Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

William French Smith (1981–1985): Attorney General

William French Smith was born in 1917 in Wilton, New Hampshire. He graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, with highest honors, in 1939, and earned his J.D. from Harvard University in 1942.

Smith served in the naval reserve during World War II and then joined the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where he worked for the next thirty-four years. Smith was one of several wealthy Republicans who urged Ronald Reagan to run for governor and was a leading backer of Reagan's successful 1966 bid. As governor, Reagan appointed Smith as a member of the University of California Board of Regents.

Smith remained a strong backer of Reagan’s political aspirations and was a member of Reagan’s "kitchen cabinet" during the 1980 presidential campaign. Following President Reagan's inauguration in 1981, Smith became attorney general; he served until his resignation in 1985. William French Smith died in 1990.