Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America

Article excerpt

Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America. By Brian Lewis Crispell. (Athens, Ga., and London: University of Georgia Press, c. 1999. Pp. xx, 234. $35.00, ISBN 0-8203-2103-6.)

History has not been kind to George Smathers. He has been anathema to enlightened opinion ever since he routed Claude Pepper at the polls and spent three Senate terms consorting with John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Bobby Baker, Richard Nixon, and Rafael Trujillo. The entrenched character of anti-Smathers prejudice suggests the need for a reconsideration of the Florida senator; such is the thrust of Brian Lewis Crispell's brief biography, Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America.

Crispell concentrates almost exclusively on the years from 1945 to 1968. There is one short chapter on the years before 1945 and an even briefer epilogue about Smathers's life after 1968. The central theme of the biography is that Smathers was a leader of the World War II generation. The author is highly sympathetic to his subject. Specifically, Crispell advances three claims: first, that Smathers ran a clean campaign against Pepper in 1950; second, that Smathers was a shaper of both domestic and foreign policy during his Senate years; and, third, that Smathers was a moderate on civil rights. Crispell is most successful with the first of these three contentions. Like other liberal icons of the period who met with disaster--for example, Helen Gahagan Douglas, Alger Hiss, and Adlai Stevenson--Pepper earned his defeat. The author convincingly demonstrates that Smathers ran an aggressive but fair campaign while an oblivious Pepper swam against the conservative tide with his foot in his mouth. …

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