In July of 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, President
Herbert Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur to rout the so-called
"bonus army": US veterans who had come to Washington, D.C., seeking
advance bonus payments.
During the night, MacArthur used tanks to drive the veterans and
their families out of their makeshift settlements, after which
infantry prodded them with bayonets, fired tear-gas canisters, and
torched their shelters.
No episode, writes William Leuchtenburg in Herbert Hoover: The
31st President, 1929-1933, "so fixed in the mind of Americans the
conviction that Hoover was cold and heartless."
Leuchtenburg, an emeritus professor of history at the University
of North Carolina and a Franklin Roosevelt scholar, argues
convincingly that Hoover wasn't responsible for the Great
Depression, but was in fact a "more complex, more interesting man"
than many caricatures of him have suggested.
However, as much as Hoover was a captive of the Great Depression,
he also unwittingly perpetuated it.Born in 1874 to an Iowa Quaker
family and reared an orphan in Oregon, Hoover knew deprivation first
hand. Yet he went on to become a Stanford University-educated
engineer and self-made millionaire.
Following World War I, he chaired President Woodrow Wilson's
Commission for Relief in Belgium, which provided that country with
food. Without a man of Hoover's daring, declares Leuchtenburg, "many
thousands would have starved to death." Hoover later headed
similarly successful humanitarian efforts in Britain and Russia.
But Hoover also possessed darker qualities, such as insistence on
total deference to his will. Incapable of accepting criticism, he
was seen by many as an "empire builder" who routinely exceeded the
boundaries of legality and his authority. As President Warren G.
Harding's Commerce secretary, Hoover issued "edicts that he had no
authority to issue or that were forbidden by an act of Congress ...
ordered all amateurs off the airwaves; empowered himself to issue
licenses; and in contravention of both U.S. and international law
... assigned frequencies."
In seizing bureaus from his fellow cabinet members, he gained
greater influence in both US domestic and foreign affairs, but also
earned much enmity.
After a 1927 flood in Mississippi, Hoover, then Calvin Coolidge's
Commerce secretary, "sparked a fundraising drive that brought in $17
million; gathered an armada of six-hundred vessels, and put together
150 tent cities as havens for multitudes of evacuees." Widely
praised for his actions, Hoover easily won election as America's
31st president. …