Hoover and the Great Depression
David E. Hamilton
When he campaigned for the presidency in 1928, Herbert Hoover proclaimed that American society was in the midst of a “New Day” of social and economic progress. Whether at his birthplace in West Branch, Iowa, or in New York City, at Elizabethton, Tennessee, or in Boston, he confidently predicted that American society had crossed a threshold to a new era of sustained improvements in living standards, higher incomes, and, ultimately, an end to want and poverty.
This progress, he proclaimed, had been made possible by the spectacular advances of industry and science and by the emergence of new institutions and new values that neatly fused an older and newer America. For the men and women who idolized Hoover, he was the ideal statesman to realize this vision. He seemed to embody the qualities essential to resolving what Walter Lippmann had posed in 1914 as the challenge of “drift and mastery.” Could modern America, Lippmann had asked, achieve “mastery” over its economic and social problems?313 Hoover’s admirers saw him, with his capacity for “scientific” analysis, expert administration, and organization building, as a public leader with an inspiring vision of social progress who might bring about a “New Day” in American life.
It was not to be, of course. Within a few months of his inauguration, stock values plummeted, and by mid-1930 the American economy was contracting at a stunning pace. Faced with falling farm prices, rising unemployment, plunging business profits, and a faltering banking system, Hoover’s political woes multiplied, and his public standing crumbled. By late 1930, as the economy unraveled, Hoover had begun to feel as if he were doing “battle on a thousand fronts.”314
Rich holdings of Herbert Hoover’s papers make clear the many battles of Hoover’s presidency. The boxes and folders bulge with memoranda, reports, and correspondence on how to boost farm prices, bolster a collapsing