Boardwalk Empire’s Real-Life Politicians

Nucky Thompson is shown in this Boardwalk Empire preview threatening Harry Daugherty and suggesting that he indict George Remus, rather than him. In a great line, he tells the Attorney General: “Harry, I swear to Christ, if you bring me down, you’re coming with me, lock stock and whiskey barrel.”

But, did Daugherty really have that much to do with Nucky Johnson in real life?

Well, according to several books we have looked up, Daugherty really had more to do with George Remus. According to King Of The Bootleggers: A Biography of George Remus, the Senate investigation into Daugherty and Jess Smith actually took place in 1924. At the time, Remus was already in custody in the Atlanta Penitentiary and when he learned about the testimony given by Gaston Means, he was so enraged, that he volunteered to testify himself.

“Under heavy guard on May 17, 1924, George Remus sat down before the Senate committee to tell his story. Although he appeared quite nervous, Remus’ testimony was the most spectacular so far in the hearings….”

Warren Harding was already dead by this time (August 2, 1923), and Calvin Coolidge was President. It was Coolidge who reluctantly forced Daugherty to resign as Attorney General on March 28, 1924.

Daugherty was never convicted of anything, but his reputation was irreversibly damaged and he later sought to clear his name and Harding’s by writing his own book, The Inside Story of the Harding Tragedy. In it, Daugherty says that Jess Smith committed suicide (on May 30, 1923) over his failing health (diabetes) and not from fear or guilt regarding his involvement in any wrongdoing.

In his book,The Strange Death of President Harding, Gaston Means was convinced that it was murder.

“That Jess Smith took his own life was so entirely outside the realm of possibility in my mind, I did not even consider it. Well, Jess Smith had died as he had lived since the beginning of the Harding Administration, — with peals of thunder clapping around his head one moment, and at his feet, — the next moment, and not knowing when the torrents might break down on him. He knew that he was fooling with T.N.T., but he didn’t know how to handle it, — and it finally exploded in his face.”

By the time Nucky Johnson got sent to prison, FDR was President and that administration’s knowledge of the situation is referred to in New Deal or Raw Deal?: How FDR’s Economic Legacy Has Damaged America

“Unfortunately for Nucky Johnson… when he chose his political affiliation in the early 1900s, he happened to select the Republican Party. The United States had no income tax then, and Johnson focused on local, not national, politics. Before 1933, local profits held much more potential for city bosses than federal. Atlantic County went Republican in 1932, but Democrat in 1936 by a small margin. Johnson seems to have been indifferent to Roosevelt — and when Johnson was ultimately convicted of tax fraud in 1941. Roosevelt seems to have cared little one way or another. Johnson neither hurt him nor helped him, so FDR simply watched from the sidelines as the IRS audited and then convicted Johnson.”

Jersey City’s mayor, Frank Hague, is described as being much more corrupt on a wider scale than Johnson. Known as the “Hudson County Hitler” to his enemies, Hague, on the other hand, helped Roosevelt get a boatload of New Jersey votes and Roosevelt did take an interest in anyone looking to bring Hague down.

“… the IRS never made a serious investigation of Hague. Nucky Johnson, with a smaller city and only local funds to swindle, went to prison, but Hague never did.”

Real Life Bootleggers: How and When They Died

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