Presidency of Herbert Hoover

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Hoover (circa 1928)

The presidency of Herbert Hoover began on March 4, 1929, when Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as President of the United States, and ended on March 4, 1933. Hoover, a Republican, took office after a landslide victory in the 1928 presidential election over Democrat Al Smith of New York. At the time of his election he was the nation's Secretary of Commerce, a position he had held since March 1921. Hoover, the 31st United States president, was defeated when he ran for re-election against Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York in the 1932 presidential election.

Hoover was the third straight Republican president, and he retained many of the previous administration's policies and personnel, including Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. Hoover favored policies in which government, business, and labor worked together to contribute in the pursuit of economic prosperity, but he generally opposed a direct role for the federal government in the economy. Seeking to address an ongoing farm crisis, Hoover signed the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929. He also signed the Davis–Bacon Act of 1931, which instituted an eight-hour day for government contractors, and the Norris–La Guardia Act, which banned yellow-dog contracts. Seeking to garner support with white Southerners, Hoover opposed federal anti-lynching legislation. Hoover favored non-interventionism in Latin America, and he pursued disarmament policies with the London Naval Treaty.

When the Wall Street Crash of 1929 struck less than eight months after he took office, Hoover tried to combat the ensuing Great Depression by reassuring public confidence and working with business leaders and local government. Hoover at first believed that the country was suffering a mild recession, and he resisted proposals to abandon the gold standard or implement federal relief programs. As the depression continued, Hoover reluctantly gave into calls for direct federal intervention, establishing the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. He also approved the Smoot–Hawley Tariff of 1930, which diminished international trade. Hoover believed that it was essential to balance the budget despite falling tax revenue, and he raised taxes with the Revenue Act of 1932. Economic conditions continued to decline, and the unemployment rate rose to 25%, with heavy industry, mining, and wheat and cotton farming hit especially hard.

The ailing economy, combined with Hoover's handling of the Bonus Army and continuing support for unpopular Prohibition policies, set the stage for Hoover's overwhelming defeat in 1932. Hoover is usually ranked lower than average among U.S. presidents. With the end of his presidency came the close of an era in American political history from the mid–1890s to 1932 that was generally dominated by the Republican Party.

Election of 1928

After President Calvin Coolidge announced in August 1927 that he would not seek a second full term of office in the 1928 presidential election, Hoover emerged as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination; but even as he gained the support of important party constituencies, and won several primaries, many party leaders opposed his candidacy.[1] Coolidge viewed Hoover's candidacy with ill-concealed disgust.[2] On one occasion he remarked that "for six years that man has given me unsolicited advice—all of it bad. I was particularly offended by his comment to 'shit or get off the pot'."[3] Even so, Coolidge had no desire to split the party by publicly opposing the popular Commerce Secretary's nomination.[4]

Hoover's only real challenger was Frank Orren Lowden, a former governor of Illinois. Hoover received much favorable press coverage in the months leading up to the convention. Lowden's campaign manager complained that newspapers were full of "nothing but advertisements for Herbert Hoover and Fletcher's Castoria." Though both party leaders and many progressives were suspicious of Hoover, no strong alternative emerged, and Hoover won the presidential nomination on the first ballot of the 1928 Republican National Convention.[5] The delegates considered re-nominating Vice President Charles Dawes to be Hoover's running mate, but Coolidge, who hated Dawes, remarked that this would be "a personal affront" to him. The convention instead selected Senator Charles Curtis of Kansas.[6]

1928 electoral vote results.

Delegates to the 1928 Democratic National Convention nominated New York Governor Alfred E. Smith. His name was placed in nomination by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who described him as "the Happy Warrior of the political battlefield."[2] Hoover campaigned for efficiency and the Republican record of prosperity. Smith ran on his record of efficiency earned over four terms as governor. Both candidates were pro-business, and each promised to improve conditions for farmers, reform immigration laws, and maintain America's isolationist foreign policy. Where they differed was on the Volstead Act which outlawed the sale of liquor and beer. Smith was a "wet" who called for its repeal, whereas Hoover gave limited support for prohibition, calling it an "experiment noble in purpose". His use of "experiment" suggested it was not permanent. While Smith won extra support among Catholics in the big cities, he was the target of intense anti-Catholic rhetoric from Ku Klux Klan and numerous Protestant preachers in rural areas across the South and West.[1][7]

In the November election, Republicans won an overwhelming victory; Smith carried every large urban areas in the country, but Hoover received 58 percent of the popular vote and a massive 444 to 87 Electoral College majority.[2] Hoover won 40 states, including Smith's home state; he also succeeded in cracking the "Solid South", winning in five traditionally Democratic states.[1]Historians agree that Hoover's national reputation and the booming economy, combined with deep splits in the Democratic Party over religion and prohibition, were the decisive factors in the 1928 election.[8]

Latin America tour

President-elect Hoover and his wife aboard the USS Utah in South America, December, 1928.

In November 1928, President-elect Hoover embarked on a ten-nation goodwill tour of Latin America. He delivered twenty-five speeches, stressing his plans to reduce American political and military interference in Latin American affairs. In sum, he pledged that the United States would act as a "good neighbor."[9][10][11] While crossing the Andes from Chile, a plot to bomb Hoover’s train as it crossed the vast Argentinian central plain was foiled.[12] As president he operationalized his Good Neighbor policy by withdrawing military forces, although his successor Roosevelt largely enjoyed most of the credit.[13]

Dates Country Locations Details
November 26, 1928  Honduras Amapala Met with President-elect Vicente Mejía Colindres and Foreign Minister Augusto Coello.[14] Departed the U.S. November 19, 1928.[15]
November 26, 1928  El Salvador Cutuco Met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Martínez Suárez.[14]
November 27, 1928  Nicaragua Corinto Met with President Adolfo Díaz and President-elect José María Moncada.[15]
November 28, 1928  Costa Rica San José Met with President Cleto González Víquez.[14][16]
December 1, 1928  Ecuador Guayaquil Met with President Isidro Ayora.[14]
December 5, 1928  Peru Lima Met with President Augusto B. Leguía.[14]
December 8–11, 1928  Chile Antofagasta,
Met with President Carlos Ibáñez del Campo. Met with Bolivian diplomats to discuss the ongoing Tacna–Arica dispute.[14][17]
December 13–15, 1928  Argentina Buenos Aires Met with President Hipólito Yrigoyen.[18] Also reported to President Coolidge on the success of his tour via telegraph.[19]
December 16–18, 1928  Uruguay Montevideo Met with President Juan Campisteguy, and addressed the National Council of Administration.[14]
December 21–23, 1928  Brazil Rio de Janeiro Met with President Washington Luís; addressed the National Congress and the Supreme Federal Court.[15] Returned to U.S. January 6, 1929.[20]


Inauguration of Hoover

Hoover was inaugurated as the nation's 31st president on March 4, 1929 on the East Portico of the United States Capitol. Chief Justice (and former president) William Howard Taft administered the Oath of office. This was the first Inaugural ceremony recorded by newsreel cameras.[21] When he administered the oath, Taft misquoted the phrase "preserve, protect and defend" as "preserve, maintain and defend".[22]

Hoover's inaugural address projected an optimistic tone throughout; even as he spoke about "he most malign" problem confronting the nation, "disregard and disobedience of law". The speech contained several policy proposals in the areas of law enforcement and criminal justice, public education, and public health.[23]

Near the end of the speech he confidently observed:

Ours is a land rich in resources; stimulating in its glorious beauty; filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity. In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced. In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure. In no nation is the government more worthy of respect. No country is more loved by its people. I have an abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.[24]

These words would stand in stark contrast to the sense of desperation that would pervade the nation during much of his presidency.[25]



The Hoover Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Herbert Hoover 1929–1933
Vice President Charles Curtis 1929–1933
Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg 1929
Henry L. Stimson 1929–1933
Secretary of Treasury Andrew Mellon 1929–1932
Ogden L. Mills 1932–1933
Secretary of War James W. Good 1929
Patrick J. Hurley 1929–1933
Attorney General William D. Mitchell 1929–1933
Postmaster General Walter F. Brown 1929–1933
Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams III 1929–1933
Secretary of the Interior Ray L. Wilbur 1929–1933
Secretary of Agriculture Arthur M. Hyde 1929–1933
Secretary of Commerce Robert P. Lamont 1929–1932
Roy D. Chapin 1932–1933
Secretary of Labor James J. Davis 1929–1930
William N. Doak 1930–1933
Hoover's cabinet.

The third consecutive Republican president to take office in the 1920s, Hoover retained many of the previous administration's personnel, including Secretary of Labor James J. Davis and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, who maintained intense support among the party's Old Guard. Hoover disliked Mellon and relied on Undersecretary Ogden L. Mills instead.[26] Hoover also promoted Solicitor General of the United States William D. Mitchell to the position of Attorney General, after Hoover's old friend, Supreme Court Justice Harlan F. Stone, declined the position. Hoover's first choice for Secretary of Agriculture was Charles McNary, author of the controversial McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill, which Hoover had strenuously opposed. The position instead went to Arthur Hyde, who was inexperienced regarding agricultural issues.[27] Vice President Charles Curtis, who had previously opposed Hoover's nomination, had little influence with Hoover.[28]

Press corps

Hoover held a press conference on his first day in office, promising a "new phase of press relations".[29] He asked the group of journalists to elect a committee to recommend improvements to the White House press conference. Hoover declined to use a spokesman, instead asking reporters to directly quote him and giving them handouts with his statements ahead of time. In his first 120 days in office, he held more regular and frequent press conferences than any other President, before or since. However, he would change his press policies after the 1929 stock market crash, screening reporters and greatly reducing his availability.[29]

Judicial appointments

Hoover appointed three Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Hoover also appointed 16 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals and 43 judges to the United States district courts.

Domestic affairs

Herbert Hoover as the new President of the United States; original drawing for an Oscar Cesare political cartoon, March 17, 1929

Hoover entered office with a plan to reform the nation's regulatory system, believing that a federal bureaucracy should have limited regulation over a country's economic system.[33] Hoover sought a balance among labor, capital, and the government, and he has been variously labeled a corporatist or associationalist.[34] Hoover saw the presidency as a vehicle for improving the conditions of all Americans by encouraging public-private cooperation—what he termed "volunteerism". He tended to oppose governmental coercion or intervention, as he thought they infringed on American ideals of individualism and self-reliance.[35] Hoover made extensive use of commissions to study issues and propose solutions, and many of those commissions were sponsored by private donors rather than by the government. One of the commissions started by Hoover, the Research Committee on Social Trends, was tasked with surveying the entirety of American society.[36]


After taking office, Hoover called Congress into session in an attempt to address the farm crisis that had affected the country throughout much of the 1920s. After World War I, a glut of agricultural products on the world market reduced the demand for American exports, resulting in domestic overproduction and a drop in prices.[37] In June 1929, Hoover signed the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, which established the Federal Farm Board to stabilize farm prices. One of the few major pieces of legislation Hoover signed before the onset of the Great Depression, the act had its foundation in the Coolidge administration. Under President Coolidge, then-Secretary of Agriculture William Marion Jardine had sought to develop an alternative to the McNary–Haugen Farm Relief Bill, which would have required the government to buy excess wheat.[38] Under the Agricultural Marketing Act, the Federal Farm Board would loan money to state and local cooperatives, which in turn would help farmers control crop prices by avoiding surpluses. Reflecting his desire to avoid statist solutions, Hoover successfully opposed other proposals that would have directly subsidized farmers.[39] As the economy worsened in the 1930s, the Hoover administration and the Federal Farm Board struggled to stabilize farm prices, and Hoover continued to reject a stronger federal role. In an attempting to address the crisis, the Farm Board formed many ideas that would later be adopted by the Roosevelt administration.[40]

Taxes and deficits

National debt as a fraction of GNP up from 20% to 40% under Hoover. From Historical Statistics US (1976)

Hoover was a firm believer in balanced budgets, and sought to avoid a budget deficit by greatly increasing tax rates on the wealthy. To pay for government programs and to make up for revenue lost due to the Depression, Hoover signed the Revenue Act of 1932. The act increased taxes across the board, so that top earners were taxed at 63% on their net income - up from 25% when Herbert Hoover took office. The 1932 Act also increased the tax on the net income of corporations from 12% to 13.75%.[41] Additionally, under Hoover, the estate tax was doubled and corporate taxes were raised by almost 15%. Also, a "check tax" took effect, placing a 2-cent tax (over 30 cents in today's economy) 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".[42] Despite the passage of the Revenue Act, the federal government continued to run a budget deficit.[43]


Hoover believed that amicable business-labor relations were an important component of a prosperous economy.[44] In 1931, Hoover signed Davis-Bacon Act, which required a maximum eight-hour day on construction of public buildings and the payment of at least the "prevailing wage" in the locality. He signed the Norris–La Guardia Act in 1932. The act banned yellow-dog contracts, created a positive right of noninterference by employers against workers joining trade unions, and barred the federal courts from issuing injunctions against nonviolent labor disputes. Though Hoover had originally tried to stop the bill, he chose to sign it into law as he feared that Congress would simply override a veto.[45]


The United States banned the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages nationwide in 1920 following the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment. President Hoover increased federal enforcement of Prohibition signing the Increased Penalties Act which made even minor liquor violations felonies. Hoover established the Wickersham Commission to make public policy recommendations regarding Prohibition, and the commission found widespread corruption and violations of Prohibition. The commission's exposure of brutal practices such as the "third degree" sparked outrage and helped lead to the reform of many police forces.[46] In his 1929 inaugural address, Hoover, in addressing enforcement of prohibition laws said, "If citizens do not like a law, their duty as honest men and women is to discourage its violation; their right is openly to work for its repeal."[24] As public opinion increasingly turned against Prohibition, more and more people flouted the law, and several states repealed state bans on alcoholic beverages. Though he recognized the change in public opinion, Hoover insisted that federal and state authorities continue to uphold Prohibition. Nonetheless, a grassroots movement did begin working in earnest for prohibition's repeal, supported by numerous organizations, such as the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment.[47] A constitutional amendment repealing the Eighteenth Amendment was approved by Congress on January 23, 1933, and submitted to state ratifying conventions in each state for ratification. By December 5, 1933, it had been ratified by the requisite number of states (36) to become the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution.[48][49]

Civil rights

Hoover seldom mentioned civil rights while he was President. He believed that African-Americans and other races could improve themselves with education and individual initiative.[50] He opposed federal anti-lynching laws, and when lynchings occurred in the South, including one incident linked to the Republican Party's efforts to 'Republicanize' southern states, he offered only verbal condemnation.[51]

A part of the plan for resuscitating the party in the South included "purging black Republicans from leadership positions in the southern wing of the G.O.P."[51] This outraged the black leadership, which largely broke from the Republican Party, and began seeking candidates who supported civil rights within the Democratic Party.[52]

First Lady Lou Hoover defied custom and invited the wife of Republican Oscar De Priest, the only African-American member in Congress, to tea at the White House. Booker T. Washington was the previous African-American to have dined at the White House, with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.[53]

Charles Curtis, the nation's first Native American Vice President, and the first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry, was from the Kaw tribe in Kansas.[28][54] Hoover's humanitarian and Quaker reputation, along with Curtis as a 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 to assume the responsibilities of citizenship granted with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.[55]

Bonus Army

Thousands of World War I veterans and their families demonstrated and camped out in Washington, DC, during June 1932, calling for immediate payment of a bonus that had been promised by the World War Adjusted Compensation Act in 1924 for payment in 1945. 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 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 the protests. MacArthur, believing he was fighting a communist revolution, chose to clear out the camp with military force. Though Hoover had not ordered MacArthur's clearing out of the protesters, he endorsed it after the fact.[56] The incident proved embarrassing for the Hoover administration, and destroyed any remaining chance he had of winning re-election.[57]

Twentieth amendment

Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 of the Constitution states that Congress must meet at least once per year, on the first Monday in December, though Congress could by law set another date and the president could summon special sessions. The original text of the Constitution set a duration for the terms of federal elected officials, but not the specific dates on which those terms would begin or end. From 1789 until the early 1930s, presidential and congressional terms began on March 4, the date set by the Congress of the Confederation as the start of operations of the new federal government. Despite the fact that the new Congress and presidential administration did not begin operation until April, March 4 was deemed to be the beginning of the newly elected officials' terms of office, and thus of the terms of their successors.[58]

The result of these scheduling decisions was that there was a long, four-month lame duck period between the election and inauguration of the president. For Congress, the situation was perhaps even more awkward. Because Article I, Section 4, Clause 2 mandated a Congressional meeting every December, after the election but before Congressional terms of office had expired, a lame duck session was required by the Constitution in even-numbered years; the next session wasn't required until the next December, meaning that new members of Congress might not begin their work until more than a year after they had been elected. Special sessions sometimes met earlier in the year, but this never became a regular practice, despite the Constitution allowing for it. In practice, Congress usually met in a long session beginning in Decembers of odd-numbered years, and in a short lame duck session in December of even-numbered years.[59] The long lame duck period might have been a practical necessity at the end of the 18th century, when any newly elected official might require several months to put his affairs in order and then undertake an arduous journey from his home to the national capital, but it eventually had the effect of impeding the functioning of government in the modern age. From the early 19th century onward, it also meant that a lame duck Congress and presidential administration would fail to adequately respond to a significant national crisis in a timely manner. Each institution could do this on the theory that at best, a lame duck Congress or administration had neither the time nor the mandate to tackle problems, whereas the incoming administration or Congress would have both the time, and a fresh electoral mandate, to examine and address the problems that the nation faced.[citation needed]

Efforts to change these dates through a constitutional amendment began in the late 1920s, with Senator George Norris, a Progressive Republican. Several years later, a constitutional amendment moving the beginning and ending of the terms of the president and vice president from March 4 to January 20, and of members of Congress from March 4 to January 3, and also specifying what is to be done when there is no president-elect, was approved by Congress on March 2, 1932, and submitted to the state legislatures for ratification. By January 23, 1933, it had been ratified by the requisite number of states (36) to become the Twentieth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[48][60]

Roosevelt's second inauguration in 1937 was the first to take place on the new date. The second session of the 73rd Congress was the first to convene on the new date in 1934. The Twentieth Amendment did not make lame duck sessions impossible, however. It only reduced their likelihood, and limited their duration.

Great Depression

On taking office, Hoover said that "[g]iven the 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."[61] Having seen the fruits of prosperity brought by technological progress, many shared Hoover's optimism, and the already bullish stock market climbed even higher on Hoover's accession.[62] But within months of taking office, the Stock Market Crash of 1929 (also known as Black Tuesday) occurred, and the worldwide economy began to spiral downward into the Great Depression.[63] The causes of the Great Depression remain a matter of debate,[64] but Hoover viewed a lack of confidence in the financial system as the fundamental economic problem facing the nation.[65] He sought to avoid direct federal intervention, believing that the best way to bolster the economy was through the strengthening of businesses such as banks and railroads. He also feared that allowing individuals on the "dole" would permanently weaken the country.[66] Instead, Hoover strongly believed that local governments and private giving should address the needs of individuals.[67]

Early response

Hoover pursued many policies in an attempt to pull the country out of depression, while attempting to restrain the federal government from becoming directly involved in commercial affairs. In the days following Black Tuesday, Hoover gathered business and labor leaders, asking them to avoid wage cuts and work stoppages while the country faced what he believed would be a short recession similar to the Depression of 1920–21.[68] Some economists, such as Lee Ohanian, point to the resulting wage rigidity as a key cause of the severity of the Great Depression.[69] Hoover also authorized the Mexican Repatriation program to help unemployed Mexican citizens return home. The program was largely a forced migration of approximately 500,000 people to Mexico, and continued until 1937. In the spring of 1930, Hoover acquired from Congress an additional $100 million to continue the Federal Farm Board lending and purchasing policies. At the end of 1929, the FFB established the National Wool Marketing Corporation (NWMC), a national wool cooperative made up of 30 state associations.[70] Hoover also supported new public works projects, although his fear of budget deficits led him to oppose expansive projects such as that contemplated by the Muscle Shoals Bill, which sought to establish government production and distribution of power in the Tennessee Valley.[71] In autumn 1930, Hoover established the President's Organization for Unemployment Relief, which issues press releases urging companies to hire.[67]

Hoover had taken office hoping to raise agricultural tariffs in order to help farmers reeling from the farm crisis of the 1920s, but his attempt to raise agricultural tariffs became connected with attempts to raise tariffs for other goods.[72] In June 1930, over the objection of many economists, Congress approved and Hoover reluctantly signed into law the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act. The legislation raised tariffs on thousands of imported items. The intent of the act was to encourage the purchase of American-made products by increasing the cost of imported goods, while raising revenue for the federal government and protecting farmers. However, economic depression had spread worldwide, and Canada, France and other nations retaliated by raising tariffs on imports from the U.S. The result was to contract international trade, and worsen the Depression.[73] Progressive Republicans such as Senator Borah were outraged when Hoover signed the bill, and Hoover's relations with that wing of the party never recovered.[74]

1930 midterm elections

The 1930 midterm elections saw Republicans lose control of the House and narrowly retain control of the Senate. The election was also a victory for progressives of both parties, as Republicans closely aligned with Hoover lost several congressional elections. Additionally, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt's landslide re-election established him as the front-runner for the 1932 Democratic nomination.[75] Despite the election defeat, Hoover refused to change his policies, rejecting the Chairman of the Committee on Employment's advice to appropriate additional money for public works. Instead, Hoover's first State of Union address after the election called for a balancing of the budget. Hoover also refused to call a special session of Congress after the election, leaving the 72nd United States Congress in recess from March 1931 to December 1931.[76]

Later response

For much of his presidency, Hoover opposed congressional proposals to provide federal relief, and he feared that Congress would impose a federal relief program that would infringe on the prerogatives of state and local governments and philanthropic organizations.[77] Hoover created the National Credit Corporation, a voluntary association of bankers, but the organization did not manage to save banks or ease credit as Hoover had hoped it would.[78] As the Great Depression continued, Hoover finally heeded calls for direct more direct federal intervention, though he vetoed a bill that would have allowed direct federal lending to individuals.[79] In January 1932, Hoover signed a bill creating the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC).[80] The RFC's initial goal was to provide government-secured loans to financial institutions, railroads, and local governments to continue relief programs. The RFC saved numerous businesses from failure, but it failed to stimulate commercial lending as Hoover had hoped, partly because it was run by conservative bankers unwilling to make riskier loans.[81] The RFC would be adopted by Roosevelt and greatly expanded as part of his New Deal.[82] With the RFC failing to stem the economic crisis, Hoover signed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act, a major public works bill, in July 1932.[83]

Herbert Hoover in the Oval Office with press secretary Ted Joslin, 1932

Throughout his presidency, Hoover defended the gold standard, and derided any other monetary system as "collectivism."[84] Hoover and Senator Carter Glass, another gold standard proponent, recognized that they needed to stop deflation by encouraging the lending of credit. Hoover was instrumental in passing the Glass–Steagall Act of 1932, which allowed for prime rediscounting at the Federal Reserve, in turn allowing further inflation of credit and bank reserves.[85] In July 1932, Hoover signed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act, establishing 12 district banks overseen by a Federal Home Loan Bank Board in a manner similar to the Federal Reserve System.[86]

In 1930, unemployment stood at 8.9%, and many assumed that the United States was just in another recession.[87] But by 1932, unemployment had reached 24.9%, businesses had defaulted on record numbers of loans, and more than 5,000 banks had failed, especially small rural banks.[88] Millions of Americans became homeless as the economy crumbled. Many moved in with relatives, while many more were forced to seek out whatever shelter they could. Hundreds of shanty towns and homeless encampments sprang up across the country.[89] A reserved man with a fear of public speaking, Hoover allowed his opponents in the Democratic Party to define him as cold, incompetent, reactionary, and out-of-touch.[90] They developed defamatory epithets to discredit him such as: "Hooverville" (the shanty towns and homeless encampments), "Hoover leather" (cardboard used to cover holes in the soles of shoes), and "Hoover blanket" (old newspaper used to cover oneself from the cold).[91]

Foreign affairs

In the midst of a worldwide depression, Hoover and Secretary of State Henry Stimson became more closely involved in world affairs than Hoover's Republican predecessors had been.[92] According to Leuchtenberg, Hoover was "the last American president to take office with no conspicuous need to pay attention to the rest of the world." But during Hoover's term, the world order established with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles began to crumble.[93]

Mulilateral agreements

Though the United States remained outside of the League of Nations, Hoover showed a willingness to work within multilateral structures. Hoover pursued United States membership in the Permanent Court of International Justice, but the Senate never voted on his proposal. The Senate also defeated Hoover's proposed Saint Lawrence Seaway Treaty with Canada.[94]

Hoover placed a priority on disarmament, and he focused on extending the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, which sought to prevent a naval arms race. A previous effort to extend the Washington Naval Treaty, the Geneva Naval Conference, had failed to produce results, but the Hoover administration convinced the British to re-open negotiations.[95] In 1930, the United States and other major naval powers signed the London Naval Treaty.[96] The treaty represented the first time that the naval powers had agreed to cap their tonnage of auxiliary vessels (previous agreements had focused on capital ships), but the treaty did not include France or Italy. The treaty provoked a nationalist backlash in Japan due to its reconfirmation of the "5–5–3" ratio which limited Japan to a smaller fleet than the United States or the United Kingdom.[97] [98] At the 1932 World Disarmament Conference, Hoover urged worldwide cutbacks in armaments and the outlawing of tanks and bombers, but his proposals were not adopted.[97]


When Hoover took office, an international committee meeting in Paris promulgated the Young Plan, which created the Bank for International Settlements and stipulated the partial forgiveness of German World War I reparations. Hoover was wary of agreeing to the plan, as he feared that it would be linked to reduced payments on loans the U.S. extended to France and Britain in World War I. He ultimately agreed to support the proposal at the urging of Owen D. Young, the American industrialist who chaired the committee. Despite the settlement reached by the Young Plan, the German economy collapsed in the early 1930s, and Germany announced that it could not pay reparations. In response, Hoover issued the Hoover Moratorium, a one-year halt on Allied war loans conditional on a suspension of German reparations payments.[99] Hoover also made American bankers agree to refrain from demanding payment on private loans from Germans.[100] Hoover hoped that the moratorium would help stabilize the European economy, which he viewed as a major cause of economic troubles in the United States.[101] As the moratorium neared its expiration the following year, an attempt to find a permanent solution was made at the Lausanne Conference of 1932. A working compromise was never established, and reparations payments virtually stopped.[102]

Latin America

As president, Hoover largely made good on his pledge made prior to assuming office not to interfere in Latin America's internal affairs. In 1930, he released the Clark Memorandum, a rejection of the Roosevelt Corollary and a move towards non-interventionism in Latin America. Hoover did not completely refrain from the use of the military in Latin American affairs; he thrice threatened intervention in the Dominican Republic, and he sent warships to El Salvador to support the government against a left-wing revolution.[103] But he wound down the Banana Wars, ending the occupation of Nicaragua and nearly bringing an end to the occupation of Haiti. Franklin Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy would continue the trend towards non-interventionism in Latin America. [104]

Affairs in the Pacific

In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria, defeating the Republic of China's military forces and establishing Manchukuo, a puppet state. The Hoover administration deplored the invasion, but also sought to avoid antagonizing the Japanese, fearing that taking too strong of a stand would weaken the moderate forces in the Japanese government. Hoover also viewed the Japanese as a potential ally against the Soviet Union, which Hoover saw as a much greater threat.[105] In response to the Japanese invasion, Hoover and Secretary of State Stimson outlined the Stimson Doctrine, which held that the United States would not recognize territories gained by force. The Hoover administration based this declaration on the 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact, in which several nations (including Japan and the United States) renounced war and promised to peacefully solve disputes. In the aftermath of invasion of Manchuria, Stimson and other members of the Cabinet came to believe that war with Japan might be inevitable, though Hoover continued to push for disarmament among the world powers.[106]

The United States had taken control of the Philippines after the Spanish–American War of 1898, and the island remained a possession of the United States despite a vigorous independence movement. Stimson convinced Hoover to opposed independence on the grounds that it would hurt the Philippine economy.[107]

Election of 1932

Hoover addresses a large crowd in his 1932 campaign.

Despite the economic calamity facing the nation and his dim hopes for re-election, Hoover faced little opposition for re-nomination at the 1932 Republican National Convention. Some Republicans talked of nominating Coolidge, former Vice President Charles Dawes, or Senator Hiram Johnson, but all passed on the opportunity to challenge Hoover.[108] Curtis was re-nominated as Hoover's running mate. Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential nomination on the third ballot of the 1932 Democratic National Convention, defeating the 1928 Democratic nominee, Al Smith. Speaker of the House John Nance Garner was nominated as Roosevelt's running mate. By 1932, the radio was in 12 million homes, changing the nature of presidential campaigns. No longer could presidents change the content of their speeches for each audience; anyone with a radio could listen to every major speech.[109]

Hoover originally planned to make only one or two major speeches, and to leave the rest of the campaigning to proxies, as sitting presidents had traditionally done. However, encouraged by Republican pleas and outraged by Democratic claims, Hoover entered the public fray. In his nine major radio addresses Hoover primarily defended his administration and his philosophy of government. Hoover urged voters to hold to the "foundations of experience," rejecting the notion that government interventionism could save the country from the Depression.[110]

1932 electoral vote results.

In his campaign trips around the country, Hoover was faced with perhaps the most hostile crowds of any sitting president. Besides 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 already having removed several spikes from the rails in front of the President's train.[111]

The Democrats attacked Hoover as the cause of the Great Depression, and for being indifferent to the suffering of millions.[112] As Governor of New York, Roosevelt had called on the New York legislature to provide aid for the needy, establishing Roosevelt's reputation for being more favorable toward government interventionism during the economic crisis.[113] Fausold rejects the notion that the two nominees were similar ideologically, pointing to differences between the two on federal spending on public works, agricultural issues, Prohibition, and the tariff.[114]

Hoover's attempts to vindicate his administration fell on deaf ears, as much of the public blamed his administration for the depression.[115] Roosevelt won 57.4 percent of the popular vote compared to Hoover's 39.7%. Hoover's popular vote was reduced by 26 percentage points from his result in the 1928 election, while Roosevelt became the first Democratic presidential nominee to win a majority of the popular vote since the Civil War.[116] In the electoral college lost 59–472, carrying only six Northeastern states. The Democrats extended their control over the House and gained control of the Senate. Democrats thus won unified control of the legislative and executive branches for the first time since the 1918 elections. The election marked the end of the Fourth Party System and the beginning of the Fifth Party System. Republicans would not re-gain control of either house of Congress until 1947, and Democrats would retain the presidency until 1953.

Legacy and evaluation

Hoover was extremely unpopular when he left office, and his reputation would not begin to recover until the 1970s. According to Professor David E. Hamilton, historians have credited Hoover for his genuine belief in voluntarism and cooperation, as well as the innovation of some of his programs. However, Hamilton also notes that Hoover was politically inept and failed to recognize the severity of the Great Depression. [117] Polls of historians and political scientists have generally ranked Hoover as a below-average president.


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Works cited

  • Carcasson, Martin (Spring 1998). "Herbert Hoover and the Presidential Campaign of 1932: The Failure of Apologia". Presidential Studies Quarterly. 28 (2): 349–365. JSTOR 27551864. 
  • Eichengreen, Barry; Temin, Peter (2000). "The Gold Standard and the Great Depression". Contemporary European History. 9 (2): 183–207. JSTOR 20081742. 
  • Fausold, Martin L. (1985). The Presidency of Herbert C. Hoover. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-0259-9. 
  • Ferrell, Robert H. (1957). American Diplomacy in the Great Depression: Hoover–Stimson Foreign Policy, 1929–1933. Yale University Press. 
  • Herring, George C. (2008). From Colony to Superpower; U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507822-0. 
  • Houck, Davis W. (2000). "Rhetoric as Currency: Herbert Hoover and the 1929 Stock Market Crash". Rhetoric & Public Affairs. 3 (2): 155–181. doi:10.1353/rap.2010.0156. JSTOR 41940224. 
  • Jeansonne, Glen (2012). The Life of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker, 1928-1933. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-137-34673-5.  Book 5 in The Life of Herbert Hoover Series.
  • Kaufman, Bruce E. (2012). "Wage Theory, New Deal Labor Policy, and the Great Depression: Were Government and Unions to Blame?". Industrial and Labor Relations Review. 65 (3): 501–532. JSTOR 24368882. 
  • Leuchtenberg, William E. (2009). Herbert Hoover. Times Books (Henry Holt and Company). ISBN 978-0-8050-6958-7. 
  • Leuchtenberg, William E. (Summer 2009). "The Wrong Man at the Wrong Time". American Heritage. 59 (2). 
  • McCoy, Donald R. (1967). Calvin Coolidge: The Quiet President. Macmillan. ISBN 1468017772. 
  • O'Brien, Patrick G.; Rosen, Philip T. (1981). "Hoover and the Historians: the Resurrection of a President". The Annals of Iowa. 46 (2): 83–99. 
  • Olson, James S. (October 1972). "Gifford Pinchot and the Politics of Hunger, 1932-1933". Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 96 (4): 508–520. JSTOR 20090681. 
  • Rappleye (2016). Herbert Hoover in the White House: The Ordeal of the Presidency. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-4869-0. 
  • Wilson, Joan Hoff (1975). Herbert Hoover, Forgotten Progressive. Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-94416-8. 

Further reading


  • Burner, David (1996), Herbert Hoover: A Public Life, Easton Press .
  • Hatfield, Mark. ed. Herbert Hoover Reassessed (2002)
  • Hawley, Ellis (1989), Herbert Hoover and the Historians .
  • Hoff-Wilson, Joan. Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive. (1975). short biography
  • Jeansonne, Glen. The Life of Herbert Hoover: Fighting Quaker, 1928–1933. Palgrave Macmillan; 2012.
  • Jeansonne, Glen. Herbert Hoover: A Life (2016), 464pp; comprehensive scholarly biography
  • Nash, Lee, ed. Understanding Herbert Hoover: Ten Perspectives (1987); essays by scholars
  • Smith, Gene. The Shattered Dream: Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression (1970)
  • Smith, Richard Norton. An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover, (1987), biography concentrating on post 1932.
  • Walch, Timothy. ed. Uncommon Americans: The Lives and Legacies of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover Praeger, 2003.
  • Wert, Hal Elliott. Hoover, The Fishing President: Portrait of the Private Man and his Life Outdoors (2005).

Scholarly studies

  • Extensive annotated bibliography at the University of Virginia Miller Center of Public Affairs
  • Claus Bernet (2009). "Hoover, Herbert". In Bautz, Traugott. Biographisch-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexikon (BBKL) (in German). 30. Nordhausen: Bautz. cols. 644–653. ISBN 978-3-88309-478-6. 
  • Barber, William J. From New Era to New Deal: Herbert Hoover, the Economists, and American Economic Policy, 1921–1933. (1985)
  • Britten, Thomas A. "Hoover and the Indians: the Case for Continuity in Federal Indian Policy, 1900–1933" Historian 1999 61(3): 518–538. ISSN 0018-2370
  • Calder, James D. The Origins and Development of Federal Crime Control Policy: Herbert Hoover's Initiatives Praeger, 1993
  • Clements, Kendrick A. Hoover, Conservation, and Consumerism: Engineering the Good Life. University Press of Kansas, 2000
  • DeConde, Alexander. Herbert Hoover's Latin American Policy. (1951)
  • Dodge, Mark M., ed. Herbert Hoover and the Historians. (1989)
  • Doenecke, Justus D. "Anti-Interventionism of Herbert Hoover". Journal of Libertarian Studies, (Summer 1987), 8(2): 311–340
  • Fausold Martin L. and George Mazuzan, eds. The Hoover Presidency: A Reappraisal (1974)
  • Hamilton, David E. From New Day to New Deal: American Farm Policy from Hoover to Roosevelt, 1928–1933. (1991)
  • Hart, David M. (1998), Herbert Hoover's Last Laugh: the Enduring Significance of the 'Associative State' in the United States, 10 (4), Journal of Policy History, pp. 419–444 
  • Hutchison, Janet. "Building for Babbitt: the State and the Suburban Home Ideal" Journal of Policy History 1997 9(2): 184–210
  • Lichtman, Allan J. Prejudice and the Old Politics: The Presidential Election of 1928 (1979)
  • Lisio, Donald J. The President and Protest: Hoover, MacArthur, and the Bonus Riot, 2nd ed. (1994)
  • Lisio, Donald J. Hoover, Blacks, and Lily-whites: A Study of Southern Strategies (1985)
  • McPherson, Alan. "Herbert Hoover, Occupation Withdrawal, and the Good Neighbor Policy." Presidential Studies Quarterly 44.4 (2014): 623-639 online.
  • Morris, Charles R. A Rabble of Dead Money: The Great Crash and the Global Depression: 1929-1939 (PublicAffairs, 2017), 389 pp. online review
  • Olson, James S. Herbert Hoover and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1931–1933 (1977)
  • Robinson, Edgar Eugene and Vaughn Davis Bornet. Herbert Hoover: President of the United States. (1976)
  • Romasco, Albert U. The Poverty of Abundance: Hoover, the Nation, the Depression (1965)
  • Schwarz, Jordan A. The Interregnum of Despair: Hoover, Congress, and the Depression. (1970). Hostile to Hoover
  • Sibley, Katherine A.S., ed. A Companion to Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover (2014); 616pp; essays by scholars stressing historiography
  • Stoff, Michael B. "Herbert Hoover: 1929–1933". The American Presidency: The Authoritative Reference. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company (2004), 332–343
  • Sobel, Robert Herbert Hoover and the Onset of the Great Depression 1929–1930 (1975)
  • Tracey, Kathleen. Herbert Hoover–A Bibliography: His Writings and Addresses. (1977)
  • Wilbur, Ray Lyman, and Arthur Mastick Hyde. The Hoover Policies. (1937). In depth description of his administration by two cabinet members; online
  • Williams, C. Fred (Spring 1996). "William M. Jardine and the Foundations for Republican Farm Policy, 1925-1929". Agricultural History. 70 (2): 216–232. JSTOR 3744534. 

Primary sources

  • Hoover, Herbert Clark (1952), The Cabinet and the Presidency, 1920–1933 (PDF), Memoirs, 2, New York .
  • Myers, William Starr, and Walter H. Newton, eds. The Hoover Administration; a documented narrative. (1936). online
  • Hawley, Ellis, ed. Herbert Hoover: Containing the Public Messages, Speeches, and Statements of the President, 4 vols. (1974–1977)
U.S. Presidential Administrations
Preceded by
Hoover Presidency
Succeeded by
F. D. Roosevelt
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