Alfred Emanuel Smith (1873-1944)

By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!

When Jerry MacGuire said Al Smith was involved, General Smedley Butler thought it “incredible that the derby-hatted ‘happy warrior,’… [from] New York’s East Side slums, could be involved in a fascist plot” (Jules Archer, 1973). Smith’s pivotal role in the American Liberty League (ALL) had also shocked many. How could a poor Bowery boy get mixed up with America’s ultraright millionaires?

Smith was not just involved in the ALL, he helped found it. In fact, he and Irénée du Pont were its codirectors and their meetings were at Smith’s New York offices. How did this leading Democrat get wrapped up in such a plot to oust the president?

Smith, a Democratic politician since his days in New York’s state assembly (1904-1915), was New York’s governor four times (1919-1921, 1923-1929). in 1920, he was the party’s presidential candidate. In 1924, FDR nominated Smith for the president but he lost to J.P. Morgan attorney, John W. Davis.

In 1928, again nominated by FDR, Smith became the first Catholic presidential candidate for a major party. His campaign against Republican Herbert Hoover was divisive for the nation and the Democrats. It was a battle between Catholic and Protestant, Repeal (wet) and Prohibition (dry), urban and rural, North and South. Smith stood for wet forces and was linked to millionaire-funded Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA). Smith’s campaign manager, General Motor’s John Raskob, was a top AAPA organizer and former Democratic Party chair. The Ku Klux Klan, then a powerful force, especially in the rural South, promoted Hoover’s dirty campaign against Smith, the wet, urban, Northern “Papist.”

In 1930, Raskob formed the Empire State Building Co., to finance its construction. He hired Smith as its president. In the 1932 contest for the Democrat’s presidential candidate, Smith lost to FDR. When FDR became president, Smith moved even further right. In Congressional testimony, deleted from the Committee’s public report, Butler testified that Gerry MacGuire told him about Smith’s connection to the plot. “Al Smith is getting ready to assault the Administration in his magazine. It will appear in a month or so. He is going to take a shot at the money question. He has definitely broken with the President.” MacGuire’s prediction was correct. About a month later, Smith did break with FDR and he used his magazine, New Outlook, to editorialize against the New Deal.

In 1936, Smith was the keynote speaker at the ALL’s gala banquet. Democratic Senator Schwellenbach tried to stop him from giving in to “the temptation of following the advice of J.P. Morgan, John Raskob and Pierre du Pont and all the rest of these rascals and crooks” that controlled the ALL. He compared du Pont and Raskob to the “racketeers...who were finally put in the penitentiary because... they evaded their income taxes” (Gerard Colby, Du Pont Dynasty, 1984).

Colby describes the dinner as the “most famous political gathering of American industrialists and financiers in the twentieth century.” Smith warned the 2,000 attendees that FDR was moving towards communism:

"There can be only one capital, Washington or Moscow…. There can be only the clear, pure, fresh air of a free America, or the foul breath of communistic Russia. There can be only one flag, the Stars and Stripes, or the flag of the godless union of Soviets. There can be only one national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, or the International."

More than a dozen du Pont family members basked in Smith’s words and led a standing ovation. This was just the simplistic vision that these corporatists wanted. And who better to deliver their message than this long-time Democrat? Pierre du Pont told the press: “It was perfect, he gave a splendid definition of democracy.” Because the media, like Smith, was largely controlled by Wall Street, the papers aided Smith’s attack on FDR.

After failing to stop FDR’s 1936 presidential renomination, Smith quit the Democrats and joined Republican Alf Landon’s losing campaign. Smith also cozied up with the bankers even more and became chairman of the Bank of New York, County Trust Co.


Bernard Hirschhorn, "Review: FDR and His Enemies, by Albert Fried, 2001," White House Studies, Summer 2002.

L. Wolfe, FDR vs. the Banks, The American Almanac, July 11, 1994

David Kyvig, Repealing National Prohibition, 1979

Jules Archer, The Plot to Seize the White House, 1973

Gerard Colby, Du Pont Dynasty, 1984

Political Graveyard Database

Source: Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue # 53, "Facing the Corporate Roots of American Fascism," March 2004. Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.

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