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Column — Roger Allen

J.A. Brannen’s run for Congress

James Alonzo Brannen was the first mayor of the city of Statesboro. He was also one of the most well respected men of his time in Bulloch County. As such, he began considering a run for the Democratic nomination for the United States Congress in 1904. His opponent would be incumbent Col. Rufus Lester of Savannah.
On June 12, 1903, Swainsboro’s Pine Forest opined, “Colonel Lester has been in office long enough that he is almost worn out and is too feeble.” On August 7, 1903, the Bryan Enterprise stated “It is to Mr. Brannen and a few others of such an enterprising spirit that Statesboro and Bulloch County owe their phenomenal success and prosperity.”
The Savannah Press stated on October 6, 1903, “For the first time in 16 years there may be a fight between the Democrats…It will be a goodly battle, worthy of going miles to witness.” The Millen Times  reported on January 19, 1903 “The Savannah politicians have as much use for the countryman whom he cannot use to further his ambitions as the Devil has for a genuine Christian.”
The Democratic Primary was held on April 20, 1904. After the votes were tallied, Lester had won handily in Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty Counties, but had won in Bryan and McIntosh Counties by less than 20 vote margins. Brannen, on the other hand, had won by large margins in Bulloch, Emanuel, Screven, and Tattnall Counties.
Bryan, Effingham, Liberty, and McIntosh Counties delegations each had two votes; Bulloch, Burke, Emanuel, Screven, and Tattnall Counties each had three votes; and Chatham County had four votes. This gave Lester a total of 18 convention votes to Brannen’s 14. Although 2000 more people voted for Brannen outside of Chatham County, the Democratic machine nominated Lester at the Reidsville convention.
There were two more counties added for the 1906 elections: Jenkins and Toombs, each of which had two convention votes. The Lyons Progress reported their belief that “According to the Savannah Press, the country counties have no right to ask for representation.” Both Colonel Walter Sheppard (a Savannah lawyer) and Colonel Brannen announced their candidacies in short order.
After the April primary votes were counted, both candidates were tied with 18 convention votes. Brannen had won Bulloch, Burke, Emanuel, Jenkins, Screven, and Toombs Counties with a majority of almost 3500 votes. Sheppard had won Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, and McIntosh with a majority of less than 2000 votes.
This time the convention was held at the Jaeckel Hotel in Statesboro. The convention soon became hopelessly deadlocked. The Statesboro News reported on September 18, 1906 that Col. Brannen had offered to withdraw his name from consideration if Colonel Sheppard would do the same. Col. Sheppard refused.  The next day, the Bulloch Times reported that Colonel Brannen had suggested the convention nominate a “Dark Horse” candidate for the party’s good.
The Statesboro Convention was dissolved after 616 tied votes. The delegates assembled again in Waynesboro on September 24, 1906. After nearly 700 total ballots (that’s right, 700), Judge Samuel B. Adams of Savannah was selected. Adams unfortunately declined the nomination, and the convention was closed and moved again, this time to Savannah..
Once the Savannah convention was called to order, five men were nominated in rapid order (Williams, Giles, Twiggs, Clifton, and Stovall), but as all of these men were unable to get the necessary votes they kept going. According to delegate Colonel E.K. Overstreet, the dominant faction in Savannah was “more corrupt than the Chicago Ward-Heelers or the Tammany thugs of New York.”
Colonel Brannen’s supporters nominated Charles G. Edwards and Colonel Sheppard’s supporters. According to the Statesboro News on October 16, 1906, Edwards finally got the nod after his brother, a Tattnall delegate, sided with the Brannen faction to break the deadlock. Thus ended J.A. Brannen’s efforts to represent a constituency other than that of Bulloch County.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look at Bulloch County's historical past. E-mail Roger at rogerdodger53@hotmail.com

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