Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Albert C. Ritchie (1876-1936)
MSA SC 3520-1480

Governor of Maryland, 1920-1935



Joseph B. Chepaitis, "Albert C. Ritchie in Power:  1920-1927," Maryland Historical Magazine 68, (1973): 383-404.

"ALBERT CABELL RITCHIE remains among the Free State’s foremost governors. Certainly, the sheer length of office—fifteen years—is noteworthy. No governor had been renominated since the Civil War, except Lloyd Loundes (1896-1900), and no governor had succeeded himself until Ritchie. The idea of re-electing a governor was as foreign to some Maryland citizens before the 1920’s as the disappearance of soft-shell crabs from the Eastern Shore or the permanent stopping of the B&O trains.1 Although Ritchie was elected governor of Maryland for four unprecedented terms, he laid the principal foundation for his prestige during his first two administrations.

"As governor, his administrations were significant for their reforms along progressive, yet fiscally conservative lines. He attempted to interpret and propagate the thoughts of his ideological mentor, Thomas Jefferson, in the changing context of the twentieth century. This double-fisted attitude of progressivism and economy prevailed as he urged health, welfare, educational, and labor improvements, an efficient 'business-modeled' state government, a reduction of state taxes, and opposition to a state Volstead Act. His first two terms were years of achievement; his future work was essentially an expansion and implementation of the precedents established in his first seven years. These reforms, and his own personal popularity, sustained him until his defeat in late 1934.

"Born in Richmond in his mother’s Cabell family home on August 28, 1876, he became a Marylander three weeks later when his mother brought him home to Judge Albert Ritchie’s Baltimore house. Raised in a prominent political family, he was educated in private schools, received his B.A. in 1896 from Johns Hopkins University, and earned his law degree from the University of Maryland Law School in 1898.2 The nervous young lawyer was to argue his first case before his father.3

"He soon began his political rise by serving in a number of early posts that included Assistant City Solicitor of Baltimore (1903-1910) and Assistant General Counsel to the Public Service Commission of Maryland (1910-1912). The latter position offered him maximum political exposure. In 1912, he became the lone champion of the [p. 384] Baltimore consumers to obtain cheaper gas and electricity. The chairman of the citizens’ consumer committee declared: 'We are going to put Ritchie on the job. He is as clean as a hound’s tooth-smart, bright, a hard worker and absolutely beyond the reach of any improper influence.'4 Despite considerable opposition and after eight months of litigation, Ritchie secured a reduction in the prices of gas and electricity. Two years later, as a private attorney, he tackled the utilities again because they had so reduced the quality of gas that his victory had been nullified. The Public Service Commission agreed with Ritchie and the gas company again dropped its rates.

"Enhanced by the reputation gained from the rate debate, he was elected Democratic Attorney-General of Maryland in 1915, serving until 1919, except for a leave of absence to become chief counsel to the War Industries Board under Bernard M. Baruch.5 His rise was facilitated not only by his competence but also by his own personality. Handsome by any standards, his contemporaries described him as energetic, politically ambitious, intellectually honest with himself and others, and [p. 385] farsighted.6 He enjoyed administrative and organizational work, and thus he found little time for social activities or his favorite sports, tennis and swimming. After a divorce in 1916, he lived most of his years with his mother, and according to a close associate Ritchie was a lonely man7 and regretted the lack of time available for relaxation with old and faithful friends.8

"After the war, Ritchie took advantage of a political vacuum in Maryland to secure the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1919. Although the regular party politicians offered lukewarm support, he was valuable to them because of his personal popularity, his proven capability in public office, and his strengthening of the general ticket in November.9 Few significant issues divided Ritchie and the Republican candidate, Harry W. Nice. Nice chiefly criticized the federal and state Democratic organizations, with Ritchie on the defensive. In a close election, Ritchie won by only 165 votes.10

"Blessed with a firmly Democratically-controlled legislature in his first term, he considered two matters urgent in the 1920 legislative assembly: finances and the construction of lateral roads.11 Meeting with state road officials and the Finance and Ways and Means Committees of the Senate and the House, Ritchie decided that the state should match the federal appropriations of $850,000 per year for ten years.12 Ritchie, a frequent and vocal opponent of federal aid, was not a consistent adversary of all federal subsidies. When federal funds were available for highways, he declared:  ‘So long as the practice continues to exist, and other states take advantage of it, there is no reason . . . why Maryland should penalize herself by refusing to accept her share.'13

"Breaking with tradition, he submitted his budget personally to the legislature. Although his requests included increased appropriations for the state government, schools, hospitals, and salary raises for public school teachers and police, he was able to reduce the state tax rate by two cents.14 Ritchie also engineered the creation of a Central Purchasing Bureau to keep state costs down. For Ritchie, this marked his initial emphasis on rigid economy, a keystone of his administrations. Although rebuffed by the legislature in his attempts to increase legislative representation for [p. 386] Baltimore City and to enact a 3 ½ per cent beer bill (a 3 per cent increase in liquor liberality allowed by the Volstead Act), he worked with the legislature to defeat a state prohibition law or 'Baby Volstead Act' and state ratification of the suffrage amendment.15

"The stand against women’s suffrage could have caused political problems for Ritchie, but he was able to defuse the issue. As early as 1916, consistent with his views on states’ rights, he had asserted that women’s suffrage was a local problem, not a national one. To allay the mistaken notions of the suffragettes about his views, he declared: 'I do not regard the opinion I have as a 'humiliating proclamation,' or as classifying women politically with 'minors, lunatics, idiots, criminals not pardoned.''16

"The suffragettes were not convinced by his statements, and pledged to campaign against him and his party as soon as they were permitted to vote. Sensing their ultimate political power, however, Ritchie reversed himself and called a special session of the legislature in September, 1920 after the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified. The sole purpose was to provide additional registration and polling machinery for the enfranchisement of the women. This opportunism did not harm him in future elections.17 Subsequently he asserted that men should not oppose women voters. Reflecting the male attitude of the time, he believed that women should concentrate on fields for which they were particularly well-fitted: teaching, social work, and public health or nursing.18

"With the defusing of woman’s suffrage, Governor Ritchie began to prepare for the 1922 legislature. By 1922, his program consisted of three major areas: reorganization of the administrative branches of the state government, increased legislative representation for Baltimore City, and a reduction in the number of elections. Other goals included improved conservation, schools, agriculture, road construction and labor benefits, as well as a further reduction of state taxes. Few political leaders believed that even one-half of the measures would be enacted. The Sun, Baltimore’s Democratic paper, cautioned that effective public support tended to focus on a single issue at a session and had rarely sanctioned more than two fundamental changes. Nevertheless, Governor Ritchie, especially with a lopsided Democratic majority in the legislature again, was confident.19

"As early as the 1920 legislature, Ritchie had planned for administrative reorganization by securing an appropriation to make a survey of state agencies.20 Since Maryland had enacted many necessary progressive laws, the reorganization plan was, [p. 387] in Ritchie’s mind, to be '. . . the last stage in a development in government which has been going on steadily in Maryland for the past ten or fifteen years. . . .'21  He believed in its necessity since he felt that he was hampered in his gubernatorial work by a lack of coordination, by inadequate supervision, and by duplicated work in eight-five [sic] departments.22  Employing a private firm, Griffenhagen and Associates of Chicago, the Governor used their report as the basis for his drive for efficiency and economy.23 Believing that the report’s recommendations would clash with Maryland traditions, did not emphasize thrift, and placed too much power in the governor, he appointed the Maryland State Reorganization Commission in April, 1921. It was composed entirely of 108 leading Democratic men and women.24 This raised some Republican eyebrows.  Ritchie stated that he had influence only with the Democratic [p. 388] party; he in fact intended the commission, composed of all elements of the party throughout the state, to act as a coalescing agent in the fall 1921 elections.25

"The proposals of the commission were drafted into bills and submitted in January, 1922, to the General Assembly.  Opposition by a coalition of former officeholders was led by former United States Senator John Walter Smith and the State Treasurer, John M. Dennis.  Their true target though was not the reorganization itself, but Ritchie's increasing dominance within the party and the impending abolition of state jobs.  His rivals aimed to cripple the bill with radical amendments.26

"Losing decisively in the legislature because of Ritchie's smooth working relationship with the Assembly's Democratic leaders and favorable public opinion, the 'Old Guard' grumbled that Ritchie had to assume full responsibility should the plan ultimately fail.  He was happy to do so, for it would strengthen his hold on the party by selective appointments.  The ensuing struggle permitted a victorious Governor Ritchie in 1923 to choose between a second term as governor or a seat in the United States Senate.27

"The reorganization consolidated the eighty-five executive and administrative agencies into nineteen departments.  The business of the state was simplified as single commissioners replaced many boards and commissions, and the governor was no longer required to serve as an ex-officio member of various commissions.  Importantly, for Governor Ritchie's program of economy, the plan meant a saving of $100,000 a year.28

"Concurrently, Governor Ritchie had achieved victory in another area:  greater representation for Baltimore City, which he had unsuccessfully sought in 1920.  When the representation bills seemed to be dying in the Assembly, the Baltimore City representatives threatened to combine and fight every administration measure unless the governor applied pressure on the other legislators.29  The difficult times were not without their political poet laureates.  'The Politiad,' as he surreptitiously called himself, wrote a canto for The Baltimore News entitled:  'The Political Reporter Tunes His Lyre,' [p. 389]

The Legislative mill, its grind begun,
To work gets down, thus stirring up some fun;
Th' Administration program first calls for
Keeping the party's pledge to Baltimore;
Six legislative districts are the pledge,
But county members soon begin to hedge;
Too long the counties with alarm have viewed
The city to be suddenly subdued,
Tradition still its hoary hold retains
And hot resentment runs through county veins;
From county eyes do fiery flashes gleam,
When word is passed this promise to redeem--
'What!' All this hate (sic, haste) to give to Baltimore
A perfect 36, not 24
4 Senators with 6 to supercede,
As in the party's platform was agreed--
A promise?  Yes, but tell us why the speed?30

"The ancient conflict between city and country nearly stifled the vital bills, but again Governor Ritchie's pressure and the Democratic party Assembly leaders' appeals to party unity and loyalty pushed through the necessary constitutional amendment.  Some county Democrats voted grudgingly for the amendments, but vowed to campaign against them in the referendum.31

"With two-thirds of the major platform pledges of 1921 fulfilled, the Governor encountered his stiffest fight in the Fewer Elections bill.  It provided that all state, city, and county elections should be held concurrently with the congressional elections, thereby eliminating all odd-year elections and trimming the state's budget.  Democratic legislators particularly objected.  Since local elections would occur at the same time as national ones, the national issues would seem to overshadow local considerations; not to be forgotten either were the large Republican campaign war chests which would presumably swamp the normally meager Democratic funds.  The county Democrats feared particularly that their counties would swing to the G.O.P. as national issues and Republican funds took their toll.  Most of the furor developed because the Reorganization Commission and Ritchie had not consulted fully with party leaders.  To quiet the tempest, Governor Ritchie called a meeting of local Democratic politicos, which agreed to have state elections for all state offices once every four years, coinciding with the off-year congressional elections.

"The bill finally reached the House as a proposed constitutional amendment and passed after a narrow initial defeat (having failed to secure a three-fifths majority by three votes).  This pleased Ritchie, as did legislation for a further reduction of four [p. 390] cents in the state tax rate and a bill creating a Bureau of Child Hygiene.32 With the conclusion of the 1922 legislature, he had completed the work which formed the hard core of all his gubernatorial accomplishments.

"His reputation was enhanced further with the voters of Maryland by his stand against President Warren G. Harding during the coal strike of 1922. As the situation became critical in the Western Maryland coal areas, Governor Ritchie granted a $2000 increase in the appropriations for the Miners’ Hospital in Western Maryland. When President Harding called for the governors of all twenty-eight coal-producing states to protect both the property of the coal operators and their workers through the use of the National Guard, Ritchie refused. Noting that the strike had been conducted lawfully and peacefully in Maryland, he was reluctant to burden the taxpayers with the expense of maintaining troops at the mines needlessly.33 Ritchie chose this as an opportune occasion to proclaim his belief in states’ rights and reason:

The traditions of this State are those of a people who have settled such matters as these without the aid of bayonets and rifles. It is nearly thirty years since our militia has been used for a purpose of this kind, and I do not feel, even in the face of federal failure, that I should immediately agree with your assumption that this failure is so complete, that when the problem is turned back to each State, I should without further and more mature consideration give assurance which might lead to filling the mine regions of Maryland with armed troops. . . ., but in the darkest hours of situations like these there often comes the time when with methods other than force men can finally he persuaded to meet and agree for the common welfare.34
"The Governor did, however, agree, at the request of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, to establish a Maryland Coal Commission to control and assure equitable coal distribution in Maryland. He also attempted to obtain a settlement of the Maryland dispute through a series of conferences with union mine leaders and the coal operators. However, the 'Herrin Massacre' in Illinois in particular turned a suspicious public against the miners, and they lost in Maryland.35

"Ritchie was soon preoccupied with political infighting in support of the Frank Kelly machine choice, Howard W. Jackson, as the Democratic nominee for mayor of Baltimore in 1923. Jackson seemed to Ritchie to be a man of integrity with business experience whose attitudes on health, public schools, the merit system, and taxation were most satisfactory.36 The Independent Citizens’ candidate, James H. Preston, flayed Ritchie '. . . as the spokesman and defender of the worst enemy [Kelly] Baltimore has had in my lifetime. . . .'37  Ritchie rebutted:

[p. 391] It is a pity, for Mr. Preston's own sake, that he cannot avoid abusing everyone who disagrees with him, for this trait may again have the same effect on his political fortunes that it had when he ran the last time.  However, I am not Mr. Preston's equal in the art of abuse, and so I must leave that field to him.38
"Ritchie's choice, Jackson, won the election.39

[p. 392]  "In the same year, defying Maryland political tradition, Ritchie sought and secured the Democratic party’s renomination. By 1923 he had gained control of his party from his weakened foes, former U.S. Senator Smith and State Treasurer Dennis. Democratic leaders wanted to be on a winning team. The Governor was extremely popular and the strength of his record was obvious. Against his Republican opponent, Attorney-General Alexander Armstrong, Ritchie became the first governor re-elected since the Civil War: his margin was 43,000 votes (coming particularly from Baltimore City) which carried with him larger Democratic majorities than in the 1921 General Assembly elections.40  In an ensuing and heated battle over the selection of the President of the Senate, Ritchie’s candidate, David G. Mcintosh, Jr. (Baltimore County), triumphed over William Curran. Baltimore City’s choice. Despite embitterment toward Governor Ritchie, Baltimore City’s nominee for Speaker of the House, Francis P. Curtis, was selected: this was most fortuituous for the city because county Democrats had determined to give only one leadership position to Baltimore City and because the Speakership was important to patronage.41 The urban-rural antipathy continued to influence Maryland politics in the 1920’s.

"Governor Ritchie was essentially an economic conservative, and the entire 1924 Gubernatorial Message to the General Assembly, centering on a Democratic platform pledge to reduce the state tax rate by another three cents by 1927, was budgetary. This brought to more than nine cents the total state tax reduction accomplished during his first two terms.42 The major struggle, in fact the sole conflict, of the 1924 legislature concerned increased appropriations for the University of Maryland and its hospital despite Ritchie’s plea for budgetary restraint. The University of Maryland, since its enlargement by the 1920 legislature, had followed a policy of seeking continued expansion. In his January 4, 1922 Message to the General Assembly, Governor Ritchie opposed the University’s desire to expand its facilities and to incorporate such institutions as St. John’s of Annapolis, Washington College (Chestertown), and Western Maryland before the citizens of the state understood the implications of such plans. He questioned the wisdom of such a move when competent, private, small colleges existed in the state. The main purpose of the University, he thought, was its agricultural training. He countered the arguments of those who cited such state universities as Wisconsin by emphasizing that they were the only higher educational institutions in new Western states, while the East Coast had a proliferation of small colleges.43 He also believed that Maryland would be better served by emphasizing [p. 393] elementary and secondary education for the many rather than '. . . higher education for the comparative few.'44

"The University held that it too had a justifiable case. The Griffenhagen Report of 1921 had noted the many deficiencies of the University: desperate housing conditions, the poor fiscal condition of the schools of pharmacy, dentistry, and medicine, dilapidated buildings (especially the antiquated Maryland University Hospital), and an inadequate library, while the Governor’s personally-appointed Committee on State Aid to Colleges expressed opposition to the University’s enlargement. In conjunction with their disapproval, Governor Ritchie in his 1924 Inaugural Address urged special aid for the small colleges of Maryland, such as St. John’s and Washington College, to enable them to become self-supporting. He admitted that his budget provided for even less than the University’s proclaimed essential minimum needs, but he believed that the amount allotted was the maximum the state finances could bear.45

"Seeking legislative allies, the University of Maryland secured Senator Curran, still [p. 394] smarting from his defeat for the Presidency of the State Senate. He led the Senate anti-administration forces. The University and their political allies also prompted the alumni to bombard the Governor with telegrams and letters.46

"Ritchie became piqued at attempts to increase his budget:

It is not an easy task to resist the demands that are being made upon the State Treasury, particularly when so many of the objects are worthy interests, but I feel that the State has about reached the point where, for the present at least, it cannot afford to take on much more.47
And,
. . . after all ours is a common problem—the problem of fixing State expenditures at the point, which will enable State affairs to he administered and State obligations to be performed with a union of efficiency, constructiveness and economy.48
"He further asserted that public opinion, in his view, had not strongly supported the vast sums requested by the University—$8,289,923 for the next three years.49 His own University budget of $2,849,600 for three years, he noted, provided for increases over past appropriations. He, therefore, notified the press that any additional sums above his own budget, even in the form of a loan, would meet with his prompt veto because it would increase the state’s tax rate, which he had pledged to reduce. The issue was not his budget requests of $2,849,600, which were accepted by the legislature, but additional sums.50

"His foes seized on the disclosure that the University Hospital was a fire trap because it lacked fire escape stairs. Taking the offensive Senator Curran proposed that a new hospital be built. The Governor, however, began a counterattack with a bill to separate completely the Baltimore and College Park areas of the University by selling the Baltimore property, including the hospital, to private interests. In an unusual appearance before a joint session of the legislature on March 18, 1924, Ritchie acknowledged that he had committed an error in 1920 by approving the merger which put the University hospital and its allied schools under state control. He urged that only the Agricultural College at College Park remain under state supervision. The University hospital primarily benefited Baltimore City rather than the rest of Maryland. Moreover, he maintained, the counties did not profit by the medical school either because most of the graduates were from other states, and the majority of those from Maryland did not return to practice in the counties.51

[p. 395] "Disregarding the Governor’s plea, the Senate passed by 15-14 the Curran University Hospital bill of $1,375,000, rather than Ritchie’s proposal of $400,000 in state aid for a new hospital and a separated University. The Governor’s budget was also repudiated in the House in the final days of the legislature. The House defiantly passed four appropriations bills, totaling $2,525,000, which were not included in the executive budget. Ritchie, charging that the Curran forces contemplated 'putting him a hole' by withholding final passage of the bills until the last days of the legislature to preclude any compromise measures, successfully vetoed the bills.52 Fearing charges that inadequate funds were allotted for the University hospital, the Governor proposed a compromise of $500,000 for the University hospital if the Board of Regents of the University agreed to a separation. In addition, Ritchie recommended that $75,000 for fire escapes at the hospital should be raised by a bond issue which was later passed. The attempt at compromise for the building of a new hospital was sty- [p. 396] mied because of a refusal by the Curran forces to consent to the separation clause requested by Ritchie.53 Nevertheless, he had maintained a balanced budget at the expense of the University despite strong pressures.

"With the conclusion of the 1924 legislature, Ritchie attended the tumultuous Democratic National Convention and campaigned hard in the East for John W. Davis. After the presidential election, the Governor embarked on speaking tours to discuss states’ rights. In the meantime, speculation concerning his future plans mounted until early in 1926 when he announced his intention to seek re-election to a third term. Yet despite his popularity, he was forced to engage in a primary election with William Milnes Maloy, his opponent in the 1915 Attorney-General primary. Maloy lost as Ritchie’s record, prestige, and grip on the Democratic party brought him a comfortable victory by 31,000 votes.54 The Republican candidate, Addison E. Milliken, was not a strong contestant, and in the general election chiefly criticized the Governor’s approval of the development of the Conowingo Dam and hydroelectric plant on the Susquehanna River as a giveaway to Pennsylvania. With little in the way of a serious challenge Ritchie obtained a third term by a 60,000 vote margin.55

"During his first two terms Ritchie had not confined himself to the major issues alone. At the inception of his first term in 1920, he had resolved to improve Maryland public schools which the Department of Education of the Russell Sage Foundation rated thirty-seventh of fifty-two states, dependencies, and territories. Calling a conference of the members of the State Board of Education, he persuaded the Board to select Dr. Albert S. Cook as the State Superintendent of Education.56 Ritchie and Dr. Cook then planned an educational reorganization of the state public school system, which included higher salaries for teachers, increased aid to high schools, improved teacher training in the Normal schools, and the Equalization Plan (enabling poorer counties to draw upon state Equalization funds to improve their school systems without raising county school taxes above sixty-seven cents per person). As a result, Maryland’s rating, according to the Russell Sage Foundation, rose from 43.02 to 65.1 by 1923 alone.57

"In addition, the Governor sought reforms in mental health and removed the [p. 397] criminally insane from prisons to mental hospitals. His budget provided increasing state appropriations for separate facilities for the mentally ill at locations such as Spring Grove, Springfield, and Crownsville.58 To combat crime, Ritchie supported the organization of a state police force and the reorganization of the Baltimore City Police Department which was under state control at the time. Patrolmen in Baltimore were now divided into three eight-hour shifts rather than two twelve-hour ones, and their salaries were increased to keep them from remaining the lowest paid officers among the eighteen largest American cities.59

"The Governor also did not neglect one of Maryland’s most significant natural resources—seafood. The problem of shellfish conservation was complicated by the crabbing interests in both Maryland and Virginia. The primary problem arose over the protection of the female sponge crab.60 At a Governors' Conference in Annapolis in 1924, both states agreed to pass laws to save the crabbing industries of the Chesapeake from destruction. Maryland passed its law protecting the crab in the grassy state, while Virginia defended the female crab bearing the egg sponge.61

"While consolidating his position in Maryland, Ritchie was also increasing his prestige and exposure nationally because of his political philosophy of supporting states’ rights.62 Yet although Ritchie assaulted any federal infringement on these rights, he accepted certain forms of federal aid, especially for roads and maternal and infant care. He reasoned that federal money was being used by other states and therefore Maryland should not penalize herself by refusing it.63 At the beginning of his gubernatorial career, he had not emphasized states’ rights. But in his second term, 'This literal Jeffersonian' as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., called him,64 increasingly attacked the Republicans for fostering federal encroachments on states’ authority. 'Fifty-fifty' federal aid was one of his central targets because state affairs, he believed, were becoming standardized by federal control and supervision, and the states were becoming dependent upon federal aid and losing their own initiative.65

"Of the many specific areas which Ritchie attacked—federal interference in educa- [p. 398] tion, the federal income and inheritance taxes, the growth of  federal bureaucracy66— his central target was the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act. To Ritchie, prohibition used the law as an instrument for the social control of all people by the social precepts and ideas of certain groups or classes of the people.67 The Governor believed that it violated the rights of states to control their own affairs:

The great majority of people in Maryland believe the Volstead Act simply cannot be enforced there. Our people are embued with a fine traditional respect for law and the established order, and we were effectively solving the temperance question by local option in the various units of the state. Under that method, when the people of a community wanted Prohibition, they actually got it.
The Volstead Act changed all this. Our people in the main regard it as an unnecessary and drastic federal infringement on their State and personal rights. The lack of respect for the law and the actual lawlessness which have resulted are deplorable. The only remedy I see is to recognize that the Volstead Act is destructive of the rights of the States, and to turn the [p. 399] whole question back to the States, so that each may settle it in accordance with the will of its own people.68
"Before Ritchie had become governor, Maryland was the sixth state to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment, and most of its counties were 'dry' when the Volstead Act arrived. And as governor, he supported the Eighteenth Amendment but only as part of the Constitution. Simultaneously however, he fought a state 'Baby' Volstead Act. The Maryland Anti-Saloon League was thus unsuccessful in its attempts because of the opposition of Governor Ritchie and the 'wet' areas surviving in Baltimore City and surrounding counties.69 Later in 1922, Governor Ritchie carried his opposition to the national level in a Fourteen Governor’s Conference at the White House called by President Harding, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, and Prohibition Enforcement Commissioner Roy Haynes. At this national forum, Ritchie declared the Volstead Act to be unenforceable in, and tyrannical to, Maryland. His anti-prohibition stand earned him some 'dry' notoriety: high Methodist Episcopal Church officials accused him of being un-American, an anarchist, and a traitor.70 Despite such intemperate attacks, Ritchie again denounced prohibition at the Conference of Governors on Prohibition Enforcement in 1923 as an infringement of states’ rights.71 Since he could not secure repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, he personally entertained no concrete plans for the repeal or amendment of the Volstead Act itself other than to liberalize the sale of beer and light wines. For him, the fundamental fact still was that each state should solve the problem according to the convictions of its own citizens.72 H. L. Mencken, an ardent admirer of Ritchie’s as well as being unsympathetic toward the Anti-Saloon League, wrote:
In some way or other the fame of Maryland has got about the country. Governor Ritchie’s speeches at first sneered at and then unattended, have gradually made their way into the remotest newspapers, and now every literate person in the vast territory I traveled seems to know about him, and about the successful effort of Maryland to put down malignant Methodism. I was asked about him almost as often as I was asked to have a drink.73
"Ritchie’s candid call for the reinvigoration of states’ rights was heeded predominantly in the South, where his prohibition stance hurt him slightly, however.74 His views echoed a strong following because in the Twenties the need for a vigorous national government had not been universally accepted. Ritchie’s philosophy of states’ rights and his actions against growing federal power as well as his constructive [p. 400] gubernatorial administrations helped to project him as a national presidential candidate. Ritchie was a prospective, but not serious, candidate twice during his first two terms. He began as a favorite son contender; he reached his zenith and ultimately departed as one.

"In the 1920 convention he withdrew and urged each Maryland delegate to vote independently. As a member of the Resolutions Committee, he unsuccessfully urged planks criticizing the Volstead Act and calling for the defeat of the proposed Suffrage Amendment. For forty-three ballots Ritchie supported William G. McAdoo, but then he switched to James Cox and asked the Maryland delegates to follow him.75

"By 1924 the Governor’s record of reform and economy and his continuing speeches on states’ rights had spread his name nationally. Before the Maryland Democratic Convention was held, William Curran had advocated that the congressional districts, rather than the state convention, name the national delegates. Curran lost and a slate of delegates loyal to Ritchie were chosen and instructed to vote as a unit.76 The Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore, Michael Curley, expressed the wishes of many [p. 401] Free Staters: 'I, personally, know of no one in the country more worthy or better qualified to fill the highest executive position or anyone I should prefer to see in the White House.'77 Worthy and qualified or not, Ritchie’s own campaign tactics were those of strict neutrality, and a policy of’ waiting until the two front-runners, McAdoo and Al Smith, exhausted themselves. He was assured of Maryland’s sixteen votes and knew that other states had implied an interest in him as a second choice. The trick was to antagonize no one and to lure no delegates away from any other potential nominees. He urged delegates committed to Governor Al Smith, whom he greatly admired, to remain with 'the Happy Warrior' as long as he remained a candidate.78 Ritchie wisely recognized himself as only a second choice.

"In the balloting, Ritchie never achieved more than his high of 49 9/10 on the fifth ballot, predominantly Maryland’s sixteen votes and Louisiana’s twenty. Although wooed by Smith forces, the Maryland delegation continued with Ritchie for 100 ballots because they were not certain that Smith’s drive would be successful. Moreover, Ritchie did not want to antagonize McAdoo supporters, whom he was hoping to gain if McAdoo faltered. This neutrality was unworkable because the principal contenders needed Maryland’s votes.79 To break the debilitating convention deadlock between Smith and McAdoo, Governor Ritchie and the Maryland delegation originated the 'Maryland plan' to release the delegates to vote freely. The idea was accepted by all the candidates at an emergency conference called on July 6. With this agreement, the Convention chose John W. Davis, with Maryland being the first 'favorite son' state to support Davis, Ritchie liked Davis because the Democratic candidate opposed federal supervision of education and the Ku Klux Klan.80

"In his assessment of the election, Ritchie appealed for the entire Democratic party to return its emphasis to the conviction that that government governs best which governs least.81 After the election, the Governor continued to spread his political philosophy through travel and speechmaking. In 1925, the New York Times called Ritchie '. . . the foremost advocate of the old Democratic doctrine of states’ rights in the country. . . .'82 His appeal remained particularly to the southern states because of his advocacy of greater dependence on local state government. Yet he himself realized his weak position by praising Al Smith as the outstanding figure in the Democratic party.83

"During his first two administrations, he had run seriously as a presidential candidate once. He failed for numerous reasons. Maryland was a small state, with few people and fewer electoral votes. Ritchie himself was not a weatlhy man, nor was he backed [p. 402] by a large group of rich supporters. He had not actively sought delegates outside Maryland, nor had he organized seriously for a campaign. The other candidates had already achieved followings. Even when the deadlock was broken between Smith and McAdoo in 1924, the Convention did not turn to Maryland’s 'favorite son' but to West Virginia’s.

"Governor Ritchie’s wave of 1924 had washed ashore and been broken on the rocks of the Democratic Convention. The sea of popularity and prestige would send other waves, but they too would be dissipated. On the state level, he would be governor for eight more years beyond 1926, although some scandals would shake his terms. His chances for the 1928 Democratic presidential nomination remained slim despite his speeches against federal expansion and prohibition. He withdrew from the race and threw his ardent support to Al Smith to preserve party unity.

"Later in the beginning of the Depression, Ritchie decided to run again for re-election in 1930. There was no Democratic primary fight, and the Republican candidate, William T. Broening, Mayor of Baltimore, attacked the governor on his refusal to accept the federal inheritance tax passed in 1926 and thus the benefit from the 80 per cent return to the states, Although Maryland had finally acquiesced in the provisions of the law, Broening charged that in the interim Maryland had lost $l,250,000 as a result of Ritchie’s stubbornness. Ritchie demonstrated that the U.S. Supreme Court had not ruled the law constitutional until October 22, 1928, and therefore, it would have been unwise to have accepted the act before that decision. Ritchie also had to counter the major charges of neglect resulting from the state roads scandal of 1928 and of a long incumbency in office and monopoly of power. But Governor Ritchie was re-elected by a majority of 70,000 votes. The large election victory was due to the depression and the dissatisfaction with the national Republican administration as well as Ritchie’s merits.84

"Strengthened by his victory and a turn in the tide of prohibition sentiment, Ritchie again was considered as a likely Democratic candidate in 1932. He formally announced his candidacy and expressed a frank desire to become President for the first time in his career. Bernard Baruch preferred him to Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Governor Ritchie was outmatched by James Farley and F.D.R. who had been gathering delegates for two years before the Convention. After Ritchie received only 23½ votes, he pledged support and worked hard for the next President.85

"Following his collapsed presidential hopes Governor Ritchie surprised all political analysts by deciding to run for a fifth term. But unfortunately his fame and prestige had declined since 1930 because he was unsympathetic to the populace's support of the relief programs of the New Deal. As a result a bitter primary battle ensued, but Ritchie defeated Dr. Charles H. Conley, a Frederick physician, to oppose the Republican nominee, Harry W. Nice, his opponent in the 1919 election. Nice [p. 403] assaulted Ritchie’s decision to call a bank holiday in March, 1933; this criticism was effective because a large number of Marylanders had been adversely affected. Ritchie, losing by 5,000 votes to Nice, fought a defensive campaign. Many felt that his defeat was a protest against the fifth term and an entrenched political machine. In defeat the Governor retired to private law practice with his former law partner, Stuart S. Janney. Death claimed him on February 24, 1936.86

"Maryland was a small state in the 1920’s and still essentially a southern state faced with no large growing pains and a slow way of life. Its problems were not on a large scale associated with burgeoning industrialism and population. Its people were not torn by divisive and deep conflicts. Its politics was stable and predominantly Democratic, the age of Albert C. Ritchie. While Governor Ritchie achieved significant governmental reforms, e.g., the State Reorganization Act of 1922, and improved state education, health, and conservation, he operated under remarkably opportune conditions and times. Nevertheless, much credit for his success is necessarily due to his own acumen and personality. He used all possible means to do his job, and he sensed the political and popular winds keenly. His personal popularity [p. 404] was most advantageous; he used this tool, engendered by his reputation for honesty and candor, with adept skill. Utilizing these assets, he was able both to cooperate with and to overpower the political elements and legislators in Maryland. This ensured an effective legislative program and consequently enhanced his popularity. This was not, however, enough to vault him to higher offices on the national level. His basic ideas of states’ rights, reform and economy of the first two terms are best summarized in his own words:

The future does not lie with the ultra-conservatives. It lies with those of progressive vision. They may not give us a new heaven or a new earth but at least they can harmonize the old with the new . . . The problem of politics is how to use the new.  I believe it can do this by preserving what is tried and true in the old. . . .87
"During these first two terms, Ritchie tried to practice these ideals and the resultant achievements were important factors in maintaining the governorship until 1935."


Notes on sources

Return to Albert C. Ritchie's introductory page


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