Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY OF 1938

VOTE FOR ME, I PROMISE TO........


Folk humorist Will Rogers once proclaimed, “I am not a member of an organized political party, I’m a Democrat!”  That statement was all too fitting in 1938, three-quarters of a century ago, especially in the South.  In the pre Ronald Reagan days of the Solid South when nearly all voters who registered to vote listed themselves as Democrats, competition for statewide and local positions was often fierce and sometimes, down right dirty.

It was in those early warm and dry days of September 1938, when two of Georgia’s political icons of the first half of the 20th Century went head to head and nose to nose to win the race for a seat in the United States Senate.  The campaign pitted  Walter F. George, Georgia’s two-term senator against Eugene Talmadge, the state’s former governor and a fiery populist candidate from Telfair County.  Two make things more interesting, incumbent Georgia governor E.D. Rivers found himself in a fight  for his life in his bid against Hugh Howell  to hang on to his job in the capitol.

While  most local officials were not on the ballot in the Summer of ‘38, the races for the two seats in the Georgia House of Representatives were somewhat contentious as incumbent W.H. Lovett, owner of the Courier Herald faced off against A.T. Cobb and  Ed L. Evans faced  R.I. Stephens in the race for Post # 2 in somewhat close races.

In the latter part of the 1930s, Laurens County was still an important key to the election of any Democratic hopeful in a statewide race.

The first major candidate to come to the Emerald City was incumbent Senator Walter F. George, (left) who had succeeded Rebecca Felton, the country’s first female senator.  Sen. Felton was named to replace Thomas E. Watson after his death by then Georgia Governor, Thomas W. Hardwick, a Washington County native,  future Dublin resident and newspaper publisher.

George served in the United States Senate for 36 years, the last two as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, a position which made him third in the line of succession to President Dwight Eisenhower.  At that time, George was highly regarded as the greatest Senator  by Massachusetts Senator, John F. Kennedy.

Local officials, in consultation with the Senator’s aides, selected Stubbs Park as the site for the speech at 11:30 on August 30.  A special platform was constructed in the triangle  surrounded by a grove of tall ancient pines, just north of the Catholic Church.

The Boy Scouts were stationed along the routes to the park to guide the crowds down to the pine grove.  Local dignitaries and politicians were asked to keep their introductory remarks brief so that Senator George could have ample time to plead his case before setting off on a jaunt before.

George had been to Dublin on many occasions, speaking at high school graduations and at political events. The Senator even brought his own band with him.  Just to add to the excitement, the all-girl  band from Eastman, which had just played for Franklin D. Roosevelt in Barnesville, performed to get the crowd more excited.

It was few weeks earlier when President Roosevelt appeared at a rally in Barnesville to support his hand picked candidate Lawrence Camp.  George had grown increasingly disenchanted with the President’s New Deal policies and programs.  Likewise, Roosevelt’s endorsement of Camp fanned the flames of bitter feelings in the race.

Former Georgia Game and Fish Commissioner and Dublin resident, Peter S. Twitty, introduced the popular senator.  Sitting on the platform and lending moral support was former senator, congressman and governor,  Thomas Hardwick.

In his speech, George attacked FDR’s relief programs and in particular W.P.A. administrator, Harry L. Hopkins, whom the Senator described as “Hell on Relief.”  George had no admiration for P.W.A.  Administrator Harold Ickes, insinuating that Ickes was going to personally profit from FDR’s work and relief programs all the while gaining too much power.  Senator George felt totally confident after looking at the faces of those people he met along the campaign trail.

Y.G.Chambless, Chairman of the Laurens County George Club and a  long time supporter of Talmadge and Roosevelt, believed that Senator George “was best man in the race, because he stands head and shoulders above each of his opponents and is a statesman of the old school, a gentleman and a scholar with the courage to fight for right and justice.”

Twelve days later on September 10, former two-term Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge came to town and took his place on the same dias in Stubbs Park where George had spoken.   Talmadge, a long time favorite of Laurens County voters, had lost a little of his solid support in the two years after he left office.




On the day of the speech, crowds gathered at places like Adrian Well in western Emanuel County to form motorcades into Dublin for the popular Populist politician.  They weren’t disappointed. For two hours, Talmadge spoke, his voice booming throughout the park.  

Earlier in the week, incumbent governor E.D. Rivers (left) came to town to woo the voters.  Rivers, despite his successes in providing more tax exemptions, improved schools, free school textbooks and better roads, had become somewhat unpopular, although one couldn’t tell it by the size of the crowd which gathered at the courthouse.  When the courtroom was overflowing hours before the scheduled four  o’clock starting time, the decision was made to move the program to the steps of courthouse.

A week  earlier, River’s opponent Hugh Howell’s rally was moved from the outside to the inside when a rare September rain dowsed the spectators.

When the votes were counted, the Lower Oconee River Valley and upper third of North Georgia went for Gov. Talmadge.  Stronger support along the coastal areas and the major cities swung the race in favor of Senator George, who won a 44% plurality victory over Talmadge, who garnered 32 percent of the vote.  Interestingly, Camp’s strongest support came from neighboring Treutlen County, where seven out of ten voters put their mark beside the president’s candidate’s name.

In Laurens County, the turnout was nearly 80 percent.  Talmadge,  with 46 percent of the vote, easily won over George, whose strong support was confined to Dublin and Dudley voters.  The race for governor was much closer in Laurens County with E.D. Rivers defeating Hugh Howell by a mere 45 votes.  Statewide, Rivers was re-elected after getting a fraction more than half of the votes cast.

In an election called “the greatest and most thrilling political spectacle in Georgia history” by Atlanta Constitution writer Ralph McGill, Laurens Countians were witnesses  to a glimpse of one of the most exciting campaigns in Georgia’s long  history.

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