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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Split in the Democratic Party and Talmadge's decision to remain a Democrat

Talmadge briefly describes the split within the Democratic Party in 1964 when several prominent Democrats switched over to the Republican Party. Strom Thurmond was one of those Democrats-turned-Republican and when Thurmond left the party, Talmadge says that he received some pressure from his constituents to follow suit. Nevertheless, Talmadge insists that he never seriously considered doing so. Talmadge explains that he was liberal on some issues and more conservative on others and he believed that there was room in both of the major parties for diversity and variation.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Herman Talmadge, July 29 and August 1, 1975. Interview A-0331-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JACK NELSON:
This is an interview with Senator Herman Talmadge on July 29, 1975. Senator, can we go back to Georgia politics and the Democratic party? I believe that it was in 1964, wasn't it, that several of your colleagues in the Democratic party decided to change parties?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
I believe that it was '64. That was the Goldwater race, I believe, and that was '64. Five statehouse officials who were elected as Democrats switched over to the Republican party.
JACK NELSON:
There was Crawford Pilcher and . . .
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Crawford Pilcher, who was a member of the Public Service Commission, Alpha Fowler, who was a member of the Public Service Commission, Jack Ray, who was State Treasurer, Phil Campbell, who was Commissioner of Agriculture and Jimmy Bentley, who was Comptroller General.
JACK NELSON:
The State Insurance Commission.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
That's right.
JACK NELSON:
Now, at least one of those office holders came to talk to you about it.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes, Jimmy Bentley . . .
JACK NELSON:
Who had been your executive secretary.
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
He was visiting Washington and in his capacity as president of the National Insurance Regulating Commission and he came by to see me about two days before that letter was made public in the news media in Georgia. He informed me of what these five statehouse officials were going to do. I spent about an hour trying to dissuade him from making that switch from the Democratic to the Republican party. I got the impression that my arguments were penetrating his mind but that all of them had crossed the Rubicon together at a previous meeting and he would not change his mind.
JACK NELSON:
Was there any pressure on you at that time or any other time to ever get out of the Democratic party?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
No . . . well, of course, when Strom Thurmond switched from the Democratic party to the Republican party, I got several hundred letters and telegrams from Georgians urging me to do likewise and in my reply to them, I pointed out that we had two elements in the Democratic party and two elements in the Republican party, that the Republican party of Javits and Case and Earl Warren was no more attractive to me than some elements in my own party.
JACK NELSON:
So, you never really gave any serious consideration to it?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
No.
JACK NELSON:
In other words, you never really felt that the party was leaving you either, because it is such a diversified party?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, the Democratic party has always covered every segment of the American society and it boxes the compass of all political opinion. I find myself comfortable with some members of the Democratic party and uncomfortable with others. The same thing is true in the Republican party.
JACK NELSON:
You would describe yourself generally as a conservative?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Oh, it depends on your point of view. I think that this "liberal-conservative" term has been much abused. Some people would consider me a wild-eyed radical on many issues and other people would consider me a reactionary beyond redemption. I usually have three rules on voting on measures: one is, is it constitutional? Two is, is it in the state and national interest? Three, can we afford it? If I resolve all those issues in the affirmative, I usually vote "aye." If I resolve them in the negative, I usually vote, "no."
JACK NELSON:
Well, you are a fiscal conservative, there's not much question about that?
SENATOR HERMAN TALMADGE:
Yes.