About M. Hoke Smith, Governor, U.S. Senator and Secretary of the Interior
Michael Hoke Smith (1855-1931): Smith was a lawyer and Democratic politician from Atlanta, Georgia. President Grover Cleveland appointed him secretary of the interior in 1893. Smith was elected governor of Georgia in 1907 and served until 1911 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He served in the senate until 1921. "
Born on September 2, 1855, in Newton, North Carolina, Hoke Smith played an important role in Georgia politics that spanned both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Smith became a resident of Georgia in 1872 when he moved from North Carolina with his parents, Hildreth and Mary Brent Smith. After being tutored by his father, Smith passed the bar in 1873 and began his own law practice. During the 1880’s, he made a name for himself as a personal damage lawyer, specifically in cases dealing with railroad accidents. This opposition to the railroads would continue throughout his political career. Smith’s early political career was spent serving as the chairman of the Fulton County Democratic Convention and the State Democratic Convention, as well as the president of the Atlanta Board of Education. He also campaigned for the Georgia state capital to be located in Atlanta. In 1887, Smith purchased the Atlanta Evening Journal and set about transforming it into one of the state’s largest newspapers, as well as a political tool from which he would benefit throughout his career.
During the Agrarian Uprising of the 1880’s and 1890’s, Smith became a champion of the farmer who supported his stance against railroad monopolies as well as his belief in the need for tariff reform. It was this stand on tariffs, along with his role in Georgia politics and his efforts in the 1872 presidential campaign that brought Smith to the attention of the newly elected president, Grover Cleveland. Impressed by the Georgian’s support, Cleveland appointed Smith as Secretary of the Interior. In this capacity, he continued his fight against railroad monopolies and attempted to direct capital to the South for new industries, agricultural progress, and improved education. Eventually, however, he broke with Cleveland over his support of William Jennings Bryan and his disapproval of the administration’s sound money policy. Smith, therefore, resigned his Cabinet post and retired back into private practice. He did not remain silent for long, however.
In 1905 and 1906, Hoke Smith ran for governor after allying himself with the former Populist Tom Watson. Up until this time, Smith had been moderate on racial issues, but soon reversed his platform to include black disenfranchisement. Other aspects of his platform included railroad reform, as well as an end to political corruption and corporate domination. Once elected, Smith achieved black disenfranchisement through literacy and property requirements. He also strengthened the Railroad Commission in order to weaken the powerful railroads. While in office, Smith accomplished the passage of the Primary Regulatory Act, which sought to end corruption by freeing the state from political machines. Along with these campaign promises, Governor Smith also achieved many other reforms. He abolished the convict lease system and improved Georgia’s penal institutions. He also established juvenile courts and worked to improve child labor conditions. Smith, then, earned the label of a reform governor on all issues, except race.
After making political enemies of both Tom Watson and Joseph M. Brown, however, he failed to win re-election for the next term, losing the office to Joseph M. Brown. Once again Hoke Smith’s political career was far from over. He was re-elected as governor in 1910 but resigned in 1911 after the Georgia General Assembly elected him to finish the unexpired term of U.S. Senator Alexander S. Clay. He was later re-elected to the Senate in 1914 after defeating his former opponent, Joseph M. Brown. During Smith’s career in the Senate, he was instrumental in the passage of both the Smith-Lever Bill, establishing extension services for land grant colleges, and the Smith-Hughes Bill, providing for vocational education programs in secondary schools. He also worked to create a federal department of education and to gain federal support for rural schools.
In 1920, Hoke Smith’s political career ended in defeat by his former political ally, Tom Watson. Once again, Smith returned to private practice, this time in Washington, D.C. By 1925, however, he was back in Atlanta and remained there until his death.
On December 19, 1883, Smith married Marion “Birdie” Cobb. The couple had five children before Mrs. Smith’s death on June 7, 1919. Smith later remarried in August 1924. His second wife was his secretary, Mazie Crawford. He remained married until his death on November 27, 1931.