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MANUSCRIPTS DIVISION 2002
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Thomas Gordon and Elizabeth Alford McLeod Papers, 1845-2001
"South Carolina will remember Tom McLeod, whose administration spanned the trying years 1923-27, as one of the state's most progressive and withal practically useful governors. He gave to education and highways much more than lip-service, but it was in fiscal legislation that he best illustrated his prescience and courage." So wrote the editor of The State newspaper in a 13 December 1932 statement honoring the memory of the former chief executive. "Service in both branches of the legislature as a member and again in the senate as its presiding officer had well prepared Mr. McLeod for the governorship," the article continued. "He had also a background of experience in private life - - as a country lawyer, planter, merchant and banker - - which gave him accurate and intimate knowledge of the condition and desires of the people. The governorship, in his view, was a post not only of dignity and honor, but of extraordinary opportunity and responsibility for leadership. He consistently performed its duties in a manner which did credit to himself and to his state. A high-minded gentleman he was, and uncommonly modest; a devoted public servant; a symmetrical citizen...."
Born on 17 December 1868 at Lynchburg, the son of William James and Amanda Rogers McLeod, Thomas Gordon McLeod graduated from Wofford College in 1892, afterward took summer law courses at the University of Virginia, and was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1896. He taught two years and then, in 1898, upon the death of his father, took over management of the family's general merchandise store. In his initial foray into politics, McLeod was elected to represent Sumter County in the South Carolina House, 1900-1902. On 31 December 1902 he married Elizabeth Jamie Alford.
Elizabeth Alford, one of twelve children of William McDonald and Sarah Elizabeth McLean Alford, was born on 14 October 1875 in the Rocky Creek Section of Marion County, present-day Dillon County. During 1884-1885 her father had represented Marion County in the South Carolina General Assembly. Elizabeth graduated from Marion Graded School in 1894 and from Columbia Female College in 1900.
Although Elizabeth, known as "Lizzie," and her future husband were not kin, their families were connected. The mother of Lizzie Alford was a sister to the stepmother of Tom McLeod. After graduating from college, Lizzie Alford worked for the South Carolina General Assembly in the Engrossing Department, known in more recent times as the Legislative Council, providing research and drafting services to the General Assembly.
Following their marriage, the McLeods made their home at Bishopville where the senator established a law practice and the couple reared four children, sons McDonald Alford, Thomas Gordon, Jr., and Yancey Alford, and daughter Lucy Mood. McLeod had campaigned for the state senate throughout much of the courtship and in 1902 was elected as the first senator from Lee County. His insistence upon remaining close to his rural constituency proved a savvy political move, for in 1906 McLeod was elected lieutenant governor. In 1922, he was elected governor and served for two terms. McLeod was unsuccessful in his bids for governor in the Democratic primary of 1910 and for Congress in 1918 against incumbent Asbury F. Lever. While practicing law before his election as governor, he served as president of the Bishopville Telephone Company and as attorney and a director of the Bishopville National Bank.
This collection of one thousand seventy-seven items - - letters, photographs, business papers, and miscellaneous related documents - - reveals something of the lives of Governor Thomas Gordon McLeod and First Lady Elizabeth Alford McLeod while at the same time providing an historical record of the generation immediately preceding and following them.
The earliest papers, dating chiefly from the 1870s through the 1910s, relate to the William McDonald Alford family of Selkirk, Marion County. Chiefly bills and receipts, legal documents, and business memoranda, items of interest include three copies (October-December 1886, v. 7, nos. 1-3) of The Gynetrophian Record, a publication of the Chester Female Institute, Chester, Va.; specimen statements on the teaching aptitude of Miss Annie Alford (1880s-1910s); two letters (1897 and 1900) from Alford to his children encouraging them to study hard while they were away at school; results of the water "from a pump" at the Alford home analyzed by the Chemistry Deptartment at Clemson College (14 August 1902); documents (ca. 1903) relating to the Alford Dental Motor Manufacturing Company in Sumter; and information on the Confederate military service of William McDonald Alford. Additionally, an extensive group of certificates and diplomas document the educational pursuits of various members of the Alford family at local schools and colleges throughout the United States.
Letters from Thomas McLeod to Lizzie Alford begin in 1902, during the time he was campaigning for the South Carolina Senate. Many of them originated from Lynchburg, and some were penned on the letterhead of the W.J. McLeod Co., Dealers in General Merchandise. Several allude to the legal controversy surrounding the establishment of Lee County, while others speak of the uncertainty of the political campaign and community events.
A region known as Old Salem had voted to leave Sumter County and by act of legislature in 1897 was made into Lee County, the new county's boundaries taking land from Sumter, Darlington, and Kershaw counties. Officers for the county were elected and the legislative delegations seated, but Darlington County brought suit to contest the legality of the act and it was annulled by the South Carolina Supreme Court on the grounds that the election returns had not been certified by the Commissioners of Elections. Under the state constitution, no further effort could be made for four years. In 1902 again the majority of the citizens voted in favor of the new county and again the minority carried the injunction to the Supreme Court. After much delay, the Court through Chief Justice Ira B. Jones ruled that all requirements had been met with Bishopville to be the county seat.
In a letter of 22 March 1902 McLeod informed Lizzie that he was sending her a copy of the previous day's Lee County Leader in which there had appeared an account of his address to the Bishopville Library Association - - "the Editor is rather too generous in his praise for I did not feel like I did any 'big thing.' No one at home took the trouble to notice this mention....You know I do not care for...flattery or praise but do feel sometimes keenly the lack of real interest among those who are 'near kin.'" Despite his growing reputation as an orator on the political circuit, McLeod decried what he perceived as his lack of panache as a letter writer, confiding to Lizzie on 24 March - - "my correspondence heretofore has been limited almost exclusively to business communications so it is naturally hard to get out of the dull style that this would produce. However the pleasure to me...is in the receiving and not the giving so if it is any consolation you may know that your efforts have been and will be repaid in appreciation."
"The Lee County matter is still in suspense," McLeod wrote on 17 April, "tho' they think at Bishopville that there will not be any suit. I hardly think I will have any opposition for the Senate. One man...asked me to withdraw in his favor and I was rather inclined to do so and run for the House which I preferred but my friends protested so vigorously I had to determine definitely to stand for the Senate. Won't I be in a nice fix politically if it is all 'busted.'" Three weeks later, on 7 May, he quipped - - "I guess you are tired of my writing and talking so much of politics but this may interest you. You know it was thought for some time I would have no opposition for the Senate but some in whose way I seemed to stand could not bear to see me run...so they have bought out Mr. W.A. James to oppose me. He is not a strong man but has some strength in his following." McLeod noted that he would be going as a delegate to the convention in Columbia - - "Will enjoy it very much I think tho' not as much as the Session of the Legislature, no engrossing Department, see!"
A letter of 20 May 1902 evidences the couple's debate over where they would reside once married, a decision that was critically linked to McLeod's political future. "I...appreciated your letter very much and whatever I decide to do, will be much better satisfied because of the unselfish vein you take," McLeod wrote. "I too would prefer Sumter as a home tho' from a business standpoint I am pretty fully convinced the other is the better place...[and] having gone so far and committed myself to a definite cause I am afraid I cannot just now change without doing injustice to others and to the County...." By the time he wrote the following week, 27 May, McLeod had determined to cast his lot with Bishopville - - "Well I have decided to carry out my original plan and remain in Lee County....I am sorry particularly on your account that I had to decide as I did for Sumter is the more desirable place to live." "My race for the Senate is running on just so, so," he went on to say. "The general opinion seems to be that it will be close. I really do not know and sometimes am so disgusted that I do not care. I prefer of course to win but will try and be prepared to take defeat gracefully if it comes. The strongest force against me seems to be the Grange tho' it is not certain that it will be solid for my opponent. I am going to Bishopville to look around tomorrow...."
As the political campaign continued, so did McLeod's references to it in his letters to Lizzie. "Well since I wrote you I have been speech making again," he reported in his 9 June 1902 letter. "They had a Pythian picnic at Bishopville, the invited orators failed to come so my opponent Mr. James and myself were asked to speak on the subject of 'Pythianism.' Of course without any opportunity to prepare I couldn't and didn't do much. I am just simply going to quit jumping up and trying to speak just to please people. Can't afford to take so much risk." The law suit against Lee County had "really begun in earnest," he noted. "I think the county will stand but of course this makes everything uncertain to be mixed up in politics is bad business and some of these days I am going to reform and quit." "I don't dislike an open fair fight but these mean little stabs in the back annoy me," he confided on 1 July, at the same time suggesting that he would no longer "keep up an hypocritical appearance of friendship for even the sake of peace and harmony."
With the summer nearing its end, the campaign was winding down, and there were only a few more stops before the primary. On 29 July he wrote - - "I can't say that I enjoyed it very much. I was cordially received and got attention and encouragement but there was so much 'rot' in the speeches made by the candidates for the Legislature that I was more or less nauseated." McLeod attended the campaign day for state office seekers at Bishopville on 6 August 1902. "Lee County people are about all politicians and of course there was a large crowd," he reported the next day, noting that the "crowd seemed to [be] pretty divided between Heyward Tolbert and Til[l]man the latter leading. It is surprising the number of real good people who are supporting Jim Til[l]man and I very much fear he will be the next Governor."
Finally, on 27 August 1902, in a hastily written letter, he announced the news of his election victory "by about 100 majority." The campaigning was done and McLeod had emerged victorious, but the legal wrangling over Lee County had not been settled yet and the political intrigue continued. Writing on 1 November 1902, shortly after returning from the State Fair, he observed - - "Everybody seemed to be in the best of humor an evident sign that this has been a prosperous year. Of course the political work was going on preparatory to the assembling of the Legislature. M.L. Smith who is a warm friend of mine will be elected speaker. C.A. Woods of Marion stands a good chance for the Supreme Court bench. The general impression with those whom I met was that Lee County would go under tho' of course none of them were familiar with the case. All said their chief regret would be on my account which is of course consoling to me but not to the people at large."
The collection includes few items relating to the McLeods during the years between Thomas' election to the state senate in 1902 and the start of his first term as governor in 1923. A printed pamphlet, "Sketch of the Life and Public Service of Thos. G. McLeod Candidate for Congress from the Seventh Congressional District of South Carolina, With Discussion of the Issues of the Campaign, His Political Views and Platform," reprints an editorial in the Leader and Vindicator, Bishopville, 11 July 1918, and is the sole item documenting McLeod's unsuccessful campaign for federal office.
Governor McLeod took office on 16 January 1923 and had the misforture of assuming the office during a prolonged agricultural depression; nevertheless he urged increased support for education and tax reform. In 1926, his last year in office, the state constitution was amended to allow four-year gubernatorial terms; however, the incumbent was ineligible for reelection. As governor, McLeod was an early proponent of equal rights for women. He was the architect of guaranteed state aid for public schools and was founder of the state system of highways, including the State Highway Trust Fund and the "Pay-As-You-Go" road construction program. And it was during his administration that so-called "luxury" taxes were imposed on soft drinks, cosmetics, and tobacco in an effort to prevent an increase of the burden upon real property, especially upon farmers.
Mrs. McLeod devoted much of her time as First Lady to improving the appearance of the Governor's Mansion grounds and enlisted the services of Professor C.C. Newman of Clemson College to prepare a landscaping plan for the grounds of the mansion and the installation of an underground irrigation system. The McLeods were the first to use inmates from the State Penitentiary as household staff for the mansion.
Materials dating from McLeod's gubernatorial years include correspondence, 1923-1924, regarding the commission that would oversee the establishment of a "South Carolina Memorial to the Soldiers and Sailors of the World War"; numerous responses to requests for photographs of Governor McLeod, most of which asked that the image, once used, be returned in an effort to economize; and requests from journalists far and near for written statements from the governor. A 4 December 1925 letter from Geo[rge] H. Armistead, Industrial Editor of the Nashville Banner, requested that Governor McLeod draft a message for the Christmas edition of the Banner with a survey of the industrial progress of the South during 1925. McLeod's response, dated 12 December, belied the fact that economic disaster was facing much of rural America, the Palmetto State not excepted. "South Carolina enters hopefully upon the year 1926," he wrote. "Our very much improved and rapidly developing Highway System has already attracted the attention of the tourists en route to Florida. The attractiveness of our climate; the opportunities for agricultural development are appealing to many, which is evidenced by inquiries now coming in to the State....It is the history of all States visited by tourists that while they come for pleasure, permanent investments are usually made. There has already been an increased demand and an enhanced valuation to the properties along the Coast of South Carolina, and large developments are in prospect. This, we believe, is the initial movement that will spread through and will ere long include the farming land, and attract permanent settlers, to whom the richness of soil and favorable climate will make an appeal."
A small but significant file of speeches made by McLeod includes several dating from his governorship - - addresses made at memorial observances for former President Woodrow Wilson in Columbia (6 February 1924) and Charleston (10 February 1924), to the Southern Society of Boston (18 April 1926), and at Philadelphia's "Flag Day" commemoration (14 June 1926). An impressive group of representative photographic images pictures Governor McLeod at official functions, including governors conferences and inaugural events.
It was during McLeod's term in office that the nation observed the sesquicentennial of two events closely linked to American independence. One, a 28 June 1926 celebration commemorating the Battle of Fort Moultrie, was held at Charleston; the other, held in Philadelphia, Pa., marked the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of Flag Day and the Declaration of Independence. As chief executive of one of the thirteen original states, Governor McLeod was a guest of honor at the Philadelphia event, and he was actively involved in planning the former. Included here are letters of President Calvin Coolidge, 20 February 1926, Vice President Charles G. Dawes, 8 June 1926, and Rear Admiral L.M. Nulton, 8 February and 1 March 1926, all regretfully declining McLeod's invitation to attend the celebration. "I am conscious of the importance of the victory won at Fort Moultrie and this celebration is most fitting," President Coolidge wrote. "But, it does not seem possible for me to undertake the trip in June. And, it is with regret that it is necessary to decline your invitation." Two poems, "Ode to William Jasper" and "Ode on the Battle of Charleston," both of which were composed for the Fort Moultrie sesquicentennial by Gertrude Perry West, of Chillicothe, Ohio, are also found among the papers.
These events of national celebration, recollection, and good will were to presage a darker period in McLeod's governorship, for circumstances surrounding the October 1926 lynching of three members of the Lowman family in Aiken came to overshadow his remaining time in office. Clarence, Demon, and Bertha Lowman, all under twenty-five years of age, were accused of killing Sheriff Henry H. Howard during a raid upon their home. At the trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict and the Lowmans were sentenced, but their appeal was upheld by the South Carolina Supreme Court and a new trial was ordered. It became apparent at the second trial that the Lowmans would be released, and this unexpected turn of events so enraged the white community that all three defendants were forcibly removed from the jail and shot to death in an act of mob violence.
Materials relating to the Lowman case include affidavits from seven informants; a 17 November 1926 communiqué from the governor to Herbert Bayard Swope, Executive Editor, The New York World, giving his opinion of what he perceived as unfair press coverage and outlining his future actions as to the release of information - - "Articles appearing time to time in World considered many respects unwarranted attack upon State and citizens vast majority of whom have no sympathy with perpetrators or crime....I have and will continue to extend every courtesy your representative but am convinced as matter public policy continuance your articles will hamper and tend to thwart my efforts"; and a letter from L.G. Southard, 25 November 1926, discussing presiding judge Payne F. Rice's involvement in the trial. Southard suggests that McLeod suspend the writ of habeus corpus in Aiken and writes that Judge Rice had spoken with him and Samuel L. Lanham, the special judge appointed by the governor to preside at the second trial, the morning after the lynching. Judge Rice, not at all surprised, had been expecting it. Southard also suggests that McLeod remove Rice as "he is weak, and can-not be expected to stand up like a JUDGE should and do his full duty in the matter. To have arrested that crowd who lynched those negroes, and to go before Judge Rice and let him turn them out on a bond of a thousand dollars each, or less would be ridiculous; and I am afraid that he would likely do just such if given an opportunity."
Governor McLeod left office on 18 January 1927, and as his term in office drew to a close, friends and well wishers offered congratulations, support, and encouragement. In a letter of 18 January 1927 Chief Justice R[ichard] C[annon] Watts of the South Carolina Supreme Court wrote - - "I want to thank you on behalf of the Court for your uniform courtesy and kindness to us. In my opinion you have made a most excellant Governor. Ever since I have known you I have entertained affection and esteem for you. I wish you every success, health and happiness." Others acted on McLeod's behalf in an effort to secure his appointment to the Federal Trade Commission. Writing to Senator Ellison D. Smith on 17 January 1927, Harry E. DePass asked Smith "to urge the President to appoint him to this position," stating - - "His record as Governor of South Carolina is unimpeachable in every respect, as he has carried out faithfully his promises to the people, especially his pledge for law enforcement." Spartanburg attorney L.G. Southard, who had been involved with the Lowman lynching case defense, wrote to McLeod on 18 January 1927 enclosing a copy of a letter from attorney A.C. Platt to Thomas B. Dyett of New York, "a man in close touch with the N.A.A.C.P." Platt's statement discusses Governor McLeod's role in the Lowman case and argues that the civil rights organization should not act to block his appointment to the Federal Trade Commission.
Following four years in the Governor's Mansion, the McLeods purchased a residence in Columbia and the former governor practiced law in Columbia and affiliated with the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of Tennessee, serving as state counsel and manager of its operations in South Carolina. McLeod was awarded an honorary LL.D. degree from Wofford College in 1926. Noteworthy among items from this period are a request from Henry Goddard Leach, editor of The Forum, that the former chief executive comment on the question of "whether romance is an asset or liability to marriage" and McLeod's response, dated 22 January 1930, which reads in part - - "I fear one of the errors of our times is the disposition to submit every question of human and spiritual relationship to the acid test of cold analysis. In my opinion, romance is to marriage what youth is to developing manhood and womanhood. Certainly it makes a happier beginning of the lives of a mated pair. This in it self is a promise of a well run race. As time goes on apace, children come, claiming mutual protection and affection; the cares and duties, incidental to the normal life, likewise claim attention and there is an apparent loss of romance, but not necessarily so. It is but the slow burning away of the dross; the pure gold remains. Romance never proves itself so much of an asset as in the evening of life when memories of the past, rather than visions of the future fill the mind and the twain indeed become one."
By 1932 the former governor's health was failing and it had become increasingly difficult for him to fulfill his business responsibilities. On 28 November of that year, the McLeods' son Yancey wrote to alert Life and Casualty Insurance Company executive E.H. Cullom that "it has become evident that my father's rapidly declining strength will make it impossible for him to carry on the work at the o[ffice] any longer. His growing weakness, particularly noticeable over [the] course of the last few days, convince us that even the task of giving directions from his bedside will very soon, if not alr[eady] be too great for him. The doctors hold out no hope of a recovery, [nor] have we any encouragement that he will show any real improvement. I know that a letter of this nature must distress you, but I [think] that the Company should be fully informed as to his condition."
Early on the afternoon of 11 December 1932, Thomas Gordon McLeod died at his Wheat Street home in Columbia, six days short of his sixty-fourth birthday. The many telegrams and other expressions of sympathy present in the collection are representative of the outpouring of public support at the time of his death. Former governor Martin F. Ansel, under whom McLeod had served as lieutenant governor, wrote in a telegram on 14 December 1932 - - "The State has lost one of her best citizens, and myself a true and tried friend. Our association during the years from 1907 to 1911 were of the most pleasant, and I had learned to love and respect him more than words can express."
The Greenville News, in an editorial appearing two days after McLeod's death, eulogized him as "a citizen who gave a very large part of his life to the service of his people in public and private capacity and whose activities will long be remembered as constituting a constructive and valuable contribution to the progress of the state during an unusual and in many respects difficult period of its history."
After her husband's death, Elizabeth Alford McLeod returned to The Cedars, her family's ancestral home in Dillon County. She lived on there until her death in 1962 at the age of eighty-seven, overseeing extensive agricultural operations on the farm and earning two years before she died a State Forestry Association Tree Farm certificate for her work in supervised forestry.
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