Our Georgia History

Georgia's Three Governors Controversy
December 21, 1946 Eugene Talmadge, who had recently been elected, but not inaugurated, governor of Georgia dies, sparking the "three governors controversy"
  Georgia's Three Governors Controversy
January 15, 1947 Herman Talmadge, son of Gene Talmadge and a write-in candidate on the 1946 gubernatorial ballot, claimed the governorship of Georgia. Outgoing governor Ellis Arnell refused to acknowledge Talmadge's claim to the governorship.
  Georgia's Three Governors Controversy
January 19, 1947 Gov. Ellis Arnell resigns in favor of Lt. Governor M. E. Thompson
  Georgia's Three Governors Controversy
March 19, 1947 Lt. Governor M. E. Thompson is made governor by the Georgia Supreme Court
  Georgia's Three Governors Controversy

1946 was not destined to be a good year for Gene Talmadge. In 1942 as member of the Board of Regents, which oversees the state university system, he initiated action that resulted in the termination of a professor for his pro-integration views. The University of Georgia lost its accreditation later that year. As a result of the incident, Talmadge was defeated for reelection in the 1946 Democratic primary by James V. "Jimmy" Carmichael, 313,389 to 297,245. Thanks to a unique Georgia law known as the "county-unit" rule, which favored rural Georgia over major metropolitan areas, Talmadge was the winner of the Democratic primary.

Even before the start of the gubernatorial campaign in September, 1946, "Ol' Gene's" friends knew something was wrong. He was having trouble concentrating, making mistakes during stump speeches and had an unusual look. His colleagues did not know it at the time, but Gene Talmadge was in the final stages of cirrhosis, from a life of hard-drinking. They did realize, however, that they should have a backup plan in case Gene was unable to serve so they asked some people to vote for his son, Herman Talmadge as a write-in candidate to take advantage of a Georgia law that stated when the governor was elected but could not serve the legislature elected the new governor.

As was the case with Georgia elections, the Democratic was elected, along with a Democrat Lieutenant Governor, Melvin ("M. E.") Thompson, a new position created in the Georgia Constitution of 1945. The changes would make Thompson governor, except the existing law had not been repealed and the new law did not explicitly cover the time between election and inauguration. The legislature was convened and when the write-in votes were counted Talmadge's leaders were stunned to find out that while Herman did get 617 write-ins, both James Carmichael(669) and Republican D. Talmadge Bowers(637) had received more votes. Then, in the nick of time, it was discovered that Herman Talmadge had an extra 56 votes, all from his home county of Telfair. on January 15, 1947, Herman Talmadge was elected governor based on the fact that he had received 675 votes in the election the previous November.

In the meantime, Thompson was planning to appeal Talmadge's election to the Georgia Supreme Court. Sitting governor Ellis Arnell had no intention of surrendering the office of Georgia governor to Herman Talmadge, whom Ellis considered to be a "pretender." Early on the morning on January 16, 1947, newly inaugurated Herman Talmadge told the state militia to escort Ellis Arnell safely to Newnan, Georgia, then return and change the lock to the governor's office. Arnell did surrender the governorship to Thompson, who set up a governor's office in exile in downtown Atlanta.

Thompson, however, won the Supreme Court suit and was installed as governor. In a special election in 1948, Herman Talmadge was elected governor of Georgia.

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