Herbert Clark Hoover
Herbert Clark Hoover was the thirty-first president of the United States, serving from 1929 to 1932. A wealthy mining engineer, Hoover directed humanitarian relief efforts during and after World Wars I and II. His presidency was devastated by the STOCK MARKET crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression.
Hoover was born August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. His father and mother died when he was young, and he was raised by an uncle in Oregon. He entered the first first-year class at Stanford University and graduated in 1895 with a degree in mining engineering. He became an expert on managing and reorganizing mines throughout the world. He spent time in Australia and China before setting up his own engineering firm in London in 1908. By 1914 Hoover had become a millionaire.
Hoover became involved in relief work during WORLD WAR I. In 1914 he served as director of the American Relief Commission in England, which helped one hundred twenty thousand U.S. citizens return home after being stranded at the outbreak of the war. The British government then asked him to lead the Commission for Relief in Belgium. His main achievement during this period was the distribution of supplies to civilian victims of the war in Belgium and France.
After the United States entered the war in 1917, President WOODROW WILSON named Hoover U.S. food administrator. In this capacity Hoover coordinated the production and conservation of food supplies that could be used for the war effort. Hoover also chaired the European Relief and Reconstruction Commission, directing activities of numerous relief departments and organizing the distribution of provisions. After the war Hoover coordinated the American Relief Administration. This agency provided food to millions during the famine of 1921 in the Soviet Union.
Hoover's humanitarian efforts made him an international figure. Democrats and Republicans sought to make him a presidential candidate in 1920, but Hoover rejected their offers. Instead, in 1921 he accepted the position of secretary of commerce in the administration of President WARREN G. HARDING, a Republican.
Hoover was an energetic administrator, reorganizing the department and expanding its oversight into commercial aviation, highway safety, and radio broadcasting. He chaired commissions that established the Hoover Dam and the St. Lawrence Seaway.
In 1928 Hoover won the Republican presidential nomination. He easily defeated Democrat Alfred E. Smith, on a platform of continued economic prosperity and support for PROHIBITION.
Hoover devoted the early days of his presidency to improving the economic conditions of farmers. He advocated foreign tariffs on imported farm products as a way to protect domestic farm prices. Congress went beyond Hoover's recommendation and in 1930 enacted the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act (19 U.S.C.A. § 1303 et seq.), which placed tariffs on nonfarm products as well. The act severely damaged U.S. foreign trade.
The control of Prohibition pursuant to the EIGHTEENTH AMENDMENT and the VOLSTEAD ACT (41 Stat. 305 ) had become a serious problem by 1929. ORGANIZED CRIME had seized the opportunity to sell illegal alcohol. The only way large-scale liquor and speakeasy traffic could flourish was with the cooperation of law enforcement, so state and local law enforcement agencies were tainted with corruption. In 1929 Hoover established the National Commission on Law Observance and Law Enforcement, appointing GEORGE W. WICKERSHAM to direct an investigation of the effectiveness of law enforcement practices in the United States. The WICKERSHAM COMMISSION report was an important inquiry into the practices of the U.S. criminal justice system. The report examined all facets of police work and, for the first time, discussed police brutality and the "third degree" method of interrogating suspects. The report called for the professionalization of police.
The U.S. economy appeared to be robust in 1929, but a rising stock market had been built on stock purchases financed by widespread borrowing. When the stock market crashed on October 29, individuals, banks, and other economic institutions were devastated. Hoover sought to inspire public confidence by meeting with business leaders and by proclaiming that the economic downturn would be brief.
Hoover's prediction was wrong. The United States slid into the worst economic depression in
its history. Hoover resisted massive federal intervention because he believed that the economy would correct itself. He did approve some federal public works projects that provided jobs, but he opposed federal aid to the unemployed. In his view private charity should help those who had fallen on hard times.
In 1932, with 12 million people out of work and hundreds of banks failing, Hoover created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) to extend loans to revitalize industry and to keep banks from going into BANKRUPTCY. Congress authorized the RFC to loan up to $300 million to states for relief. Many persons viewed these actions as too little and too late.
The troubles of the Hoover administration culminated in the Bonus Army March on Washington, D.C. In 1932 World War I veterans demanded monetary bonuses that had been promised them in 1924, even though the bonuses were not scheduled to be paid until 1945. The House of Representatives had passed a bill authorizing early payment, and the veterans sought to pressure the Senate to follow suit. More than fifteen thousand veterans, in desperate need of funds, organized a march on Washington, D.C., to secure immediate payment from the government. The "bonus army" constructed a makeshift city and declared that its members were ready to stay until their goal was achieved. Hoover dispatched federal troops to destroy the encampment and drive the veterans out of the nation's capital. For doing so he received nationwide criticism.
The REPUBLICAN PARTY nominated Hoover for a second term in 1932, but his candidacy attracted little enthusiasm. The DEMOCRATIC PARTY nominee, New York Governor FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, mounted a vigorous campaign against Hoover's economic policies, calling for a "new deal" for U.S. citizens. Roosevelt promised to balance the budget, provide relief to the unemployed, help the farmer, and repeal Prohibition. He carried forty-two of the forty-eight states.
Hoover was angered by Roosevelt's NEW DEAL, which made the federal government the dominant player in the national economy. In 1934 he published The Challenge to Liberty, which attacked Roosevelt and his policies. He then withdrew from public life until 1946, when President HARRY S. TRUMAN asked him to return to relief work. Hoover subsequently directed the Famine Emergency Commission, which distributed food supplies to war-torn nations. In 1947 Truman authorized him to investigate the executive department of the U.S. government. The resulting Hoover Commission proposed changes in the EXECUTIVE BRANCH that saved money and streamlined government.
Hoover had a continuing interest in the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, which he founded at Stanford in 1919 and which remains an important research center. He published his memoirs in three volumes (1951–52) and The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson (1958).
Hoover lived longer after leaving the presidency than did any other president. He died at age ninety on October 20, 1964, in New York City.
Walch, Timothy, ed. 2003. Uncommon Americans: The Lives and Legacies of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover. West-port, Conn.: Praeger.
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