Ralph Smeed, alias the "Curmudgeon" has often been called the "H. L. Menckin
of the West." He is a not-so quiet blend of Barry Goldwater, Walter Matheau
and H. L. Menkin. Ralph was born December 30, 1921 in Caldwell , Idaho. He was the second of two sons born to John and Florence
Smeed. Ralph’s father was a prominent livestock man, rancher, livestock
auction owner, part owner of a meat packing company and well respected
citizen of SW Idaho . Ralph’s early years were spent traveling with his
father buying feed and cattle.
He graduated from high school at Caldwell in 1940 and attended the College
of Idaho for two years after which time he went to work for Lockheed as an
experimental mechanic in California (Summer of 1941). Soon after Pearl
Harbor, he tried to enlist in the Army. By that time the only way you could
get in was to make yourself available for the draft.
This may have been Ralph’s first experience with the mindless bureaucracy
which he came to oppose in his lifelong battle to preserve
Ralph’s s spent some time in Japan during the occupation. On returning to
Caldwell after the war, Ralph’s father recommended he talk to James Gibson
Sr., owner of Caxton Printers in Caldwell. It seems that Ralph had a burgeoning interest in public affairs. Mr. Gibson was a
nationally known publisher of books oriented toward conservative/libertarian
ideas. He was one of the few in the publishing industry who had courage
enough to publish something besides the collectivist/socialist/statist
agenda that had budded in the early 20th century and then exploded during
Roosevelt ’s New Deal.
Mr. Gibson suggested that Ralph buy a copy of Frederick Bastiat’s “The Law",
subscribe to Human Events and The Freemen and begin a process of
self-education. Ralph’s father died in 1949 and he began to assume major
management responsibilities with his Father’s estate.
Ralph gradually began taking part in Republican political events and over
the years became a prominent player in Republican party politics culminating
in attending the 1964 Republican National Convention at the Cow Palace in
San Francisco as an Idaho State delegate.
Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative, was nominated the presidential
candidate and was eventually chosen to head the party ticket, much to the
chagrin of many liberal Republicans lead by Nelson Rockefeller, hence the
term, “Rockefeller Republican”. In the presidential campaign that followed,
Ralph observed the liberal wing of the Republican Party do everything they
could to sabotage Goldwater’s campaign and thus followed one of the worst
defeats that any Republican candidate had ever suffered. Ralph began to
understand that the Democrats were not the biggest problem the conservative
Republicans had to deal with.
Ralph next learned of a libertarian group called “Foundation for Economic
Education” (FEE). It was located in Irvington-on the-Hudson, New York . It’s
founder and director was Leonard Read, a brilliant writer, speaker and
motivator. FEE nurtured and promoted the libertarian ideals that formed the
ideological foundation for our nation in 1776. Ralph attended a week long
seminar at “FEE” in 1965 and as the saying goes, the rest is history.
At FEE Ralph was introduced to a host of great libertarians such as Ludwig
Von Mises, Frederick Hayek, Murray Rothbard, Milton Freidman, Ben Rogge and
many others. He studied the works of authors such as John Locke, Thomas
Paine, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, Henry Hazlitt,
Henry Grady Weaver, Rose Wilder Lane and H. L. Mencken.
After spending considerable time studying the classical libertarians, Ralph set out to change the world. In 1976 he
sponsored his own think-tank, “The Center for the Study of Market
Alternatives.” This effort included nationally famous guest speakers teacher
seminars, high school debates, position papers, newsletters and the
establishment of the most comprehensive libertarian library in the
northwest. He hosted his own radio and TV talk shows. He wrote a column that
ran for 20 years in a combination of newspapers (Lewiston Tribune,
Nampa-Caldwell Press Tribune and the Idaho Statesman ). He funded and
donated a vast libertarian library to the College of Idaho.
One of his more interesting projects was the construction of a 15’ x 36’
foot reader board sign at the edge of Caldwell , Idaho. Its messages
continue to amuse, tantalize and provoke the citizens of Caldwell
and SW Idaho . He is a frequent attendee at the annual meetings of the
“Philadelphia Society” and the “Mont Pelerine Society”. He served on the
Board of Trustees of FEE for many years.
If if you meet Ralph on the streets
of any town in Idaho, at any social or business function or bump into him at
the hallowed marble halls at the statehouse in Boise, you can bet he will
have a printed message for you to put in your shirt pocket with a reminder
that you must read it later.
Ralph’s efforts to defend and promote the principles of liberty have touched many
people over the years. Among
some of the more illustrious beneficiaries was U. S. Senator Steve Symms who
co-published a newsletter with Ralph prior to his entering politics and
employed Ralph as advisor and confidant during his long and successful
political career. C.L. "Butch Otter", present governor of Idaho acknowledges
a strong debt to Ralph for his maturation as an outspoken advocate for
limited government. These are but a few examples of hundreds of others who
have been influenced by Ralph’s message.
Ralph has been a tireless crusader for the cause of freedom for most of his life.
He is 85 years old now. Most people at his age would be retired and letting others take up the baton. Not Ralph. He can’t wait
to start the next project.