The quintessential New York native, Alfred E. Smith had a long, noteworthy career in politics that began in a gritty ethnic neighborhood on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Born in 1873 to working class Anglo-Irish parents and educated in a neighborhood parochial school, Smith soon displayed an enthusiasm for politics. He joined the local Tammany organization in the mid-1890s and quickly became a regular speaker at many of its events. In 1904 Smith secured Tammany backing for a seat in the New York State Assembly and quickly developed a reputation as a moderate progressive. By 1913 his investigative work into the issues raised by the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire so enhanced his political standing that the Democrats in the Assembly elected him speaker.
In 1918 Smith, after narrowly winning the governorship, appointed a commission to recommend steps New York state government could take to become more responsive to the needs of everyday citizens. He also took the politically risky step of defending socialist assemblymen who had been denied their right to sit by the Assembly's new speaker. Although he lost the 1920 election, Smith returned to the governor's mansion in 1922, 1924, and 1926. As governor, Smith fought for the passage of several important progressive reforms, including the creation of government subsidized housing, hours limitations for women and child workers, and an expansion in the state's financing of public education.
Al Smith is best remembered for his failed presidential campaign of 1928. Smith sought to focus his campaign for the presidency on issues but he remained unable to overcome questions about his Catholicism and concerns that he was "too much of a New Yorker." Smith's Republican opponent, Herbert Hoover, won in a landslide with 444 electoral votes to Smith's 87.
After his defeat Smith returned to private life where he became involved in several construction projects. Although he supported FDR in the election of 1932, Smith turned against the president because he believed the New Deal was unconstitutional and thought the rhetoric FDR used to promote it incited class warfare. In 1936 and 1940 Smith endorsed the Republican nominees Alf Landon and Wendell Willkie. Smith died at his home in New York City on October 4, 1944, a month before FDR won reelection for the fourth time.
Source: American National Biography Online. Internet on-line. Available From http://www.anb.org.
Recommended citation: Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kennedy, and the Election of 1960: A Project of The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, ed. by Allida Black, June Hopkins, John Sears, Christopher Alhambra, Mary Jo Binker, Christopher Brick, John S. Emrich, Eugenia Gusev, Kristen E. Gwinn, and Bryan D. Peery (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2003). Electronic version based on unpublished letters. .
For more information, visit The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers home page at https://erpapers.columbian.gwu.edu/.
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