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A Guide to the George A. Smathers Papers


Finding aid created by John Nemmers, Jess Campbell, Nicole Milano, Alex Rudnick, and Katie Walters

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
August 2007


George A. Smathers

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Smathers, George A. (George Armistead), 1913-2007
Title: George A. Smathers Papers
Dates: 1934-1994
Abstract: The papers of George A. Smathers (Democrat - Florida) documenting his service in the U.S. Senate.
Extent: 184 Linear feet. 347 boxes.
Identification: Ms 91
Language(s): English
Access: Researchers should consult with Special Collections staff before using the collection because there are access restrictions. See the Access note for more information.
Online Content Items from this collection have been digitized and are available online in the UF Digital Collections. For more information please see the note below.

Biographical/Historical Note

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.

Scope and Content

The Senatorial Papers of George Smathers date from 1934 to 1994, primarily covering his eighteen years in the U.S. Senate. In addition to correspondence and legislative files, which make up the majority of the papers, the collection also includes speeches, press releases and media files, campaign material, news clippings and photographs. His papers provide an interesting perspective on the major historical events and political figures of the 1950s and 1960s. As with all political collections of significant size, the materials cover a wide range of subjects. Prominent people and subjects include John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, the civil rights movement, Latin America, Cuba, the space race, communism, the Cold War, the citrus industry, Interama, the Cross Florida Barge Canal, and the Everglades.

The collection is arranged into nine series, or groups, of documents. The Correspondence and Legislative Files make up the bulk of the collection. These files consist of correspondence, legislation, reports, news clippings, memoranda, and subject files. Smathers' Senate office staff originally organized his files according to the File Code of the U.S. Senate, and this arrangement has been maintained as much as possible (for more information, please refer to the series description for the Correspondence and Legislative Files).

The Speech and Reference Files series consists of speeches, statements, Congressional Record inserts, notes, and reference material such as news clippings. The Press Releases and Media Files include official releases, recorded statements, and statements made in television, radio and print media. The Campaign Files are sub-divided into four groups, one for each of the elections in 1950, 1956, 1960 and 1962. There final four series, which are smaller in size, include Latin America and Cuba Materials, News Clippings, Photographs, and a Miscellaneous series.

Although the papers are grouped into these logical series, according to function or format, it should be noted that information on particular topics can be dispersed throughout the collection and researchers may find relevant materials in several series. For example, information pertaining to Latin America can be found throughout the collection because there are legislative files, speeches, press releases, and other materials on that subject.

With the exception of the Correspondence and Legislative Files, which are filed according to the Senate filing scheme, the files in each series are arranged alphabetically and/or chronologically.

Access or Use Restrictions


The collection is open for research. The presence of constituent mail in this collection requires mediated access. Researchers must consult with Special Collections staff before using the collection and must agree in writing to the following conditions: Congressional constituent mail is considered a type of privileged correspondence. Reproduction of constituent mail in any format is prohibited. Further, researchers using constituent mail must agree not to divulge the names or addresses of constituents or provide information that could conceivably identify constituents.

Related or Separated Material

The Spessard Holland Papers at the University of Florida will be of use because Smathers and Holland were fellow Senators for the entirety of Smathers' tenure.

Administrative Information

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in the Smathers Papers are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Alternate Form of Finding Aid

Due to its large size this descriptive finding aid has been broken into several pages, but an alternate full version of the finding aid is available at Warning: The file size for the full finding aid exceeds 1,200 Kb and download time may be affected.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], George A. Smathers Papers, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Acquisition Information

The Smathers Papers were donated to the University of Florida by George A. Smathers.

Processing Notes

The collection originally was processed in the 1980s by department staff. In 2006-07, further processing was completed in order to improve access and create a detailed finding aid to the materials. Additional materials were added to the collection in 2008-2010.

Contents List

Correspondence and Legislative Files, 1946-1969

Correspondence, legislation, news clippings, reports, memoranda, and subject files generated or accumulated during Smathers' service in the U.S. House, 1946-1950, and the U.S. Senate, 1951-1969. The files in this series were originally arranged according to the File Code of the U.S. Senate. Under this scheme, each branch of the government and the various offices and departments under each branch were assigned a particular number code. For example, the President was assigned Filing Code 1, the State Department was assigned Filing Code 2, the Treasury Department was assigned Filing Code 3, etc. Although the filing code numbers are no longer maintained in this finding aid to the Smathers Papers, the arrangement still exists. The files primarily are arranged chronologically and then, within each year, they are arranged according to the Filing Code. As such, files dealing with the President normally are located at the beginning of each new year, followed by the State Department, followed by the Treasury Department, and so on. Please note that although Smathers' activities on various committees are documented in part by this series, the official committee records are maintained by the federal government.
Prominent people and subjects covered in this series include John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, the civil rights movement, Latin America, Cuba, the space race, communism, the Cold War, the citrus industry, Interama, the Cross Florida Barge Canal, and the Everglades. Materials pertaining to many of these individuals and topics can be found throughout this series, as they often spanned more than a single year or session of Congress. Also note that many of these subjects also are covered in other series in this collection. For example, materials pertaining to Latin America also can be found in the speeches, press releases, campaign material, etc. In 1957, Smathers was appointed to the Democratic Party Senate Campaign Committee by Party Leader Lyndon Johnson. The series is an excellent source on Party affairs in Florida and the nation.
View Contents List

Speech and Reference Files, 1934-1968

This series contains reference files maintained by Smathers as well as copies of speeches he gave. Much of the material was used as background material for public appearances, but also as a ready reference file for major topics. Correspondence related to the topics can sometimes be found as well as news clippings, magazine articles, and handwritten notes. The series also contains prepared statements and remarks made on the Senate floor.

The series begins with materials generated before Smathers won election to Congress in 1946 which includes material from his student days at the University of Florida, his time as a federal attorney, and from his 1946 election. After 1946, the files are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically.

Speeches made after Smathers left the Senate will be found under Miscellaneous.

View Contents List

Press Releases, 1955-1968

This series includes press releases made by Smathers throughout his career. Additional press releases may be found in the speech and reference files, media files, and campaign materials within this collection. Files are arranged chronologically.
View Contents List

Media Files, 1958-1968

This series includes recorded statements, press releases, and statements made in television, radio and print media. Related materials may be found in the speech files, press releases, and campaign materials within this collection.
View Contents List

Campaign Files - 1950 Election, 1934-1958

Files pertaining to the U.S. Senate election in 1950, particularly the primary election race between Smathers and Claude Pepper. The correspondence, campaign literature, and related documents deal with campaign support, key men and women, major campaign issues, voting records, itineraries and engagements, advertising, and the press. There are numerous files documenting the mud-slinging nature of the campaign, including copies of the publication, "The Red Record of Senator Claude Pepper." Note that there are photographs and other documents pertaining to this campaign that can be found in other sections of the collection.
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Campaign Files - 1956 Election, 1951-1957

Files pertaining to the U.S. Senate election in 1956. Includes correspondence, campaign literature, and related documents dealing with campaign support, key men and women, major campaign issues, voting records, itineraries and engagements, advertising, and the press.
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Campaign Files - 1960 Election, 1956-1960

Files primarily pertaining to the Presidential election in 1960 in which Smathers was named Florida's Favorite Son and nominated for President. Most of the documents are related to Smathers' campaigning efforts on behalf of Kennedy. Files are arranged alphabetically.
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Campaign Files - 1962 Election, 1961-1963

Files pertaining to the U.S. Senate election in 1962. Includes correspondence, campaign literature, and related documents dealing with campaign support, key men and women, major campaign issues, voting records, itineraries and engagements, advertising, and the press. Files are arranged alphabetically.
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Latin America and Cuba Materials, 1936-1962

This small series contains a variety of materials pertaining to Latin America and Cuba. Pease note that these topics were a major focus for Smathers throughout his career, and as such, they are covered extensively in all of the series in this collection.
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News Clippings, 1949-1960

This small series of news clippings primarily pertain to campaigns, but the files were maintained separately by Smathers' office so the original organization has been retained.
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Photographs, 1941-1968

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Miscellaneous, 1941-1994

This series contains materials that were filed separately from the rest of the collection because of format considerations as well as material added to the collection between 2008 and 2010. The latter includes family records, personal and business correspondence, political and personal memorabilia, speeches delivered after 1968, and biographical materials. Much of the material in this series was generated after his Senate career. Biographical materials include manuscripts of an unpublished autobiography and a book on the 1950 Senate election as well as notes from Bruce Smathers' research on the 1950 election and oral history interviews with George Smathers.
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Further Reading

Clark, James C. Red Pepper and Gorgeous George: Claude Pepper's epic defeat in the 1950 Democratic Primary. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2011.
Crispell, Brian Lewis. Testing the limits: George Armistead Smathers and Cold War America. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

Selected Subjects and Access Points

Civil rights -- United States.
Everglades National Park (Fla.).
Florida -- Politics and government.
Space race -- History.
United States -- Foreign relations -- Cuba.
United States -- Foreign relations -- Latin America.
United States -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
United States. Congress -- Florida delegation.
United States. Congress. Senate.

For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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