The Senate Campaign of William D. Workman, Jr.

A white man with dark hair, wearing eyeglasses and dark suit, stands behind a podium equipped with microphones. A painting of an elephant with a G.O.P. banner on its back is partially visible in the background.

William D. Workman standing at a podium at the Republican State Convention. Columbia, SC. March 17, 1962. “Dick” Beebout/The State & The Columbia Record

This past Monday marked the 55th anniversary of South Carolina’s 1962 US Senate election, in which Democratic incumbent Olin D. Johnston defeated Republican contender William D. Workman, Jr. Although unsuccessful, Workman’s “campaign was the first significant Republican challenge [to Democratic dominance] in an important statewide race since Reconstruction” and “is credited with establishing the structure for a viable Republican Party in South Carolina.”[1] Having secured 43% of the vote, Workman’s campaign also served as a harbinger of Republican ascendancy in a South Carolina that was then still part of the “Solid South.”

Workman was nominated at the Republican State Convention in Columbia on March 17, 1962. He was already relatively well-known in the state as a journalist and the author of the book The Case for the South, although he had resigned from his positions with the (Charleston) News and Courier and The Greenville News in December 1961 in order to actively pursue the Republican nomination. He further increased his name recognition by speaking to voters around the state and through the campaign’s press activities, which included television broadcasts, press releases, and campaign ads. He was aided by substantial support from the state party and by former President Eisenhower’s visit to South Carolina to endorse his candidacy.

Workman campaigned on a platform of individual liberty, limited government, fiscal conservatism, military strength, free trade, limited involvement in international affairs, and the maintenance of segregated schools. He cast himself in opposition to a Democratic administration whose liberal policies, he felt, threatened the country:

 

What we do here today binds all of us together in a great cause—a cause which is far greater than the sum of its parts. This cause is the preservation—indeed, the restoration—of the American form of government as we have come to cherish it.

For today—make no mistake about this—this form of government is on trial for its life. I confess that I read a sinister meaning into Pres. Kennedy’s inaugural words that ‘we shall have to test anew whether a nation organized and governed such as ours can endure.’

Our endurance is indeed being tested—day by day, week by week, month by month—as a Democratic administration seeks to undermine the political institutions which made this country great.

The concepts of states’ rights and of local self-government are being swallowed up in a determined drive to concentrate all power in Washington.

The principles of free enterprise, individual initiative, and personal thrift are being smothered by confiscatory taxation and governmental regulation.

The goal of ‘a wise and frugal’ government is lost amidst spending policies which look upon money as the universal solvent.

The liberty of the individual is being sacrificed on the altar of governmental control. [emphases original][2]

 

Workman’s message resonated with a lot of voters, as evidenced by his capturing more than 40% of the vote. His campaign spurred the growth of the Republican Party at the local level, providing the state party with a framework on which to expand its activities.

After the election, Workman returned to his journalism career. He became an assistant editor, and later the editor, of The State newspaper. He only sought public office once more, in an unsuccessful run for governor against incumbent Richard W. Riley in 1982.

Five men with elephant-shaped name tags on their suits.

William D. Workman and four unidentified men at a Republican rally. Lexington, SC. December 9, 1961. “Dick” Beebout/The State & The Columbia Record

[1] William D. Workman, Jr., “Acceptance Speech of William D. Workman, Jr. on Being Nominated as the Republican Candidate for the U. S. Senate,” in For U. S. Senate:  South Carolina’s Bill Workman, and the 1962 Platform of the South Carolina Republican Party, (n.p. : n.p., 1962).

[2] Colleen Bradley and Kelly Gilbert, “Biographical Note,” William D. Workman, Jr. Papers (PDF finding aid), (2002) : 3, http://library.sc.edu/file/380.

 

Photographs documenting William D. Workman’s Senate campaign are among those that will be made more available through the project Reprocessing and Digitizing the William D. Workman, Jr. Papers Photographs. This project has been made possible by a grant from the National Historic Publications & Records Commission.

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