George Smathers

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George Armistead Smathers

Secretary of the
Senate Democratic Conference
In office
September 13, 1960 – January 3, 1967
Preceded by Thomas Hennings
Succeeded by Robert Byrd

In office
January 3, 1951 – January 3, 1969
Preceded by Claude Pepper
Succeeded by Edward Gurney

United States Representative for Florida's 4th Congressional District
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1951
Preceded by Pat Cannon
Succeeded by Bill Lantaff

Born November 14, 1913
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Died January 20, 2007 (aged 93)
Indian Creek, Florida
Resting place Arlington National Cemetery
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Rosemary Townley Smathers (married 1939–1971, divorced)

(2) Carolyn Hyder Smathers (married 1972–2007, his death)

Children John Townley Smathers

Bruce Armistead Smathers

Alma mater Miami High School

University of Florida
(BA and LLB)

Religion United Methodist

Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Marine Corps
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars World War II

South Pacific Theater of Operations

George Armistead Smathers (November 14, 1913 – January 20, 2007) was a Democratic United States Senator for Florida from 1951 to 1969 and a U.S. Representative from 1947 to 1951. He is probably most remembered for his close friendships with political giants John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon. Like Kennedy of Massachusetts and Nixon of California, Smathers was elected to the House in 1946 and like Nixon the Senate in 1950. He was the only non-family member in Kennedy's wedding to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. In 1960, Smathers managed the Kennedy-Johnson campaign in Florida, but victory in the state went to Nixon, who it in all three of his presidential campaigns. Smathers sold vacation property in Key Biscayne to Nixon and introduced Nixon to his close confidant Bebe Rebozo.[1]

Smathers served alongside fellow segregationist Spessard Holland during his Senate tenure.


Smathers was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the son of Benjamin Franklin Smathers and the former Lura Frances Jones.[2] The Smathers family moved to New Jersey from western North Carolina. Frank Smathers served as a state judge in New Jersey and his brother, William Howell Smathers (1891–1955), represented New Jersey in the U. S. Senate as a Democrat from 1937 to 1943.[3] Frank Smathers moved his family to Miami, Florida, when George Smathers was six years of age. there he attended Miami High School before earning his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Florida at Gainesville. Smathers captained the Florida Gators basketball team, ran track, and was the lead member of the university debate team. In 1936, he was elected without opposition as the student body president. Smathers was inducted into both the University’s Student Hall of Fame and the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame].[4]

After completing his law degree in 1939, Smathers married the former Rosemary Townley (1914–2002), a native of Miami, who also lived in several nearby state[5] The couple settled in Miami, where Smathers was for three years an assistant United States Attorney. The couple had two sons, John Townley Smathers and Bruce Armistead Smathers, who was a Florida state senator and a Florida secretary of state. In 1942, as the United States entered World War II, he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps and served for nineteen months with the Marine Light Bomber Squadron 413 in the South Pacific Theater of Operations. He surviveda crash when his light bomber was damaged in war. Smathers returned to Miami after the war and quickly launched his political career.[6]

Political career

After the war, Smathers was elected to serve two terms in the United States House of Representatives for Florida's 4th congressional district from 1947 to 1951. He established a reputation for being a moderate but a staunch anti-communist. In the 1946 Democratic primary, Smathers unseated by a 2–1 margin Representative Arthur Patrick "Pat" Cannon (1904–1966). Smathers served two terms in the United States House of Representatives, representing Florida’s Fourth Congressional District from 1947 to 1951. He pushed the Truman administration agenda, especially the Truman Doctrine, designed to rein in the former Soviet Union and communist aggression. Smathers sought to designated Miami a gateway to Latin American commerce and cultural exchange. Congressman Smathers sponsored legislation to create the Everglades National Park and supported the 24th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which outlawed poll taxes in federal elections. Later states were also required to abolish poll taxes.[7]

President Truman encouraged Representative Smathers to challenge liberal Senator Claude Pepper in the 1950 Senate Democratic primary. Pepper had acquired Truman's wrath when he tried to block the latter's nomination to a full term as President at the 1948 Democratic National Convention held in Philadelphia. Truman also invited Smathers to fly with him from Washington, D.C. to Key West. Although Pepper, a strong orator, was believed by political observers to have been unbeatable, he had made himself vulnerable because of his postwar advocacy of Conciliation to the Soviet Union and his advocacy of sharing nuclear technology.[8] Smathers' campaign attacked Pepper on other fronts besides foreign policy, including the senator's support for universal health care and his ambiguous position on the Fair Employment Practice Committee, which Franklin Roosevelt had established by executive order in 1941. Ultimately, Smathers won the nomination with 397,315 votes (54.8 percent to Pepper's 319,754 (45.2%)), a margin of 63,000 votes; he then prevailed in the November general election over Republican John P. Booth, 76 to 24 percent.

As a senator, Smathers signed the 1954 Southern Manifesto opposing school desegregation[9] and voted a decade later against the Civil Rights Act of 1964,[10] being among the Southern bloc in filibustering the landmark legislation[11] before cloture was enacted by a 71–29 vote.[12] While he previously voted in favor of the 1957 Civil Rights Act,[13] Smathers supported measures to significantly weaken the bill, including the jury trial amendment.[14]

Post-Senate life

In 1971, Smther's wife divorced him and he wed a former Senate staffer, Carolyn Hyder, the same age as his younger son, Bruce. When Smathers retired from politics, he became a lobbyist and successful businessman. In 1991, he gave a $20 million gift to his alma mater, the University of Florida, which funded the university library system named for him. He later also gave a $10 million gift to the University of Miami.[15]

Smathers died at the age of ninety-three and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.[15]


  1. Kartik Krishnaiyer (February 25, 2020). George Smathers, JFK, LBJ, and Nixon. The Florida Squeeze. Retrieved on February 27, 2021.
  2. Lawrence Kestenbaum. The Political Graveyard: Smathers family of Miami, Florida. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved on February 26, 2021.
  3. William Howell Smathers. Retrieved on February 26, 2021.
  4. The Gainesville Sun, April 4, 1991, p. 8C
  5. Townley Smathers Birth ,ID 114681196 · View Source Rosemary Townley Smathers. Retrieved on February 27, 2021.
  6. Florida, Department of State, Great Floridian Series, – George A. Smathers – the Uncommon Man: Attorney – Statesman - Benefactor) (1994).
  7. Briam Lewis Crispell, Testing the Limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America, (Athens: the University of Georgia Press, 1999), pp. 13-37.
  8. James C. Clark, Red Pepper and Gorgeous George: Claude Pepper's Epic Defeat in the 1950 Democratic Primary (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011), p. 41-47, 65.
  9. Southern Manifesto. African American Civil Rights Movement. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  10. HR. 7152. PASSAGE.. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  11. 1964 Civil Rights Act. Spartacus Educational. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  13. HR. 6127. CIVIL RIGHTS ACT OF 1957.. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  15. 15.0 15.1 George Armistead Smathers. Retrieved on February 27, 2021.

External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Obituary via The New York Times