He was almost a national contender


In the spirit of political fairness, this week we offer a story about Albert Cabell Ritchie, Maryland's Jazz Age governor, who served from 1919 until 1934, when he was defeated for a fifth term.

With his white hair parted in the middle, black eyebrows, pince-nez eyeglasses and aristocratic good looks, Ritchie was quite popular. His popularity, championed in part by The Evening Sun's H. L. Mencken, began to spread throughout the country to such an extent that at the 1924 Democratic Convention he received 42 votes and at the 1932 convention received 23 1/2 votes.

In 1928, he withdrew from consideration for a place on the ticket and threw his support to Gov. Alfred E. Smith of New York, who was the party nominee and later lost the election to Herbert Hoover.

"He was known nationally for his stand against Prohibition, his loyalty to the Democratic Party and his financial caution. He stood for state rights, before and after the public called for strong Federal Government," said The Evening Sun in 1961.

On a warm June 22, 1932, a crowd estimated by police somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000, jammed the streets and curving hills around the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Mount Royal Station to witness Ritchie's departure aboard a train for the convention in Chicago.

Ritchie arrived by open car from the Belvedere Hotel and had to struggle through a crowd that The Sun described as "the biggest thing of the kind ever seen in Baltimore."

Standing in the train shed were a baggage car, six Pullman cars, a club car, two diners and an observation car, which made up the "Ritchie for President Special" and would convey the governor along with 95 other members of the delegation to Chicago.

Serenaded by a band that played "Maryland, My Maryland" and "Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here," Ritchie gave a sentimental address to the crowd.

" 'I have lived among you all my life. Many of us went to school together. We played on lots which in those days dotted the town,' " reported The Sun the next day.

Stepping off the train in Chicago, Ritchie was besieged by autograph seekers, but all was not well. His bid for the vice-presidential spot would not come without major philosophical concessions.

"The tender to him came on the eve of the balloting at Chicago," reported The Sun. "The price exacted of him was desertion of the anti-Roosevelt coalition, the delivery of the Maryland delegation to the New Yorker and his assistance in breaking through to other state delegations that went to make up the Roosevelt opposition," said the newspaper.

"It was declined because Ritchie had no taste for making a campaign on a Roosevelt ticket," wrote Sun reporter J. Fred Essary.

"One may wonder how uncomfortable Ritchie might have been in the Vice Presidency. He was not in sympathy with the Roosevelt candidacy, and he was less in sympathy with the Roosevelt policies after the election.

"That he would have been invited to sit with the Cabinet, as Vice President [John Nance] Garner has done, may be taken for granted," wrote Essary after Ritchie's death in February 1936 in the Washington Apartments in Mount Vernon Place at the age of 59.

Today, Ritchie is remembered more for the highway that bears his name than for his anti-New Deal views and his could-have-been-president status.

Pub Date: 8/11/96

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