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How WWII United FDR and Al Smith

In the fifth and final installment of our Frank and Al miniseries, Terry Golway explores how the political ambitions between FDR and Al Smith were set aside during WWII, with the country united behind a common cause. 

By
Terry Golway,
Episode #59
FDR signing bill

Word was flashed to Roosevelt in Quebec, where he was meeting with Winston Churchill, that Smith was not well. A bouquet of roses from Franklin and Eleanor arrived in Smith’s hospital room just after he died, in October, at the age of 70.

But now, Roosevelt said, the nation was united in a common cause.

In one of his final campaign stops in the fall of 1944, Roosevelt paid tribute to his old friend during a speech in Boston. He reminded his audience that he had spoken on Smith’s behalf in their city during the 1928 presidential campaign, when Smith was subjected to anti-Catholic bigotry around the country.

But now, Roosevelt said, the nation was united in a common cause. “And it’s our duty … to make sure that, big as this country is, there is no room in it for racial or religious intolerance. And there is no room for snobbery.”

Franklin Roosevelt and Al Smith were on the same side of that battle, and they fought it together during the tumultuous atmosphere in the 1920s. Their unlikely alliance helped to reshape not only the Democratic Party, but the nation itself.

All these years later, Franklin Roosevelt and Al Smith would recognize the issues and debates of the 21st century.

And it seems safe to say that they once again would be on the same side

Photo from Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Caption: Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security Act in 1935 in the company of two old friends from his Albany days, Senator Robert Wagner, left, and Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, center. Meanwhile, another member of the old Albany crowd, Al Smith, was attacking the New Deal.

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