Jimmy Carter photo

Remarks at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City

October 21, 1976

It's a great pleasure to be here in Chicago tonight.

Seriously, I've been campaigning for President all over America, day after day, in city after city, for 22 months, and I won't say I always know where I am, but when I don't, I've at least learned to avoid the issue.

I had an opportunity to chat privately with Cardinal Cooke tonight, and he gave me some advice. Among other things, I've agreed that if I ever give another interview on the Biblical sins of pride and lust, it will be to a reporter from Our Sunday Visitor.

We are here tonight to honor a man who ran for President with unusual qualifications. He had not served previously in Washington. His only previous high office had been governor of his state. He was criticized during the campaign for his religion and his accent. He chose as a running mate a distinguished Senator from another region of the country. His opponent was a decent, likable man who had never been elected to statewide office, who selected as his running mate a Senator from Kansas, and whose campaign statements kept reassuring the American people that the economy was sound and prosperity was just around the comer.

Unfortunately, in 1928, the Republican candidate won, and the next year we entered the Great Depression.

I think the result will be different this year.

I doubt that any candidate for any office has ever traveled more miles, met more people, made more speeches, or answered more questions than I have.

That kind of campaign involves risks. I have made my share of mistakes. If any of my supporters began this campaign believing I was infallible, I think I have by now disabused them of that notion.

But that is as it should be. The American people should see the presidential candidates, warts and all. We've had enough slickly packaged candidates. We should cast our votes for real people, not for images.

I'm glad to be here in person tonight to talk with a group of public-spirited leaders like yourselves. You and I may not agree on every issue, but we have many shared concerns, and I know we agree that there are hard decisions facing this nation that demand tough, competent, aggressive leadership.

I know we agree, too, that in facing those tough decisions, we need a President who will be instructed and inspired by the example of Alfred Emmanuel Smith.

One of the concerns we share, and that Al Smith shared, is for our cities. Al Smith was a child erf the city. The lower East Side was his kindergarten, and he once told a Cornell man that his alma mater was FFM—the Fulton Fish Market.

He was a child of the city who became, in the words of one biographer, a hero of all the cities. He understood the strengths and complexities of our great cities, he loved their people, and he fought for their interests. 1

I am committed to that same fight.

I say to New York City not "Drop dead!" but "Stay alive!" and "Hang on. Help is on the way!"

I say to you and to Governor Carey and Mayor Beame and other leaden in business, in politics, in religion, that we can work together to find the financial means and to achieve the tough, competent, hard-headed management that can restore and revitalize New York and the other great cities of America.

Al Smith was a family man, as I am, and as many of you are, and I know that we all agree that the strength and vitality of the American family is absolutely basic to the strength of our nation.

Early this month I spoke to the National Conference of Catholic Charities in Denver, and I expressed my deep concern that federal policies and programs too often work to weaken, and not strengthen the family structure in America.

I repeat to you now what I said in that speech: That every decision of my administration will serve to encourage and support the American family.

I know that you and I share, as Al Smith shared, a desire for this nation to have a government that is both competent and compassionate.

As governor, Al Smith reorganized the New York state government to make it competent. After a long, tough fight, he reduced the number of state departments and agencies from 150 to 18.

I appreciate what that means, because when I was Governor of Georgia, I too fought hard for a reorganization plan, one that reduced the number of our state agencies from 300 to 22.

Al Smith was denied an opportunity to carry out a reorganization of the federal government. I hope to have that opportunity, and I think I can succeed for the same reason he could have, because I will go to Washington as an outsider, owing nothing to any lobbyist or special interest, and owing everything to the people of America.

Al Smith was a man with a passion for social justice.

He knew instinctively that, as I said in my acceptance speech, love must be aggressively translated into simple justice.

Throughout a long career in politics, he applied his great charm and intelligence and leadership abilities to the task of translating his moral convictions into social realities.

He sponsored legislation to ensure safe factories, to limit the working hours for women and children, to reform workmen's compensation laws, to bring women into government, and to reform the Civil Service.

His enemies called him a socialist, but in truth he was a great humanist, a great reformer, and a great prophet of the better America that was still to come.

He devoted his life to social justice, and even now his ideals live on in the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation, with its determination "to render voluntary aid to the poor, the sick, the orphaned and the afflicted, regardless of race, creed or color."

Al Smith would have been a great President.

But he was denied that office, and we were denied his service, because of religious prejudice.

Down in my state, Georgia, despite a campaign of smear and fear, Al Smith received 56.6 percent of the vote, more than he got in his home State of New York.

But Al Smith lost the election, and it was not until 1960 that another Catholic ran for President.

John Kennedy also faced religious prejudice, but he was able to triumph over it. He was helped, I might add, by the State of Georgia, which gave him 62.5 percent of its votes, more even than his home State of Massachusetts.

I think that my candidacy is part of a long process by which we in America are overcoming the prejudices and stereotypes of the past.

We are, of course, a nation of immigrants, but some of us often forget that fact. Sometimes we forget that the question isn't when we came here, but why we came here.

Our nation has been called a melting pot. I think of it more as a mosaic, one to which many groups make their own distinct contribution.

In the great mosaic of America, no group has contributed more than the Irish, with your love of literature, your love of life, your love of family, your love of country, your love of freedom, and your love of God.

And no Irish-American in our time has better personified those qualities than Governor Al Smith.

H. L. Mencken wrote of him:

"Somewhere on the sidewalks of New York ... he picked up the doctrine that it is better to be honest than to lie. It is not a popular doctrine in America. It is dangerous baggage to politics ... but it has merit nevertheless: It makes a man comfortable inside."

I feel very comfortable tonight, being here with you and associating myself with the great tradition of Al Smith.

If I become President, I intend to fight for the same principles for which he fought so long, and so hard and with such rare distinction.

I ask your help.

Thank you.

Jimmy Carter, Remarks at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/347582

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