Coleman Livingston Blease

60th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1911 to 1915

Date Born: October 8, 1868

Date Died: January 19, 1942

Place Born: Near Newberry, SC

Place Buried: Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, SC

Residence: Newberry County, SC

Occupation: Lawyer

Newberry College, University of South Carolina, Georgetown University: Graduated 1889

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1890-1893, 1899-1900

South Carolina Senate: 1907-1908

Mayor of Newberry, SC: 1910

South Carolina Governor: 1910-1915

U.S. Senate: 1925-1931

Coleman Livingston Blease was born on October 8, 1868 to Henry Horatio Blease and Mary Ann (Livingston) Blease near the town of Newberry, SC. Blease was educated at Newberry College, the University of South Carolina, and Georgetown University, where he graduated from the law department in 1889. Blease returned to Newberry to practice law and enter politics.

On February 8, 1890, Coleman Livingston Blease married Lillie B. Summers. He married a second time, to Carolina Floyd, date unknown.

In 1890, Coleman Livingston Blease was first elected as one of three men to represent Newberry County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 59th General Assembly that met from 1890-1891
- 60th General Assembly that met from 1892-1893

He began his political career as a protégé of Benjamin Ryan Tillman. But whereas Tillman drew his support from South Carolina's successsful white farmers and planters, Blease recognized that the white tenant farmers and textile mill workers lacked a political voice.

In 1895 the SC legislature ratified a new Constitution that essentially disfranchised African-American citizens, thus crippling the Republican Party in the state. The state had a one-party system, run by the Democrats. Blease's rise to power, as he moved from the SC House of Representatives to the SC Senate, was built on the support of both the sharecroppers and mill workers, an increasingly important segment of the electorate in South Carolina in this period.

His appeal to the millworkers and sharecroppers was based on his personality and his view that made the "inarticulate masses feel that Coley was making them an important political force in the state." This new era saw a sharp division within the state Democratic Party, with the factions known for many years as being "Tillmanites" and "Bleaseites."

In 1899, Coleman Livingston Blease was again elected as one of three men to represent Newberry County in the House of Representatives of the:
- 63rd General Assembly that met from 1899-1900

In 1906, Blease was elected to represent Newberry County in the SC Senate of the:
- 67th General Assembly that met from 1907-1908 - elected President Pro Tempore

Shortly before he was elected governor, Blease was elected as the mayor of Newberry in 1910. He held this position until November 1910, when he became the governor of the state.

Blease was elected governor in 1910 because he "knew how to play on race, religious, and class prejudices to obtain votes." His legislative program was erratic and without consistency. Blease favored more aid to schools, yet opposed compulsory attendance. He abolished the textile mill at the state penitentiary for health reasons, yet opposed inspections of private factories to ensure safe and healthful working conditions.

The newspapers did not escape Blease's wrath, and he praised Jim Tillman for the murder of The State editor N.G. Gonzales in 1903. Blease advocated imprisonment for reporters or editors who published candidates' speeches.

Although the combined opposition of Tillman and the upper classes could not prevent Bease's re-election in 1912, he lost the U.S. Senate election of 1914 against the incumbent Senator "Cotton Ed" Smith. This was the first U.S. Senatorial election to be decided by popular vote, following ratification of the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1913.

In a show of spite for progressive governor-elect Richard Irvine Manning III, Blease resigned five days before the end of his second term on January 14, 1915, so that he did not have to attend Manning's inauguration. Charles Aurelius Smith succeeded his governorship and performed ceremonial functions during his five days in office.

Afterward, Blease spent a decade outside the mainstream of state politics. Manning's administration (1915–1919) brought many Progressive Era reforms to the state. As the political climate turned more reactionary after 1919, when the state and nation suffered with postwar economic adjustments, Blease's popularity rebounded. Blease lacked a constructive program, but his agitation had permanently quickened the political consciousness of the cotton-mill operatives and other poor whites.

In virtually all of his campaigns, Blease used a catchy, nonsensical, non-specific campaign jingle that became well known to virtually every voter in South Carolina in the era. For instance, he used: "Roll up your sleeves, say what you please...the man for the job is Coley Blease!"

In 1924, Coleman Livingston Blease defeated James F. Byrnes in the Democratic primary and was elected to the U.S. Senate. His campaign foreshadowed his style as Senator. Blease's defeat of Byrnes was widely credited to a rumor campaign that Byrnes, who was raised a Roman Catholic in Charleston, had not really left that faith. Such an assertion in an overwhelmingly Protestant state in the years when the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power ruined Byrnes' political hopes that year. Byrnes later defeated Blease in his 1930 run for re-election to the U.S. Senate.

He died on January 19, 1942 in Columbia, SC and was buried in the Rosemont Cemetery in Newberry, SC.

Coleman Livingston Blease, a U.S. Senator from South Carolina; born near Newberry, Newberry County, SC, October 8, 1868; attended the common schools; graduated from the law department of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, in 1889; admitted to the bar the same year and commenced practice in Newberry, SC; member, SC House of Representatives 1890-1894, 1899, and 1900, serving as Speaker Pro Tempore 1892-1894; Mayor of Helena, S.C., in 1897; City Attorney of Newberry in 1901 and 1902; member, SC Senate 1905-1909, serving as President Pro Tempore in 1906 and 1907; Mayor of Newberry in 1910; Governor of South Carolina 1911-1915; elected as a Democrat to the U.S. Senate and served from March 4, 1925, to March 3, 1931; unsuccessful candidate for renomination in 1930; unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1934 and 1938; elected a member of the SC Unemployment Compensation Commission for a four-year term beginning in 1941; died in Columbia, S.C., January 19, 1942; interment in Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, SC.

<< Last Governor - Martin Frederick Ansel

Next Governor - Charles Aurelius Smith >>

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved