Smathers, George A. (George Armistead), 1913-2007

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George Armistead Smathers (b. Nov. 14, 1913, Atlantic City, N.J.-d. Jan. 20, 2007, Indian Creek Village, Fla.), a U.S. Representative and U.S. Senator from Florida, graduated from the University of Florida law school in 1938. During World War II he served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1942 to 1945. He was elected as a Democrat to two terms in the Congress, serving from 1947 to 1951, and was elected to the Senate, serving three terms from 1951 to 1969.

From the description of Smathers, George A. (George Armistead), 1913-2007 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10573617

George Armistead Smathers was born on November 14, 1913 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Because his family had a lengthy history of political involvement, Smathers was groomed for politics at an early age. He was named for his father's uncle, George H. Smathers, who had served as the President of the North Carolina State Senate. His father, Benjamin Franklin Smathers, began his political career as a page for that uncle and later was appointed as a county judge. Additionally, Benjamin's younger brother, Bill, served as a U.S. Senator from New Jersey from 1937-1943.

Smathers moved with his parents to Miami, Florida, when he was six. He grew up in Magnolia Park, and was successful in both academics and sports while a pupil in Dade County Public Schools. He graduated in the top quarter of his class at Miami High School and served as the captain of the track and basketball teams. He was elected Senior Class President and named Outstanding Athlete of Dade County in 1931. He hoped to play college football at the University of Illinois, but his father refused, arguing that if George was to enter politics he needed to attend the University of Florida in order to meet boys from all over Florida. At UF, Smathers was the captain of both the basketball and track teams. He also was the captain of the debate team, president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, president of the student body, and campus manager for Claude Pepper's 1938 Senate reelection campaign.

Smathers graduated with a law degree in 1938, and returned home to Miami. He practiced law for six months in his father's firm before he was appointed Assistant U.S. Attorney. He was married in 1939 to Rosemary Townley, who gave birth to their first son, John, in 1941. During World War II Smathers served in the United States Marine Corps from 1942-45, including an 18-month rotation overseas in the South Pacific. His second son, Bruce, was born in 1943 while Smathers was overseas.

In 1946, Smathers was elected to the first of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, defeating long-standing incumbent Pat Cannon. While in the House, Smathers traveled extensively to Europe and Latin America, developing an interest in Latin American countries that would later become a central focus of his Senatorial career. Smathers also became friends with many people who would become prominent politicians, including John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, and Gerald Ford. He became particularly close to Kennedy; they had adjacent offices while in the House together, and he served as a groomsman in Kennedy's wedding to Jacqueline Bouvier.

Smathers ran for the U.S. Senate in 1950 in a historic race against the incumbent, Claude Pepper. The 1950 Democratic primary election has long been considered one of the most contentious in Florida history. Smathers entered the race at the behest of President Truman who was angered by Pepper's efforts to remove him as the Democratic candidate in the 1948 election. Smathers focused on Pepper's foreign policy positions, particularly Pepper's failure to condemn Soviet postwar aggression. Smathers also criticized Pepper's support of universal health care and labor unions. Race factored into the campaign with both candidates accusing the other of being soft on segregation. Smathers defeated Pepper handily and entered the Senate in 1951.

Smathers served as the junior Senator from Florida for three terms until his retirement in 1968. Throughout his Senatorial career, he was recognized for his involvement with Latin American and Cuban issues. Smathers is credited as one of the first to push for U.S. involvement in Latin American countries as a preventative measure for stopping the spread of communism into the Western Hemisphere. He also was one of the first to raise alarms about Fidel Castro's government and Cuba's ties to the Soviet Union. Smathers sought to provide aid for the improvement of the infrastructure and quality of life in Latin American and Caribbean countries, arguing that their well-being and stability was beneficial to the U.S.

Although he was more moderate in many respects than other Southern Democrats, and despite his close friendships with Kennedy and other northern Democrats, Smathers did vote faithfully with the Southern bloc on most of the divisive social issues in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1956, Smathers signed the so-called "Southern Manifesto," which denounced the U.S. Supreme Court decision to integrate public schools racially. He voted consistently against meaningful civil rights legislation, and spoke in favor of segregation and states rights.

Smathers was known to friends and opponents as "Gorgeous George," and he was known as much for his ability to make friends and connections as he was for his work on the floor of the Senate. Although he was not a high-ranking member of any of the major Senate committees during this service, Smathers was successful in using his positions on committees such as Foreign Relations, Finance and Taxation, and Commerce to protect and expand Florida interests. He was a powerful advocate for the Florida sugar and citrus industries, particularly pertaining to trade and competition with Latin America. Smathers also served as chair of the Democratic Campaign Committee. In this capacity, he traveled around the country soliciting contributions to be used for various Senatorial campaigns.

During the 1960 presidential election, Smathers was placed in an interesting position when his majority leader in the Senate, Johnson, and his best friend in the Senate, Kennedy, both decided to run. Rather than having the two men potentially split the Florida vote, Smathers urged both men not to campaign in Florida and he entered the race as a candidate for the nomination. He was named as Florida's "favorite son" and received the votes of the Florida delegation at the National Democratic Convention during the first round of voting. When it became clear that Kennedy would get the nomination, he quickly bowed out and urged the delegation to vote for Kennedy. During the subsequent campaigning, Smathers managed Kennedy's campaign in the Southeast.

Smathers retired from politics in 1969, at the end of this his third term in the Senate. He resumed practicing law in Miami and Washington, D.C. He died on January 20, 2007.

From the guide to the George A. Smathers Papers, 1934-1994, (Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry records, 1842-1994. Cornell University Library
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 2:10P
referencedIn Pensacola Navy League Records, 1946-1983 University of West Florida Libraries
referencedIn J. B. Matthews Papers, 1862-1986 and undated David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, WH Series, George Smathers, 2:05P
referencedIn United States Congress. Senate Historical Office Oral History Interviews, 1976-2003 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Pepper-Smathers Campaign Collection, 1948-1950. University of Florida
referencedIn George W. Pray Papers, 1844-1890 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn President's Daily Diary. 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969. President's Daily Diary. 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969. President's Daily Diary Entry, November 22, 1963
referencedIn Records of U.S. Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations. 1900 - 2003. Moving Images Relating to Military Aviation Activities. 1947 - 1984. PARARESCUE MEN, EGLIN AFB AND ORLANDO, FLORIDA
referencedIn Willett, Suzanne. Suzanne Willett play, "Red Pepper", 2010. Florida State University
referencedIn William Frederick Halsey Papers, 1907-1959, (bulk 1943-1959) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 2:05P
referencedIn John Collier papers, 1910-1987 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 2:10P
referencedIn Halsey, William Frederick, 1882-1959. Papers William Frederick Halsey, 1907-1959 (bulk 1943-1959). Library of Congress
referencedIn Collier, John, 1884-1968. John Collier papers, 1910-1987 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Byrd, Harry Flood, 1887-1966. Papers of Harry Flood Byrd [manuscript] 1911-65. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, WH Series, George Smathers, 5:20P
creatorOf Smathers, George A. (George Armistead), 1913-. Miscellaneous papers. Jacksonville University, Carl S. Swisher Library
referencedIn Dosh, Robert N., 1886-1970. Papers, 1920-1965. University of Florida
referencedIn Clark M. Clifford Papers, 1883-1999, (bulk 1946-1998) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Papers, 1916-1972 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Papers of Drew Pearson. 1915 - 1969. Files from the Georgetown Office and Residence
referencedIn National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry records, 1842-1994. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library.
referencedIn Carleton, William G. (William Graves), 1901-1982. Correspondence files, 1928-1982. University of Florida
referencedIn University of West Florida. Office of Provost/Vice President Records, 1990-1992 University of West Florida Libraries
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 3:20P
referencedIn Margaret Bayne Price Papers, 1918-1969, 1947-1968 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Financial Dept. Records, 1899-1971. Hagley Museum & Library
referencedIn Knight, John Shively, 1894-1981. John S. Knight papers, 1894-1981 bulk (1920-1981). University of Akron, Bierce Library
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, WH Series, George Smathers, 6:40P
referencedIn President's Daily Diary. 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969. President's Daily Diary. 11/22/1963 - 1/20/1969. President's Daily Diary Entry, August 3, 1964
creatorOf Lyndon Baines Johnson Archives Collection. 1931 - 1968. Congressional Correspondence Files
referencedIn Robert N. "Bert" Dosh Papers, 1920-1965 Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
creatorOf Hiles, Charles C. Papers, 1871-1975 (bulk 1929-1979). University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center
referencedIn Records, 1946-2000 Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Turnbull, Augustus Bacon, 1940-. Papers, 1971-1990. Florida State University
referencedIn Collier, John, 1884-1968. John Collier papers, 1910-1987 (inclusive). Yale University Library
referencedIn Blair Moody Papers, 1928-1954, 1934-1952 Bentley Historical Library , University of Michigan
referencedIn Phillips, Herbert S. Papers, 1896-1962. University of South Florida, USF Library
referencedIn Clifford, Clark M., 1906-1998. Clark M. Clifford papers, 1883-1999 (bulk 1946-1998). Library of Congress
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 6:57P
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. John F. Kennedy Assassination Related Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 3/28/1967. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, K Series, George Smathers, 9:00P
creatorOf Recordings and Transcripts of Telephone Conversations and Meetings. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. White House Telephone Recordings and Transcripts. 11/22/1963 - 1/3/1969. LBJ Recording of Telephone Conversation, WH Series, Martin Andersen, 10:12A
referencedIn Pepper-Smathers Campaign Collection, 1948-1950 Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
creatorOf George A. Smathers Papers, 1934-1994 Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida
referencedIn Historical Files, 1959-1964 Special Collections and Archives, S.E. Wimberly Library, Florida Atlantic University
referencedIn Southern Folklife Collection Artist Name File, 1940-2005 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Folklife Collection.
creatorOf United States. Congress. Senate. Historical Office. U.S. Congress. Senate. Historical Office oral history interviews, 1976-2003. Library of Congress
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Byrd, Harry Flood, 1887-1966. person
associatedWith Carleton, William G. (William Graves), 1901-1982. person
correspondedWith Clifford, Clark M., 1906-1998. person
associatedWith Collier, John, 1884-1968. person
associatedWith Dosh, Robert N., 1886-1970. person
associatedWith Florida Atlantic University corporateBody
associatedWith Glueck, Sheldon, 1896- person
associatedWith Halsey, William Frederick, 1882-1959. person
correspondedWith Harvard Law School Forum corporateBody
associatedWith Hiles, Charles C. person
correspondedWith Knight, John Shively, 1894-1981. person
correspondedWith Matthews, J. B. (Joseph Brown), 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Moody, Blair, 1902-1954 person
associatedWith National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. corporateBody
associatedWith Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Financial Dept. corporateBody
correspondedWith Pensacola Navy League corporateBody
associatedWith Phillips, Herbert S. person
associatedWith Pray, George Washington, 1825-1890 person
associatedWith Price, Margaret Bayne, 1912-1968 person
associatedWith Turnbull, Augustus Bacon, 1940- person
associatedWith United States. Congress corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Congress. Senate. corporateBody
associatedWith United States. Congress. Senate. Historical Office. corporateBody
associatedWith University of West Florida corporateBody
associatedWith Willett, Suzanne. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Florida
Everglades National Park (Fla.).
Subject
Space race--History
Civil rights--United States
Communism
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1913-11-14

Death 2007-01-20

English

Information

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