would later be one of the feebler Southern states in the fight against the wicked “civil rights movement”.

The New Deal and FDR were one of the leading factors to the usurpation of state’s rights in the 20th century. Talmadge would try to do his best to pull the rug out from under FDR, trying to stop his re-nomination on the presidential ticket of the Democratic Party, this of course would fail in the end. FDR would remain president another four more years, and then some, and send Dixie to fight (((their))) enemies. Talmadge’s inspiration for running for president ended when he realized that a Southerner would probably never be allowed to be president. During the Democratic convention, he would try again to stop FDR from being nominated as the party’s nominee, but of course he would be overridden by the other Democrats. This all out crusade against FDR and liberal progressivism would attract the attention of the hostile (((press))), who now would consider Talmadge a threat to their plans. Just imagine Talmadge as president, some dreams never come true.

Senate Race 1936

With Talmadge being unable to run as governor in 1936, due to term limits, he realized he needed a new role to play – that role being US senator. Talmadge would be up against one of Georgia’s greatest senators of the 20th century, Richard Russell. The Senate race of 1936 can best be seen as a race between two great Georgians/Southerners. Russell was a gentlemen and popular senator, as well as, an ex-governor of the Empire State of the South (not, New York by the way). Gene was more of an outsider and had created numerous enemies by his attacks on FDR and the New Deal. Many poor white Georgians had been hoodwinked by the New Deal, not being as educated or knowledgeable and having the foresight of ‘ole Gene.

Gene made the mistake of making this race a pick between himself and FDR. In the end, FDR’s overwhelming popularity would win out. Russell’s team saw Gene as a real threat considering what an extraordinary campaigner he was and the power of his personality. The race was probably tame, as it goes for Eugene’s other races. In fact, Talmadge never really made any personal attacks on Russell. It’s hard to say who really was the underdog in this legendary race for the Senate. Both men had their advantages and disadvantages, but the “progressive” tide was about to overtake Georgia and Gene wasn’t going to serve in the Senate.

Finally, riding on the coattails of FDR, Ed Rivers, with the aide of king maker Roy Harris, took the governorship from Talmadge. Talmadge would meet a defeat at the polls in late 1936 leaving him without a seat to serve in.

Talmadge wasn’t even closed to being finished though.

-By Richard Ewell, Georgia Nationalist