The Herbert Hoover Administration

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Date: 2002
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Shortly after Herbert Hoover took office, the United States faced a crisis that would cast a shadow over his entire administration. When the stock market crashed on October 24, 1929, a downward economic slide was sparked that led to the Great Depression. Although Hoover attempted to infuse hope in the American public by touting the phrase, "Prosperity is just around the corner," economic conditions worsened. Federal recovery measures were undertaken to alleviate America's problems including the Reconstruction Finance Corporation and the Federal Farm Board, but by the end of Hoover's term, the American public felt that the administration had done "too little, too late" and were more than eager to embrace Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal."

Hoover Becomes President

The Campaign of 1928

In 1928 Hoover was strongly favored for the Republican presidential nomination after President Calvin Coolidge announced that he would not seek another term. Aside from President Coolidge, Hoover was the most well-known Republican in the nation and lost only three state primaries. On the very first ballot of the convention, which met in mid-June in Kansas City, Missouri, Hoover won a majority of votes, making him the party's candidate. His running mate, Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas, was a bland party regular, whose advice Hoover seldom followed. The Democrats nominated Governor Alfred Emanuel Smith of New York, a moderate reformer and superb administrator who, like Hoover, rose from modest circumstances, in Smith's case from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Always having cigar in hand, sporting a brown derby, and speaking in a distinctive New York City accent, Smith was designated "the Abe Lincoln of the tenement people." The candidates had a surprising amount in common. Both were self-made men, highly efficient administrators, and surrounded themselves with experts. In the campaign both drew upon labor support, obtained millionaire backing, worked to obtain the women's vote, and strongly defended U.S. capitalism.

In his acceptance speech of the presidential nomination, delivered on August 11, 1928, at Palo Alto, California, Hoover took credit for the existing prosperity carrying over from his days as secretary of commerce and warned against "state socialism." "We shall soon . . . be in sight of the day," he claimed, "when poverty will be banished from this nation." He publicly endorsed the 1919 Eighteenth Amendment banning the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages, known as Prohibition. Though personally opposed to the amendment he referred to it as "a great social and economic experiment, noble in motive and far-reaching in purpose." Smith had no use for the measure and made no secret of his vehement opposition. Though the candidates sparred over tariffs, price-fixing for farmers, and public ownership of hydroelectric power sites, the campaign lacked substantive issues.

Hoover easily won the election, with 21.4 million popular votes to Smith's 15 million. In the electoral college he did even better, with 444 votes to Smith's 87. For the first time since the American Civil War (1861-65), some southern states voted Republican: Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, and Texas. Though much attention has been given to Smith's Roman Catholicism as a factor in his defeat, almost any Republican could have beaten Smith under almost any circumstances that year. In his memoirs Hoover wrote that general prosperity was on his side, and he was right. The Republicans might have been wise to note one fact: the Democrats captured practically every city housing over 400,000 people. It was not a good omen.

The Campaign of 1932

Four years later it was not just the urban masses that felt little sympathy for the president. The outcome of Hoover's second campaign was almost predetermined by the Great Depression. Hoover was skillful in advancing his nomination in 1928 and renomination in 1932, and he could bestow patronage most effectively, but he really possessed few political skills. When, on June 14, 1932, the Republican Party renominated Hoover for president, the cause was already lost. The Democratic nominee was virtually assured victory. The fact that Hoover's opponent, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, possessed a magnetic personality and exuded tremendous confidence only made Hoover's defeat the more bitter.

In a series of nine speeches, Hoover boasted that he had waged "battles on a thousand fronts" and had fought "the good fight to protect our people in a thousand cities from hunger and cold." To the unemployed he promised jobs, to farmers he promised enlarged tariff protection and additional credit, and to investors he promised the continuation of the gold standard. Claiming that recovery was well underway, he pointed to a decline in unemployment of 700,000 as well as increases in certain economic indexes, such as farm products, textile output, iron and steel production, and the value of common stock. But Hoover was ignoring crucial evidence that the economy was still spiraling downward towards collapse, including a sharp drop in credit, a steep decline in bank deposits, and ten million still unemployed. As far as Prohibition was concerned, Hoover ran on a party platform that would allow individual states to "deal with the problem as their citizens may determine."

During the campaign Franklin Roosevelt attacked the president for failing to balance the budget and, upon taking office, signed the Economy Act of 1933, which was designed to balance the budget by cutting veterans' pensions and the salaries of civil servants. Far from innovative, the Democrats had a most conservative platform, calling for the reduction of federal spending, a balanced budget, states's rights, a lower tariff, a sound currency, and an end to Prohibition.

On November 8, nevertheless, Roosevelt swept the country, carrying seven million more popular votes, 413 more electoral votes and 36 more states than Hoover. The Democrats also gained control of both houses of Congress.

Hoover's Advisers

Hoover exercised some care in picking his cabinet. Although it was not a spectacular body, it usually served him well. To an exceptional degree, Hoover kept his own counsel. Major advisers within the cabinet included Treasury Secretary Odgen Mills and Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson. Also close to the president were Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Walter E. Hope; Los Angeles banker Henry M. Robinson; Edward Eyre Hunt, economist with the Commerce Department; journalist Mark Sullivan; Undersecretary of State William R. Castle Jr.; and Henry J. Allen, Republican senator from Kansas. Hoover's personal staff was very supportive. Walter H. Newton directed executive appointments, government reorganization, and contacts with Congress. Lawrence Richey supervised personal affairs and office management. George E. Akerson was in charge of press relations.

Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson had a long record of distinguished service, serving as secretary of war under President William Taft and governor-general of the Philippines under President Calvin Coolidge. Hoover and Stimson differed in temperament, for the president found his secretary--who would often only put in two or three hours at the State Department--lethargic. More significantly, they differed in policy, for Hoover found his secretary irresponsibly adopting a threatening diplomatic posture as seen by his stridency in the Manchurian crisis (See also, Domestic Issues).

Until February 1932 Hoover retained Andrew W. Mellon, who had been Coolidge's secretary of the Treasury, at which point he appointed him ambassador to Great Britain. A Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banker who made a fortune in aluminum, Mellon held views on fighting the Depression that over time proved too conservative for Hoover. Hoover replaced Mellon with assistant Treasury secretary Ogden L. Mills, whose intelligence Hoover greatly respected.

Ray Lyman Wilbur, physician, president of Stanford, and a man personally close to Hoover, became secretary of the interior. The president held the Interior Department in particularly high regard, seeing it as possessing great influence in such matters as natural resources, children, housing, and the condition of American Indians. Wilbur, fortunately, met Hoover's expectations.

U.S. agriculture was in a desperate condition throughout the 1920s. Hoover first hoped that Republican senator Charles L. McNary of Oregon would become secretary of agriculture, a surprising choice given McNary's co-authorship of a controversial farm bill that Hoover detested. However, Hoover eventually awarded the post to Arthur Hyde, former Ford dealer and governor of Missouri, who knew little about farming.

For attorney general Hoover chose William D. Mitchell, formerly solicitor general and a Democrat, who served him well. Hoover kept on James J. Davis (Puddler Jim), originally a Harding appointee, as secretary of labor. Supreme Dictator and Reorganizer of the Loyal Order of Moose, Davis was an arch conservative. Resigning in 1930 to run for the Senate from Pennsylvania, he was replaced by William N. Doak, a leader in the railroad trainmen's union. Neither man was equal to the task, particularly in times of depression.

Charles Francis Adams, a cultivated financier, philanthropist, and yachtsman, became secretary of the navy. Hoover found Adams so competent he wished he had made the Massachusetts native secretary of state. Adams's counterpart in the War Department, James W. Good of Iowa, died within a year of taking office. He had been a prominent Republican congressman. His replacement, Patrick J. Hurley, was a Tulsa, Oklahoma, businessman who had helped carry his home state for Hoover in the recent election. His conduct during the Bonus March (See also, Domestic Issues) would seriously embarrass the president.

Robert P. Lamont, an engineer-turned-businessman like the president, disappointed Hoover as secretary of commerce, a post in which he held a proprietary interest. In July of 1932, Roy D. Chapin, president of the Hudson Motor Company, assumed the post. The Post Office Department, traditionally a font of political patronage, went to Walter F. Brown, who had been assistant secretary of commerce when Hoover was secretary. As expected, he was a great source of political advice.

Hoover and Congress

The Seventy-first Congress lasted from March 4, 1929, to March 3, 1931. The Senate was composed of 59 Republicans and 39 Democrats, plus one member of the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota. In the House the Republicans possessed a majority of 103 seats.

Contrary to myth, Hoover did not always have trouble with Congress. True, in 1929 he and his Senate majority leader, James E. Watson of Indiana, shared a mutual contempt. Watson's extreme isolationism and high tariff views, as well as his courting of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacy group, drew little respect from the president. In the House, however, the president's relationships with key party members were not colored by such personal animosity.

Although known for his early-day progressivism (he had fought for an income tax and the Federal Reserve system), Hoover had no plan for preventing the Great Depression. Moreover, he was surprisingly inept at imposing discipline upon an unruly body.

Coming after the beginning of the Great Depression (See also, Domestic Issues), the November 1930 congressional elections greatly weakened Hoover's control of Congress; nevertheless, the election was not a mass repudiation of his leadership. In the Seventy-second Congress, which met from March 4, 1931, to March 3, 1933, the Republicans at first retained the House by only one vote; but over the course of the following year enough Republican incumbents had died to give control to the Democrats. Although the Senate that was elected comprised 48 Republicans, 47 Democrats, and one Farmer-Laborite, so many Republican progressives opposed the president's measures to deal with the Depression that an insurgent Democratic coalition became dominant. Until then, however, Hoover remained in charge. Congress even backed the presidential veto of a bill creating a vast federal hydroelectric development in the Tennessee Valley, a project close to the heart of the highly respected Republican senator George Norris of Nebraska. In only one major instance did Congress override Hoover, this involving a bill to permit World War I veterans to borrow up to 50 percent on their allocated bonus, a life insurance policy payable in 1945 ( See also, Domestic Issues).

Labor received a boost when, in March 1932, Hoover signed the Norris-LaGuardia Bill, outlawing yellow-dog contracts and injunctions, which were court orders banning a particular strike. By greatly enhancing labor's right to bargain collectively, the bill was deservedly seen as a landmark in labor relations. It passed Congress easily.

Until March 1932, when Congress balked over Hoover's proposal of a sales tax, even the Democratic leadership was generally supportive of the president. The administration was able, in fact, to ride roughshod over its disparate foes, obtaining its entire program in the process. Only after March, when Hoover felt forced to veto various bills embodying massive relief efforts, did friction really begin.

Hoover and the Judiciary

During his term, Hoover was able to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court. In 1930 he appointed Charles Evans Hughes, who had been appointed associate justice in 1910, to be chief justice. Despite a strong judicial record, Hughes met with some opposition. His corporate associations as a Wall Street lawyer, and his resignation from the Court in 1916 to run for the presidency, resulted in the 68-year-old jurist receiving confirmation by only 52 to 26.

Hoover's next choice, John J. Parker, met with defeat by a Senate vote of 41 to 39. A Republican circuit judge from North Carolina, Parker was opposed by organized labor for decisions upholding the "yellow dog" labor contract, which required a no-strike pledge from a prospective employee, and the right of mining companies to evict strikers from the company towns in which they lived. African Americans opposed Parker for a remark made in 1920, that blacks were not yet ready to participate actively in state politics. At this point Hoover nominated Owen Roberts, formerly a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a special government attorney in the Teapot Dome Scandal (See also, Warren Harding Administration). Roberts was unanimously confirmed.

In 1932 Hoover chose Benjamin Cardozo to serve on the bench. Cardozo was a legal scholar who served on the New York Court of Appeals. A Democrat and a liberal, he became a bulwark of much New Deal legislation.

During the Hoover presidency all the landmark decisions lay in the area of civil liberties. The Supreme Court decided on a number of cases that expanded application of the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which reads "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Originally the Bill of Rights had applied only to federal activities. Now the courts were using the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Bill of Rights to the states as well and thereby widely extending the scope of civil liberties.

In Stromberg v. California (1931), the Court declared invalid a state statute prohibiting the display of the red flag as an emblem of anarchism or of opposition to organized government. "The concept of liberty under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," said Chief Justice Hughes, "embraces the right of free speech," as embodied in the First Amendment. In Near v. Minnesota (1931), the Court struck down a state law providing for the suppression of any malicious, scandalous, or defamatory newspaper. Hughes, again speaking for the Court, found the Minnesota law transcending existing standards of responsibility under libel law and thereby violating the due process clause. The same clause was again expanded in Powell v. Alabama (1932). Here the Court ruled that the state of Alabama had denied nine young African Americans, who were convicted of raping two white girls, the right of access to counsel, as specified in the Sixth Amendment.

Changes in the U.S. Government

Hoover saw government primarily in terms of administration, not legislation, a view that obviously won few backers in Congress. To Hoover, major economic and social problems should be solved by conferences composed of disinterested experts, who would gather immense amounts of data and make appropriate recommendations. For example, the White House Conference on Health and the Protection of Children of 1929 called together some 2,500 delegates and issued 35 volumes of findings. During his presidency, Hoover also held conferences on waste, housing, public-land policy, and oil conservation. Possibly even more significant were certain commissions the president sponsored, such as the one investigating (See also, Domestic Issues) Prohibition enforcement. One commission, the Research Committee on Social Trends, issued a two-volume report that became a Bible for social scientists and set a standard that has seldom, if ever, been equaled. As with similar bodies, however, little follow-up machinery was produced.

During Hoover's tenure the Twentieth Amendment, popularly known as the "lame duck amendment," was passed. Before it was adopted, a president elected in November did not take office until the following March. Congressman in office before the election also continued to legislate in the short and ineffective December-to-March session. This amendment stipulated that congressmen elected in November assume their duties on January 3, and the elected president assumes office on January 20.

Domestic Issues

Overall, the impact of World War I (1914-18) on the economy was beneficial. Demand for manufactured goods rose in a spectacular fashion as U.S. steel and all sorts of raw materials and other goods flowed toward Europe. Another impact of the war was the development of technology under the force of demand and through generous federal military spending. By 1920 automobiles, airplanes, and radios were being produced in large quantities, and the workforce in these industries had accumulated vast experience in assembling these products. Plants were in place, and a sophisticated infrastructure of support existed: thousands of rural workers had moved to the industrial centers. When the war ended and demand for goods associated with the war lessened, production was aimed at consumers who had seen goods manufactured in previous years directed at the war effort. Backed fully by the hands-off policy of government led by Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, by the late 1920s U.S. business was experiencing growth unequaled in its history.

However, prosperity was far from evenly distributed around the country. The Northeast, the Upper Midwest industrial belt, and the West Coast were booming, but the South and the agricultural Midwest were doing poorly. With the war over, African Americans, coal miners, and other traditionally ill-paid workers had drifted back into their prewar status.

When inventories began to build up, in order to sustain continued consumption, manufacturers and retailers encouraged purchases on the "installment plan," a system of credit by which one could purchase the most expensive of items--such as automobiles or refrigerators--by making periodic payments that included interest. In effect, such consumers were mortgaging their future, for if one stopped payments at any point, the creditor would confiscate the item. During this time corporate profits reached 63 percent, and those of financial institutions rose 150 percent.

The stock and bond market became more active, and by the middle of the decade thousands of Americans who had never invested before were following the market avidly leading to speculation of the most irresponsible sort. The price of stocks absolutely skyrocketed. Radio Corporation of America (RCA), for example, sold for $85 dollars a share in 1928 and $549 a year later. Many Americans were buying these stocks by a process called "margin," by which the purchaser pays the broker only a fraction of the purchase price, borrowing the rest from the brokerage house. If the stock increases in price, the buyer can sell the stock, pay off the borrowed money, and pocket a large profit on a small investment. If, however, the price of the stock decreased, the broker would demand immediate payment from the investor, who--if unable to meet the "margin"--would lose the entire investment. The proliferation of slipshod banking loans made a precarious situation even more risky.

The Great Depression

The bubble suddenly burst when on October 24, 1929, a day known as "Black Thursday," stock prices plummeted. About thirteen million shares changed hands. As investors scrambled to sell off their stocks, prices were forced even lower. On the 28th and 29th 16.5 million shares were sold. Within two more weeks, the industrial index of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) had fallen by over half. Just before the crash Hoover had privately complained about the scope of market operations.

It soon became obvious that the Wall Street crash was no mere panic but the catalyst of what later would be called the Great Depression. Seldom had a single disaster led to so much misfortune. It was, in the words of historian Robert H. Ferrell, "like a global tornado that sucked up everything in its track." Within weeks, the market disaster blew thirty billion dollars into thin air, a sum almost equaling the entire cost of U.S. participation in World War I (1914-18).

Early Hoover Remedies

Beginning on November 19, 1929, and for several days thereafter, Hoover convened the five-day Conference for Continued Industrial Progress. Railroad, labor, and construction leaders, mayors and governors each met with the president. In December he met with larger groups of business, labor, and farm leaders. To all the message was the same. Warning of a serious recession and placing the responsibility for avoiding major catastrophe in their hands, he asked them to foster industrial expansion, avoid strikes, share work when possible, stabilize prices, and provide relief where needed. Most important of all, he stressed that there must be no drastic wage cuts. He soon was pushing national and state public works, whereby government bodies set up projects that would employ people who are out of work. He asked both Congress and state governors to appropriate the needed funds.

By the spring of 1930 it appeared as if Hoover's policies were working. Early in March, he predicted an end to the economic crisis within 60 days. Two months later he said, "We have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover." In June he told a visiting delegation, "The depression is over." For Hoover, such optimism made perfect sense. If business regained its confidence, there would be investments in new plants; these factories would start rehiring workers. Once the new labor force drew pay checks, it would start buying consumer goods, thereby reviving the economy.

By mid-1930 Congress had allocated $800 million for public works--river and harbor improvements, public buildings, and highways. In the fall, construction began on the massive Boulder (later renamed Hoover) Dam, on the Colorado River between Arizona and Nevada.

Disaster Worsens

Despite Hoover's efforts, the economic situation continually worsened. Employers--faced with huge surpluses--felt they had to cut production. In September 1930 the United States Steel Corporation announced a 10 percent wage cut, and other major firms soon followed suit. Similarly General Motors cut salaries by 10 to 20 percent. In October approximately four million Americans were unemployed; by January 1931 approximately six million. In response, Hoover established the President's Emergency Committee for Unemployment, composed of 30 prominent business leaders and economists. The committee was headed by former New York City police commissioner Arthur Woods, who had been active in relief during the depression of 1921. Establishing three thousand local committees, the Emergency for Unemployment Committee pushed local and private relief efforts. By June some $2 billion was being spent and a million men were being employed on federal projects.

Despite occasional rallies in the various economic indicators--those centering on employment, payrolls, and production--by 1932 some twelve million people, over 20 percent of the labor force, was unemployed, and of this number only about one-quarter were actually receiving relief. Limited mainly to fuel, all such aid was on a disaster basis. The relief fund of New York City could only care for about half of the unemployed heads of families; the average allocation per family was $2.39 per week. In Chicago, half the labor force was jobless. For months, municipal workers there received no wage. If there was little outright starvation, there was much hunger. Coal miners in Pennsylvania lived on weed roots and dandelions, those in Kentucky ate wild onions and weeds. In the South poor whites and African Americans existed on salt pork and hominy.


From the time he took office, Hoover had sought to curb a long-standing depression in agriculture, an enterprise involving nearly half the population. In his 1928 presidential nomination acceptance speech, he called the predicament of the farmer "the most urgent economic problem in our nation today." Tremendous overproduction glutted the agricultural markets, causing much misery in the West and the South.

At Hoover's prompting, Congress passed the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, which established an eight-man Federal Farm Board. Its purpose was to establish a $500-million fund that would makes loans to farm cooperatives. The cooperatives in turn would control crop production in order to avoid massive surpluses and low prices. It also sought ways to produce and market crops more efficiently.

Although agriculture had long been failing, the stock market crash made a bad situation worse, as demand for farm products decreased even further. From 1929 to 1931 the Federal Farm Board took on a greater task: to combat rural depression by purchasing surplus crops outright and selling them at the best prices. Because it lacked the power to directly limit production, its efforts were bound to fail. The depression in Europe added to the problem by creating a sudden shrinking of foreign markets. The Soviet Union, Argentina, and Australia engaged in "dumping" (selling huge quantities at a low price). Board purchases could not make up for the continuing decline in demand. When board chairman Alex Legge, president of International Harvester, called for farmers to voluntarily take acreage out of production, they balked, fearing that their competitive neighbors would not cooperate. Hence the price of all of the United States's major crops--wheat, corn, cotton, tobacco--plummeted. By the summer of 1932, having lost some $354 million in market operations, the board conceded failure. In December 1932 it called upon Congress to regulate production directly. Hoover's farm program, with its stress on voluntary cooperation, had failed.

Finance and Banking

The crash of 1929 reflected widespread mismanagement of the economy. Hoover had cautioned the Federal Reserve Board to restrict credit and deter speculation, but banking and finance remained virtually unregulated. Unsound bank practices included encouraging speculation by lending money to buy stocks, making risky loans, and being open to fraudulent investment schemes.

Between June 1931 and June 1932, bank deposits shrank almost nine billion dollars. Many Americans, fearful for their savings (bank deposits were not insured at that time), were withdrawing their deposits on a massive scale. The banking situation was exacerbated when the banks in Europe began to fail (See also, Foreign Issues).

On October 4, 1931, Hoover met secretly with leading New York bankers and insurance executives, including representatives of J. P. Morgan and Company, Chase National Bank, and the National City Bank. During the year 2,300 banks had closed their doors. On October 31, 1931, the governor of Nevada declared a 12-day banking "holiday," in effect closing his banks for that time. In February Louisiana and Michigan did the same, with nine other states following suit. Panicking depositors continued to withdraw their deposits simply compounding the problem. Hoover called upon the banks to form an emergency credit pool of $500 million and urged the insurance firms to offer mortgage relief. The bankers, fearful of Hoover's threat of congressional action, pledged support, establishing the National Credit Corporation. Within a month, this body failed, with the bankers lending sums too paltry to save banks and ease credit. They feared that they would jeopardize their own position by taking over the assets of the weaker banks.

Seeking a Balanced Budget

Faced with a continuing economic crisis, early in December of 1931 Hoover offered a battery of proposals to bring relief, including a balanced budget, expansion of federal public works, and increased lending powers for Federal Land Banks. When the Depression first emerged, Hoover believed that budget-balancing could wait until prosperity returned. It was his secretary of the Treasury, Ogden Mills, who convinced Hoover to balance the budget and to do so by raising taxes. As early as February 1930, Hoover called for government economy. In July 1931 he deplored a national deficit of $500 million out of a total federal budget of $4 billion. In December he recommended a tax increase to balance the federal books. When, in March 1932, Congress delayed, he told a press conference that a balanced budget was "the very keystone of recovery. It must be done." He continued, "The Government no more than individual families can continue to expend more than it receives without inviting serious consequences." Congress in turn balked at his proposal for a national sales tax, a levy that would disproportionately hit people of lower income, turning it down that very month.

The Reconstruction Finance Corporation

The linchpin of Hoover's recovery program was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), established in January 1932. It was patterned after the War Finance Corporation, which financed the United States during World War I. It also capitalized $500 million and was given authority to borrow up to $2 billion more, The RFC established offices in 30 cities. Charles G. Dawes, Coolidge's vice president and Chicago banker, was the RFC's first president. In late July Dawes was replaced by former Democratic senator Atlee Pomerene of Ohio. During 1932 it provided loans to over five thousand banks, railroads, life insurance companies, farm mortgage associations, and building and loan associations, in the process saving many businesses from failure, restoring much public confidence, and halting further undermining of the U.S. financial structure. In January 1932 the U.S. experienced 346 bank failures, in April only 46.

Emergency Powers

To confront the increasing unemployment, now numbering eight million, Hoover established the President's Unemployment Relief Organization headed by Walter Gifford, president of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company. It basically continued the Emergency Committee for Unemployment's activity, launching an advertising campaign designed to stimulate private charity but never recommending the direct federal relief programs increasingly demanded by Congress.

At Hoover's prompting, Congress passed other relief measures. In January 1932 it provided $125 million for Federal Land Banks. A month later it adopted the Glass-Steagall Act, making about $750 million of government gold available to business. In July it passed the Emergency Relief and Reconstruction Act, which empowered the RFC to provide $1.5 billion in loans for state and local construction of public works, to furnish $300 million in temporary loans to states otherwise unable to finance relief measures, and to give $200 million to assist in liquidating closed banks. By the end of 1932, however, the RFC was so cautious that only $30 million of the $300 million allotted to the states for relief had been spent, and none of that sum was allocated for public works.

The Depression Deepens

As far as direct aid to the unemployed went, Hoover drew the line. Refusing to budge any further, in July 1932 he vetoed the Wagner-Garner Bill, extending the work of federal employment agencies to states that lacked such units, and even resisted a congressional appropriation to the Red Cross. His proposals to Congress in July 1932, a month after he had been renominated for president, conspicuously omitted any mention of direct relief. By the summer of 1932 Hoover saw his recovery program as complete. He would go no further. True, the president did urge citizens to back private charities, refused to take any salary himself, and fostered private help for the unemployed. Using the most idealistic language, he continually called on his fellow citizens to aid the less fortunate.

It was this opposition to direct relief that, more than anything else, gave him a negative image that lasted for decades. The makeshift shack villages of the unemployed were called Hoovervilles. When a jobless man wrapped a newspaper around him for warmth, he called the paper a Hoover blanket. When a broken-down automobile was being hauled by mules, the vehicle was a Hoover wagon. A man would turn a pocket inside out and call it a Hoover flag. Jackrabbits were called Hoover hogs.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff

The economy was not helped by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, signed by Hoover on June 17, 1930. A tariff is a tax or duty placed on goods imported from another country, protecting U.S. workers by assuring that U.S.-made goods will not be undersold by foreign competition. At the same time, by taking foreign-produced goods off the markets, U.S. consumers are forced to pay higher prices for the protected products. The bill's sponsors, Republican senator Reed Smoot of Utah and Republican congressperson Willis C. Hawley of Oregon, were fervent protectionists, men who believed that the U.S. economy had to be protected from foreign competition by the government. The tariff involved 75 increases for farm products, and 925 for manufactured goods. Hoover strongly opposed its high schedules, and retaliation eventually occurred. In 1932 the British responded by establishing its own protective tariff within the British Empire, and other U.S. trading partners followed suit. As far as its domestic consequences went, it did little to raise agricultural prices, something that Hoover sought above all.

The Bonus March

By the spring of 1932, while most of the country remained calm, signs of social disruption were breaking out. In Dearborn, Michigan, hunger marches took place and the unemployed rioted. Farmers around the country organized to prevent foreclosure. By far, however, the most dangerous outbreak took place in Washington, D.C., where the Bonus Expeditionary Force (BEF) had gathered. Some eleven thousand World War I veterans, homeless and unemployed, refused to budge until Congress voted some $2.4 billion dollars as immediate payment on the remaining 50 percent of a promised bonus. Technically the "bonus" was not a "bonus" at all. Depending on length of service and time overseas, a veteran could borrow up to a thousand dollars on free government life insurance policies maturing in 1945. They wanted their money now, not 20 years in the future, for their homes, businesses, and in some cases elementary nourishment.

As the nation was experiencing a daily deficit of several million dollars, payment could have been ruinous. Most marchers cooperated with Washington police chief Pelham D. Glassford and were quite well behaved. On June 15 the House passed the BEF proposal in the form of a bill advanced by Democratic representative Wright Patman of Texas. Hoover, deeply alarmed over a budget already unbalanced and with a fear of inflation, strongly opposed the proposal, and the Senate backed him 62 to 18. At the same time, Hoover did defend the BEF's civil liberties and signed a $100,000 authorization to pay their way home. About half the marchers took advantage of the president's offer.

Some marchers, however, occupied buildings scheduled to be razed so that long-awaited public works projects would be carried out. On July 28 police attempted to clear a throng of marchers out of a construction area. Two veterans were killed and several police injured. Hoover refused to declare martial law but ordered Secretary of War Patrick J. Hurley to remove the occupants from the buildings to their camps nearby. Acting on his own authority, Hurley instructed General Douglas MacArthur to move marchers not to their camps but rather across the Potomac River to Camp Marks on Anacostia Flats. MacArthur in turn directed his forces to drive the BEF remnants beyond Camp Marks, using tanks, guns, and tear gas in the process. Hoover attempted, via high ranking officers, to stop the army from driving the BEF across the Anacostia bridge, but MacArthur disobeyed the president. Though Hoover was appalled by both the treatment of the veterans and the insubordination of MacArthur and Hurley, he kept silent amid nationwide criticism. Indeed, speaking in St. Paul, Minnesota, as the presidential campaign was coming to an end, he remarked, "Thank God, you have got a government in Washington that knows how to deal with a mob."


For many Americans, particularly those who did not perceive their jobs at risk, the nation's number one problem was not jobs but alcohol. In October 1919 Congress had passed the National Prohibition Enforcement Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided the enforcement apparatus for the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment had outlawed "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors." Americans violated the Volstead Act on a massive scale, as a huge illegal traffic fell under the control of organized crime. By 1927, for example, Chicago gang leader Al Capone grossed $60 million a year.

The Prohibition Bureau, which numbered under three thousand agents, could not possibly arrest all violators, and in areas where public opinion was hostile, enforcement remained sporadic. Realizing that Prohibition enforcement had broken down completely, Hoover increased the number of federal officers, transferred supervision from the Treasury to the Justice Department, and implored the states to share the policing. In private he deplored the legislation and toyed with the idea of revising the Eighteenth Amendment. Although personally he had been a moderate drinker in Europe, he believed firmly that he was obligated to enforce the law and that he must set a national example of total abstinence.

Most important of all, Hoover appointed a blue-ribbon investigating panel, headed by George W. Wickersham, who had been attorney general under William Howard Taft. Within the next two years the commission issued 14 separate reports totaling almost three and a half million words and covering all aspects of the subject. In January 1931, in offering its conclusions, it reported that enforcement was a farce and that in reality local option (enforcement in some areas and tacit permitting of alcohol in other areas) existed everywhere. Beyond that point the panel was divided. Two commissioners favored repeal. Five sought adoption of a national and state monopoly of liquor sales. Two favored revision and further trial. Only two wanted to keep the amendment intact. The report satisfied neither "wets" (who sought repeal) nor "dries" (who desired continuation of the Eighteenth Amendment). One paper called it "Wickershambles." In transmitting Wickersham's report to Congress, Hoover inaccurately claimed that the commission supported the amendment and that punishing violators had been improved under his presidency.

Foreign Issues

When Hoover first assumed the presidency, he was highly optimistic concerning international affairs. U.S. capital not only underwrote much of Europe's prosperity but that of Latin America as well. Asia was experiencing greater turmoil, particularly as China's efforts to gain both unity and genuine autonomy left much instability in its wake. Japan appeared more focused on economic expansion than on territorial conquest.

Even the existence of a nation-state dedicated to Communism did not appear that alarming. Ever since the Bolshevik Revolution took place in October 1917, the U.S. had refused to recognize Russia's Communist government. Possessing an ideological abhorrence to the regime, Hoover strongly supported U.S. policy of his predecessors. He did, however, tacitly support indirect financing of U.S. exports to the Soviet state.

Of course, few realized that the world was on the verge of a depression so massive that it would leave no region untouched. By the time Hoover left office, Germany was facing a Nazi takeover, Japan had seized Manchuria, and Britain was ruled by a coalition "national" government that had abandoned the gold standard. With much of the globe sinking into impoverishment, the future course of democracy itself as a viable form of government was subject to questioning everywhere.

European Affairs

During World War I (1914-18) and particularly in its aftermath, the United States had extended massive loans to the Allies that were popularly called "war debts." In particular, U.S. loans to Germany enabled the new Weimar Republic to pay its war reparations to the Allies. So long as the credit flowed, Europe seemed stable. When the economic crisis became worldwide, various nations started to default on these loans. U.S. taxpayers, however, saw their own government operating at a deficit and were insistent concerning repayment of the loans. Of the nation's high officials, only Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson appeared willing to write off the debts altogether. Incurred in a common struggle, the debts--he believed--could not possibly be repaid, particularly given the high U.S. tariffs. Efforts to force the issue would simply compound international bitterness. Hoover, like his rival in the 1932 presidential election Franklin Roosevelt, realized that no politician could publicly endorse cancellation.

Hoover Declares Moratorium on the Payment of War Debts

On May 11, 1931, just when Hoover thought he finally had the Depression licked, the largest bank in Austria (the Kreditanstalt) failed, tottering the national banks of Austria, Hungary, and Yugoslavia and unleashing a financial crisis in Germany. It also resulted in large-scale withdrawals of foreign gold deposits from the United States, thereby threatening the stability of U.S. banks. If Germany, which owed the victor powers billions of gold marks in reparations, went under, the entire European economy faced ruin. Hoover responded on June 21 by recommending a moratorium on all intergovernmental debts for one year, including the payment of German reparations. If, thought Hoover, the Europeans had more money in their pockets, they could buy more U.S. goods. Despite the objections of some congressional leaders, who feared that the obligations would never be repaid, in December Congress backed the president. Hoover's move blocked the downward spiral of trade and prices, but it came too late to prevent Germany's slide into depression.

The London Naval Conference

In January 1930 Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson led a seven-member delegation to the London Naval Conference, a meeting called by British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald and consisting of Britain, the United States, France, Japan, and Italy. On April 22, after several months of negotiation, the London Naval Treaty was signed. The treaty extended the informal ban on battleship construction, agreed at the Washington Conference in 1922 (See also, Warren Harding Administration); specified a 5:5:3 ratio for the United States, Britain, and Japan in large cruisers; denoted a 10:10:7 ratio for the three powers in small cruisers and destroyers; and granted equality among the three in submarines. All ratios were binding until 1936. The treaty included an "escalator clause," by which each power could exceed established levels if it felt threatened.

The Conference for the Limitation and Reduction of Armaments

In February 1932 the Conference for the Limitation and Reduction of Armaments convened in Geneva, Switzerland. It was the largest international assemblage held up to that time. Hoover strongly supported the conference, believing that a peaceful world would be one receptive to U.S. goods. Besides, if the western European nations could be alleviated of their arms burden, they could resume payment of reparations and war debts. Stimson chaired the U.S. delegation, though entrusting most duties to Hugh Gibson, U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Almost immediately the meeting reached a familiar impasse: the French insisted on "disarmament through security," meaning international guarantees of protection against Germany; the United States sought "security through disarmament." In June, Hoover, frustrated by the conference's "dawdling," proposed that all nations reduce their arms by one-third. Bombs, tanks, large guns, and chemical warfare would be abolished. As far as navies went, submarines and battleships would be reduced by a third and cruisers, destroyers, and aircraft carriers by one-fourth. Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union were highly receptive. France delayed its counterproposal until November, at which point it offered a complicated scheme for an international police force. Although they were essentially deadlocked, sessions continued until 1934 to no avail.

Latin America

The Good Neighbor Policy

If there was a marked success to Hoover's diplomacy, it lay in his Latin American policy. It was really Hoover, not his successor, Franklin Roosevelt, who launched the "good neighbor policy," though Roosevelt has been given the credit. Good neighbor policy is a catchall phrase implying that the United States would not meddle in Latin American affairs and acknowledging that its past interventions had been less than neighborly.

More significantly, in September 1930 Secretary of State Stimson reversed President Woodrow Wilson's policy that the United States would only recognize governments that were based on fair elections and the rule of law, and not those based on the use of force and suppression. As there had been so many revolutions in recent months, with the likelihood of more in sight, such requirements appeared most impractical. Henceforth, asserted the secretary, the United States would grant recognition to any regime that had de facto, or actual, control of a country; that intended to fulfill international obligations; and that intended to hold elections "in due course."

To show his sincerity in January 1933 Hoover withdrew U.S. marines from Nicaragua, where they had been since 1927. In 1927 President Coolidge had dispatched some five thousand U.S. troops to Nicaragua at the appeal of its president, who was threatened by a general revolt. The troops remained to help the local government suppress the bandit leader August Sandino. Hoover was also prepared to order U.S. marines out of Haiti where President Wilson had sent them 16 years earlier to establish normalcy after a mob had assassinated its president. In 1932 the Haitian government itself refused protectorate status and U.S. terms for withdrawal, and the United States occupied the country.

The Clark Memorandum

In 1930 Hoover published the Clark Memorandum, a document prepared two years earlier by President Calvin Coolidge's undersecretary of state, J. Reuben Clark Jr. Clark challenged a policy known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was issued in 1823 by President James Monroe, closing the Western Hemisphere to further European colonization. In 1904 President Theodore Roosevelt had warned Latin American nations that "chronic wrongdoing" might force U.S. intervention. At the time Roosevelt was specifically referring to the activity of the Dominican Republic, which had defaulted on $32 million of foreign debts and thereby risked European military intervention. According to Clark, the Roosevelt Corollary was not justified by the Monroe Doctrine itself, "however much it may be justified by the application of the doctrine of self-preservation." Stimson elaborated, declaring that "the Monroe Doctrine was a declaration of the United States versus Europe--not that of the United States versus Latin America." If the memorandum really did not rule out the option of U.S. intervention, it still helped to alleviate much resentment.

The Manchurian Crisis

Japan Invades Manchuria

Undoubtedly the major foreign policy crisis of Hoover's presidency took place when, in September 1931, Japanese troops occupied Mukden, the leading city of Manchuria. A region of northern China at the time, Manchuria was under only nominal control of the Republic of China. Within a few months troops for the Kwantung army (as the Japanese army in China was called) had occupied most of the rest of Manchuria.

At first Stimson was cautious, merely asking both belligerents to negotiate without outside aid. Hoover strongly supported the secretary's desire not to become directly involved. Neither believed that Japan would be able to hold on to its new territory, as they felt the huge population of native Chinese would be impossible for the Japanese to control. But as the Japanese continued to expand, Hoover and Stimson changed their views. The Japanese had long controlled much of Manchuria economically, but outright domination would supply Japan with vital raw materials, serve as a strategic base against the Soviet Union, and increase the power and influence of the Kwantung army's leaders in the Japanese government and military.

On January 3, 1932, the Japanese entered the city of Chinchow, the last outpost of organized Chinese resistance in Manchuria. Four days later, Stimson, acting with Hoover's full approval, released a statement declaring that the United States would not recognize any new agreements "which relate to the sovereignty, the independence, or the territorial and administrative integrity of China, or to the international policy relative to China, commonly known as the open-door policy." The open-door policy had been announced by Secretary of State John Hay during the Theodore Roosevelt administration (1901-1909) and assured all nations equal trading rights in China.

The move was a largely symbolic gesture. The United States did not suggest it would send troops to aid the Chinese in defeating Japan. Futhermore, Britain and France, the two European nations with the greatest stake in China, were unresponsive to the January 7 note. They were sufficiently fearful of their lucrative trade and investments, not to mention colonial holdings including Hong Kong and Indochina (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam), that they did not want to antagonize Japan.

For both the Hoover administration and opinion-leaders, neither the welfare of the Chinese people per se nor the territorial integrity of China as a nation-state was deemed crucial. At stake was what is now called "the Washington system," a carefully crafted series of agreements made during the Washington Conference of 1922 (See also, Warren Harding Administration). In some ways an Asian counterpart to the new European order established by the Versailles Treaty of 1919, the Washington system committed all the major Pacific powers to a new diplomacy based on multilateral cooperation by which all signers to the Washington agreements agreed to resolve all disputes by peaceful means. Certainly change on the Asian mainland was not ruled out, but it had to be made peacefully. Japan, by acting both unilaterally and violently, had placed the Washington system in grave jeopardy.


Japan further antagonized the United States on January 27, 1932, when its navy bombarded the city of Shanghai, a major port on the east coast of China, south of Manchuria. Varied incidents in Shanghai had convinced the Japanese naval commander stationed in the city's harbor that the Chinese there were planning to drive 27,000 Japanese residents away. Angered by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, Chinese citizens in Shanghai had boycotted Japanese goods, refused to sell to Japanese customers, burned Japanese merchandise, and assaulted Japanese citizens.

But many Western powers had interests in Shanghai as well. A center of foreign trade with China, Shanghai was a city with many separate foreign sectors, including British, French, Italian, and Japanese sections, as well as a U.S. marines sector and a sector jointly occupied by British and U.S. troops. Over 3,500 Americans lived in the city, often engaged in large-scale commercial and missionary enterprises. On January 31 Hoover dispatched six destroyers and a cruiser to Shanghai, along with a thousand infantrymen and four hundred more marines. Early in February the annual maneuvers of the U.S. Fleet were held off Shanghai, an event involving over two hundred war vessels. The maneuvers had been scheduled well in advance but obviously bore strong political implications. Stimson hoped that such action would serve several functions: protect American lives and property, maintain the open door, and strengthen the government of China's nominal ruler, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.

On February 24, Stimson wrote, and Hoover approved, a public letter to Republican senator William E. Borah of Idaho, the powerful chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In what became known as the Borah letter, Stimson reaffirmed the January 7 note but added something quite ominous as well. Further Japanese aggression, he said, might well cause the United States to enlarge its fortifications in Guam and the Philippines and increase naval tonnage beyond the limits specified at the Washington Conference. Early in May the Japanese reached a truce with China and ceased their aggression in Shanghai. The Borah letter, though, had little impact on the situation. Acting on their own, Japan's military and civilian leaders had sought to terminate the affair.

International Response

All this time, particularly after the Shanghai incident, U.S. opinion-leaders debated economic sanctions. The problem was compounded in March 1932, when the Japanese established a puppet state called Manchukuo (the name given the old Manchuria by the Japanese). Stimson and Hoover remained opposed to sanctions, however, feeling that they would only further provoke Japan, perhaps to the point of war with the United States. The United States refused to recognize the new Manchukuo state, and in March of 1932 the League of Nations, an international peacekeeping organization set up after World War I, endorsed this policy.

When the League of Nations went on to propose new administrative arrangements for Manchuria, which would protect Japan's long-standing special rights there and at the same time uphold the general principle of China's formal sovereignty, Japan left the organization in protest. On May 31, 1933, Japanese and Chinese officials met in the town of Tankgu near the Great Wall of China. The negotiators accepted a truce, thereby alleviating the need for further U.S. action. Japanese troops would remain in Manchuria until the end of World War II (1939-45).

Philippine Independence Veto

When Hoover became president the Philippines were a U.S. possession, having been annexed after the Spanish-American War (1898) during the William McKinley administration. The Jones Act of 1916 (also known as the Organic Act of the Philippine Islands) provided for male suffrage, an elected senate, and a bill of rights. The supreme executive power was vested in a governor-general appointed by the U.S. president. From 1927 to 1929 Hoover's secretary of state, Henry L. Stimson, held the position.

During Hoover's administration a bill was introduced to grant independence to the Philippines. Certain U.S. business firms, especially those producing sugar, encouraged Philippine freedom. By giving the Philippines independence their sugar production could be protected from Philippine competition by a tariff. U.S. military leaders advocated Philippine independence because the distant location made them a burden to defend. In January 1933 Hoover vetoed the bill providing for Philippine independence. The president stated the need to protect the islands from foreign encroachment, particularly given what he called "the present political instability in the Orient." Stimson feared that U.S. withdrawal would lead to eventual Japanese or Chinese domination. Congress, reflecting a public that found the islands too heavy a financial burden, overrode the president. The Filipino leadership realized that their economy could little afford sovereignty and secretly backed the president. Congress was adamant on the matter, and hence in 1934 the Filipinos had to accept the Tydings-McDuffie Act, an almost exact replication of the independence act of 1933. This act offered the Filipinos independence after a transition period and empowered them to write a constitution and establish a democratic government.

The Hoover Administration Legacy

The election of 1932 turned Hoover out of office. As soon as the election was over, Hoover sought immediate face-to-face meetings with his successor. At issue were such matters as war debts, banking, and ultimately Franklin Roosevelt's reform agenda, a diverse series of measures that would go down in history as the New Deal.

Although Franklin Roosevelt established a state relief agency in 1931 and advocated unemployment insurance, the New York governor certainly had no reputation for radicalism. He had roundly criticized Hoover the previous year for departing from laissez-faire and pouring money into public works.

On December 15, 1932, a semiannual installment of $150 million owed the United States in war debts came due, for the Hoover moratorium had expired (See also, Foreign Issues). The British agreed to pay their full installment of $95 million in gold, although they warned that the sum was not a resumption of the annual payments. The Italians followed suit. Both Poland and France, however, defaulted. Hoover was particularly distressed with France. As French citizens held over half a billion dollars in New York banks, he thought they could easily make their $20 million payment. When he met with Roosevelt on November 22, Hoover claimed the United States must insist on the December remuneration. He suggested that both he and the president-elect jointly urge the revival of a World War I (1914-18) debt commission of presidential appointees, all of whom must be acceptable to Roosevelt. The commission would reduce the debt tally, but not cancel it. By making concessions on debt payments, Hoover hoped that a forthcoming World Economic Conference, to be held that spring in London, England, would produce an integrated settlement that would lower tariffs, stabilize currencies, and foster disarmament. Above all, he believed, Britain had to be persuaded to return to the gold standard.

Roosevelt balked at Hoover's proposal, refusing to bind himself to any foreign economic arrangements in advance of entering the White House. He later told reporters that the debt question was "not his baby." The new administration did not intend to buttress Hoover's claim that the U.S. Depression was part of a larger worldwide one and hence could not be blamed on the outgoing president.

Even before Roosevelt's election, the nation's banking system was on the verge of collapse. Low trade levels, general business failures--all had made bank investments unproductive and bank loans uncollectible. As Hoover told Congress on December 6, 1932, "Clearly we must secure sound organization of our financial system as a prerequisite of the functioning of the whole economic system. The first steps in that system are sound currency, economy in government, balanced budgets, whether national or local." Once the election was over, Hoover sought immediately to enlist president-elect Roosevelt behind these policies, realizing full well that his program would cause Roosevelt to continue basic Hoover policies. Hoover wrote Senator David A. Reed (Rep.-Pa.), "If these declarations be made by the president elect, he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican Administration; that is, it means the abandonment of 90% of the so-called new deal."

In particular, Hoover wrote Roosevelt, there must be "prompt assurance that there will be no tampering or inflation of the currency," by which he meant maintaining the gold standard. Roosevelt, who had already decided to inflate the currency, correctly sensed that Hoover was trying to tie his hands in advance. Again, Roosevelt proved uncooperative, and a final meeting of the two men the day before the inauguration proved futile. By then fifteen million people were unemployed. On March 4, 1933, as he left office, Hoover commented privately, "We are at the end of our string. There is nothing more we can do."

Lasting Impact

More than any chief executive from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge, Hoover met economic crisis with governmental action. Certainly, he was one of the United States's truly activist presidents. His was the first administration to use federal power to intervene directly in the nation's economy. In fact, it was Hoover himself who told the American Bankers Association in October 1930 that depressions were not to be borne uncomplaining. The nation, he continued, should treat an "economic pestilence" in the same manner it coped with typhoid, cholera, and smallpox, that is to engage in positive efforts to eliminate such scourges.

At the same time, Hoover stressed the primacy of voluntary and local activity. Through summit meetings of business and labor leaders and through fact-finding committees and commissions, he worked ceaselessly to return prosperity through voluntary initiative. Because of such efforts, U.S. business and voluntary agencies could not deny that they had been given a chance to act independently of federal intervention. Only after all else failed would he even advance a measure as radical as the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).

As president, Hoover accomplished far more than he was ever given credit for. He energetically fought the Depression with such measures as mortgage aid to farmers and homeowners, increased public works and flood control, and oversaw the Agricultural Marketing Act and the RFC, causing several pundits later to talk of a "Republican New Deal."

In regards to foreign policy, Hoover advanced disarmament, withdrew U.S. forces from Nicaragua, promoted the "good neighbor" policy in Latin America, and issued a moratorium on foreign debts. If he was unable to prevent Japanese penetration of Manchuria, it is doubtful whether any world leader or world power could have been able to do so. Though in retrospect his diplomacy was ill-suited to confronting the rise of totalitarian aggression, his successor did not start off much better.

Even the most avowed Hoover partisan, however, would be hard put to find his presidency a success. Part of the problem lay in Hoover's bad luck to be president during a time of widespread misery. Part lay in Hoover's own leadership. He took bold and imaginative steps to save the nation's financial structure. He would not, indeed refused, to take equally bold steps to save the unemployed and the farmers. To many Americans, Hoover's programs could be summed up in the words, "Too little, too late."


Administration Dates

  • March 4, 1929-March 4, 1933

Vice President

  • Charles Curtis (1929-33)


Secretary of State

  • Frank B. Kellogg (1925-29)
  • Henry L. Stimson (1929-33)

Secretary of the Treasury

  • Andrew W. Mellon (1921-32)
  • Ogden L. Mills (1932-33)

Secretary of War

  • Dwight F. Davis (1925-29)
  • James W. Good (1929)
  • Patrick J. Hurley (1929-33)

Attorney General

  • John G. Sargent (1925-29)
  • William D. Mitchell (1929-33)

Secretary of the Navy

  • Curtis D. Wilbur (1924-29)
  • Charles F. Adams (1929-33)

Postmaster General

  • Harry S. New (1923-29)
  • Walter F. Brown (1929-33)

Secretary of the Interior

  • Roy O. West (1928-29)
  • Ray L. Wilbur (1929-33)

Secretary of Agriculture

  • William M. Jardine (1925-29)
  • Arthur M. Hyde (1929-33)

Secretary of Labor

  • James J. Davis (1921-30)
  • William N. Doak (1930-33)

Secretary of Commerce

  • William F. Whiting (1928-29)
  • Robert P. Lamont (1929-32)
  • Roy D. Chapin (1932-33)


Charles Evans Hughes

Supreme Court Justice; Secretary of State (1862-1948) Charles Evans Hughes was a lawyer for twenty years and approaching his mid-forties before he entered politics as a Republican nominee for the governorship of the state of New York. After a bitter race against publisher William Randolph Hearst, Hughes won the job and then worked hard through two terms, successfully bringing about beneficial reforms, such as cleaning out corruption in New York City boroughs. Hughes then served briefly on the Supreme Court before resigning in 1916 to accept the Republican presidential nomination. He lost the race to Woodrow Wilson. In 1920 he campaigned for Warren Harding and later accepted President Harding's appointment as secretary of state. Hughes served a single but brilliant term, orchestrating the Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments. He was not called to public duty again until 1930 when President Herbert Hoover nominated him as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Shortly after Hughes's appointment, President Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived on the scene with an extensive list of radical reforms for a hungry, ailing nation. The New Deal, and all of the legislation it brought forth, found both friend and foe amongst Hughes's panel of justices, the men charged with ruling on the constitutionality of each piece. In spite of the Court's often hostile division, rulings were made against key pieces of New Deal legislation like the National Recovery Act of 1934 and the Agricultural Recovery Act of 1935, prompting disagreement between President Roosevelt and Judge Hughes. For the duration of his multi-faceted career, Hughes was consistent in his support of both civil rights for African Americans and freedom of the press. He retired from the bench in 1941.

What They Said . . .

"We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but, given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last eight years, we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation."

(Source: Herbert Hoover, Speech Accepting the Republican Nomination for President, August 11, 1928.)

Fast Fact

Hoover did not take a salary when he was president and used his own money for entertaining.

(Source: Barbara Seuling. The Last Cow on the White House Lawn. New York: Ivy Books, 1978.)

Fast Fact

Hoover was tireless at the beginning of his presidency. Often putting in 18-hour days, he would rise at six every morning, join a group of friends for a brisk half-hour session with a five-pound medicine ball, have breakfast, and be at his desk by 8:30. He would then work all day and usually well into the night smoking incessantly. Often he only got three hours sleep. Sometimes he would wake up in the middle of the night, pore over papers, and write for an hour or two. By the end of his presidency, his hand shook, his shoulders sagged, and his hair had turned white. He appeared to have aged 20 years while in the White House.

(Source: Carl N. Degler. "The Ordeal of Herbert Hoover." Yale Review, June 1963.)

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|BT2304200019