Howard Worth Smith was born on February 2, 1883, in rural Broad Run, Fauquier County. He attended public schools and graduated from Bethel Military Academy in Warrenton, Virginia. After graduating from the University of Virginia, he opened a law practice in Alexandria. During World War I (1914–1918), he served as assistant general counsel to the Federal Alien Property Custodian, which administered claims relating to the seizure of foreign-owned property. From 1918 until 1922, Smith was commonwealth's attorney for Alexandria, before becoming a corporation court judge. As his career in law and politics blossomed, "Judge" Smith also pursued interests in farming, dairying, and banking, as well as part ownership of the Alexandria Gazette. He married Lillian Proctor on November 4, 1913, and they had two children—Howard Jr. and Violett. After his first wife died in the worldwide flu pandemic of 1919, Smith married Ann Corcoran in 1923.
To fight subversion, Smith wrote the Alien Registration Act, or Smith Act, of 1940, which required aliens to register with the federal government and which made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the federal government. It was this law that became a crucial weapon in targeting radicals during the Cold War, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Dennis v. United States (1951), which upheld the convictions of several Communist Party leaders. The law remains in effect.
Smith used his considerable parliamentary skills to delay, sabotage, or kill legislation for government assistance and civil rights. As an obstructionist, he was an acknowledged master, leading the one-hundred-member conservative coalition of southern Democrats and northern Republicans and chairing the powerful House Rules Committee, which set the conditions under which bills could be considered. So vast was Smith's influence that U.S. president John F. Kennedy supported successful efforts to reduce the powers of the Rules Committee.
When the monumental Civil Rights Act of 1964 was proposed, the Rules Committee had been largely emasculated. Nevertheless, Smith used every trick at his disposal to try to sink the measure. When passage nevertheless seemed likely, Smith, at the urging of members of the National Woman's Party, volunteered to introduce an amendment to give women, especially white women, equal rights in employment. In this respect, Smith can be called a midwife of the modern feminist movement, although his impact can be considered ironic given the fact that some claim he added the word "sex" to the bill's language as a way to draw votes away from the proposed legislation, which he detested. Smith later insisted that he sincerely supported women's rights, but the Congressional Record notes that there was laughter when Smith introduced his amendment.
Smith, a longtime Episcopalian, died on October 3, 1976, and is buried near his ancestral home in Broad Run.
February 2, 1883 - Howard W. Smith is born in Broad Run.
1930 - Howard W. Smith wins election to the United States House of Representatives, where he advocates for states' rights, fiscal responsibility, and white supremacy.
1940 - Howard W. Smith authors the Alien Registration Act, or Smith Act, which requires aliens to register with the federal government and makes it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the federal government.
1964 - Howard W. Smith introduces an amendment to the civil rights bill that gives women equal rights in employment. Though the measure is intended to slow the bill's passage, it is now considered a crucial part of the Civil Rights Act.
1966 - Howard W. Smith's long career ends when he loses his bid for party renomination to George C. Rawlings Jr., little-known liberal challenger, who in turn loses the general election.
October 3, 1976 - Howard W. Smith dies.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Dierenfield, B. Howard W. Smith (1883–1976). (2014, January 1). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Smith_Howard_Worth_1883-1976.
- MLA Citation:
Dierenfield, Bruce. "Howard W. Smith (1883–1976)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: November 6, 2008 | Last modified: January 1, 2014