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Herbert Clark Hoover (August 10, 1874 – October 20, 1964), the thirty-first President of the United States (1929–1933), was a world-famous mining engineer and humanitarian administrator.
As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted 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, a Catholic whose religion was distrusted by many.
Hoover deeply believed in the Efficiency Movement (a major component of the Progressive Era), arguing that there were technical solutions to all social and economic problems.
That position was challenged by the Great Depression, which began in 1929, the first year of his presidency. He energetically 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
The son of a blacksmith, Hoover (whose family's name was originally Huber) was born into a Quaker family of German (Pfautz, Wehmeyer) and German-Swiss (Huber, Burkhart) descent on his father's side and English and Irish descent on his mother's side, in West Branch, Iowa. He was the first President to be born west of the Mississippi River. Both of his parents, Jesse Hoover and Hulda Minthorn, died when Hoover was young. His father died in 1880 and his mother in 1884. He lived in Kingsley, Iowa, shortly after his parents died. In 1885, Hoover moved to Newberg, Oregon, to live with his Uncle John Minthorn. 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.
At a very old age, Hoover was self-kept and goalgetting. "My boyhood ambition was to be able to earn my own living, without the help of anybody, anywhere" he once said. As an office boy in his uncle's Oregon Land Company he mastered bookkeeping and typing, while also attending business school in the afternoon. Thanks to a local schoolteacher, Miss Jane Gray, the boy's eyes were opened to the novels of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.
Hoover entered Stanford University in 1891, the year the school officially opened and, like all its first students, attended with free 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.
Herbert Hoover spent almost twenty years as an active mining engineer and consultant. He began his career with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the Sierra Nevada range of California.
Hoover went to Australia in 1897 as an employee of Beswick, Moreing and Company, a London Mining engineering consulting firm. It was in Australia that he made his name as a geologist/mining engineer. In August and September 1905, Herbert Hoover visited the mines at Broken Hill, NSW Australia. There was considerable zinc in the Broken Hill lead-silver ore, but it could not be recovered and was lost to the tailings. Hoover devised a practical and profitable method to use the then-new froth floatation process to treat these tailings and recover the zinc.
Herbert Hoover was also the mining engineer at the Prince of Wales Mine, Gundagai, New South Wales about 1900. He was also hired in London to be a company representative at various gold mines in Western Australia. In 1902, Hoover travelled to Big Bell, Cue, Leonora, Menzies and Coolgardie.. His house in Gwalia is now a historical tourist attraction. Hoover is profiled as a mining pioneer in the Kalgoorlie Miners Hall of Fame, with a biography not mentioning his subsequent role as US President.
He married his Stanford sweetheart, Lou Henry, and they went to China, where he worked for a private corporation as China's leading engineer. In June 1900 the Boxer Rebellion caught the Hoovers in Tientsin. 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.
In 1908 he became an independent mining consultant, and travelled worldwide until the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In 1912, Hoover and his wife published their English translation of the Renaissance mining classic De re metallica by Georgius Agricola; their translation is still in print.
Hoover's family business came from his mother's side. Delores S. Morehouse. Bored with making money, the Quaker side of Hoover was very anxious to be of service to others. 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.
Belgium faced a food crisis after being invaded by Germany in fall 1914. Hoover undertook an unprecedented relief effort as head of the Committee for Relief in Belgium (CRB). He worked together 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. Its $11-million-a-month budget was supplied by voluntary donations and government grants. He spent the next two years working fourteen hours a day from London to distribute 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. Long before the Armistice of 1918, he was an international hero. The Belgian city of Leuven named a prominent square after him. In addition, the Finns added the word hoover, meaning "to help," to their language in honor of his two years of humanitarian work.
After the United States entered the war in April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson appointed Hoover head of the American Food Administration, with headquarters in Washington, D.C. Hoover believed that, "food will win the war." He established days to encourage people to not eat certain foods in order to save them for the soldiers: meatless Mondays, wheatless Wednesdays, and "when in doubt, eat potatoes." These days helped conserve food for the war. He succeeded in cutting consumption of food needed overseas and avoided rationing at home (dubbed "Hooverizing" by government propagandists, although 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). After the end of the war, Hoover, a member of the Supreme Economic Council and head of the American Relief Administration, organized shipments of food for millions of starving people in Central Europe. To this end, he employed a newly formed Quaker organization, the American Friends Service Committee to carry out much of the logistical work in Europe. Against the opposition of Henry Cabot Lodge and other Senate Republicans, Hoover saw to it that the German people received aid, and he extended aid to famine-stricken Bolshevist Russia in 1921. 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".
During this time, Hoover realized that he was in a unique position to collect information about the Great War and its aftermath. Returning home in 1919, Hoover confronted a world of political possibilities. At one point, Democratic party bosses 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. However, Hoover rejected the call of the Democrats, confessing that 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
Hoover was touted as a possible Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1920 by some party leaders (including, ironically enough, by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt, then a great admirer of Hoover; reportedly, Woodrow Wilson also privately preferred Hoover as his successor), but 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.
In 1921, in part as a reward for his support in the election, President Harding offered Hoover the post of either Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Commerce, ultimately chosing 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. 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.
Among Hoover's other successes were the radio conferences, which 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.
In early 1927, the Great Mississippi River flood broke the banks and levees of the Mississippi River. 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."
Election of 1928
Main article: United States presidential election, 1928
In 1927, when President Coolidge declined to run for a second full term of office, Herbert Hoover became the leading Republican candidate for the 1928 election, despite the fact that Coolidge was lukewarm on Hoover (the President would often deride his ambitious and popular Commerce Secretary as "Wonder Boy"). His only real challenger was Frank Lowden, but in the months leading up to the convention, Hoover received so much favorable press coverage, Lowden's campaign manager complained that 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.
He campaigned against Democratic candidate Alfred E. Smith on the basis of efficiency and prosperity. Although Smith was the target of anti-Catholicism from some Protestant communities, Hoover avoided the religious issue and publicly repudiated those Republicans who attempted to exploit it. (Quakers were themselves often under attack as pacifists.) There was actually not much difference between the candidates on the issues, as 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 did differ 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 that Hoover was much more tentative in his support for Volstead in private, and that for years he practiced a certain ritual: often after work at the Commerce Department, he 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 also used to grumble that all Prohibition successfully did was to force him to dispose of his celebrated wine cellar.
Historians agree that 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.
Even if the Hoover presidency has a negative imprint on it, it must be noted that there were some important reforms under the Hoover administration. A progressive and a reformer at heart, Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans not by resorting to dictatorship or socialism, but rather through lawful regulation and by encouraging volunteerism.
The President expanded civil service coverage, canceled private oil leases on government lands, and led the way for the prosecution of gangster Al Capone by instructing the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service to go after gangsters for tax evasion. 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 veterans 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 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 Neighbor 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.
Main article: Great Depression
The economy was put to the test with the onset of the Great Depression in the United States in 1929. It is not accurate, as was routinely claimed by his Democratic opponents, that Hoover "did nothing" in the face of the crisis, nor that he was a believer in laissez-faire policies. He explicitly denounced laissez-faire in his 1922 book American Individualism, took an active pro-regulation stance as Commerce Secretary, and saw tariff and agricultural support bills through Congress. In his memoirs he recalled his rejection of Treasury Secretary Mellon's suggested "leave-it-alone" approach. However, Hoover opposed direct relief from the federal government, seeking instead to organize voluntary measures and encourage state and local government responses. Except for accelerating public works expenditures, Hoover largely shunned legislative relief proposals until late in his term. While his efforts were small in comparison to that of the Roosevelt administration, they exceeded that of any federal administration before him.
Soon after the stock market crash, Hoover summoned industrialists to the White House and secured promises to maintain wages. Henry Ford even agreed to increase workers' daily pay from six to seven dollars. From the nation's utilities, Hoover won commitments of $1.8 billion in new construction and repairs for 1930. Railroad executives made a similar pledge. Organized labor agreed to withdraw its latest wage demands. The President ordered federal departments to speed up construction projects. He contacted all forty-eight state governors to make a similar appeal for expanded public works. He went to Congress with a $160 million tax cut, coupled with a doubling of resources for public buildings and dams, highways and harbors. He appointed a Federal Farm Board that tried to raise farm prices.
Praise for the President's intervention was widespread. "No one in his place could have done more," concluded the New York Times in early 1930. "Very few of his predecessors could have done as much." In February, Hoover announced—prematurely—that the preliminary shock had passed and that employment was on the mend.
Together government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than the previous year. Yet 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, although he had opposed its passage, 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.
Also, between 1930-1932, some 5,100 banks alone in those two years failed as panicked depositors withdrew their funds. Those losses amounted to $3.2 billion. These are considered by some to be Hoover's biggest political blunders (although Hoover himself, years later, said that he felt his only real mistake was to not immediately repudiate the foreign debt, which would have relieved the financial burden on much of Europe early on during the worldwide economic crisis, and thus spurred more trade with the United States). Moreover, the Federal Reserve System's tightening of the money supply (for fear of inflation) is regarded by Milton Friedman and most modern economists as a mistaken strategy, given the situation.
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:
Signed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, the nation's first Federal unemployment assistance.
Increased public works spending. Some of Hoover's efforts to stimulate the economy through public works are as follows:
Asked Congress for a $400 million increase in the Federal Building Program
Directed the Department of Commerce to establish a Division of Public Construction in December 1929
Increased subsidies for ship construction through the Federal Shipping Board
Urged the state governors to also increase their public works spending, though many failed to take any action.
Signed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act establishing the Federal Home Loan Bank system to assist citizens in obtaining financing to purchase a home.
Increased subsidies to the nation's struggling farmers with the Agricultural Marketing Act; but with only limited impact.
Established the President's Emergency Relief Organization to coordinate local private relief efforts resulting in over 3,000 relief committees across the U.S.
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.
Urged bankers to form the National Credit Corporation to assist banks in financial trouble and protect depositors' money.
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.
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.
Raised tariffs. After hearings held by the House Ways and Means Committee generated more than 20,000 pages of testimony regarding tariff protection, Congress responded with legislation that Hoover signed despite some misgivings. Instead of protecting American jobs, the Smoot-Hawley tariff is widely blamed for setting off a worldwide trade war which only worsened the country's (and the world's) economic ills.
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.
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 center 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.
Main article: United States presidential election, 1932
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. He realized he would lose. The apologia 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.
Main article: 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 aided 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.
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, and also fearful that the new Federal administration was about to embark in an orgy of wildly experimental and irresponsible programs that would only further damage the economy. 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.
Minus Secret Service protection (which was not granted to former Presidents until the 1960s), Hoover, accompanied only by his wife or a friend, liked to get behind the wheel of his car and drive for hundreds or thousands of miles on wandering journeys, often 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.
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." Hoover himself heard many warnings from friends still in the government that the new Administration was out to get him, and investigators working at Hoover's own behest determined that someone was opening his ingoing and outgoing mail and reading it before it was delivered, and that his phone lines were quite probably being tapped. It was not determined who precisely was behind these acts, but Roosevelt did from time to time like to drop hints to acquaintances of Hoover that he knew a great deal of what the former President was saying in private.
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.
After the 1934 mid-term elections and their staggering Democratic victories, however, Hoover felt the time had come for him to speak out. He warned of a trend toward dictatorship inherent in the New Deal, lamented the fact that Congress so readily gave virtually everything Roosevelt asked for, and complained (with some accuracy) that much of what was working in the New Deal were the programs begun during his own term in office, while many of Roosevelt's original policies were failures, but FDR was being given sole credit for recovery regardless.
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 nadir, 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.
Hoover also cemented his position as a spokesman of the Republican Party, in part due to the dearth of nationally-known Republicans following the last few election debacles. As such, he gave voice to millions of Americans who felt disenfranchised by the New Deal .
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 on the verge of seeming surrender 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 Harbor, 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
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". 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 stridently anti-Communist. Despite his advancing years, he continued to work virtually 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 fundraising 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.
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 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 public campground. As of 2007, 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, 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 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 later 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 honor.