A Dirt Farmer

Becoming Commissioner of Agriculture

"You can take away as many watermelons as you wish."

“Boys, Mr. Brown has charged that I am not a lawyer of good repute. I ask any lawyer that has ever practiced law with me at the bar to hold up their hands. Haven’t I always conducted myself as a lawyer should and have I ever violated the ethics of the profession? Mr. Brown says I am not a dirt farmer. How many of you people here have ever seen me farming? How many of you have ever seen me putting out fertilizer? How many of you have ever farmed with me?

When Mr. Brown first ran for commissioner of agriculture, he was running a store and selling fertilizer for Armour and Company. Yet he says I am not a dirt farmer. I invite you, Mr. Brown, and all of these newspaper men out to see my crops and you can take away as many watermelons as you wish... All of you people had better look out for his promises. He is scared this time. He has never had anyone up his collar, but I am up there to stay this time and I will be there until after September 8.”

Editor's Note: In 1926, Eugene Talmadge successfully ran for the position of commissioner of agriculture. The above quote comes from a debate with his opponent, J.J. Brown, who served in this position for ten years before Talmadge's election in 1926. Throughout the debate and the campaign, Talmadge argued that J.J. Brown used the office of state commissioner to enrich himself and his friends instead of helping the farmers of Georgia. Talmadge described himself as a ‘real dirt farmer’, promised to eliminate corruption in the government, and protect the interests of Georgia farmers. 

Throughout his political career, Talmadge often said in speeches that "the poor dirt farmer ain’t got but three friends on this Earth: God Almighty, Sears Roebuck, and Gene Talmadge.” By calling himself a dirt farmer, Talmadge was letting Georgia farmers know that he knew their struggles and challenges. He argued he could fight for what farmers needed because he himself had experienced the plight of farmers.  

During his campaign for commissioner, Talmadge won the hearts and votes of Georgia farmers many of whom would continue to support him throughout his long political career including his campaigns for governor. The support of small rural counties was necessary to dominate Georgia politics because of the state’s county unit system. Under this system, rural counties had a disproportionate influence in statewide elections.

Talmadge and many other successful Georgia politicians won elections by carrying rural counties and without any votes in the largest and most populous urban counties. Talmadge won the election for commissioner of agriculture in 1926 and would serve in this position until 1932 when he ran for the office of governor.