Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)


J. Millard Tawes (1894-1979)
MSA SC 3520-1485

Governor of Maryland 1959-1967

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 293-299.

"In 1958, for the first time in over a decade, Maryland Democrats conducted a gubernatorial campaign devoid of party strife by presenting a united front and an extremely popular candidate.  The Republicans, then in power, on the other hand, were plagued by a national trend away from their party, growing unemployment, a serious economic recession, and Governor McKeldin's inability to transfer this personal popularity.  The victor, consequently, in 'one of the most impressive victories in recent Maryland history,' was J. Millard Tawes, Comptroller of the Treasury, a rurally-oriented and small county politician, and one of the oldest men ever to be elected Governor of Maryland.1

"J. Millard Tawes, Maryland's fifty-fourth governor whose political career extended over thirty-seven years, was born in Crisfield, the son of James B. and Alice (Byrd) Tawes, on May 8, 1894.  He was educated in the public schools of Somerset County, at the Wilmington Conference Academy in Dover, Delaware, and at the Sadler's, Bryant, and Stratton Business College, where he specialized in the study of banking and accountancy.  He began his career in business with the lumbering and canning firms founded by his father, and continued this family association as these enterprises were extended into shipbuilding, banking, and baking.

"Governor Tawes married  Helen Avalynne Gibson on December 25, 1915. They had one son, Philip, and a daughter, Mrs. William R. Wilson, Jr.

"His active career in politics began in 1930.  In that year, he was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court for Somerset County, narrowly defeating his Republican opponent, Harry T. Phoebus, later the popular State Senator from that county, by a margin of only seventy-two votes.  He was elected to his second term in 1934.  In 1938, after he had completed two terms in that office, he was elected Comptroller of the Treasury in his first State-wide election campaign, defeating the Republican candidate, William G. Jack, by nearly 140,000 votes.

"In 1942, he was re-elected without opposition either in the primary or the general election.

"[p. 294]  In 1946, Mr. Tawes unsuccessfully challenged William Preston Lane, Jr. for the governorship.  When his term as Comptroller ended in January of 1947, he retried from public life, but several months later, in May of the same year, Governor Lane appointed him State Bank Commissioner.  He held the position until July 5, 1950, when he was appointed Comptroller to fill the unexpired term of James J. Lacy who had died.  He was re-elected Comptroller without either primary or Republican opposition both in 1950 and 1954.

"In 1958, after a State-wide survey among Democratic leaders, Tawes announced his candidacy for the gubernatorial nomination.  He was his party's overwhelming choice in the primary election in which he faced only token opposition.  In the general election of November 4, 1958, he defeated Republican Congressman James P.S. Devereaux, by the unprecedented margin of nearly 200,000 votes.  His choice, commented The Sun, 'was pretty obviously a judgment on the relative capacities of the two candidates for the task of running things in Annapolis.'2

"When he was inaugurated on January 14, 1959, he brought to the governorship a long-time familiarity with the workings of the State government, together with the almost unheard-of situation of having only three Republican members in the State Senate and only seven members of the opposition party in the House of Delegates.  He pledged his administration to the task of achieving new standards, but at the same time preserving the financial integrity of the State.  He recognized that 'the task of the Legislature is not made any easier because of the overwhelming dominance of one political party.'The change in administrations, noted The Sun, was 'from a governor who had someone else to blame for legislative failures to a governor who has only himself and his party to blame.'4

When Tawes was elected in 1958, the State had not as yet been able to shake off the effects of the recession of that year.  Consequently, he set as one of the major aims of his first administration, the attracting of new industries and a reduction of unemployment.  Striving for these goals, Governor Tawes secured the enactment of legislation which created new governmental agencies to meet the needs of the times.  Among theses were a host of new departments which reflected the promotion of industry and agriculture.  The most important of these was the Department of Economic Development, the establishment of which he considered one of the most outstanding achievements of his administration.  Other new agencies included the Development Credit Corporation, the Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority, the Regional Planning Council, and the Agricultural Advisory Board.  After the revelation of weaknesses in the laws respecting the savings and loan industry, he recommended legislation to remedy that deficiency.

Several other new agencies came into existence to meet newer and [p.295] more specific needs.  These included the Commission on Aging, the Savings-Share Insurance Corporation, the Baltimore City Municipal Court, and the Court of Special Appeals.  The Legislature reorganized other agencies to increase their efficiency.  One of these was the State Roads Commission which in 1960 had the responsibility for the construction of a five hundred-mile network of arterial highways crisscrossing the State, as well as some nearly nine hundred miles of additional major highways.  The Department of Chesapeake Bay Affairs assisted in the rehabilitation of the oyster industry by the initiation of a broad-scale oyster shell-planting program.  The State Racing Commission helped to meet the competition of surrounding states by transferring some racing dates.  The Legislature, at his urging, also altered the Department of Water Resources, the Maryland Geological Survey and the State Planning Department.  The result of all this legislation was the overall strengthening of the State government.

A second thorny problem faced by Governor Tawes was that of the elimination of slot machines from Maryland.  Beginning in 1963, legislation was passed to provide for their gradual phasing out.  In spite of great opposition, this was completed by July 1, 1968 after he had left office.

To provide for the expansion of Maryland's educational facilities, the Tawes administration was responsible for outstanding achievements.  The concept of the teachers' college was abandoned in favor of the creation of colleges of arts and sciences.  To study Maryland's educational needs, the Legislature established an Advisory Council on Education.  Other accomplishments in the field of education included the establishment of a branch of the University of Maryland in the Catonsville area, the beginning of a State-wide system of educational television, and the creation of a State agency which encouraged loans for higher education.  When he was about to leave office, he reported to the Legislature with justifiable pride  that 'when the history of this General Assembly and this Administration is written, I should not be surprised if the advancement we have made in public education is not set down as the greatest single achievement.'5

Under the leadership of Governor Tawes, Maryland became the first State south of the Mason-Dixon line to enact a public accommodations law.  In addition, the Governor issued directives prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, creed or color in State employment and by contractors doing business with the State government.

Tawes probably had to face more thorny constitutional problems than almost any of his predecessors.  During his two terms in office, he not only had to solve the question of public accommodations and civil rights, but also those of redistricting, reapportionment and constitutional reform.

In 1961, as the result of the census taken in the previous year, Maryland gained an additional congressional district.  In 1961 and again in 1963 and in 1965, the General Assembly attempted somewhat unsuccessfully to describe the boundaries of the new district by the passage of acts which would create the new eighth district.  In all these instances, [p. 296] these acts failed of ratification because referendum petitions were filed against them.  Finally in 1966 after the General Assembly had failed at a special session to redistrict the State, a special Federal Court composed of two district court judges and one judge representing the Court of Appeals divided the State into the new districts, so that these became effective for the 1966 elections.

In May 1962, Tawes called a special session of the General Assembly because the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County declared the apportionment of the House of Delegates unconstitutional.  At that time, the House was temporarily apportioned by the addition of nineteen new members who represented the larger counties and who would serve only until the 1966 elections.  In October 1965, he called a special session to reapportion the General Assembly in compliance with the one-man one-vote mandate of the U.S. Supreme Court.  In this effort, the Senate was apportioned by the creation of Senatorial districts, while membership of certain counties in the House of Delegates was drastically altered.  For the first time, the balance of power in the General Assembly shifted to the urban and suburban counties.

In May 1960, Tawes invited the Governors and their representatives of all eleven states in the Appalachian region to come to Annapolis to discuss common economic problems.  The Governors later formed the Conference of Appalchian Governors and after a meeting with President Lyndon B. Johnson, developed the present Federal Appalachian program under the aegis of the Appalachian Regional Commission.

In 1962, Tawes was re-elected to his second four-year term in office.  In the primary election, he faced stiff opposition from David Hume, the Charles County critic who differed with Tawes' policies on conservation and from George P. Mahoney, the Baltimore contractor who was making another bid for public office.  both Hume and Mahoney polled a surprisingly large number of votes but these were not enough to defeat Tawes, who had still retained complete control over the party machinery.

In the general election, Tawes defeated Frank Small, Jr., his Republican opponent who had previously served both as Congressman and as Commissioner of Motor Vehicles by a margin of about 78,000 votes after the latter's inept campaign.  'Seldom has a Governor of Maryland been given such a carte blanche to carry out his Administration's program,' asserted The Sun.6

Tawes began his second term on January 9, 1963 pledging himself to laying 'the groundwork for developing the state's natural and human resources.'7  Singling out the problems of the urban areas, he told his listeners that 'we must recognize that Maryland is predominantly a state of urban dwellers with problems that are far from solutions, problems of traffic and transit, problems of water supply and sewerage, problems of taxation and problems of slum clearance.'8  Tawes devoted his second [p. 297] term to attaining the goals he had established for his administration in 1959 and to new goals he enunciated for his second term.

In 1964, the Legislature approved a plan which increased the amount of state aid to education and revised the formula for its distribution.  This step was acclaimed by educators as the most significant advance in public education in more than forty years.  As a major innovation, the Tawes administration brought into reality the necessary legislation to bring educational television to Maryland with a plan to operate a state-wide network of E.T.V. stations.

During his tenure in office, Governor Tawes was also vexed by financial problems.  His prudent fiscal management, however, permitted State services to expand in an unprecedented manner.  At the same time, through his leadership, financial assistance to hard-pressed counties, cities and towns was substantially increased.  At a special session in 1966 after the failure of the Cooper-Hughes Tax Bill, the Legislature granted special taxing authority to these political subdivisions to afford them some financial relief.  This plan, however, was in effect for only one year and it represented at best only a temporary solution.

In his last year in office Governor Tawes made several far-reaching accomplishments.  In June 1965, he appointed a Constitutional Convention Commission which he empowered to inquire into the possible revision of the Constitution of 1867.  Upon the Commission's recommendation, the Legislature passed a bill which provided for a referendum on the question of calling a Constitutional Convention.  At the election of September 13, 1966, the proposal received an overwhelming endorsement.

In March 1966, Tawes initiated a study 'leading to the streamlining of the state government by eliminating areas of economic waste, duplication of services and the unnecessary management problems whose entanglements could result in poor service for the public.'9  Although his Commission for the Modernization of the Executive Branch of the Maryland Government would not submit its report until after he had left office, he knew of no 'legacy' he would rather leave the people of Maryland than 'a strong start on the modernization and strengthening of the Executive arm of Government.'10

Tawes left office on January 25, 1967, the only Democratic governor to date both to follow and precede Republican administrations.  His departure marked the end of the era of the State's domination by the small county politician.  In its place was a State Legislature representing 'geographical areas substantially equal in population...representing the change attitudes, changed concepts and changed mode of living of a new generation of Marylanders.'11

In his farewell address, he told the General Assembly that he was leaving 'a State Government in what I consider to be a sound and stable [p. 298] financial condition and with a tax structure which up to now has been adequate.'  Yet, he prophesied 'the growing needs of local government for financial relief, together with the popular demands for more and better governmental services in a progressive and rapidly growing State, such as ours, has created a condition in which tax reform and tax readjustment can no longer be postponed.'12

The Sun regretted Tawes' departure from Annapolis by terming him the 'outstanding representative of his era.  He could speak nostalgically, because for Maryland it was a good era and his eight years were good ones.... The times, the problems, the demands on government, the nature of government and governmental officials now have all changed.  he can look back with satisfaction on the way be [sic] brought Maryland forward.'13

Tawes retired only temporarily to his home in Crisfield.  On June 13, 1967, Somerset County elected him as its representative to the 1967-1968 Constitutional Convention which assembled in Annapolis on September 12, 1967.  Tawes played a prominent role in that Convention by being accorded the honor of serving as its Honorary President.  Tawes remained silent all during the Convention's deliberations by deciding he would not speak out on any subject during the Convention.  This in no way, he felt, 'reflected a lack of interest in the many provocative, challenging proposals ...but ... I stuck by my original plan feeling, as I did, that my role in creating this Convention and my activity here might in some way be interpreted as being in conflict.'14

When its document was signed in January 1968, the Convention recorded its gratitude to him for his leadership and outstanding ability with which he served the people of Maryland in so many capacities and for so many years.  Tawes signed the document and supported its ratification though he had his doubts about some of its provisions.

In August 1968, his successor, Governor Agnew, appointed him the Chairman of the Board of Natural Resources.  In making the appointment, Agnew recognized his predecessor's conservation achievements which included making Assateague Island a national seashore park and in doubling the size of the State park system.  As an outdoorsman, Tawes put into practice his experience of a long tenure in public office to help Maryland take the lead in halting water pollution and the ravaging of our forests.

Governor Mandel appointed him the first Secretary of Natural Resources when that office was created in 1969.  In his first year in that position, Tawes reorganized the agencies which were transferred to his department.  he also took the lead in urging the Legislature to pass a variety of conservation measures such as those to protect the State's wetlands, water pollution abatement and environmental control programs [p. 299] and the preparation of a complete and coordinated plan for research and monitoring of atomic power plants on the Chesapeake Bay.

In all his years in public life, Governor and Mrs. Tawes have made their home in Crisfield.  Between trips to Annapolis, he still leads an active life.  Mrs. Tawes, too, has achieved national recognition by her publication of a cookbook which includes many of her family's favorite recipes."

Notes on sources

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