HARRY HILL MC ALISTER was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his LL.B. degree from Vanderbilt University in 1897 and began the practice of law in Nashville. He served as Assistant City Attorney in 1901, City Attorney from 1904 to 1910, and State Treasurer from 1919 to 1927 and again from 1931 to 1933. He served in the Tennessee Senate for four years, as a presidential elector for the state-at-large for Woodrow Wilson in 1916, was a member of the state Democratic Executive Committee from 1918 to 1920, and was state chairman of the Democratic victory Drive in 1932. Although an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1926 and 1928, he won the nomination in 1932 with the backing of Ed “Boss” Crump, the powerful former Mayor of Memphis and then member of Congress, and went on to win the general election. Because McAlister served as governor during the Great Depression, he oversaw Tennessee’s participation in nearly all of the New Deal agencies. During his second term, he opposed ending prohibition in Tennessee even after it was repealed by amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which caused a split between him and Boss Crump. The split was further widened by his proposal of a sales tax to reduce the state debt and to provide assistance for needy public schools. Crump’s opposition to the tax led to gridlock in the state legislature, and McAlister was forced to call the state Assembly into special session to enact revenue legislation. McAlister did not seek a third term as governor, retiring instead to his home in Nashville. In 1940 he was appointed as a federal referee in bankruptcy cases, a post that he held until his death.
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White, Robert H. Messages of the Governors of Tennessee, 1933-1945. Nashville: The Tennessee Historical Commission, Vol. 11, 1952.