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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The 1928 Al Smith presidential campaign

Sanford credits his early interest in politics to the 1928 presidential campaign. Although Al Smith was a Democrat, he did not carry North Carolina, largely because of his anti-prohibition stance and Catholic background.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
At what point would you say your earliest recollection about your interest in politics was?
TERRY SANFORD:
I remember very much discussions about the Calvin Coolidge election. Obviously, I was in about the first or second grade. I thought he was down at the courthouse running for something. I wasn't quite clear on that. I remember the Al Smith election very well. I took a very lively part in that. I think I was in the seventh grade, and we had little pencils with Al Smith's head on the top of it and all the other gimmicks and Al Smith buttons. Al Smith didn't carry North Carolina.
BRENT GLASS:
Right. I was going to say, was that the fashionable thing to . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
It was in Laurinburg.
BRENT GLASS:
Why was that?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, anybody voting for Hoover was more or less a closet voter. It was still popular to be a Democrat, but I always thought that Al Smith lost because of his prohibition stand. I don't think it had a whole lot to do with the fact that he was a Catholic, though that might have featured in some. And it probably was enough, the two together in any event, nothing else had anything to do with it. It was the traditional Democratic vote, compelling people to vote the Democratic party that had been the friend of the farmer and essential to the party of Reconstruction versus the Republicans. There were, to my knowledge, only two registered Republicans in town. There must have been more, but there weren't many more. One was Mr. Billy Cox, who was a lawyer, a kind of a recorder's court lawyer for the most part, and the postmaster, who had to be a Republican or he wouldn't have been the postmaster. His family lived close to us and very good friends of mine. The one's that are still living still are.
BRENT GLASS:
Which family was this?
TERRY SANFORD:
The McLean family, Carl McLean. Carl was in my class, young Carl. He was killed shortly after the war.
BRENT GLASS:
So then to be a Democrat . . .
TERRY SANFORD:
You had to be a Republican to be the postmaster. Then he had a brother there, and I never was sure if the brother was a Democrat or Republican, the McLean brother. And that daughter was in my class. Well, people in the church, the Baptist church and the Methodist church were worried about the Pope. People were worried about liquor because the oldest temperance society in the country was in Scotland County, so people were worried about "demon rum" taking over again. And then he was kind of an outrageous New Yorker in addition to all of that, wearing a derby. But a great many people found him very appealing. Obviously, he did fairly well. If you look at his record in New York state compared to the record of governors over the span of this century, he has to come out in about the top ten or twelve. The things that Roosevelt later carried on, Al Smith started. You look at governors who have made a real creative addition. So I think Al Smith would have probably been a very fine president. I didn't know it at the time, but I think in terms of coming into a period when we had to innovate and change and do things, he would have been an extremely good mechanic at that. How he would have inspired people's confidence, I don't know. I imagine fairly well. I think he would have made a very fine president. That's not why I was for him. I was for him because my father was for him, and I thought it was fun.