An Outsider Looking In : John Garland Pollard and Machine Politics in Twentieth Century Virginia

Hopewell, John Stanley, Corcoran Department of History, University of Virginia
Younger, Edward, Department of History, University of Virginia
Graebner, Norman A., University of Virginia

John Garland Pollard (1871-1937) was a progressive Virginia Democrat who battled the conservative political Machine headed by Senator Thomas S. Martin. Supporting other progressive Democrats, he gained experience and won a narrow victory over the Machine candidate when he ran for Attorney General of Virginia in 1913.

Pollard was unsuccessful m building a statewide political organization of pro-prohibition, anti-Machine Democrats, because the Machine controlled Virginia's small electorate. He lost the three-way gubernatorial primary of 1917 because he and the Machine candidate split the temperance voters and because he was opposed by the Reverend Oater Bishop James Cannon whose plan to swing temperance supporters to the Machine candidate backfired.

A Y.M.C.A. volunteer during the World War, Pollard returned to Virginia to find the political situation vastly changed. Many Machine leaders and progressives had died, and the old rivalry was fading with the rise of new issues. As a Professor of Government at the College of William and Mary, he was active in local politics and received several appointments from the Machine’s emerging new leader Governor Harry F. Byrd.

Relaxing his anti-Machine feelings, Pollard cooperated with Byrd who attributed the success of his proposed constitutional amendments in the 1928 referendum to Pollard's speeches in their behalf. Later that year the presidential candidacy of Alfred E. Smith split the Virginias Democratic party, and anti-Smith Democrats led by Bishop Cannon joined Republicans to carry Virginia for Herbert Hoover. Pollard, a loyal Democrat and strong believer in religious freedom, supported Smith despite his stand on prohibition.

In 1929, the Machine needed as Byrd's successor a candidate who had supported Smith, prohibition and Byrd's reorganization program. Meeting the criteria, Pollard received the support of Byrd and the Machine and was elected Governor by a comfortable margin despite the efforts of William M. Brown, candidate of the previously successful coalition of Republicans and anti-Smith Democrats, to raise national issues in the campaign.

Instead of prosperity and increased appropriations for schools, hospitals and roads, Pollard faced a grave economic crisis, accompanied by labor unrest, drought and public dissatisfaction. Needing Byrd's personal assistance and Machine votes in the legislature, Pollard had to accept some changes in his proposed legislation. Nevertheless many of his progressive ideas were enacted into law, including a regulatory commission for the seafood industry, improvements in county government and a revised election code. The economic crisis prompted the legislature, at Byrd's instigation, to require Pollard to reduce appropriations if necessary to avoid a deficit. Accordingly on three occasions, he cut appropriations to keep the budget balanced.

Remembering the debacle of i928 and clinging to prohibition, Pollard and the Machine almost jeopardized the gubernatorial candidacy of Machine supporter George C. Peery as Pollard's successor. Although prohibition was no longer viable, Pollard refused to call a special session of the legislature to approve the twenty-first amendment and 3. 2% beer. Public pressure increased so much that Byrd arranged to have the legislature call itself into session, and Pollard had to accept repeal as a political necessity.

As Governor, Pollard was frequently caught between the liberalism of the New Deal and the political and social conservatism of the Virginia Machine. He appointed Byrd to the U.S. Senate in 1933 and left office in 1934.

Pollard was a kind, conscientious, humorous and honest man. His career was unique m Virginia politics because he migrated from being an anti-Machine independent to becoming a Machine-backed Governor. Nevertheless he was not accepted fully by members of the Machine. He worked with Byrd, but never was one of his intimate counselors.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pollard, John Garland -- 1871-1937, Virginia -- Politics and government -- 20th century

Digitization of this thesis was made possible by a generous grant from the Jefferson Trust, 2015.

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