America’s struggle against the Great Depression began with Herbert Hoover, on whose watch the depression began, but reached epic proportions under Franklin Roosevelt and his New Deal. These two men epitomized much of the best of the American political tradition, and both deeply and single-mindedly committed themselves to restoring prosperity and thereby saving the nation from the political extremes that massive unemployment might create.
Hoover’s efforts failed, and he is to this day held up to contempt as one who could not escape the bounds of the past and offer the inspired, experimental leadership that Roosevelt is credited with giving. This contempt stems from the bitterness many depression-generation Americans felt toward one whose standing and accomplishments promised so much when the nation elected him by a landslide majority in 1928, but whose leadership during the massive economic downturn of 1929–1932 offered such paltry results.
In the decades following the depression, historians portrayed Hoover as a conservative in the tradition of the mainstream politicians who dominated the Republican Party, and national politics, during the 1920s. Hoover did rely, as the conservatives did, on the principles of low taxes, budget control, and minimal government regulation of business, but, unlike Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, the Republican presidents of the 1920s, whom