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Michael Hoke Smith

In office
March 6, 1893 – September 1, 1896
Preceded by John Willock Noble
Succeeded by David R. Francis

Born September 2, 1855(1855-09-02)
Newton, North Carolina, U.S.
Died November 27, 1931 (aged 76)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Marion "Birdie" Cobb Smith
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Michael Hoke Smith (September 2, 1855 – November 27, 1931) was a white supremacist newspaper owner, United States Secretary of the Interior (1893-1896), Democratic Governor of Georgia (1907-1909,1911), and a United States Senator (1911-1920) from Georgia.


Smith was born in Newton, North Carolina, and moved to Georgia in 1872 with his parents. He was primarily educated by his father, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His uncle was Civil War General Robert Hoke. Smith passed the bar examination in 1873 and became a lawyer in Atlanta, Georgia. He maintained a small office in the James building downtown. His practice began to grow when he began to argue injury suits.[1] As his practice grew, he brought in his brother Burton in 1882, also excellent in front of juries, and they worked together for over 10 years.[2] Their main clients were the many railroad workers injured on the job; three-quarters of the cases they took involved personal injury and they won the bulk of them.[3]

Smith served as chairman of the Fulton County and State Democratic Conventions and was president of the Atlanta Board of Education. In 1887, Smith bought the Atlanta Journal. His strong support in the Journal for Grover Cleveland during the 1892 Presidential election garnered Cleveland's attention and led to a federal job.

Smith was appointed as Secretary of the Interior by Cleveland in 1893. He worked hard to right land patents previously obtained by the railroads, for rationalization of Indian affairs and for the economic development of the South. A staunch defender of Cleveland and his sound money policy, Smith campaigned through-out the country in 1896 for Cleveland candidates. When William Jennings Bryan was selected at the 1896 Democratic National Convention, Smith was in a quandary: could he support the party without supporting the platform? The overwhelming support for silver and Bryan in his home-state of Georgia convinced him to try to have it both ways. His newspaper, the Journal endorsed the candidate but continued to denounce the silver policy. Smith resigned his cabinet post to protect Cleveland.[4]

Smith returned to Atlanta and resumed his lucrative law practice netting around $25,000 per year and slowly rebuilt his local reputation.[5] In April 1900 he sold his interests in the Journal and tried many other investments but the only ones that did well were real estate in the Atlanta area. He was instrumental in organizing the North Avenue Presbyterian Church (which still stands) and was re-elected to the Atlanta Board of Education.[6]

Smith allied himself with Bryan's Vice Presidential candidate, Populist Tom Watson, one of Georgia's most influential politicians. With Watson's support, Smith was elected governor in 1907. In order to gain Watson's support, however, he had to call the Negro vote "ignorant [and] purchaseable." Smith established several Jim Crow laws requiring literacy tests and property ownership for voting. Smith also supported railroad reform and election reform. After losing the support of Watson, he was defeated in the next election by Joseph M. Brown. Smith was re-elected as governor in 1911.

In 1911, while still governor, he was chosen by the Georgia General Assembly to fill out the term of United States Senator Alexander S. Clay. Smith won re-election in 1914, but was defeated by Tom Watson in 1920. Afterward, Smith practiced law in Washington, DC, and Atlanta. He died in 1931 and is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, the last surviving member of the Cleveland Cabinet.


Political offices
Preceded by
John Willock Noble
United States Secretary of the Interior
Succeeded by
David Rowland Francis
Preceded by
Joseph M. Terrell
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
Joseph M. Brown
Preceded by
Joseph M. Brown
Governor of Georgia
Succeeded by
John M. Slaton
United States Senate
Preceded by
Joseph M. Terrell
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Georgia
Succeeded by
Thomas E. Watson


  1. ^ Grantham, Dewey, Hoke Smith and the Politics of the New South, 1958, LSU Press, p.16
  2. ^ Grantham, p.17
  3. ^ Grantham, p.21
  4. ^ Grantham, p.110
  5. ^ Grantham, p.113
  6. ^ Grantham, p.118


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