Active on several Senate committees, Latimer supported the idea that the government was “in a practical working sense, the servant of the American people.”
Congressman, U.S. senator. Latimer was born near Lowndesville, Abbeville District, on July 31, 1851, the son of the farmer Clement T. Latimer and Frances Beulah Young. Latimer had little formal education, although he briefly attended a local common school. After the death of his father in 1876, Latimer took over the management of the family farm. In 1877 he married Sarah Alice Brown. They had five children.
In 1880 Latimer moved to Belton, where he engaged in various business ventures in addition to maintaining his farming interest. In 1890 he became active in the Farmers’ Alliance and was selected chairman of the Anderson County Democratic executive committee. In the same year Latimer declined to run for lieutenant governor on the Democratic Party ticket with gubernatorial candidate Benjamin Tillman. Two years later Latimer was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for ten years. In 1903 Latimer won election to the U.S. Senate, defeating five other Democratic nominees including former governor John Gary Evans. Despite his lack of formal education, Latimer quickly won the support and confidence of his fellow senators for his hard work and straightforward manner. As Senator Tillman said, Latimer achieved “signal success as a public man.”
Active on several Senate committees, Latimer supported the idea that the government was “in a practical working sense, the servant of the American people.” Latimer helped draft the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, the landmark progressive legislation to improve government inspection of food and medicine. He earned his nickname of “Good Roads” Latimer after securing–against great opposition–a favorable report on the need for federal assistance to improve rural public roads. Latimer hoped to create a model system of transportation to help farmers haul products to market. He believed that the lack of proper roads hindered southern progress and that the “construction and improvement of common roads over which necessaries of life and raw material must pass” would “sustain life and prosperity.” Latimer also realized that states could not carry the costs of improving roads without federal support. He justified federal road funding on the grounds that it would benefit national defense and the U.S. Postal Service.
Latimer also supported free delivery of mail to improve rural lives. He used his Senate seat to uplift his agricultural constituency. In his work with the Immigration Commission, Latimer spent time in Europe studying land productivity, roads, wage scales, and costs of living. He intended to compare his findings to conditions in the United States, but on February 20, 1908, Latimer died suddenly of peritonitis following a surgical operation. The Senate dedicated a memorial address in Latimer’s honor, which was published in 1909. He was buried in Belton Cemetery, Belton, South Carolina.
“Senator Latimer Is Dead.” Columbia State, February 21, 1908, pp. 1, 3.