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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 >>

"Diluted" power in Congress and the problems of government

Talmadge asserts his view that he had more authority and political clout as the governor of Georgia than he did as a United States senator. According to Talmadge, working within Congress served to "dilute" his political power. Ultimately, Talmadge believed that legislative processes often made it difficult to push through various reform measures and he believed that the federal government had begun to stray from the vision of the forefathers. In particular, he emphasizes what he saw as the problems of the social welfare system and the growing power of the federal government.

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

Well, I think that we did discuss this briefly before, but as one of 100 Senators up there after having governed the state of Georgia, is it sort of a lonely . . .
Oh, it is indeed, it's a frustrating experience. You see, this is the first time that I have served in a legislative body. I started my political career as governor of a state. Under the laws and constitution of Georgia, a strong and determined man, that knows how to use his power and with leadership ability, can accomplish a great deal. When I was governor, virtually everything that I opposed was defeated and virtually that I supported became law. I had a legislature that not only was friendly to me but a great many of them were elected on the same ticket with me by my supporters and I could achieve my ends almost at will. Then, when I got to the Senate, I was only one of 100 members of the Senate. I had no vote at all in the House which has 435 members. Your authority is so diluted in the Congress that you never realize where it begins or ends.
I guess that was one of the attractive things about thinking about coming back here in 1966.
It was. I think that all former governors are frustrated when they come to the Senate. They learn to adjust and live with it, but I think that frustration continues as long as they serve in the Senate. I don't think that there has been a day since I've been in the Senate, now more than eighteen and a half years, that I haven't felt a feeling of frustration. You see so much going wrong and yet being utterly powerless to correct it.
That reminds me of something. I heard, Senator, that with the current economic situation, the energy problems and everything, inflation, high unemployment, that you were fairly concerned about what might happen in this country?
Well, you know historically, throughout history, republican forms of government have had built within their systems the seeds of destruction. Our foreparents were great students of history when they framed our republican form of government and they knew that. They were determined to prohibit that from happening. They knew that we had a vast country with divergent interests and I imagine many of them foresaw the time when it would enlarge from coast to coast, the Atlantic to the Pacific. They tried to preserve a dual system of government with primary responsibility on the local and state level and delegated power only to the national government to prevent the seeds of destruction that republican governments historically have. They were exactly right in the type of government that they organized, but they didn't reckon with the power of the Supreme Court to contrue the Constitution. So, the dual system of government that they envisioned with real power on the local level, was broken down following Roosevelt's appointees to the Supreme Court, when he appointed people for what they would do rather than for what they knew. They cut loose all of the chains that restricted an onnipotent federal government. Since that time, there has been an erosion of power from the municipal buildings and from the county courthouses and the statehouses to Washington. It has got to virtually where everyone now comes with their hat in their hand, if they want to build a new jail in a little village in Georgia or elsewhere in the nation, they come to Washington wanting federal money. And of course, with that erosion of power has been the discipline that the federal government has been asserting on all of its people. Frankly, I am frightened about it. We now have about a third of the gross national product going for taxes. We have got about 177 billion dollars annually now in transfer payments, taking away from our most productive citizens and giving it to our least productive citizens. We have got more people actually riding the wagon now than we have pulling it. We have got more people receiving the benefits and largess of the Treasury than we have taxpayers in the country. A government like that is of great concern to me. I think that our people are becoming concerned, but it has not yet manifested itself in the Congress. If I had my way about it, I would dismantle about half of the federal government and transfer it back to the states and counties and municipalities.