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Herbert Hoover

Related subjects USA Presidents

Herbert Clark Hoover
Herbert Hoover

In office
March 4, 1929 –  March 4, 1933
Vice President Charles Curtis (1929–1933)
Preceded by Calvin Coolidge
Succeeded by Franklin D. Roosevelt

3rd United States Secretary of Commerce
In office
March 5, 1921 –  August 21, 1928
President Warren G. Harding
Calvin Coolidge
Preceded by Joshua W. Alexander
Succeeded by William F. Whiting

Born August 10, 1874(1874-08-10)
West Branch, Iowa
Died October 20, 1964 (aged 90)
New York, New York
Nationality American
Political party Republican
Spouse Lou Henry Hoover
Alma mater Stanford University
Occupation Engineer ( Mining), Businessman, Humanitarian
Religion Quaker
Signature Herbert Hoover's signature

Herbert Clark Hoover ( August 10, 1874 October 20, 1964), the thirty-first President of the United States (1929–1933), was a mining engineer and author. As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted government intervention under the rubric "economic modernization". In the presidential election of 1928 Hoover easily won the Republican nomination. The nation was prosperous and optimistic, leading to a landslide for Hoover over the Democrat Al Smith, whom many voters distrusted on account of his Roman Catholicism. Hoover deeply believed in the Efficiency Movement (a major component of the Progressive Era), arguing that a technical solution existed for every social and economic problem. That position was challenged by the Great Depression, which began in 1929, the first year of his presidency. He tried to combat the Depression with volunteer efforts and government action, none of which produced economic recovery during his term. The consensus among historians is that Hoover's defeat in the 1932 election was caused primarily by failure to end the downward spiral into deep Depression, compounded by popular opposition to prohibition. Other electoral liabilities were Hoover's lack of charisma in relating to voters, and his poor skills in working with politicians.

Family background and early life

Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa. He was the first President to be born west of the Mississippi River. His father, Jesse, was a blacksmith and farm implement store owner, of German (Pfautz, Wehmeyer) and German-Swiss (Huber, Burkhart) descent. His mother, Hulda Minthorn Hoover, was of English and Irish descent. Both were Quakers. He was named after Herbert Robert Ewing, a close friend of his father. His father died in 1880 and his mother in 1884, leaving him an orphan at the age of 10. For a short time after his parents' death he lived in Kingsley, Iowa, and in 1885, he went to live with his uncle John Minthorn in Newberg, Oregon. There he attended Friends Pacific Academy (now George Fox University) and worked as office boy in his uncle's real estate office in Salem. Though he did not attend high school, the young Hoover attended night school and learned bookkeeping, typing, and math.

Hoover entered Leland Stanford Junior University in 1891, the first year of operation of the California institution, and, like all its first students, paid no tuition. He would claim to be the first student ever at Stanford, by virtue of having been the first person in the first class to sleep in the dormitory. While at the school he would be the student manager of both the baseball and football teams, and was a part of the inaugural Big Game versus rival California (Stanford won). Hoover graduated in 1895 with a degree in geology.

Mining engineer

Herbert Hoover as a younger man.
Herbert Hoover as a younger man.

Herbert Hoover served as an active mining engineer and consultant nearly twenty years. He began his career with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the Sierra Nevada range of California.

Hoover went to Australia as an employee of a London-based mine operator named Bewick, Moreing and Company in 1897. He served as a geologist/mining engineer, leading a major program of expansion for the Sons of Gwalia gold mine at Gwalia, Western Australia. Hoover worked at gold mines in Big Bell, Cue, Leonora, Menzies and Coolgardie.

He married his Stanford sweetheart, Lou Henry in 1899 and they went to China, where Hoover worked for a private corporation as China's leading engineer. The Boxer Rebellion trapped the Hoovers in Tianjin in June 1900. For almost a month the settlement was under heavy fire. While his wife worked in the hospitals, Hoover directed the building of barricades, and once risked his life rescuing Chinese children.

Hoover was made a partner in Bewick, Moreing & Co. in 1901, and assumed responsibility for various Australian operations. In August–September 1905, Hoover achieved a technological innovation: he visited the mines at Broken Hill, New South Wales, where there was considerable zinc in the Broken Hill lead-silver ore, which could not be recovered and was lost as tailings. Hoover devised a practical and profitable method to use the then-new froth flotation process to treat these tailings and recover the zinc. With William Baillieu and others, he founded the Zinc Corporation (later, following various mergers, a part of Rio Tinto). Hoover also became notable as a mine manager when, in Western Australia, he recruited Italian immigrants as underground mine workers. He described Italians as "fully 20 per cent superior" to other miners. Hoover was also determined to cut costs and undermine the growing strength of the Australian labor movement. To this end, he said, "the rivalry between [the Italians] and the other men [was] of no small benefit".

He became an independent mining consultant in 1908, traveling worldwide until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. His lectures at Columbia and Stanford Universities were published as Principles of Mining in 1909, which became a standard textbook. Hoover and his wife published their English translation of the Renaissance mining classic De re metallica by Georgius Agricola in 1912; their translation is the most important scholarly version of the work, and provides the historical context of the work. It is still in print and published by Dover Publications.

Humanitarian

Hoover was bored with making money and when World War I started in August 1914, he helped return home 120,000 American tourists and businessmen from Europe. Hoover led five hundred volunteers to pass out food, clothing, steamship tickets and cash. "I did not realize it at the moment, but on August 3, 1914 my career was over forever. I was on the slippery road of public life." The difference between dictatorship and democracy, Hoover liked to say, was simple: dictators organize from the top down, democracies from the bottom up.

Hoover seated (left) with Arthur Flemming at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Hoover seated (left) with Arthur Flemming at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Belgium faced a food crisis in fall 1914 after being invaded by Germany. Hoover undertook an unprecedented relief effort as head of the Committee for Relief in Belgium. He worked with Emile Francqui, who led the Belgian National Relief and Food Committee. The CRB became, in effect, an independent republic of relief, with its own flag, navy, factories, mills and railroads. Voluntary donations and government grants supplied an $11-million-a-month budget.

Hoover worked fourteen-hour workdays from London for the next two years administering the distribution of over two and half million foodstuffs to nine million war victims. In an early form of shuttle diplomacy, he crossed the North Sea forty times seeking to persuade the enemies in Berlin to allow food to reach the war's victims. He was an international hero. The Belgian city of Leuven named a prominent square after him. In honour of his two years of humanitarian work the Finns added the word hoover, meaning "to help," to their language.

After the United States entered the war in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the American Food Administration. Hoover believed; "food will win the war." He established set days encouraging people to avoid eating particular foods in order to save them for soldiers rations: meatless Mondays, wheatless Wednesdays, and "when in doubt, eat potatoes." These days helped conserve food for the war. He helped reduce consumption of foodstuffs needed overseas and avoided rationing at home (dubbed "Hooverizing" by government propagandists. Hoover himself continually - and with little success - gave orders that publicity should not mention him by name, but rather should focus entirely on the Food Administration itself).

Hoover organized shipments of food after World War 1 for millions of starving people in Central Europeas a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration. He employed a newly formed Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee to carry out much of the logistical work in Europe.

Hoover provided food aid to the post war German people as well as famine-stricken Bolshevist Russia in 1921 in spite of the opposition of Henry Cabot Lodge and other Senate Republicans. When a critic inquired if he was not thus helping Bolshevism, Hoover retorted, "Twenty million people are starving. Whatever their politics, they shall be fed!" At war's end, the New York Times named Hoover one of the "Ten Most Important Living Americans".

Hoover realized during this time that he was in a unique position to collect information about the Great War and its aftermath. Hoover confronted a world of political possibilities when he returned home in 1919. Democratic party bosses at one point looked on him as a potential candidate for the presidency. "There could not be a finer one," claimed a young and rising star from New York named Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Hoover rejected the Democratic call confessing he could not run for a party whose only member in his boyhood home had been the town drunk. In 1919 he pledged $50,000 to Stanford University to support his Hoover War Collection and donated to the University the extensive files of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, the U.S. Food Administration, and the American Relief Administration. Scholars were sent to Europe to collect pamphlets, society publications, government documents, newspapers, posters, proclamations, and other ephemeral materials related to the war and the revolutions and political movements that had followed it. The collection was later renamed the Hoover War Library and is now known as the Hoover Institution.

Secretary of Commerce

In this 1926 photo, William P. McCracken, assistant secretary of commerce for civil aviation, is shown with Secretary Hoover (center) and assistant secretary of commerce Walter Drake.
In this 1926 photo, William P. McCracken, assistant secretary of commerce for civil aviation, is shown with Secretary Hoover (centre) and assistant secretary of commerce Walter Drake.

Some party leaders (including, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson privately preferred Hoover as his successor) touted Hoover as a possible Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1920. Hoover could foresee that 1920 would be a Republican year, and he had no desire to tie himself to a party that was destined for defeat, and thus could accomplish little (Hoover had been a registered Republican before the war, but was briefly willing to join the Democrats in 1920; he had already bolted the party once in 1912 to support Theodore Roosevelt's " Bull Moose" Progressive Party). Announcing himself as a Republican and available for the nomination, he placed his name on the ballot in the California state primary, where he came close to beating the popular Hiram Johnson. By failing to win in his home state, however, Hoover relegated himself to dark horse contender at the convention, and even when it deadlocked over several ballots between Illinois Governor Frank Lowden and Army General Leonard Wood, few delegates seriously considered turning to Hoover as their compromise choice. Although he had personal misgivings about the capability of the nominee, Warren G. Harding, Hoover publicly endorsed him, and even made a pair of speeches on Harding's behalf.

President Harding in 1921 offered a reward for Hoover's support in the election the post of either Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Commerce, ultimately choosing Commerce. Established just eight years earlier following the division of the earlier Department of Commerce and Labor, Commerce was considered a minor Cabinet post, a department with limited and somewhat vaguely defined responsibilities. But Hoover aimed to change that, envisioning the Commerce Department as the hub of the nation's growth and stability. He demanded from Harding, and received, authority to help coordinate economic affairs throughout the government. He created a great many sub-departments and committees, overseeing and regulating everything from manufacturing statistics, the census, and radio to air travel. In some instances, he "seized" control of responsibilities from other Cabinet departments when he deemed that they were not carrying out their responsibilities well enough. Hoover became one of the most visible men in the country, often overshadowing Presidents Harding and Calvin Coolidge. Washington wags were soon referring to Hoover as "The Secretary of Commerce...and Under-Secretary of Everything Else!"

As secretary and as President, Hoover revolutionized the relations between business and government. Rejecting the adversarial stance of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, he sought to make the Commerce Department a powerful service organization, empowered to forge cooperative voluntary partnerships between government and business. This philosophy is often called " associationalism."

Many of Hoover's efforts as Commerce Secretary centered on the elimination of waste and the increase of efficiency in business and industry. This included such things as reducing labor losses from trade disputes and seasonal fluctuations, reducing industrial losses from accident and injury, and reducing the amount of crude oil spilled during extraction and shipping. One major achievement was to promote progressive ideals in the areas of standardization products and designs. He energetically promoted international trade by opening offices overseas that gave advice and practical help to businessmen. He was especially eager to promote Hollywood films overseas. [Hart 1998] His "Own Your Own Home" campaign was a collaboration with organizations working to promote ownership of single-family dwellings, including the Better Houses in America movement, the Architects' Small House Service Bureau, and the Home Modernizing Bureau. He worked with bankers and the savings and loan industry to promote the new long term home mortgage, which dramatically stimulated home construction.

Hoover listening to the radio.
Hoover listening to the radio.

Radio conferences

Hoover's radio conferences played a key role in the early organization, development and regulation of radio broadcasting. Hoover played a key role in major projects for navigation, irrigation of dry lands, electrical power, and flood control. As the new air transport industry developed, Hoover held a conference on aviation to promote codes and regulations. He became president of the American Child Health Organization, and he raised private funds to promote health education in schools and communities.

Although he continued to consider Harding ill-suited to be President, the two men nevertheless became friends, and Hoover was accompanying Harding on his final trip out West in 1923. It was Hoover who called for a specialist to tend to the ailing Chief Executive, and it was also Hoover who contacted the White House to inform them of the President's death. The Commerce Secretary headed the group of dignitaries accompanying Harding's body back to the capital.

By the end of Hoover's service as Secretary, the newly important status of the Department of Commerce was reflected in the vast and modern headquarters that would be built for it in Washington D.C.

Traffic conferences

As Commerce secretary, Hoover also hosted two national conferences on street traffic, in 1924 and 1926 (a third convened in 1930, during Hoover's presidency). Collectively the meetings were called the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety. Hoover's chief objective was to address the growing casualty toll of traffic accidents, but the scope grew and soon embraced motor vehicle standards, rules of the road, and urban traffic control. He left the invited interest groups to negotiate agreements among themselves, which were then presented for adoption by states and localities. Because automotive trade associations were the best organized, many of the positions taken by the conferences reflected their interests. The conferences issued a model Uniform Vehicle Code for adoption by the states, and a Model Municipal Municipal Traffic Ordinance for adoption by cities. Both were widely influential, promoting greater uniformity between jurisdictions and tending to promote the automobile's priority in city streets.

Mississippi flood

The Great Mississippi River flood broke the banks and levees of the Mississippi River in early 1927. Although such a disaster did not fall under the duties of the Commerce Department, the governors of six states along the Mississippi specifically asked for Herbert Hoover in the emergency, so President Calvin Coolidge sent Hoover to mobilize state and local authorities, militia, army engineers, Coast Guard, and the American Red Cross. He set up health units, with a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, to work in the flooded regions for a year. These workers stamped out malaria, pellagra, and typhoid fever from many areas. His work during the flood brought Herbert Hoover to the front page of newspapers almost everywhere, and he gained new accolades as a humanitarian. The great victory of his relief work, he stressed, was not that the government rushed in and provided all assistance. Rather, it was that much of the assistance available was provided instead by private citizens and organizations in response to Hoover's appeals. "I suppose I could have called in the Army to help," he said, "but why should I, when I only had to call upon Main Street."

Presidential Election of 1928

Republican Primaries

When President Coolidge declined to run for a second full term of office in 1927, Herbert Hoover became the leading Republican candidate for the 1928 election, despite the fact Coolidge was lukewarm on Hoover (the President often derided his ambitious and popular Commerce Secretary as "Wonder Boy"). His only real challenger was Frank Lowden. Hoover received much favorable press coverage in the months leading up to the convention. Lowden's campaign manager complained the newspapers were full of "nothing but advertisements for Herbert Hoover and Fletcher's Castoria." Hoover’s reputation, experience, and public popularity coalesced to give him the nomination on the first ballot, with Senator Charles Curtis named as his running mate.

General Election

He campaigned on the basis of efficiency and prosperity against Democratic candidate Alfred E. Smith. Smith was the target of anti-Catholicism from some Protestant communities, much to Hoover's advantage. Both Hoover and Smith positioned themselves as pro-business, and each promised to improve conditions for farmers, reform immigration laws, and maintain America's isolationist foreign policy. Where they differed was on the Volstead Act. Smith was a "wet" who called for its repeal, whereas Hoover gave public support for Prohibition, calling it an experiment "noble in purpose." What few voters knew, however, was Hoover was much more tentative in his support for Volstead in private, and for years after work at the Commerce Department would stop by the Belgian Embassy for a visit with friends. While there, as it was technically foreign soil, he was able to enjoy an alcoholic drink before heading for home. Hoover used to grumble all Prohibition successfully did was to force him to dispose of his celebrated wine cellar.

Historians agree Hoover's national reputation and the booming economy, combined with the deep splits in the Democratic party over religion and prohibition, guaranteed his landslide victory of 58% of the vote. Hoover even managed to crack the so-called "Solid South," winning such traditionally Democratic states as Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Tennessee from Smith. As advertising executive Bruce Barton put it, "Americans knew they may have more fun with Smith, but that they would make more money with Hoover."

Herbert Hoover's wife, Lou Henry Hoover, came to the White House unlike her predecessors as First Ladies. She had already carved out a reputation of her own, having graduated from Stanford as the only woman in her class with a degree in geology. Although she had never practiced her profession formally, she remained very much a new woman of the post-World War I era: intelligent, robust, and possessed of a sense of female possibilities.

On poverty, Hoover promised: "We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land." Within months, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 occurred, and the nation's economy spiraled downward into what became known as the Great Depression.

Presidency 1929-1933

Policies

A dedicated Progressive and Reformer, Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans by regulation and by encouraging volunteerism. Long before he entered politics he denounced laissez-faire thinking, as Commerce Secretary he took an active pro-regulation stance, and as President he saw tariff and farm support bills through Congress.

A poster of President Hoover at the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library in Odessa, Texas
A poster of President Hoover at the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library in Odessa, Texas

Hoover expanded civil service coverage, canceled private oil leases on government lands, and by instructing the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service to go after gangsters for tax evasion he enabled the prosecution of gangster Al Capone. He appointed a commission which set aside 3 million acres (12,000 km²) of national parks and 2.3 million acres (9,000 km²) of national forests; advocated tax reduction for low-income Americans (not enacted); closed certain tax loopholes for the wealthy; doubled the number of veteran's hospital facilities; negotiated a treaty on St. Lawrence Seaway (which failed in the U.S. Senate); wrote a Children's Charter that advocated protection of every child regardless of race or gender; built the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge; created an antitrust division in the Justice Department; required air mail carriers to adopt stricter safety measures and improve service; proposed federal loans for urban slum clearances (not enacted); organized the Federal Bureau of Prisons; reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs; instituted prison reform; proposed a federal Department of Education (not enacted); advocated fifty-dollar-per-month pensions for Americans over 65 (not enacted); chaired White House conferences on child health, protection, homebuilding and homeownership; began construction of the Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam); and signed the Norris-La Guardia Act that limited judicial intervention in labor disputes.

Hoover's humanitarian and Quaker reputation—along with a Native American vice president—gave special meaning to his Indian policies. His Quaker upbringing influenced his views that Native Americans needed to achieve economic self-sufficiency. As President, he appointed Charles J. Rhoads as commissioner of Indian affairs. Hoover supported Rhoads' commitment to Indian assimilation and sought to minimize the federal role in Indian affairs. His goal was to have Indians acting as individuals (not as tribes) and assume the responsibilities of citizenship which had been granted with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

In the foreign arena, Hoover began formulating what would later become Roosevelt's Good Neighbour policy following the 1930 release of the Clark Memorandum, by withdrawing American troops from Nicaragua and Haiti; he also proposed an arms embargo on Latin America and a one-third reduction of the world's naval power, which was called the Hoover Plan. The Roosevelt Corollary ceased being part of U.S. foreign policy. In response to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, he and Secretary of State Henry Stimson outlined the Hoover-Stimson Doctrine that said the United States would not recognize territories gained by force. Between his election and his inauguration as President, Hoover broke precedent by undertaking a goodwill tour of many Latin American countries.

During his presidency, he mediated between Chile and Peru to solve a conflict on the sovereignty of Arica and Tacna that in 1883 by the Treaty of Ancón had been awarded to Chile for ten years, to be followed by a plebiscite that had never happened. By the Tacna-Arica compromise at the Treaty of Lima in 1929, Chile kept Arica, and Peru regained Tacna.

Great Depression

The economy was put to the test with the onset of the Great Depression in the United States in 1929. At the outset of the depression, Hoover rejected Treasury Secretary Mellon's suggested "leave-it-alone" approach, but at the same time he declined to pursue legislative relief, believing that it would make people dependent on the federal government. Instead he organized a number of voluntary measures, encouraged state and local government responses, and accelerated federal building projects. Only toward the end of his term did he support a series of legislative reconstruction bills, which represented the largest federal economic intervention to date.

Children are sitting in front of sign that reads, "Hard Times Are Still Hoover-ing Over Us."
Children are sitting in front of sign that reads, "Hard Times Are Still Hoover-ing Over Us."

Together government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than the previous year. Frightened consumers cut back their expenditures by ten percent. A severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland beginning in the summer of 1930. The combination of these factors caused a downward spiral, as earnings fell, smaller banks collapsed, and mortgages went unpaid. Hoover's hold-the-line policy in wages lasted little more than a year. Unemployment soared from five million in 1930 to over eleven million in 1931. A sharp recession had become the Great Depression.

In 1930 Hoover signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised tariffs on over 20,000 dutiable items, despite the protests of economists. Major trading partners, like Canada, immediately retaliated. The tariff, combined with the 1932 Revenue Act, which hiked taxes and fees across the board, is often blamed for deepening the depression. It brought on a wave of retaliation and choked world trade.

Hoover's stance on the economy was based on volunteerism. From before his entry to the presidency, he was among the greatest proponents of the concept that public-private cooperation was the way to achieve high long-term growth. Hoover feared that too much intervention or coercion by the government would destroy individuality and self-reliance, which he considered to be important American values. Though he was not averse to taking action which he considered was in the public good, such as regulating radio broadcasting and aviation, he preferred a voluntary, non-government approach to economic recovery. As if to prove the president's point, the First Lady exhorted her forces to service. She pressed the more than 250,000 Girl Scouts nationwide to join in relief work and helped to promulgate the Rapidan Plan in 1931 to achieve that end. As the First Lady used the radio, she rallied support for volunteerism, encouraging groups such as the 4-H clubs to devote themselves to local relief. Behind the scenes, she mobilized informal networks of friends and women's organizations and ensured that appeals to the White House found their way to local sources of aid.

In June 1931, to deal with a very serious banking collapse in Vienna that threatened to cause a worldwide financial meltdown, Hoover issued the Hoover Moratorium that called for a one-year halt in reparations payments by Germany to France and in the payment of Allied war debts to the United States. The Hoover Moratorium had the effect of temporarily stopping the banking collapse in Europe. In June 1932, a conference canceled all reparations payments by Germany.

The following is an outline of other actions Hoover took to try to help end the Depression through government intervention:

  1. Raised tariffs, in accordance with his election-year promise, by signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act.
  2. Increased subsidies to the nation's farmers with the Agricultural Marketing Act.
  3. Signed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, the nation's first Federal unemployment assistance.
  4. Increased public works spending. Some of Hoover's efforts to stimulate the economy through public works are as follows:
    1. Asked Congress for a $400 million increase in the Federal Building Program
    2. Directed the Department of Commerce to establish a Division of Public Construction in December 1929
    3. Increased subsidies for ship construction through the Federal Shipping Board
    4. Urged the state governors to also increase their public works spending, though many failed to take any action.
  5. Signed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act establishing the Federal Home Loan Bank system to assist citizens in obtaining financing to purchase a home.
  6. Established the President's Emergency Relief Organization to coordinate local private relief efforts resulting in over 3,000 relief committees across the U.S.
  7. Authorized the repatriation to Mexico of 1-2 million people living in barrios throughout California, Texas and Michigan, 60% of whom were U.S. citizens of Mexican-descent, in an effort to ease unemployment.
  8. Urged bankers to form the National Credit Corporation to assist banks in financial trouble and protect depositors' money.
  9. Actively encouraged businesses to maintain high wages during the Depression, in line with the philosophy, called Fordism, that high wages create prosperity. Most corporations maintained their workers' wages early in the Depression in the hope that more money into the pockets of consumers would end the economic downturn.
  10. Signed the Reconstruction Finance Act. This act established the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which made loans to the states for public works and unemployment relief. In addition, the corporation made loans to banks, railroads and agriculture credit organizations.

Although Hoover's stablization efforts exceeded those of any previous federal administration, Roosevelt would attack Hoover for "doing nothing," a view that has persisted ever since.

Economy

In order to pay for these and other government programs, Hoover agreed to one of the largest tax increases in American history. The Revenue Act of 1932 raised income tax on the highest incomes from 25% to 63%. The estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15%. Also, a "check tax" was included that placed a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's dollars) on all bank checks. Economists William D. Lastrapes and George Selgin, conclude that the check tax was "an important contributing factor to that period's severe monetary contraction." Hoover also encouraged Congress to investigate the New York Stock Exchange, and this pressure resulted in various reforms.

National debt expressed as a fraction of gross national product climbs from 20% to 40% under Hoover; levels off under FDR; soars during World War II. From Historical Statistics US (1976)
National debt expressed as a fraction of gross national product climbs from 20% to 40% under Hoover; levels off under FDR; soars during World War II. From Historical Statistics US (1976)

For this reason, years later libertarians argued that Hoover's economics were statist. Franklin D. Roosevelt blasted the Republican incumbent for spending and taxing too much, increasing national debt, raising tariffs and blocking trade, as well as placing millions on the dole of the government. Roosevelt attacked Hoover for "reckless and extravagant" spending, of thinking "that we ought to centre control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible," and of leading "the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history." Roosevelt's running mate, John Nance Garner, accused the Republican of "leading the country down the path of socialism".

These policies pale beside the more drastic steps taken later as part of the New Deal. Hoover's opponents charge that his policies came too little, and too late, and did not work. Even as he asked Congress for legislation, he reiterated his view that while people must not suffer from hunger and cold, caring for them must be primarily a local and voluntary responsibility.

Even so, New Dealer Rexford Tugwell later remarked that although no one would say so at the time, "practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started."

Unemployment rose to 24.9% by the end of Hoover's presidency in 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression. Hoover also vetoed the Muscle Shoals Bill in 1931, which would have provided cheap energy to the Tennessee river valley, which could have silenced some critics.

1932 campaign

Although Hoover had come to detest the presidency, he agreed to run again in 1932, both as a matter of pride, but also because he feared that no other likely Republican candidate would deal with the depression without resorting to dangerously radical measures.

Hoover was nominated by the Republicans for a second term. He had originally planned to make only one or two major speeches, and to leave the rest of the campaigning to proxies, but when polls showed the entire Republican ticket facing a resounding defeat at the polls, Hoover agreed to an expanded schedule of public addresses. In his nine major radio addresses Hoover primarily defended his administration and his philosophy. The apologetic approach did not allow Hoover to refute Franklin Roosevelt's charge that he was personally responsible for the depression.

In his campaigns around the country, Hoover was faced with perhaps the most hostile crowds any sitting president had ever faced. In addition to having his train and motorcades pelted with eggs and rotten fruit, he was often heckled while speaking, and on several occasions, the Secret Service halted attempts to kill Hoover by disgruntled citizens, including capturing one man nearing Hoover carrying sticks of dynamite, and another actually already having removed several spikes from the rails in front of the President's train.

Bonus Army

Thousands of World War I veterans and their families demonstrated and camped out in Washington, D.C., during June 1932, calling for immediate payment of a bonus that had been promised by the Adjusted Service Certificate Law for payment in 1924. Although offered money by Congress to return home, some members of the " Bonus army" remained. Washington police attempted to remove the demonstrators from their camp, but they were outnumbered and thereby unsuccessful. Shots were fired by the police in a futile attempt to attain order, and two protesters were killed while many officers were injured. Hoover sent U.S. Army forces led by General Douglas MacArthur and helped by junior officers Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton to stop a march. MacArthur, believing he was fighting a communist revolution, chose to clear out the camp with military force. In the ensuing clash, hundreds of civilians were injured. Hoover had actually sent orders that the Army was to not move on the encampment, but MacArthur chose to ignore the command. Hoover was incensed, but refused to reprimand MacArthur. The entire incident was another devastating negative for Hoover in the 1932 election. That led New York governor and Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt to declare of Hoover: "There is nothing inside the man but jelly!"

Hoover suffered a large defeat at the election, obtaining 39.7% of the popular vote to Roosevelt's 57.4%. Hoover's popular vote was reduced by 26% from his result in the 1928 election. In the electoral college he carried only a handful of Northeast states and lost 59 - 472. The Democrats also extended their control over the U.S. House and gained control of the U.S. Senate.

Administration and cabinet

Hoover's official White House portrait painted by John Christen Johansen.
Hoover's official White House portrait painted by John Christen Johansen.
OFFICE NAME TERM
President Herbert Hoover 1929–1933
Vice President Charles Curtis 1929–1933
Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson 1929–1933
Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon 1929–1932
  Ogden L. Mills 1932–1933
Secretary of War James W. Good 1929
  Patrick J. Hurley 1929–1933
Attorney General William D. Mitchell 1929–1933
Postmaster General Walter F. Brown 1929–1933
Secretary of the Navy Charles F. Adams 1929–1933
Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur 1929–1933
Secretary of Agriculture Arthur M. Hyde 1929–1933
Secretary of Commerce Robert P. Lamont 1929–1932
  Roy D. Chapin 1932–1933
Secretary of Labor James J. Davis 1929–1930
  William N. Doak 1930–1933


Supreme Court appointments

Hoover appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • Charles Evans Hughes ( Chief Justice) – 1930
  • Owen Josephus Roberts – 1930
  • Benjamin Nathan Cardozo – 1932

Hoover broke party lines to appoint the Democrat Cardozo. He explained that he "was one of the ancient believers that the Supreme Court should have a strong minority of the opposition's party and that all appointments should be made from experienced jurists. When the vacancy came... [Hoover] canvassed all the possible Democratic jurists and immediately concluded that Justice Cardozo was the right man and appointed him."

Post presidency

Hoover departed from Washington in March of 1933 with some bitterness, disappointed both that he had been repudiated by the voters and unappreciated for his best efforts. The Hoovers went first to New York City, where they settled into the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Later that spring, the Hoovers returned to California to live in their home at Palo Alto.

Hoover liked to get behind the wheel of his car, accompanied only by his wife or a friend (former presidents did not get Secret Service protection until the 1960s), and drive for hundreds or thousands of miles on wandering journeys, visiting Western mining camps or small towns where he often went unrecognized, or heading up to the mountains or deep into the woods to go fishing in relative solitude. A year before his death, his own fishing days behind him, he published Fishing For Fun — And To Wash Your Soul, the last of his more than 16 books.

Although many of his friends and supporters called upon Hoover to speak out against Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (FDR) " New Deal" and to assume his place as the voice of the loyal opposition, he refused for many months after leaving the White House, and largely kept himself out of the public spotlight until late in 1934. However, that did not stop rumors from springing up about him, often fanned by Democratic politicians who found the former President to be a convenient scapegoat. One rumor had it that he had attempted to flee the country in a yacht with $5 million in gold, another that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested him and placed him in protective custody "for his own safety."

The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most strained between presidents ever. While Hoover had little good to say about his successor, there was little he could do beyond hurling epithets at him. FDR, however, could and did engage in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam along the Nevada/ Arizona border, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam for many years to come.

In 1936, Hoover entertained hopes of receiving the Republican presidential nomination, and thus facing Roosevelt in a rematch. However, although he retained strong support among some delegates, there was never much hope of him being selected. He publicly endorsed the nominee, Kansas Governor Alf Landon, although privately he worried that Landon was too willing to accept the New Deal policies. But Hoover might very well have been the nominee, as the Democrats virtually ignored Landon and ran against the former President himself, constantly attacking him in speeches and warning that a Landon victory would put Hoover back in the White House as the secret power behind the throne. Roosevelt won 46 of the 48 states, burying Landon and the Republican Party in another landslide.

Although Hoover's reputation was at its low point, circumstances would now begin to develop that would help rehabilitate his name and restore him to a position of prominence in the life of the nation. Roosevelt overreached on his Supreme Court packing plan, and a recession in 1937 and 1938 tarnished his image of invincibility.

By 1940, Hoover was again being spoken of as the possible nominee of the party. Although he trailed in the polls behind Thomas Dewey, Arthur Vandenberg, and his own former protege, Robert A. Taft, he still had considerable first ballot delegate strength, and it was believed that if the convention deadlocked between the leading candidates, the party might turn to him as its compromise. However, the convention nominated utility president Wendell Willkie, who had supported Roosevelt in 1932 but turned against him after the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority forced him to sell his company. Hoover dutifully supported Willkie, although he despaired that the nominee endorsed a platform that, to Hoover, was little more than the New Deal in all but name. Following 1940, Hoover never again considered holding public office, even when the opportunity to return presented itself.

World War II

With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, Hoover joined with the majority of Americans to declare for neutrality from the conflict. Like many, he initially believed that the Allies would be able to contain Germany. But when the Nazis overran France and had Britain involved in a stalemate, though many Americans wished to see Britain as on the verge of collapse in 1940, Hoover declared that it would be folly for the United States to declare war on Germany and to rush to save the UK. Rather, he held, it was far wiser for the nation to devote itself to building up its own defenses, and to wash its hands of the mess in Europe. He called for a "Fortress America" concept, in which the U.S., protected East and West by vast oceans and patrolled by its navy and air corps, could adequately repel any attack on the hemisphere. Hoover publicly opposed Roosevelt's peacetime draft, the Lend-Lease Program, and the "shoot on sight" command which FDR gave the Navy should they cross paths with any German U-boats in the shipping lanes between the United States and the British Isles, as threats to America's official neutrality.

In spite of his professed neutrality, Hoover despised the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. He had privately met the Führer while visiting Germany several years before, and he came away from their meeting singularly unimpressed with Hitler's intellect. Hoover likewise had little more than contempt for Hitler's ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.

With the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbour, Hoover swept aside all feelings of neutrality and called for total victory. He offered himself to the government in any capacity necessary, but the Roosevelt Administration did not call upon him to serve.

Post World War II

President John F. Kennedy meets with former President Hoover.
President John F. Kennedy meets with former President Hoover.

Based on Hoover's previous experience with Germany at the end of World War I, in 1946 - 47 President Harry S. Truman selected Hoover to tour Germany in order to ascertain the food status of the occupied nation. Hoover toured what was to become West Germany in Field Marshal Herman Göring's old train coach and produced a number of reports sharply critical of U.S. occupation policy. The economy of Germany had "sunk to the lowest level in a hundred years." He stated in one report:

"There is the illusion that the New Germany left after the annexations can be reduced to a ' pastoral state'. It cannot be done unless we exterminate or move 25,000,000 people out of it.".

As the Cold War deepened, Hoover expressed reservations about some of the activities of the American Friends Service Committee, which he previously had strongly supported.

On Hoover’s initiative, a school meals program in the U.S. and British occupation zones of Germany was begun on 14 April 1947. The program served 3.5 million children ages 6 through 18. A total of 40,000 tons of American food was made available during the Hooverspeisung (Hoover meals).

In 1947, President Harry S. Truman appointed Hoover to a commission, which elected him chairman, to reorganize the executive departments. This became known as the Hoover Commission. He was appointed chairman of a similar commission by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. Both found numerous inefficiencies and ways to reduce waste, but Hoover was disappointed that the government did not enact most of the recommendations the commissions made.

In 1949, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey offered Hoover a seat in the U.S. Senate, to fulfill an unexpired term; Hoover declined.

Following the war, Hoover became friends with President Harry Truman. Hoover joked that they were for many years the sole members of the trade union of former Presidents.

Throughout the Cold War, Hoover, always an opponent of Marxism, became even more outspokenly anti-Communist. Despite his advancing years, he continued to work nearly full-time both on his writing (among his literary works is The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, a bestseller, and the first time one former president had ever written a biography about another), as well as overseeing the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, which housed not only his own professional papers, but those of a number of other former high ranking governmental and military servants. He also threw himself into fund raising for the Boys Clubs (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of America), which became his pet charity.

In 1960, he appeared at his final Republican National Convention. Since the 1948 gathering, he had been feted as the guest of "farewell" ceremonies (the unspoken assumption being that the aging former President might not survive until the next convention). Joking to the delegates, he said, "Apparently, my last three goodbyes didn't take." Although he lived to see the 1964 convention, ill health prevented him from attending; nominee Barry Goldwater acknowledged Hoover's absence in his acceptance speech.

Hoover died at the age of 90 in New York City at 11:35 a.m. on October 20, 1964, 31 years and seven months after leaving office. He had outlived his wife, the former Lou Henry, by 20 years, who died in 1944, and was the last living member of both the Harding and Coolidge administrations. By the time of his death, he had rehabilitated his image. His birthplace in Iowa, as well as a home he lived in as a child in Oregon, became national landmarks during his lifetime. His Rapidan fishing camp in Virginia, which he had donated to the government in 1933, is now a National Historic Landmark within Shenandoah National Park. As of 2008, he had the longest retirement of any President. Hoover and his wife are buried at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. Hoover was honored with a state funeral, the last of three in a span of 12 months, coming as it did just after the deaths of John F. Kennedy and Douglas MacArthur.

Heritage and memorials

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is the Presidential library of Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States. Located in West Branch, Iowa next to the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, the library is one of twelve presidential libraries run by the National Archives and Records Administration. The Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House, built in 1919 in Palo Alto, California, is now the official residence of the president of Stanford University, and a National Historic Landmark. Hoover's rustic rural presidential retreat, Rapidan Camp (also known as Camp Hoover) in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, has recently been restored and opened to the public. The Hoover Dam was also named in his honour.

Schools named for Herbert Hoover

  • Hoover Middle School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Hoover Elementary, Enid, Oklahoma
  • Herbert Hoover High School, San Diego, California
  • Herbert Hoover High School, Falling Rock, Kanawha County, West Virginia
  • Hoover Elementary, West Branch, Iowa
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary, Bettendorf, Iowa
  • Hoover Elementary, Iowa City, Iowa
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary, Dubuque, Iowa
  • Herbert Hoover High School, Fresno, California
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary, Palo Alto, California
  • Herbert Hoover High School, Des Moines, Iowa
  • Hoover Middle School, Waterloo, Iowa
  • Herbert Hoover Middle School, Edison, New Jersey
  • Herbert C. Hoover Middle School, Indialantic, Florida
  • Herbert Hoover High School, Glendale, California
  • Herbert-Hoover-Oberschule, Berlin, Germany
  • Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, California
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary School, New Berlin, Wisconsin
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary School, Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Herbert Hoover Middle School, San Francisco, California
  • Hoover Elementary, Mason City, Iowa
  • Hoover Elementary School, North Mankato, Minnesota
  • Herbert Hoover Elementary School, Tonawanda (town), New York
  • Herbert Hoover High School , Ruda Slaska , Poland
  • Hoover Elementary, Santa Ana, California
  • Herbert-Hoover-Schule Elementary School, Eschenburg-Hirzenhain, Germany
  • Hoover Middle School, Mt. Lebanon Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Herbert Hoover High School, Elkview, West Virginia
  • Hoover Elementary, Corvallis, Oregon
  • Hoover Elementary, Medford, Oregon
  • Herbert Hoover Middle School, Potomac, Maryland
  • Hoover Elementary School, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
  • Hoover middle school,Lakewood,Ca.
  • Hoover Elementary School, Rochester, Minnesota.
  • Herbert Hoover Middle School, San Jose, California
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