Is There a Jefferson on the Horizon?
The Great Depression tore apart Hoover's American system. The president initially publicly minimized the severity of the economic situation. "Over-optimism as to profits" had led to an "inevitable crash." As a result "a reduction in the consumption of luxuries and seminecessities" was a logical result. There had "necessarily" been some unemployment but Hoover warned business leaders about "undue pessimism, fear, uncertainty, and hesitation." "These emotions, being emotions, if they had been allowed to run their course would, by feeding on themselves, create difficulties."
But Hoover appeared to have seen the consequences of the crash almost immediately. Privately he determined that the depression would be a long one and that its depths were not known. In the early months he struggled to minimize its consequences. Speaking among industrialists he refused to support Mellon's view that the crash opened Darwinist opportunities. There must be no liquidation of labor, he insisted, for labor was not a commodity. Industrialists must accept the burden of the depression. Wages must remain stable and the unemployed cared for. 1
But if Hoover did act with dispatch he rarely employed the language of crisis. Lincoln, the Republican symbol of national unity, is largely ignored. In fact, Hoover used his 1931 radio address on Lincoln's birthday to remind the American public of the dangers of "centralized government." Lincoln's role as the Great Emancipator is reviewed but Hoover does not see in this exercise of state power precedent for a major expansion of responsibility in fighting the depression. On the contrary, the Lincolnian example is one that provides for equality of opportunity. "If Lincoln were living, he would find that this race of liberated slaves, starting a new life without a shred but the clothes in which they stood, without education, without organization, has today by its own endeavors