Albert Ritchie

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Albert Ritchie (1876 –1936), a leading conservative Democrat in the 1920s and 1930s was the governor of Maryland from 1920 to 1935. Ritchie campaigned for, but did not win, the Democratic presidential nomination in both 1924 and 1932. He was an efficiency oriented progressive, similar to Herbert Hoover, but spoke out for limited government and self help, becoming a hero to conservative Democrats who opposed prohibition.

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Early life and family

Albert Ritchie was born in Richmond, Virginia to a prominent "first family of Virginia"; his father was a leading lawyer.

The family moved to Baltimore. Ritchie graduated from the Johns Hopkins University in 1896, and took his law degree at University of Maryland School of Law in 1898. He practiced in Baltimore while also serving as city solicitor and law professor.

He was briefly married 1907-10; he never had children.

Politics

He was elected state attorney general, serving 1915-1918, when he became General Counsel of the War Industries Board, a major federal agency.

He easily won the Democratic nomination for governor in 1919, opposing woman suffrage and prohibition; in a very close race he defeated Republican Harry Nice.

First term

Ritchie proved one of the last strong upholders of states' rights, gaining national prominence in 1922 with his stand against President Harding during the Western Maryland coal strike, and his strenuous opposition to the Volstead Act. He promoted government reorganization for greater efficiency, increased representation for Baltimore City, and reduction in the number of elections. He achieved reforms in mental health, shellfish conservation, and law enforcement while continuing to fight federal encroachments on state prerogatives. [1]

During Ritchie's first term, he worked to improve the public school system by establishing nonpolitical standards for hiring teachers and strengthening expertise. Maryland was filling up with Model T's but they faced bad roads, so Ritchie built on public demand to expand the state highways. Ritchie had the consistent support of the powerful state newspaper the Baltimore Sun, which admired his dedication to efficiency.

Second term

Ritchie easily won reelection during the booming prosperity of 1923--the first Democrat to do so in generations. Ritchie was one of many serious presidential contenders in 1924, until the deadlocked convention finally turned to equally conservative John W. Davis, a Wall Street lawyer who lost to Calvin Coolidge by a landslide.

Third term

In 1926 Ritchie easily won a third term, as nationwide prosperity was turning Maryland into a fairly prosperous state.

Ritchie emphasized new highways and bridges, and set up a conservation program for environmentally fragile Chesapeake Bay.

Fourth term=

Ritchie won re-election in 1930 by 66,770 votes, but the Great Depression had begun and the economic indicators in Maryland were slowly going downhill.

By early 1931 unemployment stood at 19.2%. Governor Ritchie was a stalwart opponent of federal intervention in state affairs, and continued to urge programs sponsored by the business community itself. Social welfare agencies based on state support expanded services as much as possible, but beyond pushing ahead with all feasible public works projects the state did little. Baltimore established a Commission on Employment Stabilization but found work for only one-fifth of the job-seekers. Baltimore relief agencies were soon overwhelmed and the election of Mayor Howard W. Jackson, although bringing about municipal loans to the Citizens' Emergency Relief Committee, showed that local aid was simply inadequate. Ritchie agreed to issue state bonds to aid Baltimore, but would not borrow from President Herbert Hoover's new Reconstruction Finance Corporation until mid-1933, and his luxury tax program met stiff opposition from county representatives opposed to new tobacco taxes. Originally planned for $8 million, the Baltimore bond issue had to be $12 million as the state economy floundered. Only reluctantly was federal assistance finally accepted.[2]

Ritchie had a pipe dream of becoming the Democratic nominee for president in 1932; but on the first ballot of the convention he had a mere 21 delegates to 664 for Franklin D. Roosevelt was well-received at the 1932 Chicago convention. He claimed that FDR's people had offered him the vice presidential nomination.[3]

Defeated for fifth term

Ritchie's popularity as governor reached its peak during the early years of his fourth term, but gradually began to wane because of growing factionalism in his party. Although Ritchie's model, business-like government had thoroughly modernized Maryland, he had forged a Democratic party organization which his opponents attacked as a "machine." In 1934 Ritchie was seeking his fifth term and "Ritchie forever" seemed a real possibility. However, Dr. Charles Conley cut heavily into the Ritchie vote in the Democratic primary, and Republican opponent Harry W. Nice (his old opponent in 1919) attacked the governor's relief efforts and promised to be "more new Dealish" than the conservative Ritchie. While a Ritchie victory was widely predicted, when Nice took all but three counties the postmortems agreed that the governor's longevity 'and the cry of `too long' ' was the fundamental explanation, although the opposition of Baltimore blacks and labor also seemed significant. In the general election Nice narrowly defeated Ritchie 253,813 to 247,644. As other Democrats were sweeping the nation and moving left, Ritchie's career abruptly ended.[4]

Further reading

  • Brown, Dorothy. "The Election of 1934: the 'New Deal' in Maryland," Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 405-421
  • Brugger, Robert J. Maryland: A Middle Temperament, 1634-1980 (1988), the best overview
  • Chepaitis, Joseph B. "Albert C. Ritchie in Power: 1920-1927". Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 383-404

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