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Alfred E. Smith

Alfred E. Smith (1873-October 4, 1944) was Governor of New York and a U.S. presidential candidate.

Although Smith grew up in relative comfort on the Lower East Side, he quit school and began work at the age of fourteen, after his father's death. In his political career he emphasized his lowly beginnings, identified himself with immigrants, and campaigned as a man of the people. Although indebted to the Tammany Hall political machine for his entry into politics and for their ongoing support, he remained untarnished by corruption and worked for the passage of progressive legislation. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1903 and his oratorical gifts and skill at drafting legislation helped him become the majority leader. When he served as vice-chairman of the commission appointed to investigate factory conditions after the disastrous Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire in 1911, he became acutely aware of the dangerous and unhealthy conditions under which many laborers worked and championed legislation to protect workers.

After serving as sheriff of New York County for several years beginning in 1915, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1918. He lost the election of 1920 in the Republican landslide of that year, but was reelected governor in 1922 and served three more terms. As governor, he became known nationally as a progressive who sought to make government more efficient and more effective in meeting social needs. During his term, New York strengthened laws governing workmen's compensation, women's pensions, and child and women's labor. In 1924 he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president. Franklin D. Roosevelt made the nominating speech in which he called Smith "the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield."

Smith finally secured the Democratic presidential nomination in 1928. His acceptance speech was the first live broadcast of an event on television. He asked Roosevelt to run for governor of New York, believing that Roosevelt would help him carry the state. Smith lost his bid for the presidency, partly because of anti-Catholic sentiment, but Roosevelt won. Smith felt slighted by Roosevelt during Roosevelt's governorship. They became rivals for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination. When Roosevelt won and began pursuing the policies of the New Deal, Smith began to work against Roosevelt more. He became a leader of the Liberty League[?], a leading opponent of the New Deal, and supported the Republican presidential candidates, Alfred M. Landon in the 1936 election and Wendell Willkie in the 1940 election.

Smith died on October 4, 1944.


As of this writing (January 20, 2003), most of the text of this article was copied from the Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/elro/glossary/smith-al.htm) operated by the National Parks Service (http://www.nps.gov) and placed into the public domain (http://www.nps.gov/disclaimer.htm). The original authors cite the following sources:

Black, Allida. Casting Her Own Shadow: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Shaping of Postwar Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 12-18.

Lichtman, Allan J. "Alfred E. Smith" in Franklin D Roosevelt: His Life and Times. New York: DaCapo Press, 1985, 387-388.

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