The Pittsburgh Press (November 17, 1944)
Recently set record for Senate service
Ellison D. Smith
Lynchburg, South Carolina (UP) –
Senator Ellison DuRant “Cotton Ed” Smith, tobacco-chewing New Deal-hating conservative Democrat from the Old South, died today at his Tanglewood Plantation home, less than four months after he had set an all-time record for continuous Senate service.
Mr. Smith had served 35 years and eight months in the Senate. But the voters called an end to his political career this year and he would have left the Senate Jan. 3.
Dies of heart attack
The aged Senator died of a heart attack. He visited his family doctor two days ago, according to his son, Farley, and had been pronounced “in good physical condition.”
Mr. Smith arose as usual this morning and appeared cheerful. Death came about 10 o’clock in his bedroom.
Mr. Smith celebrated his 80th birthday anniversary Aug. 1, a month after he was defeated for renomination in the South Carolina primary by Senator-elect Olin D. Johnston.
Known as ‘Cotton Ed’
Known throughout the country as “Cotton Ed,” Mr. Smith’s death ended one of the most colorful political careers of his generation. He fought for the principles he upheld, often screaming his Congressional speeches on his favorite issues: White supremacy, state’s rights and “King Cotton.”
By contrast, death came to him quietly. None of his family was at the bedside, although his wife, son and daughter-in-law were in the house.
Funeral services will be held Sunday at the plantation house where Mr. Smith had lived since childhood, in an atmosphere of the Old South which he chose never to forget himself or to allow his colleagues in the Senate to forget.
Mr. Smith’s son said his father a few days before his death expressed the hope that one day the “nation would return to normalcy” and that South Carolina and the South in general would “become more conservative.”
That was the final political utterance from the South Carolinian who through nearly 40 years of public life blasted repeatedly at bureaucracy and roared at what he believed was the steady, encroachment of the federal government on the rights of states.
Mr. Smith was a bristling, bombastic man – a legendary figure who wore a huge handlebar mustache, wavy sandy hair and whose mischievous dynamic eyes could change in a nonce from kindliness to flashing coals when he became angry or excited – which was frequent.
A man who never depended on a political machine to gain office, Mr. Smith relied instead on his gift for drama, oratory and innate genius to hold his political career intact.
He usually managed to keep some cotton investigation boiling and most of his bills were to promote the welfare of the southern farmer.
The nickname “Cotton Ed” was affixed to him, so the story goes, in the summer of 1908 when he was campaigning in a small Southern town. He reportedly rode down the main drag in a springboard pulled by a span of mules. Atop the wagon was a big bale of cotton and in his lapel, he wore a cotton boll.
As he drew near the crowd of villagers, he rose with native Southern dignity, it was said, and, stroking the cotton boll in his lapel, said:
My sweetheart, my sweetheart, others may forget you. But you will always be my sweetheart.
Elected to the Senate in 1908, Mr. Smith became in time one of the country’s best-known lawmakers on six counts:
His frequent oratorical flights on behalf of Southern womanhood which he esteemed.
His almost equally passionate championship of cotton, which he espoused on all possible occasions.
His thoroughgoing dislike of the New Deal, which he once called “this contemptible thing.”
His flair for colorful language and, when the occasion seemed to warrant, ripe and rich profanity.
His zealous belief in white supremacy, which once caused him to walk out on the 1936 Democratic National Convention because the prayer was offered by a Negro minister.
His love and constant use of chewing tobacco. He always had a “wad” in his cheek, and didn’t mind when it stained his walrus mustache.
Interested in farming
Mr. Smith was sincerely and devotedly interested in the welfare of agriculture. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee for 14 years, he toiled unceasingly for legislation which he thought would help farmers.
He fostered measures for soil conservation during the Wilson administration and helped to set up the present system of federal aid for agricultural extension work. He also sponsored legislation for regulation of cotton exchanges. But he didn’t like many of the New Deal’s ideas on aid to farmers.
Mr. Smith was born Aug. 1, 1864, on a 3,000-acre plantation, the son of a Methodist minister. He grew up in the Reconstruction period after the Civil War and learned to hate Carpetbaggers and everything he associated with them.
Elected to legislature
After graduation from Wofford College, he entered politics in 1896 and was elected to the State Legislature. For a time, he was an organizer for the Southern Cotton Association and traveled all over the South.
He was a bred-in-the-bone states’ rights, tariff-for-revenue-only Southern Democrat. As chairman of the Agriculture Committee, he fought the New Deal at every opportunity. He became so bitter on this score that on last Feb. 4, he said:
I am actually getting to the point where I turn to the Republicans instinctively when I want the real fundamental constitutional laws of this country adhered to.
Opposed women’s suffrage
Mr. Smith gave expression to his high regard for Southern womanhood on all possible occasions. But when women’s suffrage was an issue, he was against it.
I don’t know why women want any more power than they already have. They run everything now.
Mr. Smith loved fishing, hunting and reading. His reading favorites were the Bible, novels and detective stories. He called detective yarns “red hot trash” and read all he could find.