Born on September 23rd, 1884, outside of Forsyth, Georgia, Eugene Talmadge would dominate the state’s politics for decades. As a young man, Talmadge attended the University of Georgia and graduated from the university’s law school in 1909. He married Mattie Thurmond Peterson shortly after earning his law degree and moved to a farm in Telfair County where he and his wife had three children. His first forays into politics were unsuccessful. Running for the state legislative office in 1920 and 1922, Talmadge failed to attract enough votes to win the office. His first political victory came in 1926 when he ran for Commissioner of Agriculture against incumbent J.J. Brown.
As Commissioner of Agriculture, Talmadge became wildly popular with Georgia farmers using his department’s newspaper, the Market Bulletin, to give advice to farmers and to defend his various policies. Winning reelection easily in 1928 and 1930, the only opposition Talmadge faced was from the state legislature in 1931 when the Georgia Senate investigated his use of state funds. While the Georgia Senate found that Talmadge stole over $40,000 from the government, the house failed to remove Talmadge from office. Despite the controversy, Talmadge remained popular with Georgia farmers, so much so that he decided to run for governor in 1932.
Talmadge won the 1932 gubernatorial election and his reelection campaign in 1934 on the promise of balancing the state budget, reducing the price of automobile tags, and eliminating corruption in government. During his first two terms as governor, he became known for his heavy use of executive orders and martial law. His opponents called him a dictator; however, his rural support remained strong throughout his time as governor. Restricted by the state constitution from running for a third consecutive term, Talmadge unsuccessfully ran for senator in 1936 and 1938. He would not see electoral success again until he ran for a third term as governor in 1940.
In 1942, Talmadge lost the governor’s seat to then state attorney general, Ellis Arnall, who brought progressive reform to the state. Talmadge decided to run for governor a final time in 1946 and narrowly defeated his opponent, James V. Carmichael. Before Talmadge began his fourth term as governor, he died of cirrhosis of the liver. Following his death, three separate candidates, including Talmadge’s son Herman, vied for the empty governor’s seat. The Georgia General Assembly eventually resolved the conflict when they called for a special election in 1948. The Three Governors Controversy, as it became known, demonstrated the far-reaching impact Talmadge’s life had on the state of Georgia. From the beginning of his political career in 1926 to his final election in 1946, Eugene Talmadge earned both bitter opponents and loyal supporters, powerfully influencing the shape of Georgia politics for many years after his death.
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Henderson, Harold P. "Eugene Talmadge (1884-1946)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. 09 September 2019. Web. 10 March 2020.