Herman Guy Kump (October 31, 1877-February 14, 1962) was the 19th governor of West Virginia. He was born in Capon Springs, Hampshire County, the son of Margaret Rudolph and Benjamin Franklin Kump. He grew up on a 500-acre farm devoted to stock raising. Educated in local schools through the eighth grade, Kump then attended Shenandoah Normal School near Winchester, Virginia. As a young man, he taught two terms in his former school in Hampshire County, worked briefly as a deputy county clerk, and for more than two years served as a paymaster of the Consolidation Coal Company’s Monongah mine.
From 1903 to 1905, Kump attended the University of Virginia law school, then opened a law practice in Elkins. A Democrat, he launched his political career by successfully running for prosecuting attorney in Randolph County in 1908. After two terms he was defeated in the 1916 primary. He served in the army during World War I, serving in Washington as a captain in ordnance. In 1921, he was elected mayor of Elkins, serving until 1923. He helped found the Citizens National Bank of Elkins, and was its president for many years. In 1928, he was elected judge of the 20th judicial circuit.
In 1932, as West Virginia faced the worst of the Great Depression, Kump ran for governor, defeating the labor-backed Republican T. C. Townsend in a sweeping Democratic victory that also saw Franklin D. Roosevelt defeat Herbert Hoover for the presidency. For the first time since 1894, Democrats controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature in West Virginia.
As Kump prepared to take office, the banking system teetered on the verge of collapse, the state faced a severe fiscal crisis, and the unemployment rate was among the highest in the nation. Before his inauguration, Kump spent 10 days in Virginia, studying the Old Dominion’s system of public finance and seeking advice from conservative Democrats Harry Flood Byrd and Gov. John Garland Pollard. He also turned to experts at West Virginia University headed by John Fairfield Sly, a political science professor. Sly and his colleagues, who came to be known as Kump’s ‘‘little Brain Trust,’’ in reference to Roosevelt’s famous group of advisers, helped prepare a legislative program.
The 41st legislature met for 240 days, through a regular session and two extraordinary sessions, as the governor and lawmakers found themselves facing not only a severe economic crisis but also a constitutional quagmire caused by the Tax Limitation Amendment to the constitution. Passed by voters in the 1932 election in the hope that it might serve as an economic panacea, the tax amendment severely reduced customary sources of revenue, leaving unfunded many services and obligations of municipal and county governments, including for a time the wages and salaries of policemen, firemen, school teachers, and road workers. The state Supreme Court complicated matters by twice nullifying legislation to implement the amendment.
Faced with the need for $20 million in new revenues, Kump and his advisers devised legislation that generated new funds through sales taxes, an income tax, and a series of indirect taxes. Because the tax limitation amendment curtailed local revenue sources, Kump’s program necessarily increased the state’s power over roads, finance, and schools at the expense of local governments and school boards. Reform prompted by federal legislation such as the 1935 Social Security Act also led to a state system of unemployment compensation and increased state control over public welfare matters once left largely to counties.
Although he had heartily endorsed Roosevelt during the 1932 election, Kump soon found himself at odds with Roosevelt’s New Deal. More attuned to the agenda of business than to labor and deriving more support from traditional Democrats than from liberal New Dealers, Kump led the conservative ‘‘Statehouse Democrats’’ in a bitter struggle against the pro-New Deal Democrats, headed by U.S. Sen. Matthew M. Neely. Kump feared that federal initiatives threatened state prerogatives, resented the growth of organized labor under favorable federal legislation, often warned of the harmful potential of government relief, and opposed revising state law to ease participation in federal programs requiring state matching funds. His program of fiscal conservatism restored the state treasury to a healthy condition and improved the state’s bond ratings, but education, highways, charitable institutions, and other state services suffered from neglect.
Prohibited by law from seeking reelection, Kump left office on January 18, 1937, and returned to Elkins where he resumed his legal practice and banking activities. Although he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination as U.S. Senator in 1940 and 1942, he never served in public office again.
Kump married Edna Scott on October 9, 1907, and they had six children. He died at his home in Elkins, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Read the National Register nomination.
Read Gov. Kump’s inaugural address.
This Article was written by Jerry Bruce Thomas
Last Revised on March 28, 2013
Morgan, John G. West Virginia Governors, 1863-1980. Charleston: Charleston Newspapers, 1980.
Thomas, Jerry Bruce. An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.
Kump, Herman Guy. State Papers and Public Addresses. Charleston: Jarrett Printing, 1937.