Uncommon Americans: The Lives and Legacies of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover

By Timothy Walch | Go to book overview

Herbert Hoover and the
Elusive Quest for Peace

Alfred L. Castle

The foreign policy of the Hoover administration was both a reflection of the dominant assumptions of the preceding Harding and Coolidge administrations and an attempt to apply those assumptions in the midst of deepening worldwide depression. Though no pacifist, Hoover was perhaps the first president to see the significant danger a militarized political and economic order presented to traditional American civil liberties and prosperity. We remember the Hoover administration for its sophisticated and realistic sense of the costs of war as well as the necessary conditions for international tranquility, for its commitment to world peace in the midst of severe economic downturn and the diminished ability of the United States to influence world events. Hoover’s limited successes and his failures as well reward continued study and reflection.

Much of the decade of the 1920s is now associated with relatively weak presidential leadership; the most important figures in the field of foreign affairs were Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. Ignoring much popular sentiment for retreat from noxious international commitments, the sacrifices of World War I, the disappointing peace at Versailles in 1919, the incursions on civil liberties, and the human cost of a problematic war, Harding called for a return to “normalcy.” In fact, however, even Harding knew that such a return to the pre– World War order was impossible and chose two like-minded, able advisors to run a foreign policy aimed at creating a new international system based on America’s growing economic influence.

Both Hughes and Hoover had previously renounced the collective security provisions of the League of Nations and insisted on an “independent internationalism” that allowed the United States freedom of action to pursue its interest in unfettered fashion.409 Hoover, who accepted the Commerce position under the condition that he would have influence in key

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