Alfred Emanuel Smith


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(b. New York, 30 Dec. 1873; d. New York, 4 Oct. 1944)

US; Governor of New York Smith was the first Roman Catholic to be nominated for the US presidency by a major political party. He was born and brought up in poverty on the lower East Side of New York City. After doing various menial jobs he was elected as a Democrat to the State Assembly in 1903 and served as Speaker 1913–15. He was a product of the Tammany Hall political machine but he was also interested in the progressive causes of the time. He was elected Governor of New York in 1918. He was defeated in 1920 in a landslide for the Republicans but was re-elected in 1922, 1924, and 1926. In office he compiled a strong record of reform, covering industrial relations, factory conditions, minimum wage, workmen's compensation, and slum clearance. As a successful New York politician it was no surprise that his ambitions moved to the national stage. He nearly gained the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1924 but was handicapped by being a Catholic, a ‘wet’—opposing Prohibition—and personifying the big city politics which was bitterly opposed by the rural south. He managed to win the nomination in 1928 and was supported by F. D. Roosevelt. In an attempt to unite the party Smith accepted Prohibition. The campaign was marred by bigotry and violence. The South turned against the Democratic candidate and the Ku-Klux-Klan also opposed Smith who went down to a heavy defeat, losing by 58 to 41 per cent of the vote to Herbert Hoover. It seemed impossible for a Catholic to run successfully for the presidency. Smith sought and failed to win the nomination in 1932. He grew increasingly jealous of his protégé Roosevelt, who was now in the White House. He took up with business and conservative groups and joined the right-wing Liberty League which opposed the New Deal. Smith supported the Republican presidential candidates in 1936 and 1940.

Subjects: Politics — United States History.

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