Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 22nd Visit to Georgia
November 20 - December 10, 1931
Roosevelt was able to return to Warm Springs for the annual Founder’s Dinner on Thanksgiving, but politics still dominated his correspondence. He did get in a brief note to Al Smith about the pleasant time he was having:
“. . . We are having grand weather. Eleanor, Jimmie and his wife, and Anna and her husband were all here for Thanksgiving. It was an awfully nice party. . . .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 237-8.
Unfortunately the long time friendship between Smith and Roosevelt was about to be strained. Smith felt Roosevelt should have consulted him more on gubernatorial matters, plus Smith still harbored presidential aspirations of his own. The very day after Roosevelt penned the letter above, Atlanta Constitution editor and Roosevelt friend Clark Howell talked with Smith in New York, then reported the conversation to Roosevelt:
“...I had made an engagement with him [Smith] at 10:30 this morning, at his office in the Empire State. He seemed glad to see me. For a few minutes we indulged in generalities and then I got down to business, by telling him that my support of him ‘through thick and thin,’ and that Georgia’s attitude toward him in the past, warranted me in having a perfectly frank talk with him, and in asking him to be perfectly frank with me. He replied that no man in the South had stood by him better than I had—that he was grateful, and that he would deal perfectly frankly with me.
I then said—‘Governor, you hold in the palm of your hand the assurance of an overwhelming Democratic victory next year, or you are in a position where you could jeopardize the present prospect of sure success.’
‘How?’ said he. ‘By your attitude toward Franklin Roosevelt,’ I said. ‘With your support of him all opposition to him will vanish, and his nomination will be a mere formality. The country expects you to support him, and it will not believe that you can possibly do otherwise.’ ‘The hell I can’t,’ he said—‘but,’ continuing, ‘I do not mean that I will not support him. I am for the party first, above any man, and I will support the man who seems best for the party.’ I then went into detail to show him that no other possible candidate could give the party the same assurance of support as you could. ‘But you speak for the South,’ he said, and ‘you don’t understand the situation up here as I do.’ I told him that you would carry every Southern state, and that you would get perhaps three-fourths of the electoral votes of the states west of the Mississippi. ‘But that is not this section,’ he said. ‘With your support it is,’ I said, adding, ‘You know that with Roosevelt as the nominee it means New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey.’ He said he ‘doubted’ it. . . .
‘Governor,’ I then said, ‘is there any ground for personal hostility on your part against Roosevelt?’ ‘No,’ he said - ‘socially we are friends. He has always been kind to me and my family, and has gone out of his way to be agreeable to us at the Mansion at Albany, but’ - then he arose, stamped his foot, and said—‘Do you know, by God, that he has never consulted me about a damn thing since he has been Governor? He has taken bad advice and from sources not friendly to me. He has ignored me!’ And then with increased fervor, and slamming his fist on the table, he said—‘By God, he invited me to his house before he recently went to Georgia, and did not even mention to me the subject of his candidacy.’
I told him that you had been careful not to put yourself in the attitude of a candidate at this time, and I asked him if he had mentioned to you the subject of your candidacy. He said ‘no’ - that it was up to you to broach the subject, etc. . . .
[H]e insisted . . . that some of your ‘damn fool friends’ here were at work organizing and arranging for Roosevelt dinners, etc. and that they were doing you ‘more harm than good,’ etc. I told him that when he was a candidate his friends had gone much further, thus far in advance of the nomination than yours had now, and that thus far you had never said a word for the public as indicating your candidacy. ‘But the situation is different now,’ he said, though not indicating in what respect. He concluded by emphasizing that he was not committed for or against you—and that he was going to take his time before saying what he was going to do.
So there you have it! And I give it to you for what it is worth.
My recommendation is that you see him upon your return to New York and talk with him on the subject. I think it will go a long way toward getting him in line. By handling him diplomatically I believe he will come around all right. If he don’t, we will nominate you without his support. But of course it is best to have it. I will be in Atlanta Monday morning. All this, of course, confidential. . . .” Source: Elliott Roosevelt (ed.), F.D.R.: His Personal Letters 1928-1945, (Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1950), p. 229-32.
Smith did not “come around” as Howell had hoped. He [Smith] let it be known that he would accept the presidential nomination if offered, then when it was apparent he could not win he led the efforts to block Roosevelt’s nomination. The breach was never fully healed. Smith did speak on Roosevelt’s behalf in New England during the campaign, but it was for the good of the party only. The two were never close friends again.