Alfred E. Smith

Alfred Emmanuel Smith was born on Manhattan’s teeming Lower East Side. He was of primarily Irish descent. Alfred was forced to quit parochial school after his father's death and worked for a while at the famous Fulton Fish Market.

Alfred E. Smith

Alfred Smith began his long political career in 1894, when he supported an anti-Tammany Hall candidate in a local race. The candidate lost, but Smith was rewarded with a political appointment by the city’s mayor. By 1903, he had mended fences with Tammany leaders and ran successfully for the New York assembly, where he teamed with fellow Democrat Robert F. Wagner in investigating labor conditions; the tragic Triangle Fire of 1911 had made worker safety a matter of broad public concern. Smith was elected Democratic leader in 1913 and speaker of the assembly two years later. In 1915, he was a pivotal figure in a convention that redrafted the New York’s constitution, winning plaudits from friends and foes alike.

Alfred Smith continued his political ascent by election as New York county sheriff in 1915 and president of the New York City board of aldermen in 1917. He resigned from the latter position in 1918 and ran successfully for governor. He failed in a reelection bid in 1920 — the year of a great Republican landslide — but took back the governor’s chair in 1922, 1924 and 1926. Smith was an extremely popular figure, easily recognizable in Albany or New York City with his brown derby and the ever-present cigar. The affability of the “Happy Warrior” contributed to his success in working with Republican majorities in the assembly to win passage of laws regulating child labor, improving factory conditions, creating state parks and providing for the mentally ill. Smith also made his mark as an administrator by reducing the number of state departments and agencies, but increasing efficiency.

Fellow Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt placed Smith’s name in nomination as the party’s presidential candidate in 1924. Alfred Smith, however, became deadlocked with a Southern candidate, William G. McAdoo, and the nomination eventually went to a compromise candidate, who lost decisively to Calvin Coolidge in the fall.

In 1928, Alfred Smith was again nominated by Franklin Roosevelt at the Democratic convention and gained an easy first ballot victory. However, Smith’s New York accent, Irish immigrant heritage, Roman Catholicism and ties to big city political machines did not wear well in the South and West. He was soundly defeated by Herbert Hoover and an electorate that equated prosperity with the Republican Party.

Alfred Smith was unable to generate much momentum behind a drive for renomination in 1932, losing out to former friend and ally Roosevelt. In succeeding years, Smith became a somewhat controversial figure in Democratic circles. He was a founder of the American Liberty League, a group of influential financial and industrial leaders who allied with conservative Democrats to oppose many of the New Deal programs. Smith drifted so far from his roots that he backed Republican presidential candidates in 1936 and 1940.

Alfred Smith has been roundly criticized for succumbing to protracted bitterness, but several recent historians have attributed his opposition to Roosevelt’s agenda to issues of principle rather than carrying a grudge.

Smith served for many years as the president of the corporation that operated the Empire State Building in New York City. He died in New York City on October 4, 1944.

---- Selected Quotes ----

Quotes by Alfred E. Smith.

Regarding Roman Catholic Church
I summarize my creed as an American Catholic. I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. I recognize no power in the institutions of my church to interfere with the operation of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land. I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of church and state and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States.
Article in The Atlantic magazine
Regarding The Roman Catholic Church
I summarize my creed as an American Catholic. I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church. I recognize no power in the institutions of my church to interfere with the operation of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land. I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor. I believe in the absolute separation of church and state and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States.
Article in The Atlantic magazine

Quotes regarding Alfred E. Smith.

By Franklin D. Roosevelt
We offer one who has the will to win — who not only deserves success but commands it. Victory is his habit — the happy warrior, Alfred Smith.
Speech nominating Smith to be the 1928 Democratic candidate for president.
By Bishop James Cannon
No Subject of the Pope should be allowed to become president.
A bishop of the Southern Methodist Episcopal Church, on Alfred E. Smith, a Catholic, 1928 Democratic candidate for president.

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