Mr. Smith Runs for President, 1928

al smithWhen Al Smith ran for President of the United States in 1928, and lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover, it was said he was defeated by “The Three Ps: Prohibition (which he was against), Prejudice (he was Catholic), and Prosperity (less of an issue when the Great Depression began in October 1929).

Smith, grandson of poor Irish and Italian immigrants, faced fierce opposition from the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, Ku Klux Klan (St. Francis de Sales third Pastor, Reverend Gatens, also resisted the Klan at his previous assignment in Pottsville, PA in 1927 – defiantly constructing a Catholic school with cross-shaped windows on their favorite cross-burning hill). In addition, Smith faced the “Anti-Saloon League” – reportedly often the same individuals – who wanted the government to continue restricting all access to alcoholic beverages.

The November 1929 St. Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin published an excerpt from Smith’s book, in which he described some of the tactics used against him:

It is amazing in this day and age that such countless thousands of people are so stupid as to believe the absolutely false and senseless propaganda that was whispered around during the last campaign. It has its humorous side…A  prominent citizen of Georgia… told me that in certain churches in that state they had pictures of me attending the ceremonies incident to the opening of the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, and…opponents of mine were able to convince large numbers of people that the tunnel was actually to be constructed not to New Jersey but into the basement of the Vatican in Rome in the event of my election.

The Holland Tunnel is approximately two miles long and cost forty-eight million dollars, or nearly twenty-five million dollars a mile…and here we have voting citizens of a sovereign state actually believing that…it would be possible for people to travel (3500 miles) under the Atlantic Ocean between Rome and New York. One man made the deliberate statement over the radio that a convent in New Jersey was purchased by the Catholic Church as the American residence of the Pope in the event of my election.”

Do times change?

Since 1945, the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation in New York has celebrated Al Smith’s memory with an annual October white-tie benefit for Catholic Charities. The fancy dinner is attended by both Democrat and Republican politicians, who traditionally offer humorous speeches, gently making fun of themselves, right before elections. In presidential election years, this is generally the last time opposing candidates appear in public together before voting day. This year’s 2018 keynote speaker was Nikki Haley, the soon-to-be-former U.N. Ambassador.

The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 954 hate groups active in the United States in 2017.

 

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