Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

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

Governor of Maryland, 1920-1935



The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970.  Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970, 257-263.

"ALBERT CABELL RITCHIE had the unique distinction of being the only Marylander during the first half of the twentieth century to be considered for the presidential nomination by his party. In this respect, his career was unusual, since he had come to be a national figure solely on his record as a four-term governor of Maryland, unlike such prominent figures as Roger Brooke Taney, William Wirt, or Reverdy Johnson, who had become famous because of their congressional, cabinet or judicial contributions. Ritchie’s career, moreover, was characterized almost exclusively and solely by the absence of national experiences except for a brief period of time in which he served as the General Counsel of the War Industries Board during World War I.

"Like McKeldin and Nice, Ritchie was also considered as a candidate for the vice presidential nomination. This could certainly have been his for the asking in 1932, but Ritchie did not want to be Vice President under Franklin D. Roosevelt as he was not in sympathy with the latter’s policies. In addition, Ritchie certainly wanted to be remembered as Governor of Maryland rather than as a forgotten Vice President, which he most likely would have been had he consented to serve under Roosevelt.

"Ritchie was the first Governor of Maryland to be re-elected by popular vote to succeed himself. A champion of State’s rights and an opponent of the 18th Amendment as well as of the Volstead Act, Ritchie was unanimously popular as governor, and a man who was held in growing esteem by his party both within and outside the State of Maryland.

"By serving four consecutive terms as Governor, he exercised unrivalled political influence in the State. Had he so desired, he could have gone to the United States Senate in 1934, but he did not choose to do so as he felt that he was unbeatable as Governor. When he was finally defeated in 1934, in what may be termed as a protest vote in favor of Harry Nice, he left office an embittered and sick man.

"Albert Cabell Ritchie, born in Richmond, Virginia on August 29, 1876, the son of a Judge Albert and Elizabeth Caskie (Cabell) Ritchie, was the product of a distinguished ancestry. His father had been a [p. 258] member of the Constitutional Convention of 1867, City Solicitor of Baltimore City, Professor of Law at the University of Maryland and Judge of the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City. His mother, a Virginian by birth, was the descendant of a Governor of Virginia, and of Joseph Cabell, a close friend and associate of Thomas Jefferson.

"When he was about three weeks old, Ritchie’s family brought him back to Baltimore. There he received his early education in the private schools of his adopted city. In 1896, he graduated from The Johns Hopkins University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. Two years later he received his law degree from the University of Maryland and was admitted to the Bar, beginning the practice of law with the firm of Steele, Semmes, Carey and Bond in 1900. In March of 1903, he was appointed Assistant City Solicitor of Baltimore, a post which he held until 1910. In November of 1903, he formed a law firm with Stuart S. Janney and continued as a member of that firm until he was elected Governor in 1919.

"In 1907, he was appointed Professor of Law in the University of Maryland Law School. He was also serving in that capacity when he was elected Governor.

"Ritchie was married on May 18, 1907 to Elizabeth Catherine Baker of Catonsville. In June of 1916, she filed suit for absolute divorce against him, charging abandonment. She asserted that Ritchie had left her in 1910 and had gone to live with his mother. Beyond filing an answer to the bill, he made no defense to the action. Ritchie never remarried. He had no children.

"On July 1, 1910, Ritchie became Assistant General Counsel to the Public Service Commission. In that position, he first attracted public attention, for in that year the great battle began to give Baltimore City cheaper gas and electricity rates. As People’s Counsel (as the position was then known) Ritchie represented the people of Baltimore in the prosecution of the case against public utilities, the successful termination of which made Ritchie Attorney General, because the fight resulted in the reduction in the price of gas from ninety to eighty cents per thousand cubic feet, and the price of electricity from ten to eight and one-half cents per kilowatt hour. The decision made Ritchie a public hero and Baltimoreans began to enjoy an annual savings of $500,000 on their gas and electricity bills.

"At the conclusion of this battle, Ritchie resigned on February 16, 1913 to resume his private law practice. While he was thus engaged, he took up the study of a complaint that the utility company had so reduced the quality of gas that the rate decision had been nullified. He filed a brief with the Public Service Commission which demanded the restoration of quality in the gas being served, or a further reduction in the rate. As a result of this, the Public Service Commission ordered the gas company to restore gas to its former quality, or drop the rate from eighty cents per thousand cubic feet to seventy-five cents. The company accepted the rate-cut alternative, so that it was estimated its consumers saved an additional $200,000 annually.

[p. 259] "As one result of his work in the gas company case, he was nominated as Attorney General of Maryland in 1915. He defeated his opponent, William Milnes Maloy, whom he was to defeat later for the governorship, by over 20,000 votes in a contest between the backers of Emerson Harrington who supported Ritchie and those of Blair Lee who favored Maloy. Ritchie, in the general election which followed, defeated the Republican candidate, Albert A. Doub, by over 25,000 votes.

"As Attorney General, Ritchie served from December 20, 1915 to December 20, 1919. After his election, he set out to organize the State Law Department to take over the legal work of all the State departments with the exception of the Public Service Commission. This move eliminated the employment of numerous special counsel and resulted both in the economy and increased efficiency of the State government. At the Special Session of the Legislature held in June 1917, Ritchie prepared the special legislation made necessary by the war, a work which served as a model for many states.

"On June 3, 1918, Ritchie was appointed General Counsel to the U. S. War Industries Board, one of the most powerful of all the war agencies set up by the Federal government. He secured a leave of absence from his duties as Attorney General, and moved to Washington to devote all his time to war work. Here he met Bernard M. Baruch, its chairman, and the two became fast friends. Baruch later took a great personal interest in Ritchie and was one of his original backers for the presidency.

"In December 1918, when the Board was dissolved, Ritchie returned to Baltimore to resume his duties as Attorney General. For the next year, while the Democrats of the State were looking for a candidate for Governor, Ritchie made known his availability and interest. Early in the spring of 1919, he filed for the nomination, even though the municipal contest in Baltimore aroused much bitterness and resulted in the election of a Republican Mayor. The gubernatorial election of 1919 could have been won by the Republicans, for that party had captured control of the Legislature, and the people were disgruntled with the national Democratic administration. Within the state, the party was further torn by internal strife. Ritchie, however, avoided a primary fight and was nominated without opposition.

"In the November 4, 1919 election, he fought his Republican opponent Harry W. Nice in the first struggle between the two. This was one of the closest gubernatorial elections in the history of the State. Election night was one of anxiety in both parties, and the final result was not to be known for days after a great deal of suspense in which the lead seesawed first from Ritchie then to Nice and back again. In the official tally, however, Ritchie squeaked through by the perilously narrow margin of only one hundred and sixty-five votes, receiving 112,240 to 112,075 for Harry Nice. Ritchie, however, failed to carry with him a solid Democratic ticket, for Republican Alexander Armstrong defeated Democrat Thomas J. Keating in the contest for Attorney General.

"Governor Ritchie was inaugurated on January 14, 1920, for the first [p. 260] of his four consecutive terms. His first term was noteworthy for a number of constructive achievements. Under his direction, the Legislature passed the 'fewer elections law', which caused a great reduction in the State’s election costs. He fostered and developed the public school system of the State, until from a position of stagnation, it now equalled the best in the country and provided an equalization fund which stipulated that each county had to conform to certain standards in the organization, administration, supervision and teaching with the State providing a refund to aid the less wealthy counties. He advocated and pursued the policy of building and maintaining the roads of the State until Maryland, during his administration, stood second in the nation in the excellence of its highways. He established a merit system for State employees. He perfected the budget system which originated while he was Attorney General to effect considerable savings in the operating expenses of the State. He secured the passage of model legislation on the subject of cooperative marketing, the eradication of tuberculosis from dairy herds and the promotion of agriculture. Finally, he redrafted and liberalized the Workmen’s Compensation Act and advocated and secured legislation protecting the health and safety of miners of the State.

"Probably most important, however, was the reorganization of the State Government. Although he had appointed a commission on governmental reorganization, Governor Ritchie worked out most of the plans himself. 'The originating of his reforms must properly be credited to many others, but Ritchie himself was largely responsible, through his own driving power, his sense of timing, and his clear gifts of leadership, as well as his generally wise selection of administrators, for translating lofty hopes and ideas into political reality.'1

"While Ritchie was accomplishing all these reforms within the State, he was becoming nationally known for his opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment, his pleas for states’ rights, and his refusal to cooperate with Presidents Harding and Coolidge. In 1922, President Harding called upon Ritchie to send troops to the mines during a coal miners’ strike. Ritchie refused, taking the position that the situation could be settled by mutual agreement and not by force. Ritchie was to see his point won. He attended a governors’ conference called by Harding and electrified the country by announcing that 'he would have nothing to do with the enforcement ballyhoo.'2 In another conference called by President Coolidge, he told his fellow governors 'that the conference was a failure and others would continue to be, so long as they refused to face the basic question of who was to enforce prohibition, the states or the federal government'.3

"He began his opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment by attacking it and the Volstead Act as usurpers of the rights of the various states [p. 261] in their efforts to settle the liquor problem for themselves. He never ceased to speak out against national prohibition.

"Ritchie always stood firmly against the federal system of state aid as a matter of principle. He opposed governmental ownership and operation as a faulty scheme of public utility control, by asserting that the states had the power to regulate public utilities within reasonable bounds.

"As his first term neared its end in September 1923, Ritchie broke a precedent by being nominated to succeed himself, a feat no other governor up to that time had been able to accomplish. By building up a strong party organization and a loyal personal following, he was unopposed in the primary election. In the general election, Ritchie faced his opponent Alexander Armstrong, the Republican Attorney General who had been elected with him in 1919, and defeated him by a plurality of over 43,000 votes in an election in which the issues were Ritchie’s record in office and his stand on prohibition. He was inaugurated for his second term on January 9, 1924.

"During his second term, Ritchie was first mentioned nationally as a possible presidential candidate. This was partly because of his public addresses in which he insisted that Maryland remain and be allowed to remain a state free from federal interference. These policies contributed to the receipt of countless invitations to speak before many groups and helped contribute to his national standing as an opponent of prohibition and a firm believer in states’ rights. Frank Kent insisted in 1927 that if Ritchie 'ever does get to the White House [he] will look more as if he belonged there than any President we have had in a considerable time'.4 Because a constitutional amendment passed in Ritchie’s first administration changed the date of holding elections, his second term lasted only three years.

"Early in his second term, Ritchie announced his candidacy for a third term, but unlike 1919 and 1923, he faced opposition in the primaries. William Milnes Maloy, whom Ritchie had defeated for the Attorney Generalship in 1915, chose to oppose him in 1926, but Ritchie was renominated easily, defeating Maloy by a majority of over 81,500 votes and receiving the unanimous vote of the Democratic State Convention. In the general election of November 1926, he was opposed by Addison E. Mullikin, who made capital of the issue that Ritchie had bartered away Maryland’s rights in assenting to the construction of the Conowingo Dam to furnish power to Pennsylvania. By an almost unprecedented majority of over 60,000 votes, Ritchie was swept into office by carrying Baltimore City and fourteen of the twenty-three counties of the State, a feat which no Democratic candidate had been able to accomplish in a generation. He was inaugurated for his third term on January 12, 1927.

"During his third term, Governor Ritchie recommended some sweeping changes in legislation. At the 1929 session, for instance, he recommended and the Legislature approved, a most extensive program of high- [p. 262] way construction, the building of new bridges and the elimination of railroad grade crossings. At the same session, important legislation for vocational rehabilitation, safety in industry, the education of the handicapped and mothers’ pensions, was enacted. Under Governor Ritchie, Maryland adopted a strict policy of game and seafood conservation of the shellfish resources of the Chesapeake Bay.

"As the end of his third term neared, Governor Ritchie declared his intentions of seeking a fourth term. This announcement was blunted somewhat, however, with the disclosure that employees of the State Roads Commission had engaged in the embezzlement of some $376,000 of State funds. A long investigation followed, but those responsible were discovered and imprisoned. Ritchie was not satisfied, so he appointed a committee to investigate the scandal, and after months of inquiry, members of the Commission and the Governor were absolved from blame. The Committee, however, recommended that the post of chairman and chief engineer be divided to prevent one man, as had been the case in the past, from holding supervisory functions within the Department.

"In September of 1930, Ritchie was renominated for a fourth term, but again he had pre-primary opposition. Senator David McIntosh of Baltimore County, had previously announced his candidacy, but when Ritchie announced he would seek re-election, McIntosh withdrew and all further Democratic party opposition crumbled. The Republicans nominated the Mayor of Baltimore, William F. Broening, taking as their slogan the charge that Ritchie was becoming a dictator and that his long continuation in office was detrimental to the best interests of the State. The voters did not agree, for Ritchie defeated Broening by 66,770 votes, one of the largest majorities received by a candidate for Governor up to that time.

"Ritchie called the Legislature into special session on several occasions during his fifteen-year term. In 1920, one such session was devoted to the ratification of the woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution. In 1930, he called a special session to enact emergency legislation to change the dates for the registration of voters, which conflicted with the Jewish religious holidays. Since it was estimated that more than 50,000 voters of that faith would be disfranchised unless some steps were taken to remedy the situation legally, Ritchie recalled the General Assembly which speedily passed the necessary legislation. In 1933, Ritchie again summoned the Legislature to ratify the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution as well as to provide for the sale and licensing of alcoholic beverages in the State.

"Ritchie’s popularity reached its height early in his fourth term. Then it began to decline steadily. It reached its peak when in June, 1932, he made his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In this he failed, but as a consolation prize, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked him to be his vice presidential running mate. Ritchie, however, declined. Between 1932 and 1934, Ritchie’s fortunes steadily ebbed because of the impact of the depression, the increasing number of bank failures, the growing rate of intra- [p. 263] party jealousies which resulted from his long tenure in office, and a lynching on the Eastern Shore.

"In the primary election of September 8, 1934, Ritchie again faced opposition from within his own party. Charles Henry Conley of Frederick unsuccessfully challenged him, losing by about 50,000 votes. Conley, however, won a majority in fourteen counties. Harry W. Nice, whom Ritchie had defeated in 1919, was nominated by the Republicans. That party’s slogan, 'Right the wrong of 1919', proved effective, for in the ensuing general election, Nice upset Ritchie by a vote of 253,813 to 247,644. When his term ended on January 9, 1935, Ritchie returned to Baltimore where he resumed the practice of law.

"On February 24, 1936, Ritchie died very suddenly and unexpectedly of an apparent cerebral hemorrhage at his home in the Washington Apartments in Baltimore, at the age of fifty-nine, widely mourned throughout the State as well as the nation. After private funeral services at his home, his body was taken to the Christ Protestant Episcopal Church in Baltimore, where he lay in state for several days while thousands paid him their final respects. Following the church service, he was taken to Greenmount Cemetery where he was buried beside his father and mother. The New York Herald Tribune termed his death a national loss and lamented that the Democratic Party had lost 'one of its most distinguished leaders and President Roosevelt one of his most effective critics.'5 The Washington Post eulogized him as a man of 'courage, honesty, realism and intelligence' especially 'when so many false winds are blowing across the land.'6 The New York Times characterized him as 'an administrator of large ability and that he made his state an example of good government [which was] less essential than his uncompromising loyalty to the political principles in which he believed. In and out of public office, he was a steadfast advocate of State rights, of personal liberty and of home rule. . . . A modest and charming gentlemen, he had the strength of his convictions and the respect of all factions of his party.'7 The Sun mourned him by pointing out that 'it is good, now that Albert Ritchie is gone, to remember that, under the guidance of this outwardly worldly man, these humanitarian impulses of Maryland were carried farther toward fruition than any other leadership. It is good to remember his planning and helping to plan measures that were aimed to give large opportunity to the insane and helpless who had become wards of the State. . . . He would rather have this part of his public life remembered today, this sophisticated and ambitious man, than the admirable work he did in [other] such matters.'”8


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