Our country has achieved its great growth and become a model for the nations of the world under a system of party government. It would be difficult to predict what might be the evil consequences if that system were changed. If it is to survive, campaigns for the presidency must be fought out on issues really affecting the welfare and well-being and future growth of the country. In a presidential campaign there should be but two considerations before the electorate: The platform of the party, and the ability of the candidate to make it effective.
In this campaign an effort has been made to distract the attention of the electorate from these two considerations and to fasten it on malicious and un-American propaganda.
I shall tonight discuss and denounce that wicked attempt. I shall speak openly on the things about which people have been whispering to you.
A former Senator from your own State, a member of my own party, has deserted the party which honored him, upon the pretense, as he states it, that because I am a member of Tammany Hall I am not entitled to your support for the high office to which I have been nominated. Here tonight I challenge both the truth and the sincerity of that pretense. I brand it as false in fact. I denounce it as a subterfuge to cover treason to the fundamentals of Jeffersonian Democracy and of American liberty.
What Mr Owen personally thinks is of no account in this campaign. He has, however, raised an issue with respect to my record with which I shall deal tonight without mincing words. I know what lies behind this pretense of Senator Owen and his kind and I shall take that up later.
What he says, however, has been seized upon by the enemies of the Democratic Party and the foes of progressive government. They have thus made my record an issue in this campaign. I do not hesitate to meet that issue. My record is one of which I am justly proud and it needs no defense. It is one upon which I am justified in asking your support.
For the present, let us examine the record upon which has beaten the light of pitiless publicity for a quarter of a century. I am willing to submit it to you and to the people of this country with complete confidence.
Twenty-five years ago I began my active public career. I was then elected to the Assembly, representing the neighborhood in New York City where I was born, where my wife was born, where my five children were born and where my father and mother were born. I represented that district continuously for twelve years, until 1915, when I was elected Sheriff of New York county.
Two years later I was elected to the position of president of the Board of Aldermen, which is really that of vice-mayor of the City of New York.
In 1918 I was selected by the delegates to the State convention as the candidate of the Democratic Party for governor and was elected.
Running for re-election in 1920, I was defeated in the Harding landslide. However, while Mr Harding carried the State of New York by more than 1,100,000 plurality, I was defeated only by some 70,000 votes.
After this defeat I returned to private life, keeping up my interest in public affairs, and accepted appointment to an important State body at the hands of the man who had defeated me.
In 1922 the Democratic Convention, by unanimous vote, renominated me for the third time for governor. I was elected by the record plurality of 387,000, and this in a State which had been normally Republican.
In 1924, at the earnest solicitation of the Democratic presidential candidate, I accepted renomination. The State of New York was carried by President Coolidge by close to 700,000 plurality, but I was elected governor. On the morning after election I found myself the only Democrat elected on the State ticket, with both houses of the Legislature overwhelmingly Republican.
Renominated by the unanimous vote of the convention of 1926, I made my fifth State-wide run for the governorship and was again elected the Democratic governor of a normally Republican State.
Consequently, I am in a position to come before you tonight as the governor of New York finishing out his fourth term.
The record of accomplishment under my four administrations recommended me to the Democratic Party in the nation, and I was nominated for the presidency at the Houston convention on the first ballot.
To put the picture before you completely, it is necessary for me to refer briefly to this record of accomplishment:
In the face of bitter Republican opposition, I succeeded in bringing about a reorganization of the government of the State of New York, consolidating eighty or more scattered boards, bureaus and commissions into nineteen major departments and bringing about efficiency, economy and thorough-going coordination of all the State's activities.
Under it was set up for the first time the Cabinet of the governor.
A drastic reform was secured in the manner and method of appropriating the public money, commonly referred to as the executive budget.
During my legislative career, as well as during my governorship, I sponsored and secured the enactment of the most forward-looking, progressive, humanitarian legislation in the interests of women and children ever passed in the history of the State. I appointed the first Commission on Child Welfare, while Speaker of the Assembly, as far back as 1913.
I had a large part in the enactment of the Workmen's Compensation Law and the rewriting of the factory code, which went as far as government possibly could to promote the welfare, the health and the comfort of the workers in the industrial establishment of our State.
I have stood behind the Department of Education with all the force and all the strength I could bring to my command.
The present Commissioner of Education is a Republican. Any one in Oklahoma, or in any other part of the United States, may write to Frank P Graves, Department of Education, Albany, NY, and ask him the blunt question, 'what governor of that State rendered the greatest service to the cause of public education?' and I am confident he will write back a letter with my name in it.
Figures sometimes speak louder than words. In 1919, my first year in office, the State appropriated to the localities for the promotion of public education $11,500,000. Last year, for the same purpose, I signed bills totalling $86,000,000, an increase in appropriations for public education of $74,500,000 during the period of my governorship.
I have given of my time, my energy and my labor without stint to placing the Department of Public Health upon the highest level of efficiency and usefulness, to bettering the condition of the unfortunate wards of the State hospitals and institutions for the poor, the sick and the afflicted and to the development, over the opposition of a hostile Legislature, of a comprehensive, unified park system, having in mind not only present requirements but the needs and the welfare of the generations to come.
For ten years I battled against bitter Republican opposition to retain for the people of the State of New York the control of their water power, their greatest God-given resources, and have prevented their alienation and preserved them for our people and for our posterity.
I sponsored legislation which brought about reform of the ballot, on the passage of direct primary laws and provisions against corrupt practices in elections.
The first bill for a bonus by the State of New York to the World War veterans was signed during my administration.
Although a city man, I can say to you without fear of contradiction that I did more for agriculture and for its promotion in the State of New York than any governor in recent history. Cooperative marketing was encouraged. New impetus was given to the construction of the State highways. State aid was furnished to towns and counties to bring the farm nearer to the city and, during my terms of office, there was appropriated in excess of $15,000,000 for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis.
The business of the State of New York was handled in a strictly business way. The number of public place holders was cut down. Appointments and promotions were made on a strictly merit basis. In consequence, there was effected a reduction in taxes to the farmer and the small home owner, from 1923 to 1928, of from two mills to one-half mill of the State's levy upon real property, together with a substantial reduction in the income tax.
Public improvements in the State, long neglected under Republican rule, are being carried out at a rate unprecedented in all its history.
Bear in mind that all this was accomplished without the cooperation of the Legislature, because during my entire career as governor both branches of the Legislature have been Republican, except for a period of two years when one branch - the Senate - was Democratic. It was brought about because I took the issues to the people directly and brought the force of public opinion, regardless of party affiliation, to the support of these constructive measures.
During my governorship I have made appointment of scores of men to public office requiring the confirmation of the Senate, and while the Senate was in control of my party in only two out of the eight years I have been governor, not a single appointment of mine was ever rejected.
The reason for this was that I made my appointments to public office in the State of New York without regard to politics, religion or any other consideration except the ability, the integrity and the fitness of the appointee and his capacity properly to serve the State.
Contrast this with the rejection of major appointments made by the president of the United States by a Senate of his own party.
I read in the press only recently that a Republican Congress passed four bills over the veto of the Republican president in one single day. During my entire eight years, the Legislature, hostile to me, never passed a single bill over my veto.
Has there been one flaw in my record, or one scandal of any kind connected with my administration that gives any meaning to this cry of Tammany rule, a cry which thousands of independent and Republican citizens of my own State treat with ridicule and contempt?
The Republican Party will leave no stone unturned to defeat me. I have reduced their organization in the State of New York to an empty shell. At the present time, $60,000,000 of public improvements are in progress in my State. If there was anything wrong or out of the way, does it not strike you, as men and women of common sense, that the Republican Party in New York would leave no stone unturned to bring it to light?
The fact is, they have searched, and searched in vain, for the slightest evidence of improper partisanship or conduct. They found no such thing; they could find no such thing; it did not exist. And in the face of this, Senator Owen and his kind have the nerve and the effrontery not to charge, but merely to insinuate, some evil which they are pleased to call Tammany rule.
One scandal connected with my administration would do more to help out the Republican National Committee in its campaign against me than all the millions of dollars now being spent by them in malicious propaganda. Unfortunately for them, they cannot find it, because the truth is it is not there. I challenge Senator Owen and all his kind to point to one single flaw upon which they can rest their case. But they won't find it. They won't try to find it, because I know what lies behind all this, and I will tell you before I sit down to-night.
I confess I take a just pride in this record. It represents years of earnest labor, conscientious effort and complete self-sacrifice to the public good in some endeavor to show my appreciation and gratitude to the people who have so signally honored me.
Don't you think that I am entitled to ask the people of this country to believe that I would carry into the service of the nation this same devotion and energy and sacrifice which I have given in service to the State? Don't you think that my party is entitled to make this argument to the American people, because it is not only the record itself that speaks in unmistakable language for me, it is the expressed approval of the leading fellow citizens of my State, who have never had the slightest affiliation with Tammany Hall, and many of whom have been its political opponents?
My election to the governorship four times has not been accomplished merely by Democratic votes, because New York is a normally Republican State. I have been elected by the votes of the Democrats, together with the votes of tens of thousands of patriotic, intelligent citizens of all forms of political belief who have placed the welfare of the State above party consideration.
Take the statement of a man who has not supported me for the governorship, Charles Evans Hughes; a statement not made for political purposes, but in presenting me to the Bar Association of New York City. He described me as 'one who represents to us the expert in government and, I might say, a master in the science of politics.'
He said of me, 'the title that he holds is the proudest title that any American can hold, because it is a title to the esteem and affection of his fellow citizens.'
Nicholas Murray Butler, President of Columbia University, in conferring upon me an honorary degree, stated that I was 'alert, effective, public spirited and courageous, constantly speaking the true voice of the people.'
The Very Rev. Howard Crobbins, Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine, stated that I had shown myself, 'a singularly well-balanced, capable and forceful executive.' He added: 'He has been independent and fearless. He has had the interest of all the people of the State at heart and his sincerity and courage have won for him a nationwide recognition.'
Robert Lansing, Secretary of State under President Wilson, said of me: 'His public career is convincing proof that he possesses the true spirit of public service, and is eminently fitted to fill with distinction and ability any office for which he might be chosen candidate.'
Virginia G Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College, stated that I had 'made an excellent governor and shown a knowledge of State affairs which very few of our governors have ever possessed.'
A group of distinguished educators, headed by Prof. John Dewey of Columbia University, said of my record of public education: 'His whole attitude on education has been one of foresight and progress.'
I could tax your patience for the rest of this evening with similar expressions from men and women who are the leaders of thought and affairs in the State of New York, independents in politics, most of them never affiliated with any political organization.
Do Senator Owen and the forces behind him know more about my record than these distinguished men and women who have watched it and studied it? But Senator Owen and his kind are not sincere. They know that this Tammany cry is an attempt to drag a red herring across the trail.
I know what lies behind all this and I shall tell you. I specifically refer to the question of my religion. Ordinarily, that word should never be used in a political campaign. The necessity for using it is forced on me by Senator Owen and his kind, and I feel that at least once in this campaign, I, as the candidate of the Democratic Party, owe it to the people of this country to discuss frankly and openly with them this attempt of Senator Owen and the forces behind him to inject bigotry, hatred, intolerance and un-American sectarian division into a campaign which should be an intelligent debate of the important issues which confront the American people.
In New York I would not have to discuss it. The people know me. But in view of the vast amount of literature anonymously circulated throughout this country, the cost of which must run into huge sums of money, I owe it to my country and my party to bring it out into the open. There is a well-founded belief that the major portion of this publication, at least, is being financed through political channels.
A recent newspaper account in the City of New York told the story of a woman who called at the Republican National headquarters in Washington, seeking some literature to distribute. She made the request that it be of a nature other than political. Those in charge of the Republican Publicity Bureau provided the lady with an automobile and she was driven to the office of a publication notorious throughout the country for its senseless, stupid, foolish attacks upon the Catholic Church and upon Catholics generally.
I can think of no greater disaster to this country than to have the voters of it divide upon religious lines. It is contrary to the spirit, not only of the Declaration of Independence, but of the Constitution itself. During all of our national life we have prided ourselves throughout the world on the declaration of the fundamental American truth that all men are created equal.
Our forefathers, in their wisdom, seeing the danger to the country of a division on religious issues, wrote into the Constitution of the United States in no uncertain words the declaration that no religious test shall ever be applied for public office, and it is a sad thing in 1928, in view of the countless billions of dollars that we have poured into the cause of public education, to see some American citizens proclaiming themselves 100%. American, and in the document that makes that proclamation suggesting that I be defeated for the presidency because of my religious belief.
The Grand Dragon of the Realm of Arkansas, writing to a citizen of that State, urges my defeat because I am a Catholic, and in the letter suggests to the man, who happened to be a delegate to the Democratic convention, that by voting against me he was upholding American ideals and institutions as established by our forefathers.
The Grand Dragon that thus advised a delegate to the national convention to vote against me because of my religion is a member of an order known as the Ku Klux Klan, who have the effrontery to refer to themselves as 100% Americans.
Yet totally ignorant of the history and tradition of this country and its institutions and, in the name of Americanism, they breathe into the hearts and souls of their members hatred of millions of their fellow countrymen because of their religious belief.
Nothing could be so out of line with the spirit of America. Nothing could be so foreign to the teachings of Jefferson. Nothing could be so contradictory of our whole history. Nothing could be so false to the teachings of our Divine Lord Himself. The world knows no greater mockery than the use of the blazing cross, the cross upon which Christ died, as a symbol to install into the hearts of men a hatred of their brethren, while Christ preached and died for the love and brotherhood of man.
I fully appreciate that here and there, in a great country like ours, there are to be found misguided people and, under ordinary circumstances, it might be well to be charitable and make full and due allowance for them. But this campaign, so far advanced, discloses such activity on their part as to constitute, in my opinion, a menace not alone to the party, but to the country itself.
I would have no objection to anybody finding fault with my public record circularizing the whole United States, provided he would tell the truth. But no decent, right-minded, upstanding American citizen can for a moment countenance the shower of lying statements, with no basis in fact, that have been reduced to printed matter and sent broadcast through the mails of this country.
One lie widely circulated, particularly through the southern part of the country, is that during my governorship I appointed practically nobody to office but members of my own church.
What are the facts? On investigation I find that in the cabinet of the governor sit fourteen men. Three of the fourteen are Catholics, ten Protestants, and one of Jewish faith. In various bureaus and divisions of the Cabinet officers, the governor appointed twenty-six people. Twelve of them are Catholics and fourteen of them are Protestants. Various other State officials, making up boards and commissions, and appointed by the governor, make a total of 157 appointments, of which thirty-five were Catholics, 160 were Protestants, twelve were Jewish, and four I could not find out about.
I have appointed a large number of judges of all our courts, as well as a large number of county officers, for the purpose of filling vacancies. They total in number 177, of which sixty-four were Catholics, ninety were Protestants, eleven were Jewish, and twelve of the officials I was unable to find anything about so far as their religion was concerned.
This is a complete answer to the false, misleading and, if I may be permitted the use of the harsher word, lying statements that have found their way through a large part of this country in the form of printed matter.
If the American people are willing to sit silently by and see large amounts of money secretly pour into false and misleading propaganda for political purposes, I repeat that I see in this not only a danger to the party, but a danger to the country.
To such depths has this insidious manner of campaign sunk, that the little children in our public schools are being made the vehicles for the carrying of false and misleading propaganda. At Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the public prints tell us that a number of school girls asked their parents if it were true that there would be another war if Smith was elected. When questioned by their parents as to how they came to ask such questions, one of the girls said:
We were told at school that Wilson started the war in 1917, and if Governor Smith were elected he would start another war.
As contemptible as anything could possibly be is an article on the very front page of a publication devoted to the doings of a church wherein the gospel of Christ is preached. I refer to the Ashland Avenue Baptist, a publication coming from Lexington, Ky., in which a bitter and cruel attack is made upon me personally and is so ridiculous that ordinarily no attention should be paid to it. It speaks of my driving an automobile down Broadway at the rate of fifty miles an hour, and specially states I was driving the car myself while intoxicated.
Everybody who knows me knows full well I do not know how to drive an automobile, that I never tried it. As for the rest of the contemptible, lying statement, it is as false as this part.
On the inside of this paper, the morning worship on the following Sunday gives as the subject, 'What think ye of Christ?' The man or set of men responsible for the publication of that wicked libel, in my opinion, do not believe in Christ. If they profess to, they at least do not follow His teachings. If I were in their place I would be deeply concerned about what Christ might think of me.
A similar personal slander against me was dragged out into the open about a week ago when a woman in the southern part of the country read what purported to be a letter from a woman in my own State. Fortunately, the names of both women were secured. One of my friends interviewed the woman in New York State, and she promptly denied having written such a letter. The woman in the southern part of the country refused to talk about it and refused to produce the letter.
I single out these few incidents as typical of hundreds. I well know that I am not the first public man who has been made the object of such baseless slander. It was poured forth on Grover Cleveland and upon Theodore Roosevelt, as well as upon myself. But as to me, the wicked motive of religious intolerance has driven bigots to attempt to inject these slanders into a political campaign. I here and now drag them into the open and I denounce them as a treasonable attack upon the very foundations of American liberty.
I have been told that politically it might be expedient for me to remain silent upon this subject, but so far as I am concerned no political expediency will keep me from speaking out in an endeavor to destroy these evil attacks.
There is abundant reason for believing that Republicans high in the councils of the party have countenanced a large part of this form of campaign, if they have not actually promoted it. A sin of omission is some times as grievous as a sin of commission. They may, through official spokesmen, disclaim as much as they please responsibility for dragging into a national campaign the question of religion, something that according to our Constitution, our history and our traditions has no part in any campaign for elective public office.
Giving them the benefit of all reasonable doubt, they at least remain silent on the exhibition that Mrs Willebrandt made of herself before the Ohio Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church when she said:
'There are two thousand pastors here. You have in your church more than 600,000 members of the Methodist Church in Ohio alone. That is enough to swing the election. The 600,000 have friends in other states. Write to them.'
This is an extract from a speech made by her in favor of a resolution offered to the effect that the conference go on record as being unalterably opposed to the election of Governor Smith and to endorse the candidacy of Herbert Hoover, the Republican candidate.
Mrs Willebrandt holds a place of prominence in the Republican administration in Washington; she is an Assistant Attorney-General of the United States. By silence, after such a speech, the only inference one can draw is that the administration approves such political tactics. Mrs Willebrandt is not an irresponsible person. She was Chairman of the Committee on Credentials in the Republican National Convention at Kansas City.
What would the effect be upon these same people if a prominent official of the government of the State of New York under me suggested to a gathering of the pastors of my church that they do for me what Mrs Willebrandt suggests be done for Hoover?
It needs no words of mine to impress that upon your minds. It is dishonest campaigning. It is un-American. It is out of line with the whole tradition and history of this government. And, to my way of thinking, is in itself sufficient to hold us up to the scorn of the thinking people of other nations.
One of the things, if not the meanest thing, in the campaign is a circular pretending to place someone of my faith in the position of seeking votes for me because of my Catholicism. Like everything of its kind, of course it is unsigned, and it would be impossible to trace its authorship. It reached me through a member of the Masonic order who, in turn, received it in the mail. It is false in its every line. It was designed on its very face to injure me with members of churches other than my own.
I here emphatically declare that I do not wish any member of my faith in any part of the United States to vote for me on any religious grounds. I want them to vote for me only when in their hearts and consciences they become convinced that my election will promote the best interests of our country.
By the same token, I cannot refrain from saying that any person who votes against me simply because of my religion is not, to my way of thinking, a good citizen.
Let me remind the Democrats of this country that we belong to the party of that Thomas Jefferson whose proudest boast was that he was the author of the Virginia statute for religious freedom. Let me remind the citizens of every political faith that that statute of religious freedom has become a part of the sacred heritage of our land.
The constitutional guaranty that there should be no religious test for public office is not a mere form of words. It represents the most vital principle that ever was given any people.
I attack those who seek to undermine it, not only because I am a good Christian, but because I am a good American and a product of America and of American institutions. Everything I am, and everything I hope to be, I owe to those institutions.
The absolute separation of State and Church is part of the fundamental basis of our Constitution. I believe in that separation, and in all that it implies. That belief must be a part of the fundamental faith of every true American.
Let the people of this country decide this election upon the great and real issues of the campaign and upon nothing else.
For instance, you have all heard or read my Omaha speech on farm relief. Read the Democratic platform on farm relief, compare my speech and that platform plank with the platform plank of the Republican Party and the attitude of Mr Hoover, so that you may decide for yourselves which of the two parties, or the two candidates, according to their spoken declarations, are best calculated to solve the problem that is pressing the people of this country for solution. By a study of that you will be conserving the interest of the cotton growers of this State and promoting its general prosperity.
Take my attitude on the development of our natural water power resources. Take the Democratic platform on that subject. Compare it with the Republican platform and with Mr Hoover's attitude and record on the same subject, and find out from which of the two parties you can get and to which of the two candidates you can look forward with any degree of hope for the development of these resources under the control and ownership of the people themselves rather than their alienation for private profit and for private gain.
Compare the Democratic platform with the Republican platform and Mr Hoover's attitude with mine on the all-important question of flood control and the conservation of our land and property in the valley of the Mississippi. And then take the record and find out from which party you got the greatest comfort and hope for a determination of that question.
Take the subject of the reorganization of the government in the interest of economy and a greater efficiency. Compare the platforms. Compare the speeches of acceptance, and be sure to look into the record of the Republican failure to carry out its promises along these lines during the last seven and a half years.
I declare it to be in the interest of the government, for its betterment, for the betterment and welfare of the people, the duty of every citizen to study the platforms of the two parties, to study the records of the candidates and to make his choice for the Presidency of the United States solely on the ground of what best promotes interest and welfare of our great republic and all its citizens.
If the contest is fought on these lines, as I shall insist it must be, I am confident of the outcome in November.
Alfred Smith; 20/9/1928; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma