Sunday, December 30, 2018

Happy Birthday, Al Smith

Al Smith, the New Yorker who rose from humble origins to become a successful governor and unsuccessful Democratic presidential nominee, was born on this day 145 years ago.  Smith, who quipped that his education was restricted to the Fulton Fish Market, made a run for president in 1924 and was his party’s standard bearer four years later.  The resulting loss was attributed to a number of reasons, including his Catholicism, his position on temperance (he was a “wet”), and perhaps his gravely-voiced New York persona. 

Smith’s presidential campaign opened up the New York governorship, and he encouraged Franklin Roosevelt to run in 1928.  Smith thought FDR weak, physically and politically, and expected that he would be able to control him.  He was wrong.  The onetime friendship became a bitter rivalry, especially after Roosevelt defeated him for the presidential nomination in 1932.  The bitterness continued for another decade when they more or less patched things up.

Most know of the close relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill during World War II.  Smith also had a cordial relationship with the British prime minister.  Here is a telegram from Churchill to Smith in 1941.  Churchill also spoke by phone to the second Al Smith Dinner in 1947.  During that fifteen-minute talk, he revealed that he had once offered a political slogan for Smith:  “All for Al and Al for All.”

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