tv The Contenders Al Smith CSPAN October 13, 2020 10:01am-12:05pm EDT
deeply catholic stories. so i have to think about that a little bit more. there are leaders across american life now and that's one of the interesting things about studying catholicism. >> and clearly you find this interesting. >> oh, yeah, sure, generally i think being a historian is an amazing occupation and i always have to remind myself how lucky i am to be in this business of writing and teaching. but yeah the history of religion and the history of catholicism in particular, my own fascination right now is with catholicism as a global institution and how you compare the american experience to other experiences, and i find that endlessly interesting. >> john mcgreevy from the university of notre dame, we thank you for your time. >> what a pleasure, thank you. you're watching american history tv, every weekend on c-span3, explore our nation's past, created by american's cable television companies as a public service and brought to
you today by your television provider. and i come here tonight to the al-smith dinner knowing i'm the underdog in these final weeks. if you know where to look, there are signs of hope, there's signs of hope, even in the most unexpected places, even in this room, full of proud manhattan democrats, i can't -- i can't shake that feeling that some people here are pulling for me. i'm delighted to see you here tonight, hillary. >> i was thrilled to get this invitation. and i feel right at home here because it's often been said that i share the politics of alfred e. smith and the ears of alfred e. newman. it is an honor to be here with al smith. i obviously never knew your great grandfather but from everything that senator mccain
has told me the two of them had a great time together before prohibition. so -- >> of course i am delighted. but not surprised by the final repeal of the 18th amendment. i felt all along that when this matter was properly submitted to the rank and file of our people they would readily see that it had no place in our constitution. it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the benefit that would come to this country from the lesson taught to the coming generations, to make it their business to see that no such matter as this is ever again made the subject of federal constitutional law. and you've been listening to the 2008 presidential nominees talking at that year's annual al smith dinner followed by al smith himself talking about the lifting of prohibition in 1933. hello and welcome to c-span's the contender series.
we come to you live tonight from the new york state assembly chamber in albany, new york where contender al smith served for 12 years before being elected governor and becoming the democratic nominee for president in 1928. our guest for the next two hours, as we relive the 1928 presidential election, and the life and career of al smith, john evers. he is the former historian for the new york state assembly, and he is a ph.d. candidate at suny albany, and doing his dissertation on al smith. and also joined by beverly gage, professor gage, set the scene for us to begin. 1928, the united states, what was going on in this country, what were smfs issues that were going to be discussed in the 1928 election? >> the 1928 election is one of the most interesting and also
one of the most vicious elections in american history. we have two candidates who, i think, really embody two different sorts of americas that are coming into conflict in the election. so we have al smith who's the subject tonight. al smith is urban. he's from new york city. he's an irishman. he is catholic. and he represents a kind of immigrant urban america that has come of age in the last 30 years. on the other side is our republican candidate in 1928 we have herbert hoover who in many ways could be -- from midwest, from iowa, straight laced, distinctly nonurban, he is pious. he wears starchy collars and these two men in 1928 as they go up for the presidential election really encapsulate some of the most important cultural and
political clashes of that moment, clashes over prohibition, to some degree clashes over the economy. but in many ways this turns out to be really a cultural election that hinges on which of these two americas is the america that's going to be voted into office? >> it's been said that the three p's influenced this election in 1928. prohibition, prejudice and prosperity. >> right, i think the three p's really do capture it. on prohibition we have al smith who is one of the nation's most outspoken opponents of prohibition. prohibition has been in effect by 1928 for almost a decade. and it has been a real problem for most of that time. and throughout al smith, like many urban politicians, has said that it's a bad idea, not only because it infringes on americans' freedom, but because it's causing a law enforcement crisis and there are many people who are quite concerned about this by 1928.
so what's going to happen to prohibition is certainly one of the big questions we have herbert hoover on the other side. in terms of prosperity, as you might imagine, both of them are running in favor of prosperity. the problem for al smith is that you've had eight years of republican rule in the presidency by that point, first warren harding and then followed by calvin coolidge. the republicans sort of have a leg up on the prosperity front. you've had the 1920s. it's been a boom decade, certainly for wall street, for large segments of the economy, although less for farmers and agriculture at that point. so that's our second "p." and i think the darkest part of this election and the reason i said it really is one of the most vicious elections in american history is this -- is our third "p," is the question of prejudice. and al smith, i think most americans today are probably more familiar with john kennedy as a catholic candidate and even in 1960 that causing a real stir, a real set of questions
about the presidency. but al smith raised all of those questions much earlier in 1928 which already had been a decade that had been seized with a lot of questions about immigration, immigration reform, the rise of the ku klux klan and those come into play in his candidacy. >> john evers, the role of catholicism in the 1928 election, how did it play out? >> it was a vicious campaign and smith was not -- this was not new to him. when he ran in new york state to be governor of new york state he faced it then. in fact, in 1914 martin glen, who was -- assumed the office of governorfaced anti-catholic prejudice. the constitution convention, a whispering campaign. smith went into this a full year, four years or so in advance of the election, knowing that this would be an issue. in fact, he addressed this issue in 1927 in his reply to the atlantic monthly discussing why a catholic man could be
president which was a very good statement, although it was intellectual. it went over everybody's heads and didn't help his campaign. >> as you mentioned earlier we are in the new york state assembly chamber in albany, new york in the new york state capitol building finished in 1894. we also have pleased to have join us a studio audience of albany area residents, some college students, some historians, some interested in al smith folks here and they'll also have a chance to ask some questions of our two guests about al smith in the 1928 election. as will you and we're going to put the phone numbers up on the screen. we're not going to take phone calls for a little while but we're going to put them up sont screen so you can dial in now. this is the sixth in our 14-week series, "the contenders," the focus 1928 election and al smith. 202-737-0001. in the east and central time zones 202-737-0002. if you live in the mountain or
pacific time zones. john evers, what kind of a candidate was al smith in 1928? >> he was a fighter. if you look at him and you see the short stature and the pugnaciousness of him, his gravelly voice, of course, comes out, all across america, this is one of the first campaigns where radio plays a role. he campaigns from the back of trains, which is very common. he tries to engage issues that are important to americans. they didn't want to talk about those issues, prosperity was there, he couldn't talk about issues and say i'm the candidate of prosperity, that was a republican party. he wanted to talk about water power, talk about prohibition which was unheard of but he came out as a fighter. his speeches were well reasoned. on paper he was a fantastic candidate. but he just was swimming uphill the whole time. >> beverly gage, electoral vote
count, 444 for herbert hoover, 87 for al smith. what states did he win and why? >> it was definitely a blowout election and i think the real -- i mean, in some ways we can almost say so al smith, maybe he should thank his lauky stars he did not, in fact, win the 1928 election and that herbert hoover, we might remember al smith's name a little more but what would we remember him for? yeah, it was really one of these blowout elections and i think it was really heartbreaking for smith and smith's supporters in part because it had been such a nasty campaign and one of the big questions of the election ultimately became, you know, was it prosperity? was it simply the fact that republicans could take credit for this boom decade and therefore smith really never had a chance? or was it a rejection of all the things that smith really felt deeply and that he stood for? and i think smith really took that to heart.
he was very concerned about that and the real -- the real nastiness of that campaign. so he had some support but not a whole lot. >> there's a fourth "p" i want to talk about, and that's progressivism. al smith was known as a progressive during his time in the legislature, as governor. did that play an issue at all and how were progressive politics identified back in this era? >> right, well progressivism when you think about it as a historical phenomenon, you think about it as a turn of the century phenomenon, really begins around 1900, say teddy roosevelt is our pioneer progressive and what it means by the 1920s is very hard to define in many ways. there were people who called themselves progressives who supported prohibition. and who were very impassioned about it. there were people who called themselves progressives who opposed prohibition, like al smith and who were also very impassioned about it. but the basic idea of progressivism was a sense that had come about and that al smith
really did stand for, that you could use government in new and sort of proactive ways to deal with some of the really pressing social and industrial conditions that americans faced back in the early part of the 20th century. and al smith has governor and then running as a candidate for president really tried to make that case. i mean, he changes his mind a little bit later when the new deal comes alone and we'll get to that probably. so that was really the basic idea of progressivism was the idea that you could use federal power in some significant way to really change people's lives for the better. >> john evers. >> i think that's a key point about smith is, we talk about the new deal today. and we talk about all the programs, the social security issues, all the things that fdr brought in. when smith ran for president he had experimented with all these things in new york state. he was a champion of the labor issue. he was a champion of hydro electric power, he was a champion of parks and
recreation, one that wanted to spend money for the social programs of new york state and they were all forerunners of the new deal. when he ran in 1928 people didn't want to hear that issue. it was overclouded by prosperity. it was a whispering campaign about his religion. it was this unknown politician that had this thick new york accent that came out to the farm country. even smith when he campaigned. in fact he had one funny story he was driving on the train through wyoming and they were about an hour out and he sees a horse out in the field and says to somebody we must be getting close to civilization, there's a horse there and the guy said no, that's a woiild horse, we've go about an hour ago. he was really used to new york and i think the country was used to somebody eastern a new yorker. they were used to that prosperity, the calvin coolidge, the warren harding and herbert hoover. >> if you were elected governor in new york back at that time were you a shoo-in or an automatic for consideration on the national stage?
>> absolutely. al smith was nominated and it was always the favorite son candidacies. but when the first balloting happened in 1920 they nominated al smith for governor -- or for president. >> in 1920. >> it went one round and they dropped the votes and eventually it was cox from ohio. but in 1924 they really went out for smith. it was in new york city and it was 103 ballots and he has to withdraw and they had a compromise candidate who was also a new yorker. in 1928 he win it is nomination. but all through history the new york governor and this is even in modern history the new york governor is automatically considered presidential material. if you look at the people that have run and won and those that have run and lost you'll see new yorkers all through history. >> go ahead. >> i was going to jump in there, yeah, i think it's -- new york was an incredibly important, two key political states at that moment. new york was one of them and ohio was the other one. they just kept producing
president after president. and i don't think we really have states quite like that anymore, maybe we could look to something like texas. but it's also not just within the democratic party. i mean, you see when you look at the republican party you see teddy roosevelt and charles evans hughes, all of these figures coming out of new york politics and when you look at the democratic party you see al smith and franklin roosevelt. new york as a state has two machines, really going and it has a pretty significant national effect. >> two machines? >> well, of course the famous machine is really the taminy machine but the republicans had an incredibly powerful network as well. >> what is taminy hall? >> it's technically just the new york city democratic party. the manhattan democratic party. but the hall from the mid-19th century was best known as the machine of machines in urban america. so it was identified as
primarily irish machine, a machine in new york that really depended on neighborhood power, word power and that was as much about sort of taking care of your neighborhood and coming up through the neighborhood as it was anything really about national politics. but taminy absolutely the most powerful force, certainly in new york city politics at that moment but really in new york state democratic politics as well. >> john evers, how did taminy hall fit into the 1928 election? >> that was the brush that painted smith into a corner. we talk about the religion issue. but this started at the convention in 1928. i mean, taminy hall would go to the conventions and they always had -- new york was a key state and they would nominate the democratic candidates. many elections we had both a democratic candidate and republican. like teddy roosevelt ran in 1904. one was a republican and one was
a democrat. tamminy hall was seen as the corrupt machine. people like william jennings brian would rant and rave about tamminy. he wanted the votes but he didn't want them there. eventually smith is the tamminy man and the candidate and it shocked many people within the democratic party. >> al smith lost new york in the 1928 election. >> he did. he had the sad fate of losing the race for president of the united states, and seeing his hand-picked successor win. as we've already discussed -- >> for governor. >> fdr wins and it flips the dynamic of smith/roosevelt's relationship forever. and roosevelt winds up where smith wanted to be and smith winds up in retirement. >> we will get into that. beverly gage when we asked you
before the show the issues you thought were important. one you mentioned was the role of t of the media. >> al smith came of age as a media bat ler. william randolph hurs was after him and after him, one of the most powerful newspaper tycoons in the country. smith had a certain amount of confidence by 1928 that he knew how to fend off these kinds of press attacks. but ultimately in the election one of the interesting things about the catholic issue is that we now understand it to have been absolutely crucial to this election. i mean, smith openly acknowledged it. but a lot of it was done and talked about through innuendo. john mentioned earlier the idea of a whispering campaign. it wasn't something that was going to be said in the press, but at the same time the press was going to kind of feed into these images. and so i think smith, from my reading of it anyway, was sort of behind from the first with
the press in part because there was so so much coded language being used. because the press liked his irascible feisty personality, they liked to write about it but were quite contemptuous and fed a public narrative that -- the respect he kind of deserved. >> what's interesting about smith in the press, he loved the press, he used to hold press conferences here in albany. the press corps had a great relationship with imwhat's on the record and off the record, except for the battle with hurst. he enjoyed that. when he left the safe confines of new york state and this whispering campaign came out and there was papers that weren't friendly to him and wouldn't cover the issues important to the campaign smith was greatly hurt by that. he wasn't used to that and he also wasn't used to the media of the day. the pie plate. he used to call the microphone you'd speak into, from here he
accepted the nomination for president of the united states from this very room. he would speak into the microphone. he didn't like to read prepared speeches. smith used to write, he would take out of his coat pocket an envelope. he wrote everything on the back of envelopes. these are the points i'm going to make and i'm going to address the nation on these things and i'm going to speak from the heart. when the campaign started to be mar of the prepared speech. he wasn't doing that. he was used to meeting people, greeting people, going out there amongst them. >> just to jump in, you also mentioned the rise of radio and i think that that made a huge difference in how americans were able to perceive smith because he is, he's this new york guy. i will not attempt -- do you want to attempt to do -- he had this thick new york accent. the people could read about him
and could actually hear him, and in many ways to broad swaths of americans, he sounded foreign. he didn't sound like he came from another country but he sounded different from them and that became another big issue in the campaign. >> this was the first time, ever, that people were able to hear in mass media their candidates, correct? >> oh, yeah, they had -- there was always, as radio started to get bigger and as the media started to circulate, tv came much later but people would hear the campaigns from their war leader, from the political machines, they'd read it in the paper. they didn't see the candidate, let alone hear the candidate, and when you have a candidate that comes out there and pronounces radio rad -- or hospital horse-pital. that added to that whispering campaign. >> we are live from the new york camber, the contenders, we're looking at al smith, governor of
new york 1928 presidential nominee for the democrats, 202 is the area code, 737-0001 in the east and central time zones. 202-737-0002 if you live in the mountain and pacific time zones. now, we'll -- throughout this two hours that we'll be talking about al smith we'll return to the 1928 election as often as our callers, our questioners want to but we want to learn a little bit about what and where al smith came from. here's a little bit of al smith talking about how he was raised. >> i was born down in 174000 place. in a little house on the brooklyn bridge. the bridge was erected when i was a small boy. my father was at the opening ceremony and when he came home he said alfred i've just witnessed a great spectacle but at the same time a very bitter disappointment. what did he mean?
here's the story has as he told it to me. he said, son, this bridge that has kept thousands of men working for years, the steel cables, the concrete, the wiring, the machinery cost millions of dollars. today was the opening. bands were playing. flags were waving. they cut the tape, and finally it happened. what happened? why, they found out that all you could do was go to brooklyn. >> this is the neighborhood where al smith grew up. he was born down in south street down by the south street sea port. he raised his children here. he went to school in the same parrish here, around the block, the st. james, until eighth grade until his father died and he had to go off to work and support his mother and his sister. but this was al smith, this was the lowly side. this is where his accent came from. and this was kind of where it all began for him.
it was all irish and italian. you know, they came off over there from ellis island and they settled in here and he got involved at tamminy hall through this neighborhood and it grew from there. >> that second speaker we heard, of course, was al smith iv, al smith's great grandson but john evers, what is the lower east side, and its importance in al smith's career? >> the first thing is i never know vocal cords could be inherited. that sounded like his great grandfather. the lower east side is the southern tip of manhattan and that's where smith was from, on the southeast side. it was a port. it was not like it is today. but there were ships, smith wrote when he was a kid that was his playground. he came from a irish family but it's interesting that it's not well-known, although it's being rediscovered now. smith's father was actually from german and italian roots, and
smith claimed he didn't know this, and he probably didn't. he grew up in this bustling neighborhood, the center of the neighborhood was catholic church, st. james, he was an altar boy. the sad part about his early life and this shipped him forever, he lost his father very young. he was about 12. his father would cart goods from the sea port up through the city. he died young and forced smith to leave school. he never graduated, even from the eighth grade. if you trace his red book entries, the official biographies of the new york state assemblymen. he always said he graduated from eighth grade, which wasn't true, and that he inherited his father's truck business, which also wasn't true. but that might have been self-consciousness of sitting in the chamber with lawyers and doctors and wealthy backgrounds from upstate. this real struggling die hard neighborhood shipped him forever. it made him tough.
he enjoyed it. for the rest of his life it was the catholic church, the family and the democratic party. >> he went through seventh grade. >> had to leave about a month or two prior to graduating eighth grade was things were too tough at home. >> beverly gage, 1873 al smith was born, lower east side of new york, paint the larger picture, what was new york like, what was the country like in 1873? >> well, 1873, new york is growing increasingly different, actually, from the rest of the country in many ways. at that point we're eight years out from the end of the civil war and that remains for much of the country, sort of the dominant political fact of recent history. in new york, really, though, you're beginning to see the city change in all sorts of interesting ways. in the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s you had this first massive wave of immigration and that had been mostly from places like ireland, from places like germany, and irish and german immigrants had
settled the city. by the time you're getting into the 1870s, 80s, 90s in particular you're getting waves of immigration from new areas, italy, russia, eastern europe, and so new york is really becoming the way that we think about it, as a kind of -- city, really the age in which that's beginning to really congeal and become an important part of the city's politics, as part of this all of these groups are beginning to organize and as we said this is sort of the hay day of tamminy hall of the irish machine getting its bearings in new york in the middle of the 19th century. what were conditions like? the lower east side is famous during these years, particularly in the late 19th century as being the single most crowded place on the face of the earth. and there's not much tenement regulation at that point, not much by way of sanitary regulations. i mean, it's kind of a free for
all. you have enormously crowded conditions, often you have big problems with disease on the lower east side because sanitary conditions are poor. but in many people's memories you also have very tight knit ethnic neighborhoods which had some powerful institutions, sometimes churches, later for other groups sometimes synagogues, sometimes labor unions beginning to emerge during these years. so the lower east side at that moment is this -- this tightly packed, very intense place in new york. and for a lot of the country it's a symbol of -- for many people the urban ills that are beginning to really press upon the country, overcrowding, industrial strife, poor working conditions, disease. and for many people, and this continues through to the 1920s, immigration itself being a sp symbol of a way that the country is changing. >> i think that in smith's day was the same. he would talk about the sailors
from the different countries, he would meet people from all over the world literally and there was sections of his area where he lived. there was russians, there were jews, people from italy, people from china town which is up the road and he lived in this little enclave surrounded by all this. he could go areas of ice and ships from all over the world. this shaped his image. he thought he knew america by knowing all these people. he knew what it meant to be tolerant and to see different ethnicities. this was his world. later on when he went out in america i think part of the shock was it's not all like this. you know, he thought he knew -- new york state was this -- in fact, when he went to the assembly and started traveling the state he realized i've seen a lot more just in my neighborhood than what these people have seen but he couldn't bring everybody down to new york and manhattan although he brought many members to see this is how america really is, it's this polyglot, this melting pot
and that caused a lot of problems, some of that came back to xenophobia, to anti-religion, to his accent. it was almost a kind of way for them to say you're foreign, you're not like us. >> and we're going to get to calls in just a minute. but he went to work in about 1886 at 13 years old. where did he go to work? >> he had a -- he had probably one of the toughest careers that i've ever heard of. he starts by leaving early and he goes and sells newspapers. and he goes to start, you know, after school, i'm going to sell newspapers. he makes a few dollars that way. it's not enough. his mother incidentally had to go and get a job the day that they buried his father. she comes back from the funeral, goes back to the fore lady who lived in the neighborhood in the umbrella factory where she worked prior to marrying al smith sr. to get her job back, it's not enough. she takes piece work home, it's not enough. smith selling papers, it's not
enough. he goes through a rapid series of jobs working in a small candy store that his mother was a proprietor of. he then goes and works in a company that is a truck spotting. he used to run around the south end, the lower manhattan and pick up the different trucks for his company and report them, don't come back, go to this spot. he was a truck spotter. eventually he gets the most famous job that he's well-known for is fulton fish market. as a young man, as a teenager, getting up 4:00 in the morning. rolling barrels, shoveling crushed ice, coming home smelling like fish. he's get there at 4:00 and go back at 4:00 in the afternoon. and eventually he got a job at tamminy hall. he got to take home all the fish he wanted. he used to joke about and say if you could pile all the fish up him and his family ate it would rip the rafters off the capitol and slide down 15th street hill
that was how poor he was and fulton fish market gave him a lot of free food. >> this is "the contenders," first up, east green bush new york, wayne, you're on c-span. you with us? >> i'm here. howdy. >> please go ahead, hi. >> the question is twofold. one, i'm interested in what al smith's role and commitment was to both the new york state civil service system and labor and how he championed that when he campaigned on the federal level, you know what specific things did he do to help reform new york state politics and particularly the civil service system and his commitment to labor, what did he do for the labor movement in new york state and later on the federal campaign. >> thank you, wayne. john evers. >> that's a really good point that always separated al smith when it came to labor issues is
in 1911 there was the famous triangle shirt waist fire factory down in manhattan. and smith was on the commission that was passed by the legislature to study labor law and smith drew closer. he became good friends with francis perkins, snyderman, all the labor advocates at the time and passed in this very chamber the labor laws to regulate fire escapes, health codes, workmans' kpep sags and hand in hand was the advent of civil service. being a tammy man there was rumors he wanted to pack everything with democrats. he used to say, and it became more prevalent towards the end of his gubernatorial career is that the most qualified person should have the job and smith was well-known to have people in his cabinet that were republicans, not enrolled, people with nothing to do with
government at all. his highway commissioner was a military engineer who had, i believe, republican affiliations. so smith wanted the most qualified people around him and some of that bled over into the civil service. so he wanted to have good civil service and he also wanted to have a strong labor allegations. he stood up for those when it came to labor that were often shunted aside and the reactionary forces fought him on this. he took that nationally when he campaigned and had the support of the afl-cio in new york state in the 1928 -- it wasn't the afl-cio until 1935. the afl championed him in the state, not nationally in the 1928 campaign. >> beverly gage, the issues john evers was just talking about, did they play out nationally and how strong were the forces behind those issues? >> they did, well, you know, i think al smith is a really good
example of someone who was sort of radicalized over the course of his time as a politician. i mean, really starts out as a -- an unexceptional tamminy guy not putting forth particularly creative ideas from what anyone can tell. we don't know that much about what he was doing when he was an early assemblyman. but both through the social turmoil you had during the progressive era and then particularly through the triangle fire which does seem to have been this kind of eye opening moment for him, 146 people died in this fire. mostly teenage girls, mostly teenage immigrant girls who are locked in on the eighth and ninth floor of the triangle shirt waist building, they're forced to jump to their donald trumps -- deaths and he ends up on this commission. it's the radical and not radical sense of that word when he begins to work on the commission
they revamp fire codes. they pass legislation to protect women and children and so he becomes an advocate of kind of paternalistic labor, labor laws and of revamping building codes. he's never a super strong supporter of kind of grassroots organizing from its base and one of the things that's often left out of the triangle story is the fact that there had been strikes under way at that factory and throughout the shirt waist industry and that doesn't really become something he champions in the same way he does champion legislation that's going to ameliorate industrial conditions and that's the stance at the time he's running for president in the 1920s. the 1920s are not a good decade for american labor. and so he's -- it's not one of the big issues of the campaign. but nonetheless he holds onto this progressive tradition. and one other thing that's worth noting as well, i actually first encountered al smith when i was doing some research on a bombing
that happened in new york in 1920 which was this attack on wall street at the time. but i encountered al smith because he had just become governor, and this was in the midst of the red scare after the first world war. and five socialist assemblymen who had been seated and voted in from districts in new york, and had been seated in the new york assembly, were thrown out. and al smith actually turned out to be a champion of their right to stay in the assembly. there was a lot of concern in the wake of thebulchevic revolution. he said they had every right to be here and one of the few voices speaking out in favor of a broad vision of democracy and political opinion at that point. >> john evers, knowing what you do about al smith, how do you think he'd feel about the current occupy wall street movement in new york? >> that would be interesting. smith always championed -- just
was a luck of the draw, the underdog. he was an underdog. when smith -- we talked about the socialists. smith went out there and took unpopular stances. he got up there in 1920 and told the speaker of the assembly the next day i'm going to put out a press release championing the right of these people to hold their seats. and it just -- it was -- it was flabbergasted, no one would do that, we're in the middle of a red scare. these people are anarchists, the same with labor. smith would settle labor strikes when he was governor by sending not only state employees from the labor department but in one case francis perkins, a woman who had to settle an upstate labor dispute. they would say he's not only sending government people, he's sending women now. he was unconventional when it came to that. it was a wedge with more diversity when it came to government. when it comes to something like that smith would say what is it ft good of the people?
he was not in his early days a big champion of big business. >> francis in cincinnati, thanks for holding, you're on "the contenders" on c-span. i have been privileged to have gone to school in albany. and i would like to know, if you could address the financial backing that al smith had by john j. ratskob and the contention there was because smith was catholic and trying to become president. thank you very much. >> francis, where did you go to school here in albany? we've got several colleges represented in our audience this evening in the assembly. >> caller: i went to the academy of the sacred heart on south pearl street, which unfortunately has been closed and is now for sale. >> that's right. okay, francis, thank you very
much, the financial question. >> ratskob. >> who was he? >> he was a very good friend of the dupont family and he was one of the key people at general motors. he was a multimillionaire. and as i mentioned earlier, early in his career smith was not a huge champion of business. he voted as he was told to vote. he later on drifted more towards pro-business and that was after the roosevelt fallout and the american liberty league but ratskolb was a multimillionaire and he wanted to be involved in politics and smith makes him the head of his campaign in 1928. >> -- much to the consternation of people around him. a lot of people thought it was because of the money. later in life smith also became good friends with people, bill kenny was one, recorden another,
these new york irishmen who became millionaires and gave him jobs. smith did drift towards more money later on but ratskolb was a heart bed. smith wanted him as a friend and he brought a lot of money. >> right. i think it's true. the question that came up about what would he think about occupy wall street? it really depends which al-smith we're talking about. and, you know, al smith -- as a young man really a kind of straightforward tamminy politician, voting as he's told to vote. coming up through the ranks, no glimmers of greatness during those years and then he becomes this progressive politician, as governor of new york and then when he's running for president in 1928. throughout 1920s. after that he takes a turn in which he becomes deeply, deeply hostile, actually not only to the new deal, but takes up some of the kind of red baiting
tactics he himself fought so hard against. in terms of trying to judge, you know, how is smith going to respond to the social movements of his day, some of which were deeply anti-wall street it depends when you run into him. if you got him at the right moment he would have been exactly as john says, kind of gesturing in support if not being deeply in support. later in his life he would have been calling them communists. >> well john evers, before we got started you pointed out where al smith sat in this chamber as a member of the assembly. he started out somewhere in the back. unexceptional as beverly gage said at that point, right. >> way in the back. seat 143, i think it was. he used to say that he used to get confused with the bystanders and the visitors before they mad microphones. for two full years he never spoke, which was toward to believe. >> and then he sat in two seats right here, where we've got two gentlemen, a gentlemen here with
the beard raising his hand. >> yup, the majority leader. >> and this gentleman over here in the tie. yes, you. >> that's when smith was the minority leader. in 1911. smith became majority leader. when the democrats took over. in 1912 they went into the minority, and then in 1913 he wound up being the speaker. so he sat -- >> speaker. >> right behind us is the speaker's chair. but right off the chamber, maybe 20 steps from where we're sitting is the speaker's office that al smith used, the current speaker, of course, sydney sheldon -- sheldon silver. i'm so sorry about that. sheldon silver, of course, uses that office now. and in there is a portrait of al smith. >> they came from the same district, they're both democrats. they both are -- were speaker of the assembly.
it's interesting that when you talk about -- it's almost 100 years ago that smith was speaker, and a hundred years later we have a speaker from the same district, same political party, the neighborhood is still a very diverse neighborhood. smith became speaker on a fluke. new york state re apportionment was so heavily weighted in favor of republicans, 12 was only in the majority twice and only became democratic once in the '30s and always way into the '60s before democrats take over. the party go the the representation they needed when it was federal, one man, one vote. when you could allow new york to send the proper legislators, resulting in another manhattan speaker. >> we talked with speaker sheldon silver about al smith, here's what he had to say.
>> well, i think he was a man ahead of his time. you know, his reaction to the triangle shirt waist fire, putting in legislation to deal with child labor, with labor generally, providing rights, you know we today commemorate that triangle shirt waist fire, we commemorated the 100th anniversary of it in the legislative session. but all of the legislation protecting workers are things that we in the assembly do today. al smith on -- when he was then the governor of the state, you know, he talked about having a wealthier pay a little bit more. he had some great quotes about it. you know, i wrote one down because it's appropriate today as it was in 1930.
he said, what do we say about our colleagues who reject an income tax amendment? who do they say? they reject it, why, they're unwilling to say that great wealth ought to bear its share of the burden of government. they're unwilling to subscribe to the indisputable principle that he who benefits the most should pay the most. and that was al smith in 1930. that debate is taking place today again. >> john evers, that portrait or that photograph of al smith that's in that speaker's office, when was that taken? >> that was probably taken when he was the speaker. he was a very young man. smith was elected to the assembly when he was only about 30 years old. and so he would probably be, in that picture, you know, mid-30s or so. he maybe close to 35, 36 or so. that might have been one of his
official portraits as an assemblyman and might have been his portrait as the speaker. >> how powerful was the speaker of the house -- speaker of the new york assembly, and how does that compare with the power today? >> well, the speaker is always the most powerful person. i'd say it was comparable. back then when smith was starting out. as i mentioned, you said way in the back row. he didn't even meet the speaker, fred nixon until three days before the session adjourned. the speaker back then was almost regal. today it's, you know, more -- the power is more diffuse. there's more chairmen, not as arbitrary as it used to be. but the speaker has tremendous control over the bills that come to the floor. over the chairmen that are made chairmen. who's on what committees, what the program will be. it still is a key job, one of the three most powerful people in the state, the senate leader, the assembly leader and the
governor. >> beverly gage, state politics in new york, 19 -- the teens. and today. >> well, as i said new york is this key state nationally but it has its own particular political culture and i think in many ways reflects some of the same things we see today. the difference between your sort of urban corps, your new york at that time largely dominated, although not ex-clouclusively b tamminy machine, culture and political differences. it was a question of what kinds of issues you were actually going to be able to deal with at the state level that the -- one of the things i guess that al smith really ends up doing as governor, as i understand it, john, anyway, is that he tries to make it possible for the governor to do more than he's been able to do. it's not a particularly strong post at that point. certainly for tamminy hall your
powers really concentrated in new york city. and so al smith is sort of an ambassador from the city to the rest of the state in certain ways but he's also trying to make it possible, in this kind of progressive impulse to executive power up here in albany in ways that you hadn't seen before. >> and we'll talk about his career. as four-term governor of new york, after we take this call from fort lauderdale. hi, neil, you're on "the contenders." >> caller: how are you guys this evening, lady and gentlemen? first of all a commentary and then a question. your forum is absolutely incredibly stimulating. i have the credentials you folks do. i fancy myself an armchair historian. as far as mr. smith is concerned, despite his opposition to the new deal and this and that, catholicism should not enter into the picture. he was clearly a proponent of
the middle class and pro-labor. a genuinely i think well-intended individual. i'm just wondering if today if we had a candidate running for the presidency of the united states, would a candidate with mr. smith's mindset be able to pull it off? but despite that, thank you so much. and i enjoy watching. >> beverly gage. >> yeah. i think that's a really interesting question. i think you're absolutely right. smith goes through a very weird political transition in the 1930s. after he's lost the presidential election, he really does flip on a lot of what he stood for up to that point. i know we're going to get to talking about that a little bit later in the show. but he was a populist of sorts. he wasn't an absolute populist and he certainly wasn't a william jennings bryan populist. if anything, he really didn't like the bryan wing of the party, particularly around cultural issues, but he was a sort of urban populist. i think it's absolutely true
that he's an advocate of the middle class. he himself is a figure who embodies and then advertises that he embodies the kind of working your way up through the american system from childhood of poverty up to success. and so would a candidate today who had that kind of populist message or at least pseudopopulist message, would it be successful? i think it's really hard to say. i mean, smith was not particularly successful in his day ultimately on the national stage. and i think populism has had a kind of mixed history in the united states. >> is there a politician today that you would compare to al smith? >> i don't know. i was thinking about this. in today's race, he might be more of the technocrat. i'll explain that. populism itself that smith embodied was almost like a
compassionate technocrat. he wanted to do the new deal prior to the new deal. in fact, he experimented with a lot of these programs as i mentioned earlier in new york state. fdr later said i don't know why al smith's complaining, i'm just doing in d.c. what al smith did in new york and what fdr did in new york. with the way the economy is today and debates over government and smart sizing, smith would lick his lips and say i'd love to go to d.c. and figure this out. as far as mr. smith is concerned, despite his opposition to the new deal and this and that, the catholicism should not enter into the picture. so he would probably sell himself very well today by saying i've done this in new york, i've battled the legislature that's hostile, i know how to get government under control, i know how to get the economy back moving again. i think he would be seen as almost a technocrat. not flashy, but probably someone that would almost be the brain trust kind of guy. >> james in dayton, ohio, good
evening. james? >> caller: yes. i was wondering if -- i know that al smith lost the election in 1928. in 1929, of course, wall street collapsed initiating the great depression. i was wondering if he had any party platform which might have contributed to, perhaps, avoiding that -- anything that would check margin trading, any of the other abuses by the moneyed classes on wall street which led to that collapse and then ultimately the depression. if he had been elected in 1928, would he have done anything that might have possibly avoided and/or diminished the effects of the depression that followed? >> thank you, james. beverly gage? >> one would like to be able to say yes. if al smith had been elected, none of the -- none of the
depression ever would have happened. wall street would have -- i don't think that that's true. i don't think on economic issues by 1928, i mean, the 1920s turn out to be a relatively conservative decade on things like labor policy. smith himself is not running an anti-wall street campaign in 1928. and the real sort of progressive candidate had been four years earlier. that was bob lafollette running in 1924 on a progressive party platform as the progressive candidate. and that had a much more sort of vocal anti-wall street sentiment. it had a much more strict set of regulations and had a lot more focus on economic issues. so, unfortunately, i don't think that smith actually would have done a whole lot significantly different. and i'm not sure, to be honest, that any president was really in a position to foresee what was coming or really had the tools at that point to prevent it from happening.
>> i think that -- that's kind of what hoover at the end with his reconstruction finance corporation and the ideas and i'm going to experiment with government intervention and this, i heard somebody say, a historian say once, that if smith had run and won in 1928, hoover would have been the obvious type of candidate in 1932. because they'd say, this is what we need. we need a businessman. we need somebody that's a model of getting the economy going. so i think no matter who won in '28, they would have been unprepared, at least at first, to stop this avalanche of financial ruin. >> let's take it back ten years. 1918. al smith is elected governor of new york for the first time. how? >> the accidental governor. it took al smith until maybe 1925 or '26 to get it in the minds of the republican party in new york state that he wasn't going to lose. he runs in 1928 against charles whitman. >> 1918. >> 1918.
lost to history. charles whitman, the d.a. of manhattan becomes governor of new york state, runs twice and gets elected and starts eyeing the white house in 1920. so maybe history people, we both do this for a living. we like to look back and say what if? maybe it wouldn't have been harding. maybe it would have been charles whitman if he had beat smith. well, smith unseats this sitting governor largely because there's a flu epidemic. he campaigns around upstate new york. he turns out the new york city vote. he wins by a very slight margin. he gets in there. and in 1919 and 1920 the legislature just crosses its arms and says we're not going to do any of these things. >> republican legislature. >> republican assembly and republican senate. but smith starts the campaign right off by saying i'm going to have a reconstruction commission capitalizing on the transition
from wartime economy to the private sector economy. he starts saying -- we're going to bond so that we can have capital improvements spread out for many years instead of just having the infrastructure start to crumble. so he's got a lot of these great ideas. the legislature said this guy will never win in 1920. that'll be the presidential year. back then new york governors ran at the same time that the .ran and the coattails were long. sure enough, smith gets re-elected in 1920. has very little to show. >> he loses in 1920. >> he loses in 1920. he's got very little to show when he goes up to 1920. and they run a very conservative upstate republican who wins. sure enough, al smith goes away. that's what everybody thought. that he'd never come back. he does run again in 1922. and then in '24. and then in '26. he starts to avalanche his success.
>> but at the same time, all of his elections for governor are pretty close. >> they're close until the last two. he has a very, very close election, which is like 15,000 votes, in 1918. he loses somewhat of a close election in 1920. the ticket, the national democratic ticket in 1920 goes down in new york state by over 1 million votes. smith only loses by 75,000. that's where one famous person said to him, it was like swimming up niagara falls, and you came the closest that anybody ever did. he comes back in 1922 and wins a squeaker. then in 1924 he starts to add to his totals and he wins against teddy roosevelt jr. and then ogden mills in '26. he didn't have light opponents, either. it was only in the 1920s when he terms start to pay -- come to fruition. in 1919, 1920, he's seen as the accidental governor. >> 1920, women get the vote. does that make a difference in al smith's electoral career?
>> al smith is interesting because, as john indicated before, he actually staffs a lot of his inner circle with women. at a moment when not many figures are doing that. particularly reformers out of new york, many of whom go on to be pretty significant figures in the new deal. frances perkins who becomes fdr's secretary of labor is a close ally of smith. belle moskowitz is actually his make it happen woman up in alibi. he's actually got a fairly sort of progressive outlook on women in government. i mean, the advent of the women's vote doesn't immediately have a huge impact certainly on national politics. it ultimately begins to build. but it doesn't have the impact that many people are predicting. and in terms of new york state politics, i mean, john would know this better than i. but i don't have the perception that it really transforms his candidacy. >> not at first. in fact, smith was not in favor of women suffrage.
he changed his mind. in fact, smith's mother said, i'll never vote. there's no need for me to vote. and she does. she casts her first ballot, i believe, for her son for governor. but smith's hook on women's suffrage is, he gets belle moskowitz and a lot of these people involved, and he starts to realize these are new voters. and they said, well, how do i talk to these people? they said, talk to them like you would talk to a chamber of commerce. like you would anybody else in a campaign. smith starts to realize that women suffrage is a good idea. i can enlighten these people. i can get them to vote democratic. that's where he gets the brain trust and many of the people who work for him for governor, for president, like eleanor roosevelt and belle moskowitz and others, a lot of reformers that become sturdy supporters of the democratic party, smith capitalizes on that. >> just a few blocks south of here is the new york governor's mansion. al smith lived in there for eight years or so during his career here. what was life like for al smith
at the governor's mansion? >> hectic. >> would he walk up here to the assembly? >> he would walk. he would walk up here. in fact, when i worked for the legislature, worked for an assemblyman up in his 80s who remembers the governor -- used to tell me these stories. he remembered the governor walking over from the governor's mansion to the capitol. he'd stop him and say, do you go to school with my son? probably my son, arthur. yeah, yeah, i do. the governor would joke with him and everything. he was very much, i guess you could say, just a neighborhood guy. the mansion, of course, had five children. its own zoo. this is true. he had a zoo. >> was it there when al smith got there? >> no. he brought them all with him. a lot of things were given to him. he had a bear. he had deer. he had elk. at one point somebody gave him an alligator. >> why? >> he had all this stuff. smith always loved animals. when he was a kid he used to collect dogs. down in the south street and on the seaport and everything, people would come in, sailors
would come in and they'd have these exotic animals. and they'd give him monkeys and goats. he'd take them home and put them in his attic. then he'd have them in his backyard. he never lost this. he never had less than two dogs, i think he used to say. in fact, when he came here for his first term, he brought with him his great dane. and the great dane jumped up on to charles whitman and smith joked in his good sense of humor, it's the tammany tiger coming to take over. that was his love of animals. the governor's mansion with five children, with all of these animals, it was always a hectic place. and he always had the neighborhood kids dropping in. it was kind of a very friendly kind of family atmosphere. >> if i could add on the animal front, we actually all owe smith a bit of a debt for his love of animals. because one of his great allies first in state government and then in the government of new york city was robert moses, who was the famous parks
commissioner of new york, the man who made new york in many ways, and he and smith remained very, very affectionate, well into the '30s after smith is really out of political life. and one of the reasons that as robert moses is sort of refashioning new york's parks, et cetera, one of the reasons that he insists that there be a zoo in central park is so that al smith can come visit the animals. he's living uptown by that point. there are really some very poignant stories for the end of smith's life about him. he literally had a key to the zoo. and he would go down there, sometimes in the middle of the night. he would take his grandchildren down. he would just kind of hang out with the animals at the central park zoo. but in many ways the central park zoo really is robert moses's tribute to al smith and his love of animals. >> the honorary night superintendent was smith of the central park zoo. >> we've had a very patient audience here in the assembly with us. in just a minute, we're going to start taking questions from you as well. but we've had a very patient tony in pleasantville, new york, who's been on the line holding. tony, you're on c-span on "the
contenders." >> caller: peter, thank you. this series and for c-span, i've been watching for over 20 years. i think that if more people watched c-span, we'd have better presidential candidates. but you beat me to the punch. i had -- i wanted to ask about belle moskowitz and robert moses. the two of your guests have pretty much handled that. i wonder if they could expand on belle moskowitz's role in the office of governor and the job she had for governor smith. and also earlier you mentioned that al smith didn't speak for two years. eighth grade education. didn't speak in the assembly. intimidated by all of the other lawyers that were there. can you tell us what al smith did at night while the others went down on state street to booze it up and carouse? what was al smith doing, and how did he educate himself to become the majority leader and speaker? >> we're going to get john evers
to answer those questions. but i know you're a new yorker. is that your reason for your interest in al smith and your knowledge? >> well, i read a great book called "empire statesman." i didn't know much about al smith, even though i worked in albany for a while. i knew the al smith building was there, the tallest building in new york state before the empire state building, i believe. but i didn't know much about al smith until i read a book, a biography called "empire statesman." >> all right. thanks for calling in tonight, tony. john evers, we've got belle moskowitz and what al smith did to educate himself. >> belle moskowitz served as his unofficial gatekeeper. i think her job was the head of the pr for the democratic party, but she would serve as his adviser, and it was probably the best way to describe it as she was the person who would pass
through all of these labor programs, all of these reconstruction commissions. in fact, the reconstruction of new york state, which eventually led to the reforming of the state constitution and the establishment of a strong chief executive, was done with the reconstruction commission. that was belle moskowitz's brainchild. she recruited bob moses' into the administration. in fact, tammany hall became very jealous of belle moskowitz and robert moses and they used to joke and say that's the brains of tammany hall. it was kind of they joked with it because they weren't irish catholics, they were new york city and they were jewish. the interesting point you mentioned about him not speaking in the assembly, smith sat so far back and was so intimidated and he was so lost, that he went back to new york after his second term and told tom foley, the tammany boss of his district, that i think i might be in over my head. and he told him, i might be able to find you a job. maybe superintendent of buildings in new york city, if you really can't hack it.
and that appealed to smith's ability to fight. he said, i'm not going to admit that i can't handle something. so he went back with a mission. he took all the bills back every night and read them. read every bill introduced so that he could understand the legislature. because he didn't have a high school or college degree. he wasn't a lawyer. the assembly at the time was prominently the legal field. smith made sure that he could do that. also since he didn't have any money, i mean, he lived on the $1,500 a year plus the traveling expenses. he had nothing else to do. he didn't go out partying at night. he didn't do bad things. he missed his family. he would go back to his room at his hotel and he'd read. and when he wasn't there, he'd been in the legislative library looking up the bills and the laws that they affected. >> john evers, are appropriations bills still about 300 pages long? >> they could save a lot of trees by having them done electronically. smith was the chairman of ways
and means. in 1911, he used to read the appropriation bill cover to cover. and he said not more than ten people in the senate or the assembly could explain the appropriation bill. thick stacks of appropriation, line by line by line. he mastered that and it ultimately led him to become a very good financial governor because he had an understanding of the budget system. >> we have a question here from our audience. i want to introduce this question here. this is dave pietrusza, an author. did not know he was going to be here tonight. we know him from book tv. he wrote a book about the 1960 election. he just has a new book coming out which is called "1948" about the 1948 election. go ahead, mr. pietrusza. >> thank you. your guests are doing a great job tonight. there's some constants in the al smith's career. there's tammany hall, there's franklin roosevelt, and there's another fellow, william randolph hearst. what can you say about that relationship, specifically the
1918, the 1922 gubernatorial races and the 1932 presidential nomination process? >> let's start with beverly gage. >> well, hearst is one of al smith's great critics. hearst is one of these towering figures of this moment. he turns into one of smith's great critics. he's sort of the man around which smith learns how to deal with the press in many ways. i know that you -- we were talking earlier. you said you had been writing about this in great detail about the milk issue and hearst's attacks on smith. >> this is a great question. i'm glad dave brought this up. william randolph hearst was probably one of the most controversial government figures or quasi-government figures in new york history. he was a two-term congressman from new york city. he basically bought the seat. he went to tammany hall, says he wanted it. tried to get the nomination in 1904 for president of the united
states, and he lost that. he runs for governor in 1906 against charles evans hughes and loses. runs for new york city mayor and loses. but he has control of the two newspapers, "the evening journal" and "the new york american." and he turns out real -- the basis appeal to people. to try to tell them that i know better. i'm a reformer. i want municipal ownership of utilities that will lower your rates. i want to have transparent government. you can get that if you back me. in 1918, he wants the nomination for governor. and they try to figure out how to go about, you know, who's going to get this. they settle on smith. smith goes and gets elected. in 1919, immediately, william randolph hearst starts to poke at smith's programs. there's a milk strike in new york city.
the upstate dairies can't get the milk into new york city. they then have a milk strike upstate where the producers won't ship it to new york city. well, none of this is within the purview of the governor's powers. the governor tries to get his department of farms and markets to act. they won't act because they don't report to the governor because the governor has no power over his own departments. hearst won't take this answer. he says you're moving too slow on municipal ownership. we want the municipalities in new york city to be owned. you're the governor. make the legislature do this. they won't do this. smith goes head to head with him. october 29th, 1919, he takes the stage at carnegie hall and has it out with hearst. he has a debate. invites hearst to the debate. hearst won't show up to the debate. he goes to sam simeon and buys more artwork. smith goes and probably loses control, red in the face, screams and yells about this man and unmasks hearst. hearst ironically comes out and backs smith for re-election. smith wants nothing to do with it.
he battles again in 1922. smith is going to make a comeback for running for governor. hearst wants the nomination. smith says i won't run a ticket with hearst. either me or hearst. he said hearst will settle to be u.s. senator. he said i won't run on a ticket where he's going to be a u.s. senator. i won't run on a ticket with hearst at all. smith was one of those guys, well, he was honest. he says i'm not going to be somebody that would change my mind left and right and be as despicable as hearst when it comes to character assassination. smith wins. he also unseats the new york city mayor who is an ally, mayor hyland, one of hearst's allies, replaces him with jimmy walker. and basically takes over the whole party. however, smith really gets the last laugh as was mentioned by our questioner was that in 1932, hearst uses his power to throw on the fifth ballot or sixth ballot the nomination of -- from the fdr/smith battle, he takes his votes from california under
mcadoo, i believe, and texas with john nance garner, and they give it to roosevelt. knocks smith out. he loses the nomination because of hearst behind the scenes. >> there were three or four presidential elections that al smith was active in. 1920, '24, '28 and '32. here's a newsreel recap from 1932 about the '24, '28, and 1932 elections. >> then the great political battle of 1924 where with alfred e. smith and john w. davis he stood out as a leader. there never was a political convention to match the democratic national gathering of 1924 for drama and color in new york. mcadoo against al smith. day after day a fruitless -- terrific storms of passion shaping the delegates and convulsing the thousands in the gallery. the high note of all, franklin d. roosevelt's presentation of the name of alfred e. smith, the phrase, the happy warrior.
democratic convention in the lone star state. once more franklin d. roosevelt took the stage to praise as only he could do. the man for whom he has always had such affection and respect, naming him again the happy warrior, his friend, alfred e. smith. the governor of new york. al smith, who will always have his own place in the hearts of the american people. but events were moving fast. al smith is candidate for president in 1928. wanted a good man to run for governor of new york. he persuaded franklin roosevelt to make the race, and although mr. smith lost the state by a narrow vote, franklin roosevelt was elected to his first term as governor. already franklin d. roosevelt was a favorite for the
nomination. his leading opponent by a strange travesty of fortune was none other than his old friend, alfred e. smith. >> franklin d. roosevelt, having received more than two-thirds of all the delegates voting, i proclaim him the nominee of this convention for president of the united states! >> you have nominated me, and i know it. and i am here to thank you for the honor. i pledge myself to a new deal for the american people. >> and back live in the new york state assembly chamber, beverly gage, how did we get from 1928, fdr calling al smith the happy warrior, supporting him, to 1932 presidential election?
>> right. well, 1928, they are allies, and they had been allies before that as well. both coming up through the same new york democratic party. a couple of things happened between 1928 and 1932. some of which are very personal and some of which are on a grand scale. the most important thing that happens between 1928 and 1932 is, of course, that we enter the depression, so herbert hoover begins in 1929 as president. so herbert hoover begins in 1929 as president. you get the stock market crash that year. by 1932 you're really in the deepest, darkest moment of the depression. so that's bad news. but for the democratic nominee for president that's actually really good news. so in 1932, al smith wants to be the candidate again. in fact, he's put forth as a possibility. but there's a lot of controversy about whether or not this is going to be a good idea. there are a lot of people who do not want to introduce into what looks like it's going to be a smashing democratic year all of the issues that you had seen in
1928. issues about catholicism, issues about prejudice, issues about prohibition. all of these sorts of things. franklin roosevelt has a little bit to say about these things. but when he's a candidate in 1932 he's kind of being as even keel about all of this as you possibly can be. this, and there's a lot of pushback about that. and it's not clear either that smith is a huge fan of roosevelt. they've had a very, very cooperative relationship, but it's always been smith through the elder statesman with roosevelt, the supportive younger man. and it seems that at this moment smith -- in fact, we should acknowledge like a lot of people in the united states in 1932, he views franklin roosevelt kind of as a dilettante, someone not willing to come out and take hard stands on issues, someone who's had a life of leisure. he's come from this wealthy family. here's smith who's worked his way up. you've got this sort of personal drama playing out at the same
time you've got a political drama playing out. of course, we know who wins that in the end in 1932. and it doesn't take very long for smith to begin to attack roosevelt personally as well as politically. and i think that it's easier to understand his personal animosity toward roosevelt as it begins to develop. i've always found it a little bit more puzzling to understand how by 1936, he's actually endorsing the republican presidential candidate and is embracing a kind of politics that he really hadn't embraced before. is it because he's heartbroken? is it because he doesn't like roosevelt? is it because he's actually changed his mind as he sees roosevelt actually enact the new deal? i think these are all still kind of open questions about their relationship. >> and now back to your calls here on "the contenders." sheridan, arkansas, richard you're on c-span.
please go ahead with your question or comment for our two guests. >> caller: my grandfather albert godwin was a county democrat chairman, a state senator, supporter of al smith. compare al smith's campaign for president and dewey's campaigns for president. >> let's ask the former new york state assembly historian. if he could do that in a minute or less. >> oh, sure. there's no comparison. >> tom dewey will be one of the subjects of a future "contenders" i think in two weeks. >> there really is no comparison. with dewey, the personalities couldn't be more different. they really couldn't be. first of all, smith is a democrat. dewey is a republican. smith is a progressive. pre-new deal campaigner. dewy takes over the reins in new york city state after he beats
herbert lehman who is the hand-picked successor of fdr and al smith, and he runs new york state during the new deal, and he is, by all accounts, somebody that implements these programs so he's not a rock bred republican in the sense of a conservative, kind of like a nelson rockefeller republican. dewey wanted to be president and made it known. i think there was rumors that he was going to run for president, he was a possible presidential candidate when he was still new york district attorney, he had it in the cards that he wanted to do it for a long time. smith's campaign in 1928 was troubled from the start. he got the nomination and did his campaign from july onwards. dewey had more of the modern campaign that he got -- in fact fdr did this in 1932. he knew he would run early on and he traveled the country getting his campaign in order. the big differences between
dewey and al smith is that dewey was out there with this campaign and preparation more than al smith ever was. >> we have a question here in our audience. >> my name is amy and i'm from clifton park, new york. my question is besides the zoo that al smith brought to the governor's mansion, what was his most notable achievement for new york and/or the country. >> as governor? >> as governor, as candidate for president, what were his most notable achievements? >> if i were to rattle it off, it would be impressive. but we do not have like three hours. probably smith's biggest achievements were to bring progressiveness in the modern age. smith was the pre-new deal type person. fdr had his own programs but smith had the modern labor code, he had parks and recreation, he had new york state vote on bonds.
hundreds of millions of dollars of bonds to improve roads and bridges, railroad crossings, parks, hospitals, prisons. he was ahead of his time when it came to criminal justice. smith's whole movement of government was not to downsize government but to use government as a tool to provide people with services. instead of it used to be a more conservative where government was simply there. the federal government would deliver the mail, it had the military. in new york state, it was not that much different. it had certain functions, but it didn't go out there and regulate industries, and it didn't go out there and regulate utilities. it doesn't provide parks and recreation. it didn't have the interaction with people that really needed it. so smith's overall accomplishments in new york state was to launch us on a social welfare in the best positive senses of the word. >> john evers, when you're here in the new york state capitol, beautiful old building, finished
in 1894, here in albany, surrounded by state government office buildings, many built in the '60s, '70s, et cetera, would al smith -- what would he think about the growth of state government in new york? >> i think that he would be okay with state government as it is. when smith was governor, it was 10, 10.5 million people. he realized that new york state government needed to be housed. in fact, he was one of the people that said you have to get all of these agencies not only coordinated but he used to joke and say, we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to rent offices, can't we build office buildings? can't we professionalize the state workforce? so smith really believed that using the government, which was basically the people, to organize them and to deliver services, that's the proper role of government. he stood with that his whole life. he thought the new deal just went too far. >> helen in -- beverly gage, you wanted to add something? >> yeah. i just wanted to add that on the national stage i think he plays
a very different and equally important role in the sense that smith's candidacy in 1928 comes after a decade where, as we've sort of said already, issues about immigration, issues about race. you had immigration reform passed in the early 1920s, in part targeting people from places like italy, like russia, people considered ethnically different. the other great social phenomenon of that decade was the rise of the ku klux klan, and the ku klux klan in the 1920s is a mass organization. it's not sort of the southern targeted clan that we think of the in the '50s and '60s. it's a mass organization with millions of members. its stronghold is in indiana and midwestern states and a lot of urban centers in the east have charge klan populations that were targeting catholics and jews, and immigrants and these were the issues driving the plan. smith as a candidate, though he loses, smith is a person that stands up to the national stage.
smith as a candidate, though he loses, smith is a person that stands up to the national stala. smith as a candidate, though he loses, smith is a person that stands up to the national stage and says no to all of that. he said no, that is not what the united states is supposed to stand for, all of those people that you are talking about restricting and pushing out, who you are describing as foreign, those are my people, we are all americans and stands for it powerfully on the national stage, even though he is rejected as the president. >> and in just a minute we're going to ask our guests what they think al smith's biggest failures were. but helen in cape may, new jersey, you're on "the contenders." please, go ahead. >> caller: i was so excited to hear you were going to have al smith on. my grandfather was part of the irish catholic republican, their machine, and, of course, they did split ranks in '28 and voted for al smith. but my question is, after -- after mr. roosevelt's election, al smith had very harsh words to say both about president roosevelt, the new deal and the democratic party.
and do you think it was because he feared that the democratic party was edging too close to socialism and away from true progressivism? >> i think that his initial responses in 1928 were more of a emotional response. basically, saying, and he admitted it, saying i'm done, i'm not going run again and then he comes back in '32 and said, well, i changed my mind. he wanted to set the record straight and say, you know, i think i can do a good job on this. his split with roosevelt is hard to explain. a lot of historians have struggled with this. he alternatively said it went poor far, and then he says in certain things that's okay. he supports preparation for the war in the late '30s. but then he will not support roosevelt in 1940. it's kind of hard to pin smith down near the end except that he thinks that the federal
government is growing too big. he blames some of the proliferation as the alphabet agencies as to how government's gotten off track, and he kind of hides behind the state's rights issues. he always thought prohibition was a state issue. you can't from the federal government, through the constitution, correct or police people's individual behavior. oftentimes he said it's the state's rights issue which played great when it came to the democratic party, but he kind of stretched it a little bit when it came to the new deal by saying state's rights when he realized that a lot of these programs were things that he had implemented in new york state as well. >> well, we've heard from john evers who is the former new york state assembly historian, and we've heard from beverly gage, history professor from yale university about the fdr/al smith relationship. he supported wendell wilke in 1946 over fdr. in fact, here is al smith on the radio talking about his support
for wendell wilke. >> i would just like to make a little observation. i would like to wonder what could be going through the mind of the 16 million men that are in the draft. i wonder if they are not saying to themselves, if this becomes serious, if it becomes necessary that we have to face an enemy, who, upon the record, would you want to be behind? the third-time candidate or wilke! [ applause ] >> in my opinion, the only hope for the people is the election of wendell wilke -- who believes -- [ applause ] who believes in the constitution of the united states and the principles upon which it was founded.
when he is chosen to guide this nation, then and then only will the stars and stripes again wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave. [ applause ] >> beverly gage, what is your reaction to hearing that? >> well, it's really remarkable how quickly and how viciously al smith ends up going after the people who had once been his greatest supporters. and i was trying to think if there's ever been another major party presidential candidate who in less than a decade after he had run on his party's platform is actually endorsing actively the candidates of the other party, is going around -- >> joe lieberman. >> i guess so. joe lieberman was hard to read. was joe lieberman ever really a democrat? i don't know. but, so going around and actually doing these
endorsements in 1936, in 1940, and i think in this way that is incredibly outspoken, is vicious. i mean, he makes a speech in 1936 where he's accusing the new deal and fdr themselves, as i mentioned earlier of being communists, of being socialists. he picks up the most vitriolic and anti-new deal language. he calls roosevelt a tyrant and says he is abusing the constitution and becomes a standard bearer of the liberty league, which is basically a business-fund -- it's basically funded by the dupont family, but a group that begins in the 1930s that attempts to push back the new deal, and it really is a puzzling, puzzling moment in his career. and there are people who have tried to sit there and trace, and say, well, he always had these platforms and always believed in state level power rather than federal level power and he had a technocratic view
or he had a more limited view of government. i do not think they are answers. i think he went through something personally at that point and that his circle in new york as he becomes the head of the empire state building and as he begins to kind of solidify these alliances with businessmen, that really becomes his world in the 1930s. >> and we're going to talk about that part of his life in just a minute, but we have another questioner here in the new york state assembly. tell us who you are and what you are doing here tonight? >> good evening. i'm a professor at schenectady community college. i teach administrative law. as my students and i talk about government and how government is getting larger and we discuss state and federal agencies, we talk a lot about immigration reform as it relates to the department of homeland security, and so as we're talking about al smith and his background and having come from new york city, south street seaport, being
raised amongst a lot of ethnically diverse groups, i wonder what an immigration policy would look like today for, you know, governor al smith. what would he think in terms of, one, the ethnicity of the immigrants that are coming in as vastly different than those that he grew up with, but also largely we're looking for policies in today's immigration platform that would deal with labor issues, you know, whether or not people who have been here illegally should have the right to work, you know, after having been in the country for a certain number of years? so i wonder where would al smith stand on that type of issue, immigration as it relates to labor and also racism as you talked about? you know, we don't really see much in terms of the ku klux klan anymore, but we do see a lot of internal racism with agencies as it relates to immigration. would he be as strong, or would it depend on at what point in history you met mr. smith? thank you. >> thank you, professor. >> let's start with john evers. >> i think smith would be in
favor of loose immigration, and that would probably be because of where he grew up. smith was exposed to all kinds of ethnicities, all kinds of immigrants. his mother was a daughter of immigrants and his father was a son of immigrants. he worked in an area that had sailors from all over the world. he worked in a neighborhood that had all kinds of people from all over the world. in fact, he had joked at one time that representatives from chinatown came up for one of the marriages of his daughter. he would be more understanding of an open immigration or a widely construed program for immigration, because that is what he grew up with. >> beverly gage, do you want to add anything to immigration? one question i remember as a student, compare and contrast, immigration then, immigration now. >> i think it's true that that was at the core of who al smith presented himself to be to the
world. and this question of immigration and labor, it was one of the hot issues, so, immigration law when it was being immigration restriction, which is passed in the 1920s, it was -- you had decades of debate about the relationship between wages and labor and immigration, and, in fact, during al smith's day, immigration policy was actually under the department of labor. and so, these things were really intimately tied then. as i said, when he ran for president in 1928, it was really the wake of a wave of nativist sentiment, and if he stood for anything as a presidential candidate, it really was a pushback against this kind of reactive nativism. now, who what he would have ultimately come up with had he been elected president, would he have been able in his day to push back immigration restrictions, it seems unlikely. but the feelings in the 1920s are very intense around these issues and lasts for 40 years during al smith's childhood.
there's been almost no restrictions on immigration whatsoever, so we've seen this kind of constriction then, and that constriction wasn't reopened until the 1960s when, as you said, we began to get very different groups of immigrants coming in. >> about 25 minutes left in the program on al smith. howie in philadelphia, good evening to you, you are on the air. >> caller: yes, good evening. i just wanted to shed some light on prohibition and president harding did not enforce prohibition and the states did not do the job themselves. it was in 1923, around may, when al smith signed the repeal of the prohibition act, and can you also shed some light about kansas politics leading to the 1936 election where al smith blew the whistle on the new deal? thank you. >> john evers. >> i think that prohibition is something that's heavily identified with al smith.
he never favored prohibition. it was not an issue that he championed. he did not like how new york state ratified it anyway. they did it by simple resolution through the legislature. he thought it should be a referendum. in fact, i believe it was in 1924 or so that they had a referendum in new york state on what you think about prohibition. should you change the percentage of alcohol, and i think it was in the federal 0.5, they wanted beer and light wines to be allowed, and it passes overwhelmingly in new york state, but it was just a memorialization of congress. it did the not mean anything. smith himself was elected the president of the convention in new york state, 1933, to repeal the prohibition amendment in this chamber. the 150 delegates voted, and they voted for al smith to be president. he got the last laugh on that. they brought out an 88-year-old that was former secretary of
state to second the nomination and come in and pat him on the back. prohibition shaped him because he thought it was just almost ridiculous to say that you could use the constitution to control individual behavior. it actually took a right away from people, rather than the amendments in the bill of rights giving rights to people, and he also thought it was hypocritical. he used to say that he saw more people that would come out there and say that they were dries, having their community break the law, whereas all the wets were out there trying to enforce the law, and the wet meaning those that wanted the repeal of prohibition, so he found it as governor almost ridiculous. >> and if i can add one thing on the prohibition issue. it was tied to all of the questions about immigration, and rural versus urban america, and a lot of imagery that had been used to promote prohibition is imagery that's about the german saloon, right, or about drunken immigrants running wild in the city, and smith also took
objection to that, to both the saloon as a real urban institution and also to the kinds of imagery that had been mobilized to get prohibition passed. >> beverly gage, was prohibition a christian right issue in a sense back in the '20s kind of like gay marriage or abortion is today? is that fair? >> i think it was an issue that a lot of people mobilized. it was certainly a cultural issue that mobilized certain sections of the population. but i wouldn't necessarily call it a right wing issue in its day. it got a lot of its base of support from protestant groups, certainly from protestant fundamentalists during that day, this again being one of the great issues of the 1920s with the scopes trial, questions about fundamentalism are really also at the forefront of american political debate. but you also had a lot of progressive reformers, particularly women, who had been suffragettes, who had been progressive on any number of
other issues who were also supporters of prohibition, partly as a feminist issue, saving you from your drunken husband, so it was really a complicated issue, and i don't think it lines up very nicely on this kind of left-right spectrum. >> okay. john evers. in between presidential runs, 1928, the last time he was nominated, 1930, what happens to al smith in 1930? >> well, al smith, after he retires from the governorship here in new york, actually as a little bit of a side note, he believes, and a lot of people attribute this to him, that he's going to help fdr out. fdr is going to need help. he's going to draft the budget for him. he's going to hold his hand. that turns out not to be the case. fdr wants to stand on his own and have nothing to do with smith. so smith goes back to new york city and he gets a job to run the empire state building.
it was going to be built. >> had it been built at that point? >> not yet. they're knocking down the waldorf astoria in 1929, and they are going to break ground for this right around the time the stock market crashes, but they continue through. the dupont family and rascob and all the interest that wanted this building, this huge building that goes up just as the depression happens, just as the rents are -- everybody is leaving their leases. nobody wants to rent anything. it's dubbed the empty state building, and smith, who is making $50,000 a year as the president of the corporation -- >> a large amount? >> a large amount, but he's running $1 million deficits each year because nobody is renting space. and he goes to fdr and said can you put some of your government agencies in here. and he attacked the president. it's good to see you. can you rent some space in the empire state building? but smith, that's his job, and he holds that job until 1944 when he dies. the economy changes and he does
recover. it was a difficult job to have to rent space when nobody is buying office space in new york city. >> you kind of have to feel for al smith. i mean, we were going to talk about his failures. one of his greatest failures is really bad timing. he ends up as the democratic candidate in 1928. if it had been 1932, he would have been a shoo-in. he ends up taking over this building that breaks ground in something like august of 1929 and then ends up as its president, so he had a timing problem in the early '30s. >> we have another question from the audience. hi. >> hi, i'm jonathan, i'm a junior political science major. and i have a question. when andrew cuomo first came to office as governor, he said that he wanted to emulate some of the qualities of alfred smith, and earlier in the program we talked about how at one point the governor's office was a very weak political office.
can you just -- if anything, go over what he did to make the office of governor stronger and what example did he leave behind for others to follow? >> thank you, sir. john evers. >> that is probably one of the lasting legacies of alfred e. smith. and when governor cuomo entered office, he puts smith's picture behind the rostrum so all the press conferences will see al smith, and he replaced teddy roosevelt who had been there for the last three governors. and governor cuomo instituted a sage commission, which would investigate government and would make it more efficient. which is also like smith's reconstruction commission. the point that smith is probably being emulated the most for is efficiency in government. smith took 187 massive rolling bureaus, boards, commissions, departments and rolled them into
the 20 departments of government and had the legislature pass the constitutional amendments and then were ratified by the people to make the governor a strong governor. and this is prior to fdr reforming the executive office of the presidency in d.c. smith wanted to make sure that if i appoint a commissioner, i want him to answer to me. prior to smith's reforms, the terms overlapped. the health commissioner had six-year terms, and certain commissioners like the insurance commissioner could be appointed by the previous governor, and then this governor -- the governor that assumes office can't remove him, or certain boards or bureaus, like ag and markets, the department of agriculture, were appointed by a board of regents-like people that were appointed by the legislature. so the short answer is that smith really reforms government, he right-sized it. he made it responsive to the executive, who in turn is responsible to the people. that's probably his most lasting
legacy and that's been emulated by a lot of states and had a little bit of the template taken to d.c. when fdr reformed the office of the presidency. >> albany, new york. mark, we are here in your hometown, what's your question on al smith? >> caller: my question is this. and by the way, i do work for state government, i'm an internal audit director for a public authority. and i teach a two-day class to state employees about the state budget process. and one of the things i teach them is, as i understand it and i wonder if you can talk about this, al smith also reformed how budgeting is done in new york state, and i was surprised that prior to him becoming governor and making reforms in this area, that budgeting wasn't done very well and also the budget may have been put forward by the legislature, and now we have a very strong executive budget that is put forth by the governor, and that's another legacy to this day that exists for al smith. and in my opinion, that's one of his real strong contributions to
the whole government structure of state government in new york, and i wonder if you can comment on that. >> mr. evers? >> that is a great point. prior to smith getting executive budgeting, it was done by the legislature and basically they would get together the budget estimates and what they thought it would take to run government. very inefficient. you had executive agencies reporting to the legislature to say this is what i need, whereas these executive agencies technically reported they worked for the governor. smith would joke about it and say when the initial budget bill was presented it was then added to by the legislature so much so that the original budget bill could almost be unrecognizable. they would just laden it down with pork. in fact, they joked at the 1915 constitutional convention that at one point they claimed a clerk passing the bill from one house to the next house actually added his own budget item in there. so the inefficiency was so bad that smith says let the governor
submit an executive budget to the legislature based on estimates from his own executive departments that the legislature can then act on, and that made budgeting much more responsible to one individual, the governor of new york, and that's how it is today. >> beverly gage, we began this program with a video from the annual al smith dinner for catholic charities. what is the al smith dinner, and how did it come about? >> the al smith dinner is the most famous place that presidential candidates show up every four years, and they show up, democrats and republicans. it's really a memorial dinner for smith. and it's the thing, if anyone has heard al smith's name at this point in time, that that is where you have probably heard about al smith, unless you hang around these hallowed halls. in general, it's probably his most lasting public legacy, the place where his name gets out. and it's -- but it's held every
year, not just every four years, you have prominent figures coming in, and as i said it's really a memorial dinner. it's a catholic charity dinner, and it's a place for people to get together and try to assess the legacy of al smith and presidential candidates always especially try to crack good jokes about each other. >> and, in fact, they show up together most times, they show up both the democrat and republican nominees show up together. we want to show you some of the past al smith dinners. >> might i ask if monsignor clock would come up here, because either the president of the united states or i am without a seat, and i have no intention of standing. >> i must say, i have traveled the banquet circuit for many years, and i never quite understood the logistics of dinners like this and how the absence of one individual could cause three of us to not have seats. >> mr. vice president, i'm glad to see you here tonight. you've said many, many times in this campaign that you want to give america back to the little
guy. mr. vice president, i am that man. >> as i looked out at all the white ties and tails this evening, i realized i have not seen so many people so well dressed since i went to a come as you are party in kennebunkport. >> we just had some really good news out of yugoslavia. i'm especially pleased that mr. milosevic has stepped down. that's one less polysyllabic name for me to remember. you know, what this world really needs? it really needs more world leaders named al smith. >> it is an honor to share the
dias with a descendant of the great al smith. and al, your great grandfather was my favorite kind of governor, the kind who ran for president and lost. >> about 15 minutes left and >> about 15 minutes left, and gle glen in freeland, michigan, you're on "the contenders." please go ahead. >> caller: thank you very much. the question i had is with all the anti-roman catholic racism and his being the first major party american presidential candidate that was roman catholic and everything, how much international attention did this get? specifically did the pope at the time ever weigh in or comment on any of the campaign he ran or
anything like that? thank you very much. >> thank you, glen. beverly gage, if you want to start. >> in term of polls, you didn't have the same kind of polling mechanisms that you have today, so these things are harder to gauge in the 1920s, which percentage of which electorate, so it's tough for historians and historians make grand claims without knowing much about the electorate. on the international question, i think it's really interesting because, yes, there was a lot of attention paid to this, and it came in the wake of two trials as well, but really raised these questions about america's national character. the first was the scopes trial in 1925, and the second -- well, the trial had happened earlier, but the second was the execution of sacco and vinzetti, two italians, anarchists, that had
happened in 1927. so these questions of what the united states' presentation to the world in terms of race, in terms of immigration policy, in terms of its attitudes toward radicalism, in terms of political tolerance, all of these were really out there already by the time smith became the candidate. so his candidacy, then, on the world stage becomes another moment to ask those questions and call the questions. >> well, after the election and he loses, he does eventually go to europe at one time. he does meet the pope. he recounts on a few occasions that in many of his travels around italy, they thought he was the president, because they knew that he had run. he goes to the house of commons. he had a very good relationship with winston churchill. so it certainly did catapult him to the world stage. in that sense, he was a famous also-ran around the world as well. >> beverly gage, catholicism
1928, african-american president in 2008, serious woman contender in 2008, mormon president in 2012. is it a fair comparison? >> i think it is a fair comparison in certain ways. in that sense al smith was a trailblazer on this front. i think in many ways it's hard for people today to understand the depth of anti-catholicism in the united states at that moment. when al smith was on the campaign trail, particularly in places like oklahoma, places that he had never been before, places that he didn't know very much about, his trade would pull into town and there would be crosses burning. he faced physical danger around these sorts of questions, and he also faced a whole series of conspiracy theories about what his role was going to be, would he be taking orders from the pope, or would they be building secret tunnels from the vatican -- all these really
intense conspiracy theories that i think are hard to remember, although in other ways we've seen conspiracy theories come up in recent years. but the tension in anti-catholic religion that he faced is another one of these perils. >> my name is cassie jane and i'm an american history major. my question is how did it shape his presidency so far? >> i think one of the things that there is a great parallel between the two is the working with a legislature that is seen as hostile, seen as the two-party, the partisanship. smith faced that every year that he was in office here in albany. he only had control of the senate for two years, and that was by single vote.
the other eight years it was eight years' republican dominance here in this chamber, and in the other house, he only had, as i said, the one term. so i would think that the problem of dealing with the other party is something that smith had to battle with and undertake. that's something that the current president has a problem with as well. the other thing that he has is it's remarkable the sense of humor. now, president obama has a very good sense of humor and he handles press conferences very well. al smith was the same way. al smith also knew he could be funny on occasions but not all the time because then people wouldn't take you seriously. so he could really play a very good statesman with a sense of humor, which is another good parallel. >> beverly gage. >> the only thing i would add is i'm not sure barack obama has quite learned how al smith managed to make it all happen. i'm not sure he actually learned these lessons with dealing with a hostile legislature. >> thank you, cassie.
next call comes from houston, texas, j texas. joe, good evening to you. go ahead. >> caller: thank you for taking my call. my first question, i know smith lost new york in 1928 to hoover. how well did he do in the five burroughs? i also want to know, was the anti-catholicism vote more prevalent in the southern states as compared to, like, the midwest, say, kansas, nebraska, et cetera? and i also want to know -- he had a fallout with fdr. i was surprised, in 1940. how did he feel about social security? thank you. >> john evers. >> he did well in new york. he always did well in new york city. he did extraordinarily well in his own district. but he just couldn't make it up
over the whole state. the other question -- what was the other -- >> did he win new york city? do you know offhand if he won the precincts in 1920? >> i don't think he did. new york city also had outer burroughs that had republican dominance, which is still the case in staten island, in pockets of queens as well. >> social security is another question. >> the issue on social security is something that smith had tried to implement in new york state when it came to widows' and orphan pensions. he tried to experiment with industrial workers and he also tried to do all sorts of social security workers when it came to trying to support those who were downtrodden. make work projects is something he had experimented with and it might have been something he would have carried into the new deal had he won. >> i want to address one other aspect that came up, which is
about the south. and one of the strange things that emerges, was anti-catholicism more powerful in the south than the midwest? i think that's actually a fairly hard question to answer, but we've been talking a lot about the democrats versus the republicans here, and one of the things that was really difficult for smith were divisions within the national democratic party so that the whole south at this point is still a democratic south with smith as their national candidate. and so you had real tensions within the democratic party between this kind of urban core that smith was coming to represent, and the more southern wing as well as other wings of the democratic party as well, so those intra-party relationships were important as well as the democrats and republicans. >> just to recap, herbert hoover, 444 electoral votes. al smith, 87 electoral votes. herbert hoover won 36 districts,
al smith won 8. miss mirissippi mississippi, alabama, georgia, south carolina, massachusetts and rhode island. we have another question here from our audience. hi. >> two questions. if you were to grade his governorship, what letter would you assign to it? and the second question is, as the first catholic presidential candidate, did he help how the country viewed religion as a factor? >> let's take the governor question here and the religion question there. >> i would give governor smith an "a" because he faced a tremendously uphill battle. new york was a republican state at the time, and as i mentioned, he had a very tough time dealing with the legislature which was overwhelmingly republican. in fact, in 1920, when they expelled the socialists, i never understood why because they had 110 republicans in 150 seats, and it didn't really matter when it came to the votes. i would give governor smith an
"a." he created so many things, as i mentioned, the executive budget, the short ballot, meaning the short ballot would stop voting for six or seven statewide offices and have someone appointed, a state engineer and the like. the public authority is one thing he tried to undertake and power authority a port authority and the like. the port authority in new jersey was his idea, so he had a lot of interesting things. >> john evers, the biggest failure of al smith. >> some of them might be that he overthought things. i think from a political science point of view, public authorities were something he wanted to deal with. he created those and now there's debates over public authorities, and bonding. governor smith was a huge proponent of bonding, and that also created propensity today for dependence on bond and go could create state debt. >> what difference did al smith make in national politics? >> i think that al smith called certain questions and faced them down. his candidacy raised questions
that had been percolating in various ways throughout the 1920s. these questions that we've been talking about, immigration, nativism, all these sorts of issues, and he really calls the question -- he takes a very sort of powerful stand about who is going to be an american, who ought to be included as an american and becomes a great symbol for that. i think within the democratic party, he's also a very powerful figure in sort of consolidating what we now talk about as the roosevelt coalition, but it's really something that begins with al smith bringing this urban core into the democratic party. >> yale university history professor beverly gage and john evers, former assembly historian, thank you so much for being on "the contenders." we also want to make sure to thank speaker sheldon and the people here at the assembly for allowing us to broadcast live. we want to thank our audience and our cable company,
time-warner. we're going to leave you with a few of al smith's own words on his career and life. >> ifrs was elected to my first public office in 1903. i remained in the assembly for 12 years. then i was elected judge of new york county. then i was elected president of the board. in fact, i ran for office 22 times. i was elected 20 times and defeated twice. i worked for the county, i've worked for the city. i have worked for the state. and you will probably remember that i tried to get a job down in washington, but something happened to me at that time. ♪
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