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George Armistead Smathers (November 14, 1913 – January 20, 2007) was an American lawyer and politician who represented the state of Florida in the United States Senate for eighteen years, from 1951 until 1969, as a member of the Democratic Party.
|Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee|
January 3, 1967 – January 3, 1969
|Preceded by||John Sparkman|
|Succeeded by||Alan Bible|
|Chair of the Senate Aging Committee|
January 3, 1963 – January 3, 1967
|Preceded by||Patrick V. McNamara|
|Succeeded by||Harrison A. Williams|
|Secretary of Senate Democratic Conference|
September 13, 1960 – January 3, 1967
|Leader||Lyndon B. Johnson|
|Preceded by||Thomas Hennings|
|Succeeded by||Robert Byrd|
|United States Senator|
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1969
|Preceded by||Claude Pepper|
|Succeeded by||Edward Gurney|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Florida's 4th district
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1951
|Preceded by||Pat Cannon|
|Succeeded by||Bill Lantaff|
George Armistead Smathers
November 14, 1913
Atlantic City, New Jersey, U.S.
|Died||January 20, 2007 (aged 93)|
Indian Creek, Florida, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Rosemary Townley (Divorced)|
|Children||2, including Bruce|
|Education||University of Florida (BA, LLB)|
|Branch/service||United States Marine Corps|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Smathers was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Lura Frances (Jones) and Benjamin Franklin Smathers. His uncle, William H. Smathers, was a U.S. senator representing New Jersey. His family moved to Miami, Florida, in 1919, where he attended Miami High School. He then attended the University of Florida, where he earned his bachelor's degree and law degree. At Florida, he was president of his fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (Florida Upsilon chapter), captain of the Gators basketball team, president of the student body, and a member of Florida Blue Key; he was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame. After completing his LL.B. in 1938, Smathers returned to Miami, where he served as Assistant United States Attorney from 1940 to 1942. During World War II, he served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.
Smathers was a childhood friend of Philip Graham, a fellow Floridian. Graham would later become the publisher of The Washington Post.
After the war, Smathers was elected to serve two terms in the United States House of Representatives, representing Florida's Fourth Congressional District from 1947 to 1951. He established a reputation for being a moderate except for his anti-communism.
Election to SenateEdit
In 1950, Harry Truman called Smathers into a meeting at the White House and reportedly said, "I want you to do me a favor. I want you to beat that son-of-a-bitch Claude Pepper." Pepper had been part of an unsuccessful 1948 campaign to "dump Truman" as the Democratic presidential nominee, and Smathers had been his manager and pupil. Smathers challenged the incumbent senator in the Democratic primary and won by a margin of over 60,000 votes. The race was marked by echoes of the Red Scare. Smathers repeatedly attacked Pepper for having Communist sympathies, pointing out his pro-civil rights platform and campaign for universal health care as well as his travels to the Soviet Union in 1945. One scholar described his campaign against Pepper as "a nigger and red-baiting" campaign.:347
Part of American political lore is the Smathers "redneck speech," which Smathers reportedly delivered to a poorly-educated audience. The comments were recorded in a small magazine, picked up in Time and elsewhere, and etched into the public's memories. Time Magazine, during the campaign, claimed that Smathers said this:
- Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy.
The leading reporter who actually covered Smathers said he always gave the same humdrum speech. No Florida newspapers covering the campaign ever reported such remarks contemporaneously. Smathers offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he said it, and there were no takers before his death.
In the 1958 election, both Smathers and longtime Pittsburgh mayor and soon-to-be Pennsylvania governor David L. Lawrence were implicated in but eventually exonerated of an attempt to try to influence the Federal Communications Commission's choice of a grantee for a television license for channel 4 in Pittsburgh.
Stand on civil rightsEdit
Smathers generally opposed legislative efforts for civil rights. Like many Southern Democrats, Smathers coddled segregationist voters. He denounced the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education rulings as a "clear abuse of judicial power." In 1956, Smathers signed the Southern Manifesto, together with eighteen of the other twenty-one U.S. Senators from the eleven states of the South, condemning the Supreme Court decision to desegregate the public school system. According to his obituary prepared by the Associated Press, Smathers once agreed to pay the bail of the jailed civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, but only if King agreed to leave Florida.
Smathers tried to water-down equal rights measures that President Dwight Eisenhower put through Congress, supporting the Senate version of the legislation before opposing the final passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Smathers voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Senate version of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nonetheless he supported the final, amended voting rights measures, which enforced the voting rights provisions of the 14th and 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, while outlawing all literacy tests. He did not vote on President Johnson's elevation of the first African-American Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall to the Supreme Court.
Other work in the SenateEdit
Smathers also helped pass bills to create Medicare, the Small Business Administration and Everglades National Park. He pushed for federal holidays to be moved to Mondays, essentially creating the modern three-day weekend, and he ardently supported the war in Vietnam.
In January 1964, Smathers released a statement calling for the creation of a "Freedom University of the Americas" with the purpose of instructing Latin Americans on combating communism in their countries. Financing was intended to come from the voluntary contributions of Americans from Americans willing to participate in the funding of a project intended to eradicate communism in the Western Hemisphere and Smathers said he would soon introduce legislation creating a special commission that President Johnson would have to appoint for the studying on how to form the proposed institution.
Relationship with JFKEdit
Smathers befriended John F. Kennedy, speaking on behalf of Kennedy at his wedding dinner rehearsal and reception. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Smathers was a favorite son candidate for the Democratic nomination. He later managed Kennedy's campaign in the Southeast.
Journalist Roger Mudd recalls being the network representative in the press pool boat that tried to follow the presidential yacht with Smathers aboard in the early 1960s. "Smathers was probably John Kennedy's best friend in the U.S. Senate. Together or singly, they were wolves on the prowl, always able to find or attract gorgeous prey.... It was a joke, our pretending to be covering the president, bobbing around in the ocean, squinting through binoculars to find out who was coming and going but always having our view blocked by a Secret Service boat just as another long-legged Palm Beach beauty climbed aboard."
It was leaked to the press that an emerging scandal involving the corrupt activities of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson's aide Bobby Baker prompted Kennedy to give a private offer to Smathers of the second spot on the 1964 presidential ticket and a plan to drop Johnson as his running mate.
Retirement from politicsEdit
In 1968, Smathers declined to run for re-election to a fourth Senate term and retired from politics. He remained active in politics after his retirement from the Senate as a lobbyist.
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Soon after leaving the Senate, Smathers divorced his first wife, heiress Rosemary Townley Smathers. In addition to lobbying, Smathers became a successful businessman, involved in a wide variety of interests, including automobile dealerships and orange groves. He sold his house on Key Biscayne to Richard Nixon, when Nixon was looking for a house in Florida.
The former senator became a rich man as both a lobbyist and businessman. Smathers made substantial gifts to the University of Florida. In 1991, Smathers gave a $24 million gift to the University of Florida library system, now known as the George A. Smathers Libraries.
Smathers often attended "Church by the Sea", the United Church of Christ in Bal Harbour, Florida. His funeral was held here after his death at age 93. Smathers' remains are located in Arlington National Cemetery. At the time of his death, he was the earliest-serving former congressman as well as the last one to have served during the 1940s.
Smathers was personally acquainted with every President of the United States to serve in the office in between, and including, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. He was particularly close to both of the 1960 major party presidential nominees, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. All three became congressmen in 1947. All three had been young senators together in the early 1950s. Smathers was the only member of the wedding party at the 1953 Newport wedding of John Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier who was a member of neither the Kennedy nor Bouvier families.
It was through Smathers that Richard Nixon met his best friend and longtime companion, "Bebe" Rebozo. Smathers arranged for Rebozo, his Key Biscayne neighbor, to take Nixon deep sea fishing. It was Smathers' former Key Biscayne home, which he eventually sold to Nixon, which became famous as the Florida White House during Nixon's presidential administration.
In popular cultureEdit
- Smathers Beach, a popular Key West destination, is named after the senator.
- The handsome politician was known as "Gorgeous George" (after the famous professional wrestler who appeared under that moniker) by his detractors.
- Smathers appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and as a panelist on What's My Line?, and was frequently a guest on Larry King Live and other news programs.
- In Bryce Zabel's Surrounded By Enemies: What If Kennedy Survived Dallas, Smathers is mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for President John F. Kennedy in the 1964 presidential election.
- Kestenbaum, Lawrence. "The Political Graveyard: Smathers family of Miami, Florida". politicalgraveyard.com.
- F Club, Hall of Fame, Distinguished Letterwinners. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
- "Seven to be inducted into UF Hall of Fame," The Gainesville Sun, p. 8C (April 4, 1991). Retrieved July 24, 2011.
- Fund, John, Political Journal "George Smathers, RIP", January 24, 2007.
- Mohl, Raymond A. (1995). "Race Relarions in Miami since the 1920s". In Colburn, David R.; Landers, Jane L. (eds.). The African American Heritage of Florida. University Press of Florida. pp. 326–365. ISBN 0813013321.
- The Associated Press (January 21, 2007). "George A. Smathers, 93, Dies; Former Senator From Florida" – via NYTimes.com.
- Swint, Kerwin C., Mudslingers: The Twenty-five Dirtiest Political Campaigns of All Time, Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT, 2006
- "FLORIDA: Anything Goes". Time. 55 (16). April 17, 1950. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
- "State: A born winner, if not a native Floridian". www.sptimes.com.
- "Smathers Exonerated in Pittsburgh TV Case". St. Petersburg Times. September 26, 1958. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
- Crispell, Brian Lewis (1999). Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America, University of Georgia Press, Athens, Georgia, p.116-125. ISBN 0-8203-2103-6
- "Smathers Urges Freedom University of the Americas". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. January 19, 1964.
- Associated Press, "George A. Smathers, 93; Former Florida Senator," The Washington Post (January 21, 2007). Retrieved December 18, 2015.
- Mudd, Roger (2008). The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, and the glory days of television news. New York, New York: PublicAffairs, p. 95. ISBN 978-1-58648-576-4
- "United Church of Christ". Archived from the original on June 7, 2011.
- Palm Beach Post, October 22, 2006.
- "What's My Line? 28 Apr 1957". YouTube. CBS Television. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to George Smathers.|
- 1962 Democratic Fundraiser Footage; Kennedy commentary on Smathers
- Interviews with Smathers
- St. Petersburg Times newspaper article
- Washington Post, report of death
- UF Special Collections bio.
- George A. Smathers Digital Collection from the University of Florida Digital Collections
- A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with George A. Smathers" is available at the Internet Archive
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 4th congressional district
|Party political offices|
| Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from Florida
1950, 1956, 1962
| Secretary of Senate Democratic Conference
| U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Florida
Served alongside: Spessard Holland
Patrick V. McNamara
| Chair of the Senate Aging Committee
Harrison A. Williams
| Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee
Russell B. Long
| Most Senior Living U.S. Senator
Sitting or Former