Herbert C. Hoover: 31st Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
Herbert Hoover was one of the most respected men in America by the late 1920’s. After World War I started, he organized a relief effort in war-torn Belgium that saved millions from starvation. He was the food administrator under President Wilson and Secretary of Commerce under Presidents Harding and Coolidge.
He’s known now for the Depression which in some ways is unfortunate. As President, he introduced highly innovative social welfare and conservation policies. He wrote his own speeches and books.
Hoover was the first President born west of the Mississippi. He was a shy loner, a Stanford graduate who started a successful mining company that made him a millionaire. He loved fishing and invented Hoover Ball in an effort to exercise and get leaders of government to get together to share ideas.
Hoover was your quintessential big-business republican who had trouble relating to the common man. He wore stiff double-breasted suits, high collars and was easily lampooned as your stereotypical big businessman.
Hoover was one of an early handful of international capitalists, but he had a highly developed sense of obligation. He once stated, “The trouble with capitalism is capitalists; they’re too damn greedy.”
Hoover brought the efficiency of business management to the presidency. It can’t be emphasized enough how successful he was as a businessman, and his desire to bring a crisp executive style to Washington.
Hoover was a workaholic. I mean he really believed in work. He was always on the job and believed more hours and working harder would solve the problem. Like in business, Hoover’s strong work ethic and proven management skills, would be successful for the country as well. Or so the thought.
Hoover on Civil Rights
Hoover wasn’t afraid of mixing with other cultures. He and his wife Lou lived in China at the end of the 19th century and they even learned to speak Mandarin. Hoover seldom mentioned civil rights while he was President. Hoover believed that African-Americans and other races could improve themselves with education and wanted the races assimilated into white culture.
First Lady Lou Hoover defied custom and invited an African-American Republican, Oscar DePriest, a member in the House of Representatives, to dinner at the White House. Booker T. Washington was the last previous African-American to have dined at the White House, with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901.
Great Mississippi Flood of 1927
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 broke the banks and levees of the lower Mississippi River in early 1927, resulting in flooding of millions of acres and leaving one and a half million people displaced from their homes. the treatment of African-Americans during the disaster hurt Hoover’s reputation as a humanitarian. Local officials brutalized African-Americans and prevented them from leaving relief camps. Aid meant for African-American sharecroppers was often given to the landowners instead, and African-American males were conscripted by locals into forced labor, sometimes at gun point.
Hoover struck a deal with Robert Moton, the prominent African-American successor to Booker T. Washington who was president of the Tuskegee Institute. In exchange for keeping the suffering of African Americans out of the public eye, Hoover promised unprecedented influence for African Americans if he was elected president. Moton agreed, and worked actively to keep information about mistreatment of blacks from being revealed to the media. Following election, Hoover never kept this promise, leading to an African-American backlash in the 1932 election that shifted allegiance from the Republican party to the Democrats.
Hoover and the Election of 1828
In the election of 1928, to gain Republican votes in southern states, Hoover used a “Southern Strategy” in which he appealed to white voters and used the support of the Ku Klux Klan against his Catholic opponent Al Smith. He won victories in Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Texas. It marked the first time a Republican candidate for president carried Texas. This outraged the black leadership, who broke from the Republican Party, and began seeking candidates who supported civil rights within the Democratic Party.
Hoover attempted to appoint John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1930 to replace Edward Sanford. The NAACP claimed that Parker made many court decisions against African-Americans and fought the nomination. The NAACP was successful in lobbying senate support and the nomination was defeated in the Senate.
Hoover’s Vice President Charles Curtis was the nation’s first Native American Vice President. Curtis was from the Kaw tribe in Kansas. But Hoover’s 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 Native Americans acting as individuals, not as tribes, and to assume the responsibilities of citizenship granted with the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, contrary to the approach taken by his predecessor Calvin Coolidge, who tried to give individual citizenship while maintaining tribal customs.
The Watsonville riots was a period of racial violence that took place in Watsonville, California, from January 19 to January 23, 1930. Involving violent assaults on Filipino American farm workers by local residents opposed to immigration, the riots highlighted the racial and socioeconomic tensions in California’s agricultural communities.
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam (NOI) is a religious and political organization founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in the United States in 1930. Scholars of religion characterize it as a new religious movement and a UFO religion, and while it identifies itself as promoting a form of Islam, its beliefs differ considerably from mainstream Islamic traditions. It operates as a hierarchical and centralized organization based in Chicago.
A black nationalist organization, the NOI focuses attention on African Americans and the African diaspora. It teaches the existence of a succession of mortal gods, each termed Allah and taking the form of a black man. It claims that the first Allah created the earliest humans, the Arabic-speaking, dark-skinned Tribe of Shabazz, who themselves possessed inner divinity and from whom all people of color descend. It maintains that a scientist named Yakub then created the white race; lacking inner divinity, the whites were intrinsically violent and so overthrew the Tribe of Shabazz, becoming globally dominant.
The NOI sets itself against white-dominant society, calling for African Americans to be economically self-sufficient and separatist, and campaigning for an independent African American state. A millenarian tradition, it maintains that the current Allah will soon return aboard a spaceship, the “Mother Plane” or “Mother Ship,” to wipe out the white race and inaugurate a utopia. Members meet to worship in buildings known as mosques or temples; their beliefs are materialist, rejecting the existence of any spiritual essence or afterlife. Practitioners are expected to live highly disciplined lives, adhering to strict dress codes, specific dietary requirements, and patriarchal gender roles.
Wallace Fard Muhammad established the Nation of Islam in Detroit. He drew on various sources, including Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple of America, black nationalist trends like Garveyism, and black-oriented forms of Freemasonry.
After Fard Muhammad disappeared in 1934, leadership of the NOI was assumed by Elijah Muhammad. He expanded the NOI’s teachings and declared that Fard Muhammad was in reality the latest Allah. Attracting growing attention in the late 1950s and 1960s, the NOI’s influence expanded through high-profile members such as the boxer Muhammad Ali and the black nationalist activist Malcolm X.
Deeming it a threat to domestic security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked to undermine the group. Following Elijah Muhammad’s death in 1975, his son Warith Deen Mohammed took over the organization, moving it towards Sunni Islam and renaming it the World Community of Islam in the West. Members seeking to retain Elijah Muhammad’s teachings re-established the Nation of Islam under Louis Farrakhan’s leadership in 1977. Farrakhan has continued to develop the NOI’s distinctive beliefs, for instance by drawing connections with Dianetics, and expanded its economic and agricultural operations.
Based in the United States, the Nation of Islam has also established a presence abroad, with membership open to people of color but not whites. In 2007, its membership was estimated to be at 50,000; the Nation has proved particularly successful at attracting converts from prisons. Its critics, including civil rights activists, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Anti-Defamation League, have accused it of being a black supremacist hate group that promotes racial prejudice towards white people, anti-semitism, and anti-LGBT rhetoric. Many Muslim critics accuse it of promoting teachings that are not legitimately Islamic.
The Wall Street Crash of 1929
The Wall Street Crash of 1929, also known as the Great Crash, was a major American stock market crash that occurred in the autumn of 1929. It started in September and ended late in October, when share prices on the New York Stock Exchange collapsed.
It was the most devastating stock market crash in the history of the United States, when taking into consideration the full extent and duration of its aftereffects. The Great Crash is mostly associated with October 24, 1929, called Black Thursday, the day of the largest sell-off of shares in U.S. history, and October 29, 1929, called Black Tuesday, when investors traded some 16 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange in a single day. The crash, which followed the London Stock Exchange’s crash of September, signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. The timing of the Great Depression varied across the world; in most countries, it started in 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s. It was the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. The Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how intensely the global economy can decline.
The Great Depression started in the United States after a major fall in stock prices that began around September 4, 1929, and became worldwide news with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929, (known as Black Tuesday). Between 1929 and 1932, worldwide gross domestic product (GDP) fell by an estimated 15%. By comparison, worldwide GDP fell by less than 1% from 2008 to 2009 during the Great Recession. Some economies started to recover by the mid-1930s. However, in many countries, the negative effects of the Great Depression lasted until the beginning of World War II.
The Great Depression had devastating effects in both rich and poor countries. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, while international trade fell by more than 50%. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 23% and in some countries rose as high as 33%.
Cities around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming communities and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by about 60%. Facing plummeting demand with few alternative sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as mining and logging suffered the most.
Economic historians usually consider the catalyst of the Great Depression to be the sudden devastating collapse of U.S. stock market prices, starting on October 24, 1929. However, some dispute this conclusion and see the stock crash as a symptom, rather than a cause, of the Great Depression.
Even after the Wall Street Crash of 1929, where the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped from 381 to 198 over the course of two months, optimism persisted for some time. The stock market turned upward in the early 1930, with the Dow returning to 294 (pre-depression levels) in April 1930, before steadily declining for years, to a low of 41 in 1932.
At the beginning, governments and businesses spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. On the other hand, consumers, many of whom suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut their expenditures by 10%. In addition, beginning in the mid-1930s, a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the U.S. Interest rates dropped to low levels by the mid-1930s, but expected deflation and the continuing reluctance of people to borrow meant that consumer spending and investment remained low.
By May 1930, automobile sales declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices, in general, began to decline, although wages held steady in 1930. Then a deflationary spiral started in 1931. Farmers faced a worse outlook; declining crop prices and a Great Plains drought crippled their economic outlook. At its peak, the Great Depression saw nearly 10% of all Great Plains farms change hands despite federal assistance.
The decline in the U.S. economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first; then, internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts by individual countries to shore up their economies through protectionist policies – such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries – exacerbated the collapse in global trade, contributing to the depression. By 1933, the economic decline pushed world trade to one third of its level compared to four years earlier.
The Tariff Act of 1930, commonly known as the Smoot–Hawley Tariff or Hawley–Smoot Tariff, was a law that implemented protectionist trade policies in the United States. Sponsored by Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis C. Hawley, it was signed by President Herbert Hoover on June 17, 1930. The act raised US tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods.
The tariffs under the act, excluding duty-free imports, were the second highest in United States history, exceeded by only the Tariff of 1828. The Act and tariffs imposed by America’s trading partners in retaliation were major factors of the reduction of American exports and imports by 67% during the Depression. Economists and economic historians have a consensus view that the passage of the Smoot–Hawley Tariff worsened the effects of the Great Depression.
Inadequate Response of Hoover
Hoover held a strong belief in American individualism, free enterprise, and decentralized government, but at the same time, he was not a supporter of laissez faire doctrine. He opposed an economic free-for-all since he believed it led to a concentration of power that stifled equality of opportunity and initiative.
Rather, he believed in an individualism fused with public service. Hoover proposed that volunteerism within the community was the best antidote for poverty as well as for a myriad of other social problems. He called on individuals, local charity organizations, churches, and local governments to work cooperatively to alleviate suffering and distribute relief. Hoover claimed that voluntary cooperation was “self-government by the people outside of the Government.”
When the economy tanked in October of 1929 all of a sudden, the many qualities that made Hoover good for leading in a time of prosperity made him grossly inadequate for dealing with the challenges of the depression. He was handicapped by a lack of charisma, and his lackluster public speeches did not inspire confidence.
This was obviously a tremendous mistake as the government certainly needed to do more after the crash. Nothing has ever shown volunteerism to work in the United States before Hoover nor afterwards. The depression traumatized Hoover. He became defensive as it became clearer that he did not have the temperament to deal with a crisis of this magnitude.
The Bonus Army was a group of 43,000 demonstrators – made up of 17,000 U.S. World War I veterans, together with their families and affiliated groups – who gathered in Washington, D.C. in mid-1932 to demand early cash redemption of their service certificates. Organizers called the demonstrators the “Bonus Expeditionary Force”, to echo the name of World War I’s American Expeditionary Forces, while the media referred to them as the “Bonus Army” or “Bonus Marchers”. The demonstrators were led by Walter W. Waters, a former sergeant.
Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression. The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded them bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier’s promised payment with compound interest. The principal demand of the Bonus Army was the immediate cash payment of their certificates.
On July 28, 1932, U.S. Attorney General William D. Mitchell ordered the veterans removed from all government property. Washington police met with resistance, shot at the protestors, and two veterans were wounded and later died. President Herbert Hoover then ordered the U.S. Army to clear the marchers’ campsite. Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur commanded a contingent of infantry and cavalry, supported by six tanks. The Bonus Army marchers with their wives and children were driven out, and their shelters and belongings burned.
A second, smaller Bonus March in 1933 at the start of the Roosevelt administration was defused in May with an offer of jobs with the Civilian Conservation Corps at Fort Hunt, Virginia, which most of the group accepted. Those who chose not to work for the CCC by the May 22 deadline were given transportation home. In 1936, Congress overrode President Roosevelt’s veto and paid the veterans their bonus nine years early.
During the economic boom of the Roaring Twenties, the traditional values of rural America were challenged by the Jazz Age, symbolized by women smoking, drinking and wearing short skirts. The average American was busy buying automobiles and household appliances, and speculating in the stock market, where big money could be made.
Those appliances were bought on credit though. Although businesses had made huge gains — 65 percent — from the mechanization of manufacturing, the average worker’s wages had only increased 8 percent.
The imbalance between the rich and the poor, with 0.1 percent of society earning the same total income as 42 percent, combined with production of more and more goods and rising personal debt, could not be sustained. With banks failing and businesses closing, more than 15 million Americans (one-quarter of the workforce) became unemployed.
Hoover underestimated the seriousness of the crisis, calling it “a passing incident in our national lives,” and assured Americans that it would be over in 60 days. Focusing on a trickle-down economic program to help finance businesses and banks, Hoover’s vision was thwarted by business executives who preferred to simply lay off workers.
Trickle-down or Hoover economics was the staple of the GOP platform for about 90 years until Donald Trump came along. Now, we don’t know what the party stands for as Trump has no platform. That’s why his ascendancy to the nomination is historic. His platform is unknown and not rooted in economic nor political theory but the whims of populism.
Blacks suffered more than whites during the depression, since their jobs were often taken away from them and given to whites. In 1930, 50 percent of blacks were unemployed. Latino immigrants were blamed for taking people’s jobs, and deportations ensued. Does any of this sound familiar?
Banks and other financial institutions were not bailed out in the beginning of the depression and we saw the result. We also see how “supporting the troops” was completely counterbalanced by fiscal concerns of government spending during a Depression (which we should have been doing). Hoover swung and missed entirely on the economics and the politics of depression.
Hoover is often unfairly compared to FDR when it’s all about timing. FDR’s simple message was “though you have no hope, no food, nor a job today, it will be better tomorrow.” Things were not getting better under Hoover.
Looking at Hoover under that prism is unfair. If a public charmer and glad-hander like FDR had taken office in 1929, he would have been hated by 1932 and the country would’ve been clamoring for a business executive who understood the economy. Someone like Herbert Hoover.
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1932-1945) would follow Herbert Hoover
Calvin Coolidge (1923-1928) would precede Herbert Hoover
Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921) would guide the United States through World War I.
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) would assume the presidency after the Mexican War.
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981) would be the only Democratic President for 25 years post Civil Rights.
George W. Bush (2000 – 2008) is the final President in our series.