Ken Burns Classroom

A Genuine American (Al Smith and the election of 1928)

Ken Burns Film: Prohibition

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: US History

Grade Level: 7-12

Video Run Time: 12:39

On the surface, the 1928 presidential election looked like a simple choice between a colorful, progressive urbanite and a successful conservative bureaucrat: Al Smith, Democratic governor of New York, and Republican Herbert Hoover, Secretary of State for outgoing President Calvin Coolidge. But from the day after Smith was nominated, the election campaign quickly became one of the most bitter in US history. Hoover’s surrogates attacked Smith’s Catholic religion and his support for the repeal of Prohibition. The character assassination was spiteful and effective. Smith was accused of being a drunk, of being under the control of the Pope, and of not being a good American. Leading figures in the Republican administration encouraged Protestant clergy to campaign against Smith in their Sunday sermons. Smith was defeated in a landslide, but he brought into the open the discussion of whether Prohibition should be kept in the law