The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

A slice of Georgia politics under the New Deal

The good stuff online takes some winkling. (To suppose otherwise invites unnecesary frustration.)

A piece from 1986, Ed Rivers and Georgia's "Little New Deal" by Jane Walker Herndon is a case in point, bringing together in a modest 4,000 words an epitome of the governorships of one Eurith Dickinson Rivers ('Ed' Rivers to his friends) and the political scene of the time.

Rivers, Speaker of the Georgia House, ran in 1936 against Charles Redwine, protégé of incumbent governor Eugene Talmadge, who was barred from the election by a eunuch clause.

His platform was the New Deal - by then, strongly opposed by the Talmadge faction - and that was the platform to have in 1936.

(Also running was Richard Russell, who also ran on the New Deal, it seems [1]. And he was opposed in the primary by Talmadge - who else?)

The piece says that Talmadge
was especially chagrined by the minimum wage paid on relief projects. because it ran counter to his most deeply held convictions. Put simply, he could not bear the thought that black men would receive the same wages as white men.

Southern employers did their best, though [2].

Talmadge had a line for FDR:
The comment which most offended Georgia supporters of the President was Talmadge's cruel statement that "The next President who goes to the White House will be a man who knows what it is to work in the sun fourteen hour a day. . . . That man will be able to walk a two-by-four plank, too."

Which reopens the whole Who knew that the President was a cripple debate that I discussed at length on January 20 2004. Clearly, the insult would only have purchase for someone who knew that Roosevelt was wheelchair-bound.

The reference given in the accompanying footnote is to - the New York Times of April 19 1935: a search reveals this to be the piece in question (pay-only, natch) [3].

Did the Times explain the reference? If so, its many influential readers would have been let into the secret. If not, that implies that those readers were already wised up.

Once elected, Rivers, together with a liberal lege, passed a raft of legislation, some of it domestic - but a lot of it merely enabling Georgia to participate in New Deal programmes which demanded matching state funding - the Rural Electrification Administration, for instance, which so aided Lyndon Johnson's political career, and social security old age pensions [4].

Unfortunately, the money was not forthcoming - the lege turned conservative as Rivers scraped back in 1938 - so the ultimate result was disappointing.

Rivers had difficulties with corruption allegations - in particular, that he sold pardons - though Talmadge had a pardon factory with a much higher throughput, and had troubles of his own:
For example, when, as Commissioner of Agriculture, Talmadge was accused of stealing, he simply told the wool hat boys, "Sure I stole, but I stole for you."

Rivers' main difficulty was that the electoral system tended to exclude those who would have benefited from his policies - county unit, white primaries, poll tax, etc.

But the fact he was straight, rather than a rascal showman like Talmadge, didn't help either, it seems.

(Other interesting journal articles on Georgia politics in the FDR era on the same site.)

  1. Though Russell was no liberal, according to the DW-NOMINATE scores: 45th most liberal Democrat in the 73rd Congress, 52nd in the 74th.

    The Confederacy was still remarkably liberal at that stage: in the 74th, four of the ten most liberal Dems are graycoats: Black (AL) - natch! - Jimmy Byrnes (SC), Joe Robinson (AR) and Pat Harrison (MS).

  2. A chapter from Days of Hope: Race and Democracy in the New Deal Era by Patricia Sullivan gives details.

  3. The immediate cause of the unpleasantness was, to judge from Times pieces on or about the day, was that USG had decided to federalise the administration of New Deal programmes in Georgia.

  4. The non-contributory pensions mainly for those already retired in 1935.

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