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tv   Gov. Al Smith Progressivism and the New Deal  CSPAN  October 12, 2020 10:04pm-11:26pm EDT

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author of the book the revolution of 28, i'll smith, american progressivism and the coming of the new deal. he argues that although i'll smith lost the election, his progressive coalition pave the way for the new deal policies of roosevelt. good evening everyone. i am really delighted to see all of you here tonight and welcome you here to our top
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four this evening. i am evan dolly, on behalf of the history program here, welcome. i should say at the outset, we are able to hold this top thanks to the generous funding of the history fund which is supporting this event. and let me jump straight to introducing our speaker for the evening. our speaker for this evening is doctor robert chiles. he studied music and found the true faith and began a ph.d. in history in 2012 at the university of maryland. the top he will be giving this evening is a result of that ph.d. dissertation, i believe. yes. he has, in the course of this particular research for this project received a couple of prestigious honors the new york state library cunningham
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research residency, and the new york state archives ownership trust hackman residency, to conduct research on governor alfred e. smith, and as part of his next research project, on a congress woman from the state of new jersey and an advocate from the fair labor's acts, he has received from the new jersey historical commission, a ground to carry out that research. he is familiar to most of you because he is a frequent lecturer on u.s. history here at goucher and he has also visited loyola university maryland, and is the senior lecturer of history at the university of maryland, returning to the alma mater. he is talking tonight about his first book, published in early 2018 by cornell university press.
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the title of the book and talk "the revolution of'28: al smith, american progressivism, and the coming of the new deal." welcome, dr. chiles. >> thank you, everybody, for being here this evening, and especially doctor dolly for coordinating this. i don't think he knew he was going to get thrown into the middle of a media circus, but we appreciate you working with me and i'm grateful that c-span folks can be here today. i also look around the audience and i am grateful to see so many students past and present and family and friends, it means a lot to me to have such support. thank you. i had the privilege to speak with you today about my first book, the revolution of'28: al smith, american progressivism,
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and the coming of the new deal." my plan today is to start in some ways at the climax of this story with al smith's triumphal tour of new england in october of 1928. i would like to use that as a launching point to explore my major interventions in the book and then jump back to try and explain why american and new stock working-class voters became so enthusiastic about al smith, and more importantly, became committed democrats for several generations. it was a crisp new england autumn morning as we steamed into massachusetts, on october 24th 1928, the temperature in boston had dropped from 75
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degrees the previous afternoon to the mid-50's. by 3:30 p.m. when the locamotive arrived, the city had settled into one of boston's cloudy fall days, considerably cooler than the day before. the anticipatory autumnal chill resulting from this atmospheric dynamism presaged with a sort of meteorological poetry, the wave of a people that would sweep from the birchers to the massachusetts bay. on board the train was the democratic nominee for president, the governor of new york. the noted progressive crusader. champion of the urban working class, unashamed catholic and proponent of pluralist tolerance and the liberal economic reform, alfred e smith. the train slowed, greeted by 10,000 supporters, followed by about 30,000 in springfield, where it band hailed the
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visitor with his familiar theme, the sidewalks of new york. and there, massachusetts senator david ignatius walsh an irish catholic democrat from pittsburgh and noted friend of labor, extended greetings on behalf of the new yorker who was saving his voice for the evening. honored to wurster, where another crowd of 30,000 filled washington square before the city, and where he was less concerned of his own vocal insurance, yelled himself hoarse. finally on boston commons, smith was greeted by one hundred 50,000 people. at boston arena, of the 15,000 were able to enter out of the nearly 50,000 who sought admittance. enthralled by reports of events
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and proclaimed by an army of radios, all this as two other capacious auditoriums and halls remained packed to the brim with listeners after the nominee's brief greetings to these delirious overflow of events. all told, police estimated that 750,000 people flooded the streets of boston to greet the governor of new york, a gathering 2000 souls greater than the city's population at the time of the previous census. why had they come? what did they hear? and how did they respond? in microcosm, these are the essential questions of my book. al smith's national prominence as a gubernatorial champion of social welfare and of the laboring masses, and his mission to implement and expand that particular progressivism at the federal level. this blended with his
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biographical appeal to a growing cohort of newer voters as a representative of the urban ethnic working classes, who was a spokesman for a symbol of religious tolerance and of opposition to prohibition and harsh immigration restrictions. these things combined, the economic and cultural appeal, in order to inspire this boisterous reception in many of the nations heterogeneous industrial cities. in this case, these crowds not only obliterated local attendance records, but they also received detailed explications of smith's progressive visions for the united states, affirming his well-earned reputation for, to quote his later very controversial but at the time up and coming advisor, robert moses -- smith had a talent for popularizing very abstruse questions so that the average fellow could understand them.
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he was fulfilling his own pledge to maintain in his words "direct contact with the american people throughout the campaign." meanwhile, there was a response, which produced the revolutionary early stages of a national political reshuffling that would help spur the onset of modern american liberalism. so the candidate's utterances mattered profoundly. american politics, like american life, moved briskly by the 1920's. three decades of maturation by increasingly organized and well-funded national parties begat a dynamic continental politics, well-established press agencies and wire services allowed campaign updates and allowed propaganda to proliferate swiftly. it allowed major campaign personalities into the living
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rooms of millions of prospective voters every night. within the frenzied milieu of the rolling 20's monitored by an unrestrained press, there were polemics that demanded candor before it skeptical public and the perpetual cultivation of your enthusiastic base. the stakes for the boston address were especially high. for you see, no serious contender for the presidency could allow the toxic charge of socialism to be associated with their national ambitions. such was al smith's challenge beginning two days after his arrival in boston, when his opponent, former now, commerce secretary herbert hoover alerted a crowd at new york's madison square garden that their governor had abandoned the tenets of his own party in
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favor of state socialism. herbert hoover, the much heralded commerce secretary and the republican standardbearer was seeking the white house based on his very strong credentials as the engineer of the political economy of the 1920's. of coolidge prosperity. it was really hoover prosperity, and hoover promised to go forth with the policies of the last eight years. so he and his supporters saw smith's progressive agenda as a threat to their new era. 48 hours later, smith responded to herbert hoover's indictment. the socialism charge was an attack with which he had been grappling his entire career. so these charges invited the governor to review his progressive credentials. so he did. take the workmen's compensation act, he implored his boston
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listeners -- what was the argument against that? because it set up an insurance company under state ownership and state operation, it was referred to as socialism. take the factory code, take the nightwork law for women, the law prohibiting manufacturing in the tournament, or inhibiting the working of children in the tanneries, that great factory code of new york designed to protect the health and welfare of the men, women and children in the last 25 years has been referred to as paternalistic and socialistic. well, al smith vigorously agreed with at least one of herbert hoover's assertions that each candidate's proposals should be taken seriously, and that are to commission of such controversies, in hoover's words "submitted to the american people a question of fundamental principle." so smith not only cataloged the past, he also applied that record to current conditions.
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dissenting from popular accolades for the coolidge economy, smith outlined the ongoing depression of new england's textile industry and contrasted that widespread and profound original suffering with herbert hoover's sanguine remarks about workers living standards, to postulate that there was a broader republican neglect of the working classes of america. smith's alternative approach was revealed in his record of progressive social welfare reforms back in new york state. so republican cries of socialism or per trade by smith as a renewed attempt by in his words "selfish groups" to derail forward-looking and constructive suggestions for the betterment of the human element. in his words. al smith was running for the
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coolidge-hoover status quo, and his admirers were quite receptive. understanding al smith's presidential aspirations within thet contexthe of his progressive tenure as governor, an irishman from the new york's lower east side, said he would cross party lines and support the democrats, which he eventually did. the new yorker boasted -- the new york wonder man had lambasted the reactionaries here until their lives were hardly worth living. an italian american voter from new jersey composed a scathing denunciation of employment conditions, if publication in his local newspaper citing the statistics in argument that had been propagated by the smith campaign. if factory worker from hartford writing under the pseudonym worker assailed of the " insulting notion of republican prosperity which had never shown up in his community." a polish american worker from
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western massachusetts excoriated the republican party for having "protected and foster the special interests of a certain few augusta, interest of the many." an italian worker from rhode island talked about powerful interests in justifying a town in support for the democrats smith. it is well known that al smith was a favorite of the recent immigrant working classes, who were attracted to his candidacy because he opposed prohibition and because he was a catholic, and because he spoke with a - bowery brogue and defended the americanism of the immigrants. but it was also the story of his politics and the political aspirations of many of his supporters. his admirers, it turns out, embraced both the cultural symbolism of his candidacy, and
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the progressive initiatives the candidate expounded. expounded. smith's catholicism, his working-class roots, his disdain for prohibition under the ku klux klan, these attributes had a clear influence on voters in 1928, and they benefited smith greatly among urban workers just as they would prove unpalatable among voters in other parts of the nation. but leaving the story of that is superficial and perhaps even condescending. i have proceeded from the hypothesis that like any other human actors, the real people who became smith democrats in the 1928, the ones who did the working, the praying, the serving, the voting that historians have so long tried to decipher, or complex human beings with come together motivations and competition lives.
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the idea of culture or economics, it is not an either or proposition. it turns out that most smith voters were indeed sophisticated enough to understand the democratic candidate as representing both cultural pluralism and social and economic reform. this combination of cultural and empowerment and cultural appeal was a platform from which he sought the presidency of 1928. indeed, in 1928, he nationalized the particular brand of progressivism, and even though he went down in bitter defeat, the ideas were not so easily extinguished. his supporters would go on, first hoping that he would make a comeback -- this print is
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from 1932, hoping he would maybe try again, but they would also go on, after that proved to not be the case, they went on to become the heart of the new deal coalition and the roosevelt coalition. their priorities would shape the democratic parties agenda for at least the next generation, really the next two generations at least. my story then is both a local and a national tale. it starts as an new york story, the story of a young man, the product of the polyglot forth ward on manhattan's lower east side. a grandson of irish immigrants from a family that self identified as irish and catholic and working-class. we know later on that his father was not irish at all, he was italian and german. but they self identified as irish. you can look into the footnotes if you want to dig into that. he lost his father in the eighth grade and was compelled to leave school and go to work full-time to support his family. for several years, this kid
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worked 12 hour days, starting at 4 a.m. as a checker at the fulton fish market. later on he would joke that his only academic degree was an ffm, standing for the fulton fish market. the other universal element on al smith's lower east side was at the tammany hall political machine. as a young man, he became acquainted with saloon keeper and wheeler dealer tom foley. under fully's tutelage, smith rose through the ranks of the infamous machine and by 1903, thanks to his faithfulness, foley said smith as a
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legislator. he voted the party line, he didn't give a single speech. he was ignored, he was overwhelmed, but he grew into the job. so much so that by 1911 when his party took control of the new york state legislature, the new york legislature was dominated by republicans doing this period, partly because of old political alliances but partly because of gerrymandering, in scandal in 1910, the democrats took over the legislature. in a 1911, murphy sponsored young al smith for majority leader. his best friend, smith's best friend, german immigrant, robert f wagner, for majority leader of the state senate. the tragedy that happened next is well known. in the midst of these two young legislator legislators'session, came the triangle shirtwaist
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factory fire. a terrible inferno that engulfed a sweatshop on the lower east side and killed 146 workers, most of them young jewish immigrant girls and young women from the lower east side, many of whom had protested against unfair labor conditions just a couple of years earlier. smith and wagner, pictured here in a photograph taken years later formed an investigative commission and brought in nonpartisan reformers to be expert witnesses. "we have to make this right. ." there was a particular process for groups who had taken these issues seriously in the past, largely women reformers from progressive organizations, people from the women's trade union league, people like henry street settlement founder and public health champion, luanne wold,
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pictured here, who would be a great supporter and advisor of governor smith and eventually a great champion when he ran for president, and especially involved, there are a lot of notables, but especially, was frances perkins. she took smith and others on tours to see the horrible conditions of factories around the empire state. she would later on become a great advisor to smith on industrial issues as governor, and eventually, would become the first female cabinet secretary when she became fdr's labor secretary. this interaction between largely female progressive reformers, it is sort of counterintuitive, and male politicals produced reforms that ventured into a broad
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range of social and welfare crises facing the empire state. these issues would come to dominate the agendas of smith and wagner so that by 1918 when smith was running for governor of new york, he was proposing a broad array of social welfare and labor reforms. you can see him here being sworn in after his first successful run for governor. once he was elected in 1918, after a very close election that republicans blamed on voting being depressed because of fears of a flu pandemic that year, in any event, his agenda would reflect the agenda of the social welfare progressives with whom he had interacted. as governor, he pursued labor reforms, including something that was a major transformation at the time -- a 48 hour maximum workweek for women in factories. or pushing against child labor,
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pushing against an improved workmen's compensation program, he also pursued what i would call a sort of broadly defined social welfare issue in the new york state, help for local housing improvements. public health was a great priority. charitable hospitals. maternal and infant clinics and educational programs for maternal health. people forget that much of new york was incredibly rural and isolated. there were whole counties with no access to health care at the beginning of this administration. so that is a major investment -- rural health. and investment in recreation and in conservation initiatives in the adirondacks, the catskills, and reforestation initiatives, and dozens of new state parks were created, including all the great state beaches on long island that many of us still enjoy. and public education. in his first year as governor,
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new york spent $10 million on education. by 1927, that figure was a much more robust $82.5 million. in the meantime, he modernized state government both through specific reforms and a constitutional amendment to streamline the bureaucracy and make it function more efficiently and economically so that you can get these things done without being accused of bloated bureaucracy and incompetent big government. by 1928 he would be lauded by frances perkins, the great champion of his in the election, as, and i am quoting -- "the first politician who has built his political career on the practical expression and legislation and government for this passion for social al smith was successful because he
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kept taking his ideas directly to the people. indeed, his style matters here as well. . he was able to succeed broadly because not only was he personally popular, but he also was able to communicate a very robust, sophisticated, complicated progressive agenda in popular terms to the mass of voters in a charming and relatable way. that is how you actually succeed in a democracy. it is good to have neat ideas, but rather than being theoretical and even elitist, as many progressive reformers tended to be, often self-consciously, the reform program proffered by al smith was transformed by his sponsor into a people's initiative. we should note, of course, one other element matters to his record in the new york and especially as a national candidate -- al smith promoted a pluralistic view of american
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life. this pluralism, this acceptance of the increasingly diverse reality of the american people, was intertwined with the economic and welfare elements i have discussed. at least on the perspective on of the urban working class, most of whom were recent immigrants, new stock voters, marginalized groups. justice for such people manned both in the show democracy, and social respect. i'll smith oppose prohibition. not just because prohibition isn't any fun, but also as a way of standing up for the legitimacy of his followers walkways. similarly, it meant or opposing harsh immigration restrictions, literacy tests, discriminatory national origin quotas established and other immigration policies that were grounded in the "100% americanism" of the 1930's.
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smith and his admirers took this agenda in a 1924 to the democratic national convention. there they hoped to have al smith run for the nomination, to try and sort william gabe's maca do, who was among other things, that treasury secretary and son-in-law of woodrow wilson. at the convention, it was him against smith, it was we will lessen south democratic party versus the big city northeastern and midwestern democratic party. it was the northeastern cities against theklan, they had 6 million members approximately nationally in a 1924. it was the battle against this idea of 100% americanism. he had a big debate on whether or not to have a plank on the democratic platform of 1924
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denouncing the ku klux klan by name. the debate raged, and people were booing, there were fistfights on the floor of the convention. smith and his allies had home-court advantage as it was held in the madison square garden, so tammany hall pack to the arena with all their pals from the lower east side and all around town, and so they were heckling the southern speakers who were defending the klan, then a young georgia delegate gave a speech in which he said -- if you are a true southerner, we need to move on and stand up against the klan, and the northerners were cheering and tried pressing the georgia delegation to shake his
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hand. the other southerners wouldn't even cheer for their fellow georgian. as the rhode island delegation and the pennsylvania delegation were pressing them, the house band started playing the famous and popular tribute to general sherman marching through georgia. this did not go over very well with the southern delegates. there were 100 ballots in this sweltering july heat of madison square garden. maca do and smith deadlocked and it was john w davis. in the midst of the chaos. , three-time presidential loser william jennings bryan, a year away from his grave, had taken to the podium, reprimanding the rowdy tammanyites for their conduct. he forecast that if the present democratic party failed in its historic mission against privilege "some the other party would grow up to carry on those
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issues and take our place, that new party will never find the leaders of a noble cause in the gallery. it would be carried on, but not by the big-city hooligans. which direction with the democratic party be poised to turn? to the past, to bring, into the klan? to some unknown future? we take for granted today that the democrats were going to be the party of fdr and eventually pluralism. none of this was clear in the 1920s when the plan projecting the clan got rejected. the previous election, the nominee denounced hyphenated americanism, so there is no
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guarantee that the democrats will become this party of pluralism. they had a vision. 1924 turned out to be a good year. he was reelected governor of the empire state. smith was a national figure. of course, what is better known about the process is the written -- is the question. by 1927, it became increasingly clear that despite intentions to focus on the policy agenda -- he made this clear time and again. his religion remained fundamental to his national reputation.
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anticipating a bid, alabama senator, pictured here, a fellow democrat and noted catholic. assailed the governor of new york in 1927. he later got into an argument over how to pronounce the name. such clownish tirades would be combat now from half men who ascent on a speaking tour funded by the clan during the 20 campaign. part for the course. the following month, an essay was published in the atlantic. charles marshall, questioning whether a roman catholic president could uphold the constitution and respect religious freedom. smith saw this as an opportunity. he proposed a rejoinder and hoped he had put the issue to rest.
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he was a patriot also as well as the faithful catholic. you continue to ground his ambitions and his progressive agenda and gubernatorial resume. i argue that the heart of his aspirations was this specialized, progressive agenda grown out of his years as governor of the empire state. his campaign represented a nationalization of progressivism in new york. on the one hand, the literature traditional focus on him is warranted. he was the first roman catholic to secure a major party nomination. he openly opposed prohibition and rhetorically legend the ku
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klux klan and thoughtfully challenged discriminatory quotas. his campaign theme song was the sidewalks of new york. his trademark brown derby along with his perpetual cigar, they became staples within contemporary iconography. clearly, cultural battles over alcohol and urbanism, particularly over his catholic faith were of great significance in 1928. most of you already knew that. these things were important. they clearly mattered to voters. they did burn crosses in opposition to smith when his train arrived in some states. the democrats really did use these cultural wedges to try to attract new voters into their party. not just catholics, but jewish voters, african-american voters
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as well. making the 1928 campaign and unprecedentedly pluralistic one. the tune of the unknown soldier was a powerful and potent symbol of this pluralism. one of his many proteges in new york proclaimed of the tomb of the unknown soldier that no one knew what color he was and no one knew where he went to church. similarly, boston future mayor displayed in image of the monument at his headquarters with this sardonic caption. what a tragedy if we should learn that he was a jew, catholic or negro. it is essential to recognize that far from monopolizing the
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debate, such questions provided an opening wedge to pursue more in-depth discussion of other issues that in the context of their time represented important ideological divisions between the parties nominees. this is where historians have gotten it wrong. it dismissed the policy ideas as unimportant or not significantly different from herbert hoover. if you dig into the history of his governorship and what he is saying on the campaign trail, that is simply not correct. al smith went into great detail enunciating and defending his position on fundamental problems. water power, label relations,
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social welfare questions. administrative reform, something he had engaged in in new york and hoped to take to the federal level. on all of these questions and others, he challenged the status quo and he presented in the form of his progressive governorship the blueprints, sometimes vague and sometimes very specific, but always the blueprints of an alternative approach to national administration. indeed, as i show in chapters 3, 4, and five, the new democrats of 1928, the urban, ethnic workers who were voting as a block for smith were fully aware of his progressive approach to economic issues. they supported al smith not only on biographical similarity and mutual disdain for prohibition, but also, what
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mattered was an emerging political ideology that would shape the new perspective of american workers and eventually transform them into the deal democrat. this is important to recognize. since urban ethnic workers were voting for al smith, they were not exclusively on social issues but also economic, welfare. and labour concerns. i will not bore you with the statistics. those voters went on to become the heart of the fdr coalition. the 1928 election should be viewed as one in which a new coalition began to materialize around principles that would inform the new and provide the basis and democratic policy for decades. in the midst of the real and meaningful cultural struggles
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of 1928, the smith campaign would, as francis perkins prophesied at the time, plant the seed of a set of ideas all over the country. you could have pluralism and economic reform in the same candidate. as i pointed out and this is important. it was not just his fellow irish catholics paying attention. for a long time, the irish had dominated big-city machines, especially in the northeast, and they had done it with excluding the across new england immigrants. a lot of other working-class ethnics had a line with republicans because they spied -- they despised them. partly because of rivalries with the irish in the catholic church and politics.
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the italians to a lesser extent. in other parts of the country as well, not just new england. they were starting to make common calls. the st. louis with "the clan is opposed to catholics, jews or n egroes holding public office." in chicago, they -- one of smith's most prominent supporters in new york and around the northeast and eventually nationally was one of the best known rabbis at the time that said that by going after smith as a catholic, his opponents were going after the americanism of diverse, different groups, including jewish americans.
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there is something else to point out. these groups understood that the campaign was about cultural issues, as well as about economic issues. this is a typical cartoon. you can see what they think of herbert hoover. he is nesting with the clown, it's a lot of racist bigotry. it is not a flattering portrayal. so far, this makes sense. industrial democracy. there is an understanding that there are numerous issues at stake here. they pointed this out several times on their pages. they always had a working-class audience. they recognize that the people being excluded culturally were also, often the people being left behind by the 20s economy.
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noted in october, the fords, chevrolets, and used cars are for al smith. the studebaker's, hackers, lincoln are for hoover. or as the black nationalist -- he was writing from overseas because he was deported. smith is a man who have sprung from the common people. he knows their wants and the heartbeat and pulse. hoover has been tempered by the monopolist class. he can only see american politics from a capitalist point of view. poverty or being on the lower rungs of the working class tended to intersect with cultural, ethnicity, by race.
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the campaign dealt with economic and culture and it was a holistic one. that is the key to understanding why people responded to him in the way that they did. his grass roots passion translated into enthusiastic reception at stops around the country. welcomes for the democrat were compared favorably to the only similarly triumphant display. welcome praise for aviator charles limburg. they describe the riot for smith in chicago where a huge crowd gathered at the train station to their approval of the new yorker. it was starting to break down in 1928. hundreds of thousands jammed the sidewalks and cheered like
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a tidal wave as smith made his way to deliver a striking before a wild the enthusiastic crowd. new yorkers are not going to be outdone. they responded to these development with a clamorous perception of their own. a crowd of 45,000 approached during the brooklyn speech while 23,000 young voices gave him the biggest ovation of his campaign. outside of the halls, 2 million new yorkers greeted the governor as he paraded triumphantly down the streets of his hometown to conclude his campaign. during this whole campaign, al smith was running on pluralism and on acceptance of diverse
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americans, and against the clan. which he denounced whether the party was going to do it or not. they are contrary to the ideals of the declaration of independence, which he helped deer. he was also leaning on his gubernatorial record. i love this cartoon because it makes my point for me. he was effective at communicating that record to a broader national audience in 1928. i will give you two more examples. joseph nolan of westfield, new jersey, and irish-american, first-time voter explained to the evening news that his gubernatorial resume was ample proof of his ability. if that record is indicative of what is to be expected of him
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in the event of his election, we are destined for one of the most distinguished administrations in its history. the resignation that he wanted to take the show on the road but -- was bipartisan. they mocked his liberalist administration of new york. his nickname had been the happy warrior. it had been given by his ally, roosevelt. they mocked him in new england as the happy spender. meanwhile, some working-class writers scolded their republican governors for their miserly administration, citing the many benefits for his prodigal approach. despite the dismissiveness of some scholars who do not take these ideas very seriously, they see it all about the issues.
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they matter but they are not the whole story. despite that, working-class americans understood what they stood for. there is a wonderful speech that i stumbled upon in these volumes. the folders within the boxes with letters to smith. one was from a high school girl from massachusetts. she sent al smith a copy of the speech she had made on his behalf at her high school debate on who should be the next president of the united states. this is not some member of the party, some democratic hack or editorialist. people understand what is going on. on the enactment of legislative program, he has been able to protect the industry. he has improved the public health and attained the highest standard of service.
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this interest in humanity could only be attained with his readership. he has proved during his eight years as governor his power and desire to make the people as interested in the government as is himself. he has been through hardships himself. between him and the people there is a bond that makes them trust him with their loyalty and their love. you know how ends. al smith lost in a landslide. however, what i have found and what i hope i demonstrate in chapters four and five of this book -- sorry, i had a visual. what i hope that i have shown you here tonight is that not only were millions of new working-class, recent immigrant voters becoming democrats in 1928. not only would they remain so
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for several generations after, but also, most voters understood the democratic candidate as representing cultural pluralism and social and economic reform. most of them were clamoring for both by 1920. this combination empowerment with social welfare appeal had been the formula. it was the platform from which he sought the presidency. he nationalized his particular brand of progressiveness. while he went down to a bitter defeat that you, the ideas that he promoted were taken up by his enthusiastic supporters, and through their efforts, especially in the middle ranks
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in congress -- through their efforts, his ideas infused the reforms of the new deal with those earlier progressive priorities to help transform american politics and eventually american life. thank you very much for being here. i will take a few questions. [applause] >> thank you very much for that fascinating and incredibly rich discussion of things that i knew very little about. it is also not my area of the world. we have plenty of time for question and answer. i would invite the audience to ask him questions and expand upon our understanding. >> relative to the last slide. how do you explain that with
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his anti-clan position, he won those southern states? >> this is an important story. he is the first democrat since reconstruction who didn't carry north carolina, virginia, florida. the first did not carry texas. he barely carried alabama. georgia was closer than it could have been. south carolina, it's pretty sure that they cheated. in the deep south, they vote democratic. it is not my next project, but one of the ones after it. one of the campaigns is the sequel in the south. i have already written it. what happens is, there are a different set of factors in the deep south. it is who is the greater party
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for white supremacy. the republicans are still the party of lincoln and reconstruction. democratic politicos is in the deep south can campaign that we know we do not like this, but if you let them take over the apparatus and keep it, if we do so, than all is lost. on the other hand, the republicans are flirting with a lily white policy, purging black delegates from the ranks. both parties in the south -- the south is a real life counterfactual in these years. what is interesting, i did not talk about this tonight, but there is something about this in the book. farmers and textile workers and miners, they had a terrible 1920's. they were a lot closer than
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they should have been, but they stayed democratic. smith did very well in the wheat belt and corn belt. how much of that is race and how much is economics? it is a balance. that is really the answer. it is not a short answer. it is a very good question. it is always important to address the south. they made me cut the chapter on the south. if you are interested, it will be out eventually. [inaudible] only time will tell. it could not hurt. i stick with the past because i have trouble predicting the future. other questions? >> what were
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the republicans doing so well that they had such a landslide? >> the economy was quite robust. it's not as universal as a textbook might paint it. a lot of parts of the economy were quite strong. hoover is seen as the genius behind the prosperity. it was his system. they were both widely lauded. rightly so, because in the moment, it was working very well. it seemed to be going very well at the time. herbert hoover, among some progressives was seen as a progressive. some of those social work women said it is basically a tie and it goes to hoover because he is
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against prohibition. some social workers were actually in favor of herbert hoover. it is not like everybody of the progressive inclination gravitates to smith. part of it was we do not want a catholic in the white house and we do not want to stop prohibition. by this stage, most people aren't obeying prohibition. the saying was they live what and they will drive. it is that cognitive dissonance that is part of cultural politics the economy. was doing quite well outside of certain sectors that people were paying attention of. other questions, or thoughts.
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>> this is a demagogue election of u.s. history, my understanding is the explanation for the switch for hoover, to roosevelt's dramatic history for years later. are you offering a different argument that the progressive coalition was moving the country in that direction. >> you needed the depression to make the roosevelts landslide happen. this would shape the course things took one's events changed. smith could not win this way, that is obvious from the previous slide. this is why i spend a lot of time in new england. the depression is already going on. the interview textile workers
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50 years later. talking about 1927 they do not need to stock market crash to tell them that they are suffering. same thing with farmers and other sectors. in new england, it is a nice case study on, if you have the right political atmosphere, what are the potentialities of 1928? 1932, his ideas were already out there and he had already won over the majority of voters. not the majority of the districts in the 11 biggest cities of america. all of which harding had one. -- had won. a lot of other northern states got a lot closer. he did not even when new york. that was a presidential state smith was an aberration. you are quick was bullock los or the normally was. living in a certain direction, but once the depression hit --
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fdr -- he needs to deal with the depression. that is his job. that is what the 100 days are about. but, as the deal goes on, his coalition in congress, his supporters are the heart of his political base. they are the people who rose to prominence in the smith call election -- coalition. they will shape the direction of things that move as time goes on. it is a little more nuanced. there are those who say that smith makes the new deal. no. that is being too enthusiastic. this helps to shape the political dynamics moving forward. the robust argument that has
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nuanced to it. >> why -- how did you get interested into this topic? >> some of you know, including you that i fell in love with a young lady from long island. i would go visit her. there are a bunch of things that long island named after robert moses. i read the powerbroker, which is a beautiful book, pretty harsh but it, harsh, but well done. 2000 pages later, i knew who robert moses was. he had a good analysis of alex smith and introduced themes that i delved into as a graduate student. long island beach and robert
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caro reminded me there had been a character, al smith, mentioned in my high school history class but not in college history. i thought i needed to know more about this guy. a few years later, here we are. that is the short version. >> after this presidential campaign and fdr's president, al smith opposed the new deal policies. he seemed to sow the seeds for them in his campaign. what what happened? >> you made an important point. the book has a sad ending. historians debate this. some historians argue -- after fdr is in power, smith by late
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1934 turned against him and campaigned against him, campaigned for republicans in 1936. what is going on? some historians argue smith had an inherent conservatism. if you read anything about him as governor, it does not make sense. some historians and people who knew him argue it was an element of personal bitterness. smith lost new york state in 1928. fdr barely carried it to be elected governor. smith thought he would be the eminence of new york. fdr was the governor and said i like you but it is my turn. smith presented this. in 1932 he wanted to run for president again and fdr bested him. the voices around him or changing. his job was to help people from
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the lower east side as an assembly man and a to help people of new york state. after he stopped being governor, he was roque -- he was broke. his friend, a conservative republican who was chair of the dnc under smith because he admired his fund-raising capabilities and hated prohibition. he worked for dupont and general motors. he helped smith become the first president of the empire state holding. when the depression hit, his job is to sell a real estate to struggling businessman and an empty skyscraper. his view of the depression becomes different. there are competing arguments. the copout argument is this is not a biography. what is important is you have
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hit on something. i argue that he did change. what he is doing is a break from the past. fdr was being used and remarked to frances perkins, what is going on? everything we are doing is what i would've done. we will never know -- the other thing, if you want a happier ending for the smith story, robert slayton writes a biography and goes to the end. he lived until 1944. it is a good biography. we do not agree on everything. he says, as things were going badly in europe, smith spoke out after kristallnacht and said we have to support fdr on the war effort even if he is
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not supporting him politically. he stepped up when some other people did not. he did not completely change parties. he is always a tammany guy. he is best friends with robert weidner, although they are constantly arguing. in 1934, they had a gubernatorial election in new york and smith supported the liberal democrats, herbert lehman over the republican, his protege robert moses. it is more of an fdr thing, i think. i cannot read his mind. that is my speculation. >> tammany is a well-known for being corrupt. how is it that smith and wagner avoided that and were successful? >> great point. essentially, there was a newer generation and they were the leaders of its.
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they said, we could use power, not simply to plunder the municipal treasury, but to help people. charlie murphy -- he gave them a degree of ideological autonomy and independence. there were bills he would get wagner to stop if it was not good for a business ally. they avoided a lot of that. there were some whispers -- in the 1980's that a businessman who knew smith was on hard times economically as governor because he had not been corrupt
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and he had been just with his government salary, was giving him a pension to live comfortably. the person who looked into this is daniel patrick when a hand. he read about it and was alarmed. there has never been evidence there was quid pro quo. he and wagner were not crooks. we would have found it. they did a void that trap. not all of them did. jimmy walker was from that generation, too. he went down in flames and got forced out over corruption scandals. tammany does not completely clean up its act. these guys are special.
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>> they were not opposed to him. have the ships -- bishops running around. i do know -- this is anecdotal, and catholic schools in new jersey -- the bosses had herbert hoover posters up saying vote for him and your job is safe. i do not know much. if there was a robust hierarchical role in the campaign, i am not aware. they were conspiracy theories. --. but he was the pond of the pope. you saw him kissing the cardinals ring and this makes him un-american. there are people who thought that was going on. he was not running as a on of the church. there are people who think that. it is not true.
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>> you said women cited with hoover based on prohibition. what was the role of women in the campaign? >> i did not even mention her tonight. she is featured prominently in the book. -- mosque lips -- bell was the unofficial person running the whole campaign. within the dnc, female and male delegates were 50-50 represented. backup. once women's suffrage becomes constitutional, both parties freaked out. they were afraid they would be a female vote. if all the woman vote for one side, our site is in trouble. they scrambled to get as many women involved as possible. this is the continuation of that trend.
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finally 20, they realize they were not beyond vote. they started to be more dismissive. in the meantime, some of the men would do things without consulting the woman. choosing john rasco as the chair of the dnc, they left out woman. it is not wonderful gender equality. but she is his top advisor. lily walt and jane adams had an agreement. since we agree to disagree, neither of us will campaign actively. neither of them follow the agreement. lily walt wrote letters to the country. they sent letters on smith's behalf. francis perkins speaks actively touring the country to speak on his behalf. women do play -- my next progress -- project is about
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marie curie of new jersey, one of the few female woman of congress. women play a role in the campaign. it was mechanized at the time. even though bell is behind the scenes, newspapers comments on how she is his political brain. she dies early in the fdr administration. that probably did not help. yes? >> you spoke earlier about the idea of parties campaigning in states that had been ignored in the past. keeping in mind the current political climate, is there
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forgotten knowledge that politicians today are we learning that we could take from this situation? >> great question and dangerous question. i will take a swing. there are a few things that can be learned. one, we have a regrettable tendency in political discourse today to say, these people are voting based on this issue. normal people do not vote based on this issue. some people do, but most people are not fanatics. most people are trying to get through the day. i hope most people are not fanatics and bigots. i don't know. people are complicated and their lives are messy. that is the first thing. class issues still matter.
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cultural identity matters. marginalized groups are still often at the bottom of the economic pyramid. i think savvy politicians couldn't recognize that and do a lot of good. forgotten areas, that is another key point. either party in the last few cycles has done better when they reach out to areas where they tend to avoid. the democrats took back congress in the george w. bush years, they went to purple america and a red states. when donald trump was elected, he went into formally blue states. expanding the map matters. when you are talking to people, you have to understand -- try.
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the thing about al smith is authenticity. he did not always translate -- he could talk about the problems of a poor farmer but a lot of them thought, he doesn't get it. you have to have a certain authenticity. that is something contemporary politicians would do well to heed. hopefully i have navigated that minefield. other questions? >> was al smith married, did he have a family? >> yes. he was married. his wife was katie dunn, katie smith. she died before him. fdr sent him a note after she died. he had four children, i want to say. there was an al smith junior. there is another al smith.
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he had a couple of daughters. his family lived with him at the statehouse. there are beautiful pictures of his daughter's wedding at the cathedral. if you have been to albany, the cathedral is next door to the governor's mansion. al smith would walk next door. he had a special pew in the front row. the whole cathedral is inundated with flowers. he had a family. he and his wife were in love and a devoted to one another and he had a number of children and grandchildren. there are pictures of him with grandkids at the beach in the 30's. the 30's are not about how smith railing against fdr. they are about al smith being an elder statesman of the smith
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family. there is a happy memory, him and his grandkids. he does not like the way things have turned. he is a human being. i am glad you give us an opportunity to address that. yes? [inaudible] >> i was not. afterward, i worked up the courage to send a copy of the book and a letter to al smith the fourth. his wife sent me a note back saying he enjoyed the book and if i ever speak in connecticut or new york, to let them know. i will have a further answer hopefully. >> given all of the influence women had on him, was his wife influential in his career of politics? >> she was not like eleanor roosevelt. [laughter] she is on the campaign trail with him.
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as best as i have understood, she was in accord with his religious and political views. eleanor roosevelt is eleanor roosevelt, special. his success as a governor politically, and always, and his support of the common person, how would you compare or what would you see as his secret that he would give to present day governors? >> it is the question of authenticity. he really does genuinely care.
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curiosity, too. he is not well educated in a formal sense. he stayed in his hotel room and studied new york law and learned to be a master of how legislation works. curiosity, being interested in how government works, how to use it to help people. it means different things for different people. it means authentically caring about people. francis perkins takes him to the factories to see the conditions and he is moved. when he goes out to rural new york, he cares about the conditions he sees and reads about. people from different walks of
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life, he gets letters from the northern new york sportsmen's association has of his conservation initiatives. they say, you understand what we want to do. he is not an outdoorsman from the adirondacks, but he could understand and care about the issues. those would be the basics. any other questions? great questions. thank you all very much. [applause] >> thank you for all of your questions. i would like to thank you for coming to goucher college. thank you for the wonderful talk. if you would like to talk, there are still cookies in the
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hallway. help yourself on the way. thank you all very much for coming.
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