Herbert Hoover on the Great Depression

One of the most extraordinary sentences I ever came across, and I no longer have any idea where, was from something written in around 1939 where whoever it was wrote that the 1930s are going to be completely mis-remebered, and this had entered his head because he’d heard someone the other day refer to “The Hungry Thirties”. He thought such a notion was preposterous and could say so then because everyone would have understood what he meant. Now “The Hungry Thirties” is exactly how the period is remembered and my political education began at the hand of my Father for whom the Great Depression was the most important personal landmark of his life. His socialism had arisen then and it stayed with him till his last days on earth.

The following passage, though, is from Herbert Hoover who was enraged by the way the 1930s have entered into our common consciousness. He, of course, has his own reasons for wishing our historical memory was other than it was, but he couldn’t write what he wrote if it were so off centre that everyone who was there then would see it for themselves. The first para in the quoted passage below is from the editor but the rest is Hoover himself. It is from an excerpt contained in a review of a manuscript that was discovered in 2009 of Hoover’s writings during his post-presidential period. The book is The Crusade Years, 1933–1955 and edited by George H. Nash.

In the presidential contest of 1944, Hoover’s indignation boiled over. Democratic Party leaders and pro–Roosevelt campaigners repeatedly sought to discredit the Republican presidential nominee, Thomas Dewey, by portraying him as an intellectual lightweight who would be a puppet and “mouthpiece” for Hoover and reactionary ‘Hooverism’ if elected. Unwilling to countenance any longer the Democrats’ attacks upon his record, Hoover composed the scathing rejoinder printed here.

The greatest lie told in this whole campaign has been that the Depression of 1930–32 was caused by the Republican Party; that the Republicans did nothing about it; that the people were allowed to starve and were compelled to sell apples; that the country was in ruins; and that Roosevelt rescued it from complete wreck.

This lie has been promulgated in a thousand speeches, in millions of scurrilous pamphlets and circulars. Mr. Roosevelt has himself given currency to it. . . .

The broader facts are and history will record that the depression was world-wide; that its major origins were in Europe; that it swept in on the United States like a hurricane; that it originated from the aftermaths of World War I, including the Treaty of Versailles; that by action of the Republican Administration 18,000,000 people were under organized relief and that any consequential hunger and cold were prevented; that the Republican Administration took drastic measures to protect the peoples’ savings from the storm by creating the R.F.C., the Home Loan Banks and by expanding agricultural credit institutions. There were failures mostly in State Banks not under Federal control.

History will also record that the depression was turned world-wide in June and July of 1932; that we were on our way out with employment increasing but that recovery was halted when business confidence was shaken by the impending election of the New Deal; that with the election the whole country further hesitated awaiting the new policies; that rumors quickly spread that Mr. Roosevelt would devalue the currency; that in consequence, people tried to get their money from the banks and that speculators tried to ship it out of the country; that Mr. Roosevelt upon Mr. Hoover’s request refused to reaffirm the promises he had made the night before election not to tinker with the currency; that Mr. Roosevelt refused to cooperate in other directions with Mr. Hoover to stem the tide of fear—fear of what? It was of the New Deal, not of a retiring administration. It was a panic of bank depositors induced by the New Deal and Mr. Roosevelt. After the banks were reopened it was found that 98% of their deposits were good.

History will also record that the rest of the world, not having a “new deal,” went straight out of the depression and recovered its employment by 1934–35; that unemployment here in the United States continued on a vast scale for six years of the New Deal; and that it took a war to get us out of it.

The whole of the story put over by the New Deal orators is the most gigantic dishonesty ever known in American politics.

Nothing Hoover wrote here is contradicted by anything I know and quite a bit fits into what I have seen for myself. Literally every other market economy emerged from the Great Depression in 1932-33 with the sole exception being the United States. But Hoover himself has a lot to answer for, including the public spending, his wages policy, the higher interest rates and the Smoot-Hawley tariff. But that Roosevelt might have created the very uncertainty he needed to win the election, and then brought along with him the far left ideologues who ran his policies for him, the truth about the New Deal is far different from what you might otherwise have thought from looking at the standard histories.

Herbert Hoover and the New Deal

Herbert Hoover’s memoir written in the 1940’s and 50’s had lain in vault until discovered in 2009. It is now being published under the title, The Crusade Years, 1933–1955. This is from a review of the book:

Now came the final phase of Hoover’s career: his remarkable ex-presidency. For the next thirty-one and one-half years, in fair political weather and foul, the former chief executive became, in his self-image, a crusader—a tireless and very visible castigator of the dominant political trends of his day. He behaved as a committed ideological warrior more persistently and more fervently than any other former president in our history.

Why? Most of all, it was because Hoover perceived in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt not a moderate and pragmatic response to economic distress but something more sinister: a revolutionary transformation in America’s political economy and constitutional order. Having espied the unpalatable future, Hoover could not bring himself to acquiesce.

Here is an excerpt from the review. The first paragraph is by the editor, George Nash, the remainder is Hoover himself.

Editor’s note: The paragraphs below are taken from the earliest extant fragment of Hoover’s memoirs relating to his post-presidential years. He probably composed it by hand in September 1944. In this brief essay he identified the poisonous ‘philosophical error’ that had come to dominate American politics during the New Deal years, an error he deemed it his moral duty to combat.

The period from 1933 to 1938 in America was dominated by a clash in philosophical ideas to which I felt it was my duty to apply every bit of strength I possessed. I was convinced that a great error had come into liberal thinking, which threatened to destroy the magnificent civilization which intellectual and spiritual freedom had builded and which was its impulse to progress. . . .

The error in ideas came first in the form of Socialism but had made little progress prior to the first World War. The root of the error was that government operation of economic instrumentalities, or government direction of their operation other than establishment of rules of conduct, could short-cut all human ills and produce immediate Utopia. This gigantic poison of liberty received a great impulse from the government agencies created to mobilize the whole energies of peoples in total war. Here the impulses of patriotism to produce and labor and the fear of the enemy were substituted for free will. After the war the inevitable flood of misery, of impoverishment and frustration furnished the hotbed for the growth of this gigantic error. It developed over Europe in various forms—all from the same root. Communism, Fascism, and the milder forms of Statism, were heralded by well-meaning and generous-minded men as to the new road to life. They were joined by demagogs and seekers-for-power. The ultimate end was slavery, whether in Communistic or Fascist form. This philosophic error had spread mildly in American thinking, but attained no dangerous proportions until the world-wide depression struck us with all its violence, misery and exposure of wrong-doing.

It was certain in my mind that the New Deal was but one form of this same error in ideas and that it was my job to fight it. But fighting a philosophic idea among a people who had never thought in these channels was not only a difficult thing in itself, but one must contend with demagogic promises of Utopia to a suffering people and the obvious needs of reform in the system itself.

The American people at large had scarcely heard the word ideology. They had developed and they had lived and breathed a way of life without defining it as an ‘ideology.’