Back when I was a political science major in college, I fell in love with a quote attributed to Aristotle that went something like “politics is the most important of all the sciences, since it’s through politics that we define ourselves”. I haven’t been able to find a source for the quote, and am pretty sure that Aristotle never said any such thing. But the quote has always stuck with me, because it’s totally right, yet totally wrong, too.
It’s right because we put our values into our laws, laws that prevent children from being sent to sweatshops, or debtors from being sent to prison, or the elderly from being swindled, or pets from being beaten and abandoned. Laws that say that those who have more income should pay a higher share of their income in taxes. Laws that say that discriminating against someone for their race or religion are wrong. In fact, our entire legal system is built on the notion of right and wrong.
But it’s wrong because, well… our laws can sometimes go horribly wrong. Slavery, Jim Crow, anti-immigration or anti-Catholic laws are just a few examples of that.
And it’s not just the laws that can go wrong. The political process itself can sometimes go off the rails. Sure, it sometimes shows human behavior at its best (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”) and at its worst (the recent budget impasse). But fewer incidents show human political behavior at its silliest than the time that Georgia had not one, not two, but three governors.
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Eugene Talmadge was the perfect old-school Southern politician. Born in the small town of Forsyth, Georgia on September 23, 1884, Talmadge attended, and received a law degree from, the University [sic] of Georgia in 1907. After graduating, Talmadge moved to Atlanta, where he practiced law with little success. He then moved to the small town of Aisley, in Montgomery County in southeast Georgia. His law practice did a little better there, but Talmadge had to become a part-time livestock trader to make ends meet.
In Aisley, Talmadge lived in a boarding house owned by a widow named Matilda Peterson. Peterson was fairly well off, as she also owned a large farm, and was the town’s railroad agent and telegraph operator. She also sold livestock, which gave the two something in common. Talmadge began courting her, and the couple soon married. They then moved to Telfair County, where they bought a large farm on Sugar Creek. Matilda then purchased another large farm, leaving Eugene in charge of the first one.
Continue reading “The Three Governors”