|United States Senator|
from South Carolina
March 4, 1925 - March 3, 1931
|Nathaniel B. Dial|
|James F. Byrnes|
|90th Governor of South Carolina|
January 17, 1911 - January 14, 1915
|Lieutenant||Charles Aurelius Smith|
|Martin Frederick Ansel|
|Charles Aurelius Smith|
|President Pro Tempore of the South Carolina Senate|
January 8, 1907 – January 12, 1909
|Governor||Duncan Clinch Heyward|
Martin Frederick Ansel
|Richard Irvine Manning III|
|William Lawrence Mauldin|
|Member of the South Carolina Senate from Newberry County|
January 8, 1907 – January 12, 1909
|George Sewell Mower|
|Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from Newberry County|
January 10, 1899 – January 8, 1901
November 25, 1890 – November 27, 1894
|Born||October 8, 1868|
Newberry, South Carolina
|Died||January 19, 1942 (aged 73)|
Columbia, South Carolina
|Resting place||Rosemont Cemetery, Newberry, South Carolina|
|Spouse(s)||Lillie B. Summers |
|Parents||Henry Horatio Blease |
Mary Ann Livingston Blease
|Alma mater||Georgetown University|
Coleman Livingston Blease (October 8, 1868 - January 19, 1942) was a South Carolina politician who belonged to the Democratic Party. He served as a state legislator, 90th Governor of South Carolina (1911-1915), and US Senator.
Blease, a unrepentant white supremacist, was notorious for playing on the prejudices of poor whites to gain their votes. He advocated lynching and was against education for blacks. As senator, he advocated penalties for interracial couples attempting to get married and criticizing US First Lady Lou Hoover for inviting a black guest to tea at the White House. He was the architect of Section 1325, which criminalized unauthorized entry into the United States, rather than treating it as a civil infraction, thus creating the notion of "illegal immigrant."
He was born to Henry Horatio Blease (1832-1892) and Mary Ann Livingston Blease (1830-1874) near the town of Newberry, South Carolina, on October 8, 1868, the year that South Carolina's new Reconstruction constitution was adopted, and black began participating in political life. Blease was educated at Newberry College, the University of South Carolina, and Georgetown University, where he graduated from the law department in 1889. At the University of South Carolina, Blease was expelled for plagiarism and always carried a grudge against the university.
Blease returned to Newberry to practice law and to enter politics and began his political career in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1890 as a protégé of Benjamin Tillman. However, whereas Tillman drew his support from South Carolina's successful white farmers and planters, Blease recognized that the white tenant farmers and textile mill workers lacked a political voice. Blease actively courted textile workers and built a devoted political base among these men, who hung his photo in their homes and named their children after him.
In 1895, the state legislature ratified a new constitution that essentially disfranchised blacks, thus crippling the state's Republican Party, which they supported. The state had a one-party system, run by the Democrats. Blease's rise to power, as he moved from the South Carolina House of Representatives to the South Carolina Senate in 1900, was built on the support of both the sharecroppers and white mill workers, then an increasingly-important segment of the electorate in South Carolina.
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." They new era saw a sharp division within the South Carolina Democratic Party, with the factions known for many years as being "Tillmanites" and "Bleaseites." Blease was elected mayor of Newberry in 1910 and held that position until November of that year, when he was elected governor of South Carolina.
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 but opposed compulsory attendance. He abolished the textile mill at the state penitentiary for health reasons but opposed inspections of private factories to ensure safe and healthful working conditions.
Blease acquired such a bad reputation that he was said to represent the worst aspects of Jim Crow and Benjamin Tillman, who branded Blease's style as "Jim Tillmanism" (Jim Tillman was Benjamin Tillman's nephew, who, as lieutenant governor, had killed a newspaper editor and been acquitted in the case). Blease favored complete white supremacy in all matters. He encouraged the practice of lynching, strongly opposed the education of blacks, and derided an opponent for being a trustee of a black school. Blease once buried the severed finger of a lynched black man in the South Carolina gubernatorial garden.
The newspapers did not escape Blease's wrath, and Blease praised Jim Tillman for the murder of The State editor Narciso Gener Gonzales in 1903. Blease advocated imprisonment for reporters or editors who published candidates' speeches.
Blease failed to enforce laws and was a scofflaw. On two occasions, he pardoned his black chauffeur when he was cited for speeding. Enjoying the power to pardon, Blease said that he wanted to pardon at least 1000 men before he exited office because he wanted "to give the poor devils a chance." He is estimated to have pardoned between 1,500 and 1,700 prisoners, some of whom were guilty of murder and other serious crimes. His political enemies suggested that Blease received payments to pardon criminals. Among those he pardoned was former US Representative George W. Murray in 1912. The black Republican had lost an appeal for his conviction of forgery in 1905 by an all-white jury and was sentenced to hard labor. Refusing to serve for a conviction that he claimed resulted from racial discrimination, Murray had left the state permanently for Chicago.
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. Lieutenant Governor Charles Aurelius Smith succeeded to the 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, nonspecific 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!"
Blease disliked the newly-developed carbonated soft drinks. In his gubernatorial inaugural address in 1911, he said:
I also, in this connection, beg leave to call your attention to the evil of the habitual drinking of Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, and such like mixtures, as I fully believe they are injurious. It would be better for our people if they had nice, respectable places where they could go and buy a good, pure glass of cold beer, than to drink such concoctions.
In 1924, Blease defeated James F. Byrnes in the Democratic primary and was elected to the US 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 as a Roman Catholic in Charleston, had not really left that faith. Such an assertion in an overwhelmingly-Protestant state, while the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power, ruined Byrnes's political hopes that year. Byrnes would defeat Blease in his 1930 run for re-election to the Senate.
In 1928, Blease proposed an anti-miscegenation amendment to the US Constitution to require Congress to set a punishment for interracial couples attempting to get married and for people officiating an interracial marriage, but Congress never submitted it to the states.
In 1929, in protest of First Lady Lou Hoover's invitation of Jessie DePriest, the African-American wife of Illinois Representative Oscar De Priest, to tea at the White House, Blease proposed a resolution, "To request the Chief Executive to respect the White House," demanding for the Hoovers to "remember that the house in which they are temporarily residing is the 'White House'." In support of the resolution, Blease read the 1901 poem "Niggers in the White House" on the floor of the Senate. After immediate protests from Republican Senators Walter Edge (from New Jersey) and Hiram Bingham (from Connecticut), the poem was excluded from the Congressional Record. Bingham described the poem as "indecent, obscene doggerel" which gave "offense to hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens and... to the Declaration of Independence and our Constitution." Blease withdrew the resolution but said that he did so "because it gave offense to his friend, Senator Bingham, and not because it might give any offense to the Negro race."
Blease died in Columbia, South Carolina on the night of January 19, 1942, a day after he underwent surgery.