Smith, Alfred Emanuel

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Smith, Alfred Emanuel

Alfred Emanuel Smith, 1873–1944, American political leader, b. New York City. Reared in poor surroundings, he had no formal education beyond grade school and took various jobs—including work in the Fulton fish market—to help support his family. In 1895, through the help of a Tammany district leader, he was appointed a clerk in the office of the county commissioner of jurors. As a member (1904–15) of the New York state assembly, he took a prominent role in state Democratic politics, became (1913) speaker of the assembly, and gained a reputation for progressive policies. He was (1915–17) sheriff of New York co. and then was elected (1917) president of the New York City Board of Aldermen, the predecessor of the City Council.

In 1918, Smith was elected governor of New York. He was defeated for reelection in 1920 but regained the office in 1922 and was reelected twice again (1924, 1926). He proved a forceful and well-liked governor and achieved a much-needed overhauling of the state bureaucracy and passage of much reform legislation. In 1928, Smith, helped by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, won the Democratic nomination for president, the first Roman Catholic to receive this recognition. An ugly campaign ensued in which virulent anti-Catholic prejudice played a major part.

After his defeat by Herbert Hoover, Smith retired to private life, becoming (1929) president of the firm that owned and operated the Empire State Building in New York City. He also served (1932–34) as editor of the magazine New Outlook. He became a bitter opponent of President F. D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies and supported the Republican presidential candidates in 1936 and 1940. Smith was the author of Up to Now (1929).

See biographies by F. Graham (1945), E. S. Warner (1956), O. Handlin (1958, repr. 1987), M. Josephson (1969), R. O'Connor (1970), R. A. Slayton (2001), and C. M. Finan (2002); F. D. Roosevelt, The Happy Warrior (1928).

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