tv Gov. Al Smith Progressivism and the New Deal CSPAN October 13, 2020 4:44pm-6:07pm EDT
representative to britain, the middle east, the soviet union and china. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 eastern and enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend on c-span3. "the presidents," available in paper book, hard cover and e-book from public affairs. presents biographies of every president. inspired by conversations with historians about the leadership skill that is make for a successful presidency. as americans go to the polls next month to decide who should lead our country, it offers perspectives into the lives of events that foraged each president's leadership styles. to learn about the featured presidents, go to c-span.org/thepresidents. up next on american history tv, a conversation with the
author of the book "the revolution of '28: al smith, american progressivism and the coming of the new deal." his progressive coalition paved the way for franklin roosevelt. >> good evening, everyone. i'm really delighted to be able to see all of you here tonight and welcome you all here to our talk for this evening. on behalf of the history department here, welcome, to our evening's talk. we're able to hold this talk thanks to the generous funding of the history fund which is supporting this event. and let me jump straight to introducing our speaker for the evening. our speaker for this evening is dr. robert chiles. he's a graduate of town send
university where he studied music and found the true faith and began a ph.d. in history which he completed at the university of maryland in 2012. and the talk that he's going to be giving this evening is the result of that ph.d. dissertation, i do believe, yes. he has in the course of this particular research, the research for this project, he's received a couple of prestigious honors. the new york state library, cunningham research residency and the new york state archives, partnership trust agency to conduct research on governor alford e. smith. and as part of his next research project which is on mary t. norton, advocate for the fair labor standards act, he's received a grant from the new jersey historical commission to carry that research out. he is familiar to many people in this room, i would imagine,
because he's a frequent lecturer in u.s. history here. he is also a visiting lecturer at loyola university in maryland and he's the senior lecturer of history in maryland, returning to the alma mater. so he's talking to you tonight about his first book which was published in 2018 by cornell university press and the title of the book and the talk up there on the screen. "the revolution of '28: al smith, american progressivism and the coming of the new deal." thank you very much. welcome, dr. chiles. [ applause ] >> thank you, everybody, for being here this evening. thank you to the humanities center and to the history program here for coordinating all of this and i don't think he
knew he was going to get thrown into the midst of a media circus here. but we appreciate you working with me and i'm grateful that the c-span folks were able to be here today. i look around the audience and i'm grateful to see some students, past and present, and family and friends and so it means a lot to me to have such support. thank you. i have the privilege to speak with you today about my first book. my plan for today is to start at some ways at the climax of the story without al smith's tour of new england in october of 1928. i want to use that as a launching point to explore my major interventions in this book and then jump back to try and explain why american news stock, working-class voters, became so
enthusiastic about al smith and became committed democrats for several ensuing generations. first to boston, it was a crisp new england autumn morning as the democratic victory special steamed eastward into massachusetts. the temperature in boston had dropped from an unseasonal 75 degrees the previous afternoon into the mid 50s. by 3:30 p.m., the city had settled into one of boston's cloudy fall days, considerably cooler than the day before. the autumnal chill resulting from this, the wave of energy and upheaval that was swing
down. on board was the democratic nominee for president, the governor of new york, the noted progressive crusader, champion of the urban working class, proponent of tolerance, liberal and economic reform, alfred e. smith. the train slowed first at pittsfield in the west, greeted by 10,000 supporters, followed by about 30,000 in springfield where a band hailed their visitor with his familiar theme, "the sidewalks of new york." there massachusetts senator david ignatius walsh, an irish catholic democrat from pittsburgh extended greetings on smith who was saving his voice for the evening. on toward worcester, where another crowd of 30,000 filled washington square before that city's station, and less
concerned over its own vocal endurance, yelled itself hoarse. finally to boston. on boston common, smith was greeted by 150,000 people. at boston arena, only 15,000 people were able to enter out of the nearly 50,000 who sought admittance were enthralled by an army of radios, all this as two other auditoriums, mechanics hall and symphony hall, remained packed to the brim with ardent listeners after the overflow events. all told, police estimated that 750,000 people flooded the streets of boston to greet the governor of new york, a gathering 2,000 souls greater than that city's population at the time of the previous census. why had they come?
what did they hear? and how did they respond? in microcosm, these are the essential questions of my book. al smith's national prominence as a gubernatorial champion of social welfare of the laboring masses and his ambition to implement and expand that particular progressivism at the federal level, this blended with his biographical appeal to the growing cohort of newer voters as a representative of the urban ethnic growing classes who was a spokesman for a symbol of religious tolerance and opposition to prohibition and harsh immigration restrictions. these things combined the economic and cultural appeal in order to inspire these boisterous receptions in many of the nation's heterogenous industrial cities.
in each case, these crowds not only obliterated local attendance records, but affirmed his well earned reputation, to quote his later very controversial but at the time up and coming adviser robert moses, smith had a talent for popularizing very obtuse questions so the average fellow could understand them. and he was fulfilling his own pledge to maintain, in his words, direct contact with the american people throughout this campaign. meanwhile there was the response which produced the revolutionary early stages of a national political shuffling that would help spur the onset of modern american liberalism. and so the candidates' utterances mattered profoundly. american politics like american life moved briskly by the 1920s. three decades of maturation by
increasingly organized and well-funded national parties begot a precedent while wire services allowed propaganda to move swiftly through a zealously competitive and often fiercely partisan local press. while the radio and much more recent innovation transferred minor and major campaign personalities into the living rooms of millions of prospective voters every night. within the frenzied milieu of the 1920s, political campaigns became a rush of promises that demanded program attic candor before a skeptical public. the stakes for the boston
address were especially high. you see, no serious contender for the presidency could allow the toxic charge of socialism to be associated with their national ambitions. such was al smith's challenge beginning two days before his arrival in boston when his opponent, former now, commerce secretary herbert hoover, alerted a crowd at new york's madison square garden that their governor had abandoned the tenets of his own party in favor of state socialism. herbert hoover, the much heralded commerce secretary and republican standard bearer was seeking the white house based on his very strong credentials as the engineer of the political economy of the 1920s of coolidge prosperity. it was really hoover prosperity, and hoover promised to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, and so he and
his supporters saw smith's progressive agenda as a threat to their new era. 48 hours later, smith responded to herbert hoover's indictment. the socialism charge was an attack at which he had been grappling his entire career, so these charges invited the governor to review his progressive credentials. and so he did. take the workman's compensation act, he implored his boston hearers. what was the argument against that? because it set up ownership of a state operation, it was referred to as socialism. take all the factory code, take the night work law for women, the law prohibiting manufacturing in the tenements, the law prohibiting children working in the tanneries of the state. that great factory code in new york, designed to protect the health and well-being of men, women, and children, at some time or the other.
herbert hoover agreed that each candidate's proposal should be taken seriously and that the articulation of such controversies, controversy s, in hoover's words, signaled the american people a question of fundamental principle. so smith not only cataloged the past, he also applied that record to current conditions. dissenting from popular accolades for the coolidge academy, smith talked about new england's textile economy and contrasted that widespread and profound regional suffering with herbert hoover's sanguine remarks. smith's alternative approach was revealed in his record of progressive, social and welfare and labor reforms in new york
state. so republican cries of socialism were portrayed by smith as a renewed attempt, in his words, by selfish groups to derail, again, in his words, forward looking suggestions for the betterment of the human element. al smith was running against the harding-coolidge-hoover status quo, and his admirers were quite receptive to the message. understanding al smith's message within the context of his progressive tenure as governor, an irishman from new york's lower east side wrote a letter prodding the maverick nebraska republican, george w. norris, to cross party lines and support the democrat, which eventually he did. the "new yorker" boasted that, quote, the new york wonder man had bombasted things so that life wasn't worth living.
an italian-american voter from newark, new jersey, posed a scathing renunciation, citing arguments that had been propagated by the smith campaign. a factory worker from hartford writing under the pseudonym "worker" with prosperity had just never shown up in his community. a polish worker from western massachusetts excoriated the republican party for having, quote, further protected and fostered the special interests of a certain few against the common interests of the many. an italian american rhode islander required the coolidge administration's powerful interests in justifying italian rhode island's support for the democrat smith. it is well known that al smith was a favorite of the recent immigrant working classes who
were attracted to his candidacy because he opposed prohibition, and because he was a catholic, and because he spoke with a bowery brogue and defended the americanism of immigrants. that's all true and profoundly important. it is the beginning of the story of smith's politics and the story of the political aspirations of his many supporters. al smith's admirers, it turns out, embraced both the cultural symbolism of his candidacy and the progressive initiatives of the candidate expounded. smith's catholicism, his working class roots, his disdain for prohibition and for the ku klux klan, these attributes all had a clear influence on voters in 1928, and they benefited smith greatly among urban workers just as they would prove unpalatable among voters in other parts of the nation.
but leaving the story at that is superficial and perhaps even condescending. i have proceeded from the hypothesis that like any other human actors, the real people who became smith democrats in 1928, the ones who did the working and the praying and the suffering and the voting that historians have so long tried to decipher, these were complex human beings with complicated motivations and complicated lives. and so the idea of culture or economics, it's not an either/or proposition. it turns out that most smith voters were, indeed, sophisticated enough to understand the democratic candidate as representing both cultural pluralism and social and economic reform. this combination of cultural empowerment with social welfare appeals had been the formula of his progressive leadership in
new york and it was the plat norm from which he sought the presidency in 1928. in 1928, smith nationalized his particular brand of progressivism. although he went down in a bitter defeat that year, the ideas were not easily extinguished. his supporters would go on and hope he would make a comeback. this print is from 1932 when they hoped he would maybe try again, but they would also go on after that proved to not be the case, they went on to become the heart of the new deal coalition and of the roosevelt coalition. their priorities would shape the democratic parties' agenda for at least the next generation, really the next two, at least. my story, then, is both a local and a national tale. it starts as a new york story, the story of a young man, a product of the fourth ward on manhattan's lower east side, a
a grandson of irish immigrants, from a family who self-identified as catholic and working class. we know later on that his father wasn't irish at all, but italian and german. young al lost his father in the eighth grade and was compelled to leave school and go to work full-time to support his family. for several years, this kid worked 12-hour days starting at 4:00 a.m. as a checker at the fulton fish market. later on he would joke that his only academic degree was an ffm, standing for the fulton fish market. along with the church and hard work and grim poverty, the other universal element on al smith's lower east side was the tammany hall political machine. as a young man, smith became
acquainted with saloon keeper and local tammany hall wheeler and dealer tom foley. under foley's tutelage, smith rose through the ranks of the infamous machine, and by 1903, thanks to his faithfulness, foley sent young smith to albany as a state legislator. during his first legislative session, smith could best be described as a political hack. he didn't give a single speech, he voted the party line. he was ignored, he was overwhelmed, but he grew into the job. so much so that by 1911 when his party took control of the state legislature, new york state legislature was dominated by republicans for most of this period, partly because of old political alliances and partly because of gerrymandering. but after a scare in 1910, democrats took over the legislature, and in 1911, charles murphy pictured here in st. louis a few years later with
al smith, charles murphy sponsored young al smith for a senate majority leader, and smith's best friend, german immigrant robert f. wagner, for majority leader of state senate. the tragedy that happened next is well known. in the midst of these two young legislators' first session with real power, on march 25th, 1911 came the horrors of the triangle shirtwaist factory fire, a terrible inferno that engulfed a sweat shop on the lower east side and killed 148 workers, most of them young, jewish, immigrant girls and young women from the lower east side, many of whom had protested against unfair labor conditions just a couple of years earlier. well, smith and wagner pictured here in a photograph taken years later formed an investigative commission, and they brought in nonpartisan reformers to be
expert witnesses. we have to make this right. there was a particular place in this process for the only groups that had really taken these issues seriously in the past, largely women reformers from progressive organizations, people like mary dryer of the women's trade union league who was named a commissioner. people like henry street, settlement founder and public health champion, lillian wald pictured here who would be a great supporter later on of governor smith and a great champion when he ran for president. and especially involved -- and there are a lot of notables -- but especially was francis perkins of the national consumers league. she took smith and wagner and other politicals on field trips to see the horrible labor
conditions in factories all around the empire state. and she would later on become a great adviser to smith on industrial issues as governor, and eventually, as you probably know, would be the first female cabinet secretary when she became fdr's labor secretary. well, this interaction between largely female progression reformers is sort of counter-untuitive and into a broad range of labor and social welfare crises facing the labor state. such issues would dominate smith and wagner, so that in 1918 when smith was running for governor of new york, he was proposing a broad array of social welfare and labor reforms. here you can see him being sworn in after his first successful run for governor. predictably, once al smith was elected in 1918 in a very close election that republicans blamed
on voting being depressed because of fears of the flu pandemic that year -- that's probably not the case, but in any event, his agenda would reflect the agenda of the social welfare progressives with whom he had interacted. as governor, he pursued labor reforms, including something that was a major transformation at the time, a 48-hour maximum work week for women in factories, or pushing against child labor or pushing for an improved workmen's compensation program. he also pursued what i would call a sort of broadly defined social welfare regime in the new york state, help for a local housing improvements, charitable hospitals, clinics and educational programs for maternal health. rural health clinics. people always forget much of new york is incredibly rural and isolated and has -- there are whole counties with no access to
health care at the beginning of this administration, and so that is a major investment as well. and investment in recreation and in conservation initiatives in the adirondacks and catskills, and dozens of new state parks were created, including nearly all the great state beaches on long island that many of us still enjoy and public education. in smith's first year as governor, new york spent $9 million on education. by 1927, that figure was a much more robust $82.5 million. in the meantime, he modernized state government both through specific reforms and through constitutional amendments to streamline the bureaucracy to make it function more efficiently and more
economically so you could get these things down without being accused of bloated bureaucracy and incompetent big government. by 1928, he would be lauded by francis perkins, a great champion of his in that election as, and i'm quoting here, the first politician who has built his political career on the practical expression and legislation and in government of this passion for social justice. in large part, and this matters for the national campaign moving forward, al smith was successful because he kept taking his ideas directly to the people. indeed, al smith's political style matters here, as well. he was able to succeed broadly because not only was he personally popular, but he also was able to communicate a very robust, sophisticated complicated progressive agenda in popular terms to the mass of voters in a charming and relatable way. and that's how you actually succeed in a democracy. it's all well and good to have
neat ideas, but rather than being theoretical and even elitist as many progressive reformers tended to be, often self-consciously, the reform program proffered by al smith was transformed by its sponsor into a people's initiative. we should note, of course, that one other element matters to this record in new york and especially as a national candidate. al smith promoted a pluralistic view of american life. this pluralism, this acceptance of the increasingly diverse reality of the american people was intertwined with the economic and welfare elements that i have discussed. at least from the perspective of the urban working classes, most of whom were recent immigrants, new stock voters, marginalized groups. justice for such people meant both industrial democracy and social respect. this meant that al smith opposed prohibition, not just because prohibition isn't any fun but
also as a way of standing up for the legitimacy of his followers' folk ways. similarly it meant opposing harsh immigration restrictions, literacy tests, discriminatory national origins' quotas that were established in the 1924 immigration restrictions, and other immigration policies that were generally grounded in an anglo-saxon vision of what became the fad in the 1920s 100% americanism. smith and his admirers took this agenda in 1924 to the democratic national convention. there they hoped to have al smith run for the nomination to try and fort william smith mcadoo who was the son of -- son-in-law of woodrow wilson. and at that convention, it was mcadoo against smith.
it was the rural west and south democratic party versus the big city north and mid western democratic party. it was the northeastern cities against the klan. it was a battle against this idea of 100% americanism. they had a big debate on whether or not to have a plank of the democratic party platform in 1924 denouncing the ku klux klan by name. and the debate raged and people were booing and yelling at each other. there were fist fights on the floor of the convention. by the way, smith and his allies had home court advantage because it was being held at madison square garden in the heart of manhattan, and so tammany hall packed the arena with all their pals from the lower east side and everywhere else, east side, west side, all around the town. so they were heckling the
southern speakers who were defending the klan, then a young georgia delegate gave a speech in which he said, if you're a true southerner, we need to move on and we need to stand up against the klan. and the northerners were cheering them, and they tried to press into the georgia delegation to shake his hand. the other southerners wouldn't even cheer for their fellow georgian. and as the rhode island delegation was pressing into the georgia delltation, the house band started playing the famous and popular tribute to general sherman marching through georgia. this did not go over very well with the southern delegates. there were over 100 ballots in the sweltering july heat in madison square garden. they ended up with a candidate john w. davis. in the midst of the chaos,
three-time presidential loser william jennings bryan, a year away from his grave, had taken to the podium, reprimanding the rowdy tammanyites, saying if the present democratic party failed in its historic mission against privilege, quote, some other party will grow up to carry on those issues and take our place. but, he added, that new party will never find the leaders of a noble cause in the gallery. it surely would be carried on but not by these big city hooligans. and this is the key. which direction was the democratic party poised to turn? to the past, to bryan, to the klan, or to some unknown future? we take for granted today that
the democrats were going to become the party of fdr and of liberalism and eventually of pluralism. none of this was clear in the 1920s when the plank rejecting the klan got rejected. they couldn't even reject the klan by name in 1924. the previous election, their nominee, governor cox of ohio, denounced hyphenated americanism, so there is no guarantee the democrats will become this party of pluralism. but al smith and his growing cohort of admirers had a vision. despite smith's loss at the convention, 1925 turned out to be a good year for al smith. he was re-elected governor of the state with a landslide, including new york which calvin coolidge won hands down. from 1925 forward, smith was a national figure and a serious contender for the next presidential nomination.
of course, what is better known about this whole process is the religious question and understandably so. by 1927 it became increasingly clear that despite al smith's intent to focus on his policy agenda, and he made this clear time and again, his religion remained fundamental to his national reputation. anticipating an al smith presidential bid, alabama senator thomas heflin pictured here, a fellow democrat and a noted anti-catholic assailed the governor of new york on the floor of the senate in 1927. he later got into an argument on the floor with daniel steck of iowa on how to pronounce steck's home state. now heflin was sent to a national speaking tour partly funded by the klan in 1928.
this would become par for the course for senator heflin. but the following month an essay was published in "the atlantic" by charles marshall questioning whether a roman catholic president could uphold the constitution and respect religious freedom. smith saw this as an opportunity. he composed a rejoinder. he hoped he had put the issue to rest that he was a patriot also as well as a faithful catholic. and he continued to ground his presidential ambitions in his progressive agenda and in his gubernatorial resume. in fact, i go a step further. i argue that the heart of smith's presidential aspirations was this specialized progressive agenda growing out of his years as governor of the empire state. his campaign, in other words,
represented a nationalization of the peculiar version of progressivism that al had in new york. on the one hand, the literature's focus on smith as a cultural symbol was indeed warmed. he was the first catholic to secure a major party nomination. bludgeoned the ku klux klan and challenged immigration quotos. his campaign theme song was the sidewalks of new york, and his trademark brown derby, along with his perpetual cigar, became staples within contemporary political iconography. clearly cultural battles over alcohol and urbanism and particularly over smith's catholic faith were of great significance in 1928, and i'm
guessing many of you, most of you, probably already knew that. these things were important. they clearly mattered to voters, as you can see in this cartoon. the klan really did burn crosses in opposition to smith when his train arrived in some states. and the democrats really did use these cultural wedges to try and attract new stock voters into their party. not just catholics, either, but jewish voters, african-american voters as well, making the 1928 campaign an unprecedentedly pluralistic one. the tomb of the unknown soldier, which was dedicated 97 years ago yesterday, was a powerful and potent symbol of this pluralism. for example, one of smith's many proteges in new york, the mayor of new york city, jimmy walker, proclaimed of the tomb of the unknown soldier that, quote, no one knew what color he was and no one knew where he went to church.
similarly, boston's once and future mayor james michael curley displayed an image of the monument at his headquarters with the sardonic caption, what a tragedy if we should learn he was a jew, catholic or negro. it is essential to recognize, however, that far from monopolizing the debate, such questions provided an opening wedge for al smith and his allies to pursue more in-depth discussion of other issues that in the context of their time represented important idealogical divisions between the parties, especially between the parties' nominees. this is where historians, generally speaking, have gotten it wrong. they've dismissed al smith's policy ideas either as unimportant or unserious or not
significantly different from those of herbert hoover, and that's, if you dig into the history and his governorship and what he's saying on the campaign trail and how people are responding, that's simply not correct. as i show in depth in chapter 3, al smith went into great detail enunciating his ideas on policy, waterpower, labor relations, tariff issues, administrative reform, something he had engaged in in new york and hoped to take to the federal level. on all of these questions and others he challenged the status quo. and he presented in the form of his progressive governorship the blueprints, sometimes vague, sometimes very specific, but always the blueprints in his governor -- his gubernatorial resume of an alternative approach to national administration.
indeed, as i show in chapters 3, 4 and 5, the new democrats of 1928, the urban ethnic workers who were voting as a bloc for alfred e. smith were fully aware of his progressive approach to economic issues. and these voters supported al smith based not only on their biographical similarity and their mutual disdain for prohibition, but also -- those things matter -- but also what mattered was an emerging political idealogy that was shape the new perspective of american workers and eventually transform them into new deal democrats. this is important to recognize because since urban ethnic workers were voting for al smith based not exclusively on cultural issues but also on economic and welfare and labor concerns, and since, as i demonstrate in the book with all sorts of statistics i won't bore
you with here, those voters eventually went on to become the heart of the fdr coalition. what all this means is that the 1928 election should be viewed as one in which a new coalition began to materialize around principles that would inform the new deal and provide the basis of democratic policy for decades. in the midst of the very real and very meaningful cultural struggles of 1928, the smith campaign would, as francis perkins prophesied at the time set the ideas around the country. so you could have pluralism and economic reform in the same candidate. as i pointed out, and this was important, it wasn't just smith's fellow irish catholics who were paying attention, and that mattered as well.
for a long time, the irish had dominated big city machines, especially in the northeast, and they had done so with a sort of klannish insularity, and a lot of ethnics had aligned with the republicans and the irish and canadians in new england became staunch republicans in rhode island, for example, partly because of rivalries with the irish both within the catholic church and within politics and the catholic church. and it's in other parts of the country, as well, not just new england. but now these groups were starting to make common cause. in an african-american newspaper, they said the klan opposed to the catholics, jews or negroes holding public office. let the real americans rise up and take down such a doctrine. they reminded their mostly catholic readers that
republicans were warring against all catholics, foreigners, and negroes, one of smith's most prominent supporters was one of the best-known rabbis at the time, rabbi stephen s. wise, who said going after smith as a catholic, his opponents were going after the americanism of diverse different groups, including jewish americans. and there's something else to point out, and that is that these groups understood that the campaign was about these cultural issues as well as about economic issues. so this is a pretty typical cartoon, actually. this is from the baltimore american, and you can see what they think of herbert hoover. he is nesting with the klan and racial prejudices and bigotries. but look who else, industrial democracy. there is an understanding that there are numerous issues at
stake here. and, indeed, the baltimore afro-american pointed this out several times on their pages. they always had a working class audience and a working class editorial disposition. and so they recognized that the people being excluded culturally were also often the same people who were being left behind by the '20s economy, those for whom the '20s weren't roaring for them as much as other people. so the boston noted, quote, the chevrolets, used cars, et cetera, are for al smith. the studebakers, packards, lincolns, et cetera, are for hoover. or as the black nationalist marcus garvey put it, smith is a
man who has sprung from the common people. he knows their wants and their heartbeats and their pulse. hoover has been pampered by the monopolist class. he himself is a millionaire. he can only see power from the capitalist point of view. the '20s didn't roar for everybody. poverty and even being just on the rungs of the working class tended to intersect with cull chrl marginalization by religion, by ethnicity, by race. so smith's campaign, which dealt with both economics and culture, was a holistic one. and that is the key to understanding why people responded to him the way they did. grassroots passion translated into enthusiastic receptions for smith at campaign stops around the country.
welcomes for the democrat were compared favorably to the only similarly triumphal display of unbridled diffusion in recent memory, welcome parades for aviator charles lindbergh. they described the riot for smith in chicago where a huge crowd gathered at the train station to thunder their approval of the new yorker. in decreasingly republican philadelphia, which once had been a rock-ribbed republican city, but that was start to go break down in 1928, hundreds of thousands jammed the sidewalks and cheered like a tidal wave as smith made his way to deliver what was described as a striking speech before a wildly enthusiastic crowd. no democrat even bothered to campaign in philadelphia in 20 years, no democratic presidential nominee, i should say. new yorkers, of course, aren't going to be outdone, and they responded to these developments with a clamorous reception of their own. a crowd of 45,000 approached delirium during smith's brooklyn speech while 20,000 yelling voices granted smith described
by new york papers as an ovation -- the biggest ovation of his campaign at madison square garden. outside the halls, 2 million new yorkers greeted their governor as he paraded triumphantly down the streets of his hometown to conclude his campaign. al smith, during this whole campaign, where they're contrary to the declaration of independence where he held dear, but he was also running on his gubernatorial record. this cartoon, i love this cartoon, because it makes my whole argument for me. and the point is that al smith was effective at communicating that record to a broader
national audience in 1928. i gave you an example, i'll give you two more. joseph f. nolan of westfield, new jersey, an irish american, first time voter, explained to the newark evening news that smith's gubernatorial resume was, and i'm quoting, ample proof of visibility. if that record is indicative of what is to be expected of him in the event of his election, the united states is destined for one of the most distinguished administrations in its history. this recognition that smith wanted to take his show on the road was bipartisan politicians mocked smith's liberal administration of new york. his nickname has been had been the happy warrior, a name given to him by franklin roosevelt. they mocked him in new england
as the happy spender. some working class writers in those same states scolded their republican governors for their miserly administration, citing the many benefits of smith's more prodigal approach. indeed, despite the dismissiveness of some scholars who don't take these ideas seriously and they see it as all about the cultural issues, which matter but they're not the whole story. despite that, working class americans understood what smith and hoover stood for. there's a wonderful speech that i stumbled upon in these boxes and folders within the boxes of letters to al smith and one was from a high school girl from springfield, massachusetts. polish american girl. catherine coughski, who sent al smith a copy of the smith he had made at her high school debate
on who should be the next president of the united states. this is not some politico. this is not some member of the party. some democratic hack. some editorialist. people understand what's going on. here's what she said. on the enactment of a legislative program, he has been able to protect the man, woman and child engaged in industry. he has improved the public health, attained the finest standard of public service. this could only be attained with his leadership. the governor has provided during his eight years as governor of new york, his desire and power to make the people as interest nd the government as the people himself. he's been through hardships himself. between him and the people is that bond which makes them trust him with their loyalty and their love. now of course you know how it ends. al smith lost in a landslide.
however, what i have found and what i hope i demonstrate in chapters four and five of this book, sorry, i had a visual. what i hope that i've shown you here tonight is that not only were millions of new working class recent immigrant voters becoming democrats in 1928 and not only would they remain so for several generations, but also most al smith voters understood the democratic candidate as representing both cultural pluralism and social and economic reform. and most of those voters were clamoring for both by 1928. this combination of empowerment with social welfare appeals, had been the formula of the governorship and it was the
platform from which he sought the presidency. in 1928, al smith nationalized his particular brand offing progressiveness. and while he went down to a bitter defeat that year, as you can see, the ideas he promoted were taken up by his enthusiastic supporters and through their efforts and the efforts of their political representatives. especially sort of in the in the middle ranks of congress, up and coming new cohort politicians. through their efforts, his ideas infused the reforms of the new deal with those earlier progressive priorities and helped transform american politics and eventually, american life. thank you. very much for being here and i'll take a few questions. [ applause ] >> thank you very much for that
really fascinating and incredibly rich discussion of things that i knew little about. but that's also not my area of the world. so we now have plenty of time for question and answer. and so i will now invite the audience to pepper dr. childs with questions to expand upon our understanding. >> relative to the last slide, how do you explain the fact that with his anti-klan position he won all of the southern states or most. >> actually, if we can go back to that, this is a very important story. so, he's the first democrat since reconstruction who didn't carry not tennessee, harding carried tennessee, but north carolina, virginia, florida. he's the first democrat in history who didn't carry texas. the only reason he carried arkansas was joe robinson, his
running mate. he barely carried alabama. in south carolina, it's pretty sure they cheated. there are counties that -- i mean, in the deep south, they vote democratic. there's a whole -- actually, it's not my next project, but the one after this, one of the sequels is this campaign in the south. because i've already written it. and what happens is there are, they're a different set of complex factors in the deep south. it's who's the greater party for white supremacy. the republicans are still the party of lincoln. the republicans are still the party of reconstruction. and so democratic politicos in the deep south can campaign on, we understand we don't like this guy. but if you let them take over the federal government and keep it by sundering the solid south, then all is lost. on the other hand, the republicans are flirting with a lily white policy, purging black delegates from their ranks. so it's basically both parties in the south.
it's a sort of, the south is always a sort of real life counterfactual in these years and at this time, it's the opposite of everything i described. what's interesting, i'll talk about this tonight, but there is something about this in the book. farmers, just like textile workers and certain other sectors including mining, farmers had a terrible 1920s. there was no roaring '20s for farmers. these states were a lot closer than they should have been, but they stayed democratic. these stayed republican. smith did very well in the wheat belt and corn belt, but also among struggling cotton farmers. how much of this is race, economics? how much of this is prohibition or catholicism? that's a balance and that's when you have to get into the weeds, but that's really the answer. it's not a short answer, but it's a medium length answer to your question. that is a very good question. always important to address the south. they made me cut the chapter on
the south. i guess i shouldn't say that. any way. if you're interested, it will be out, eventually. yes. >> i have no idea. only time will tell. it couldn't hurt. but i stick with the past because i have trouble predicting the future. other questions? yes, sir. >> what were the republicans doing so well that just had a huge landslide? >> well, in most of the country, the economy was rather robust. it's not as universal as a textbook might paint it, but a lot of part of the economy were quite strong and so hoover is seen as the genius behind the harding coolidge prosperity and it was his system.
he and melon, the treasury secretary, are both widely lauded and rightly so. in the moment, it was working well. you probably know how it turns out. it seemed to be going very well at the time. also, herbert hoover, among some progressives, was seen as a progressive. so some of those social work women actually said well, it's basically a tie and the tie goes to hoover because he's against prohibition. a lot of the social work women were in favor of prohibition. so some noted social workers, most famously, jane adams, were in favor of hoover. so it's not like everybody of the progressive inclination gravitates to smith. then part of it was the ethno cultural issues. we don't want a catholic in the white house. we don't want to end prohibition. by this stage, most people aren't obeying prohibition, but the saying was that they live
wet and they vote dry. right. and so it's that sort of cognitive dissonance that's part ol cultural politics often. but the economy for many people was doing quite well outside of certain sector, but there were warning signs if people were paying attention, which they weren't. most people weren't. other questions or thoughts. >> so this is based on a rather dim recollection of u.s. history. my understanding is that the explanation for the switch from this landslide for hoover to roosevelt's dramatic victory, that's generally put down to the depression, but are you offering a different argument, that the progressive coalition that smith built in '28 was already moving the country in that direction? >> well, you needed the depression in order to make the roosevelt landslide happen.
but what i'm arguing is that this was going to shape the course that things took once events changed. does that make sense? so, smith couldn't win this way. that's obvious enough. but if you look, this is why i spend a lot of time in new england. because in new england, the depression's already going on. they interviewed textile workers 50 years later. one time during the depression, they're talking about 1927. they're not talking about '29, '30, '31. they don't need the stock market to crash to they will them they're suffering. the same thing with farmers and other sectors. and so in new england, it's sort of a nice case study on you have the right political and economic atmospherics, what are the potentialties of what smith is doing in '28? by '32, his ideas were out there. he had won over the majority of voters, not the majority of
these districts, but the majority of voters in the 11 biggest cities in america, all of which harding had won. he had won over, you saw massachusetts and rhode island had switched. people often remark he didn't even win new york. new york was a very republican state in presidential voting at this time. smith was an aberration and new york was a lot closer than it normally was. so it's moving in a certain direction, but once the depression hits, first of all, fdr is not like what would al smith have done, i'll do this now. fdr needs to deal with the depression, right? that's his job. that's what the 100 days are about. well let's look and see what ems smith has done. as the new deal goes on, his coalition in congress, his supporters are the hard of his political base is the people who rose to prominence within the smith coalition and they'll shape the direction that things move as time goes on.
so it's a little more, there are those who say sort of bluntly, smith makes the new deal and that's, no. that's going, that's being too enthusiastic. but this sort of helps shape the political dynamic moving forward, which is just as important and robust an argument. just has nuance to it. yes, ma'am. >> why did you, how did you get interested in this topic? >> oh, mercy. you really should. well, some of you know, including you, that i, i fell in love with a young lady from long island and i would go visit her dad's house and he's here. and a bunch of things on long
island named after robert moses. who the heck is robert moses. so i read the power broker, a beautiful book, pretty harsh, but well done. and 2,000 pages later, i knew who robert moses was, but he had a good analysis of al smith and he introduces some of the themes i delved into about smith and administrative reform. so actually, long island beaches and robert carrow reminded me there had been this character, al smith, that was mentioned for a few minutes in my excellent high school history class and not at all in college history classes so i thought i knew more about this guy and few years later, here we are. so that's the short version of that story. >> later after his presidential
campaign and fdr is president, al smith actually opposed some of the new deal policies that he seemed to sew the seeds for in his campaign. what happened? >> that's right. you've made an important point. the book has sort of a sad ending. and so, historians debate this. some historians argue, for those who aren't aware, after fdr's in power, smith, after by late '34 into '35, '36, turns against him. campaigns for republican in 1936. first time in his life. and what in the world is going on? some historians argued that smith always had an inherent conservatism. if you read anything about him as governor, that just doesn't make sense. some historians argue and some
of the people who knew him, argue there was an element of personal bitterness. smith lost new york state in 1928. fdr barely carried it to the elected governor and fdr, smith thought he was going to be the sort of gray imminence of new york and sort of run it behind the scenes and fdr was like i'm the governor now. i like you, but it's my turn and smith sort of resented this. in '32, smith wanted to run for president again. fdr bested him. and the other part is the voices around him were changing. his whole career, his whole job, was to help people from the lower east side as an assemblyman. later on, to help the people of new york state. after he stopped being governor, he was broke and his friends including john rascome, who was a very conservative former republican who had become chair of the dnc because he add mired his fund raising capabilities. he helped smith become the first president of the empire state building.
and so now when the depression hits, his job is not to help people get through the depression. it's to sell real estate to struggling businessmen in an empty skyscraper and his view of depression becomes very different. so there are a lot of competing arguments. the cop out argument for me is well, this isn't technically a biography, so that's it. but the fact is what's important about it is you've hit on something and i argue this and not all historians agree, he did change. this is, what he's doing 34, 35, 36, is a break from his past and fdr was bemused and remarked to frances perkins, what's going on? everything that he had done is what al had done as president. it's a good question. we'll never know the -- the other thing i'll just point out.
if you want a happier ending for the smith story, robert slayton writes a biography that goes to the end. he lived until 1944. it's a really good biography. i don't agree on everything, but it's a really good, solid biography. he says look, as things were going badly in europe, smith's one of the ones who speaks out after crystal and he says we've got to support fdr on the war efforts. even if he's not supporting him politically. so he does step up when some of the other people don't and the other thing is he didn't completely change parties. he's always a tammany guy. still best friends with robert wagner, although they're constantly arguing with each other by the late '30s. in 1934, they had a gubernatorial election in new york and smith supported the very liberal democrat, herbert lehman, over the republican, his former protege, robert moses, who he could have easily supported.
so it's more of an fdr thing, i think, but i can't read it in mind, but that would be my speculation. lots of hands. yes, sir. >> tammany is pretty well-known for being corrupt. >> yes. more of an fdr thing i think. i can't read his mind, that would be my speculation. lots of hands. yes sir. >> he is well known for being corrupt. how is it that smith and wagner avoided that and were successful? >> it's a great point, essential-y there was a new regeneration and they were the leaders of it, smith and wagner. who said we could use power not simply to plunder the municipal treasury but to help people where we came from. and also, charlie murphy.
who you saw a picture of him he gave them a certain degree of ideological autonomy and independence. not always there were certain bills that he would get wagner to stop with if it was not good for a business ally. that was early in the teens, they really did avoid all of that. there was some whisperers this is not in the book, because they're whisper's. in the 19 eighties, that, a businessman who knew the smith was on hard times economically as governor he had he hadn't been corrupt, he's always been on his government salary. was basically giving him this pension so he could live comfortably, so that's kind of -- the person who actually looked into this was done no patrick, because he read about it and was alarmed. basically, there's never been any evidence that there was any quid pro quo or anything. you're right that he and wagner were not crooks.
as best we know. we could find something tomorrow, i think we would've -- hopefully i would've found it. they did avoided that trap, but not all of them. i mentioned demi walker he was part of that generation. if you know new york city history, he went down in flames and got forced out over corruption. they don't completely clean up their act in some ways these guys are special. that's a good question. yes. >> [inaudible] -- >> they weren't opposed to him or anything like that it would've been very difficult to have bishops and things running around, that would have really hurt things. but i do know because i've talked to people who since past, this is only anecdotal, that in catholic schools in new jersey the were all smith posters put up. and factories the bosses had herbert hoover post a off the
outset vote for him and your job is safe, so we can call that a tie. i don't know much about -- if there was a robust hierarchical goal in the campaign, i'm certainly not aware. there were plenty of conspiracy theories at the time that said he's just the pawn of the pope, they have pictures. you saw the one of him kissing the cardinals ring and this makes him not an american. there are plenty of people who thought that was going on, he wasn't running as a pawn of the church. that's -- there still people on the internet who think that, it doesn't take long on google to find them. so -- but -- not true. >> you said at the war women typically sided with hoover. based on prohibition, what was the role of women in house campaign? >> there was a woman -- i didn't even mention her tonight. she's featured prominently in the book. bell was basically his top political adviser. his whole time is governor.
she was the unofficial person running the whole campaign. within the dnc, women and male delegates were 50/50 represented. that does not mean back up for a second -- once women's suffrage becomes constitutional, once the 19 amendment both of the parties freaked out. there is a freighters going to be a woman vote, if all the women vote for one side or the other, our side is in trouble. they scramble to get as much women involved as possible. in the 20s, they're doing things like -- this is part of the continuation of that trend. by the late twenties they realize there's not gonna be a woman vote, so they start to be more dismissive. but in the meantime, some of the men would do things without consulting the women. for example, choosing john rascal of the chair of the dnc. they left out the woman. it's not like this is a wonderful moment of gender
equality. women -- lillian and jane adams with the hoover's quarter. they had basically an agreement. since we both agree to disagree, neither of us will campaign actively. which is neither of them actually followed the agreement, because writes letters to hundreds of so -- dozens of social workers and they sent a mass letter that goes to people all over the country. they send letters all around the country on smith's behalf, frances perkins speaks actively touring the country speaking on his behalf. as does molly who becomes out of the national consumers league and becomes a prominent new dealer. women actually do play my next project -- married theresa norton of new jersey one of the few female congress members. she's campaigning actively. women do play a role in the campaign. it is recognized at the time, even though bell was behind the
scenes. newspapers comment on how she is his political brains. actually, that's another part of the answer to his switch, she dies very early in the fdr administration. so who knows, but that probably didn't help either. yes. >> you spoke a bit earlier about the idea of parties campaigning in states that have kind of been ignored in the past. keeping in mind the current political climate, is there perhaps some forgotten knowledge that politicians today are like real learning? that we could take from the situation? >> that's a great question, it's a dangerous question but it's a great one. i will take a swing at it. there are few things that can be learned here. number one, we have this
regrettable tendency in our political discourse today just like the historians looking back at 1928, to say, these people are voting based on this issue. and normal people don't vote based on this issue, some people do, fanatics, and bigots. most people are not fanatics and bigots. like most people are trying to get through the day, i hope most people aren't targets and bigots. people are complicated, their lives are messy. i think that's the first thing. class issues still matter, cultural identity matters, marginalized groups are still often at the bottom of the economic pyramid or whatever metaphor you want to use. i think savvy politicians could recognize that and perhaps do a lot of good. forgotten areas, i think that's
another key point. either party in the last few cycles has done better when they reach out to areas where they tended to avoid. when the democrats took that congress in the bush years, they went to purple america and red states. when donald trump was elected president, he went into formerly blue states. expanding the map matters, i think that's right. even more to your question, when you're talking with people you have to really understand -- you have to try at least. i'll smith was authentic city, he understood it. he didn't always translate, he could talk about the problems of the poor farmers but a lot of them were like this guy doesn't really get it. you have to have a certain authenticity to, i think that something that contemporary
politicians would do well to heed. hopefully i've navigated that minefield, other questions? >> was alex smith married did he have a family? >> he was married, his wife was katie smith she died a bit before him, and actually fdr sent him a nice note after she died. because they were coming back together towards the end. he had gosh, for children i want to say. there was an all smith, he was actually all smith he has a couple of daughters. he had children and they lived with him at the state house and they had a wedding. there were beautiful pictures of his daughter's wedding at the cut at the cathedral. the albany cathedral is basically right next door to the governor's mansion. actually, al smith walk next
door and said he had a special pew in the front row where he would sit. there are pictures the whole cathedral is just inundated with flowers. yes he did have a family, he and his wife from all the other -- very much in love and devoted. he had a number of children and grandchildren, lovely pictures of him with his grandkids at the beach. the thirties aren't really about al smith -- the thirties are about al smith being an elder statesman of the smith family. i'm actually glad you brought this up there is a happy memory to, it's him and his grandkids. he doesn't like the way things have turned, he's resentful probably of fdr, that's not really the point. he's a human being just like the people i'm talking about are human beings i'm glad you gave us an opportunity to address that. that's a great point. >> children or grandchildren?
[inaudible] >> afterward i worked up the courage to send a copy of the book and a letter to al smith the fourth. and his wife sent me a very nice note back saying he was enjoying the book. if i ever speak in connecticut or new york to let them know. i'll have a further answer to you hopefully at some point in the future. was there another? >> given all of the influence that women had on him keeping lines of the family, was his wife influential idol? in his career of politics. >> she was a sort of -- she wasn't like eleanor roosevelt. she's not an eleanor roosevelt. but she's there on the campaign trail with him. as best i've understood, she was definitely in accord with
both his religious and political views. eleanor roosevelt is eleanor roosevelt. so -- >> i was going to say, his success as a governor politically, in all the ways, and his support of the common person. how would you compare -- or what would you see as his secret that you would give to present day governors? >> i really do think it's the question of authenticity. that i mentioned before. i think he really does genuinely care about -- he's moved -- and curiosity to. because he's not well educated in a formal sense. and i said his first term as the states delegate didn't go well. he stayed in his hotel room and studied new york law, and
learned to be this master of how legislation works. the curiosity being interested in how government works. how you can use it to help people. also authenticity. both from your own experience, whatever that means. it means different things for different people. also than authentically caring about people. that takes him to the factories to see these horrible conditions, he's moved. when he goes out even to rural new york, he cares about the conditions that he sees and that he reads about. even people who are from very different walks of life than smith, he gets letters from the northern new york sportsman's association, because of his conservation. they say, you really understand what we're trying to do. he's not one of the sort of outdoorsman from the arid -- he could understand and care
about these issues. i think those would be the basics. any other? great questions thank you very much. [applause] thank you for all your questions, i would like to thank you all once again for coming here to the hall here this evening. thank you one last time for the wonderful top. [applause] if you like to talk a little bit afterwards he hears for a little while. you can still probably see him out in the hall they're. weeknights this month on
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change the soviet union. but reagan met him halfway reagan encouraged him reagan supported him. >> freedom of the press which we'll get to later i will mention madison originally called it freedom of the use of the press, it's freedom to print things and publish things. it is not a freedom of what we now refer to as institution as the press. >> lectures in history on american history tv on it, on c-span 3. every saturday at 8 pm eastern. lectures in history is also available as a podcast. find it where you listen to podcasts. this week on q&as, presidential historian richard norton smith, he discusses his book an uncommon man. the triumph of herbert hoover.