The national temper, the economic and political situation were over-ripe for a vigorous and positive leadership. The country was ready, as it had rarely been, for a man of principle, purpose, and will.
Eight years of the criminalities, puerile mediocrity, and reactionary do-nothingness of the Harding and Coolidge régimes had crystallized a deep urge in the national consciousness for a man of really first class caliber. The country was sated with the pettiness, the tragic weaknesses, and the asinine posturing of its leaders. It wanted someone it could be honestly proud of.
There were many reasons for it to believe that Herbert Hoover was that man.
Liberal leaders had acclaimed him. Far and wide he was hailed as an executive and a doer. He was not a professional politician. He did not come from a class that produced politicians. He was an engineer who apparently had done well at his work.
His public service was heroic. The whole world had applauded his great humanitarian exploits. He had fed starving millions, succored whole nations. He had taken a small, little-known department, and made it the most potent and widely advertised agency of the government.
True, little of the man himself was known. Long periods of his life were utterly blank, except for studiously vague explanations. His business career and operations were carefully guarded and elaborately obscured.
About his various food administrations there was also much that was highly debatable. Farmers accused him of having deliberately favored grain operators as against their interests. Even Old Guard Republican leaders, such as Representative William R. Wood, of Indiana, Chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, had risen on the floors of Congress and bitterly assailed his management.
In Europe it was related of his food administration that he and his subordinates had used vital food resources, given by a generous people to feed starving women and children, as a weapon to crush the uprisings of oppressed masses throwing off the yokes of the masters who had precipitated the catastrophic World War.
There was the fact also that while making the Department of Commerce a mighty instrument of trade and business he had sat silent and unperturbed among Cabinet colleagues whose gross crimes and corruptions are unparalleled in the history of the country.
But all this was brushed aside in the trusting belief that he was a man of action, of broad vision, of force of character and mind. Not even a Presidential campaign significant only in its grim evasion and covert bigotry could dissipate the profound confidence in his inherent integrity and ability.
The American people believed in Herbert Hoover, the hero. They believed in him as the Great Engineer, the Great Administrator, the Great Humanitarian, the Great Idealist. They believed in him so earnestly that he was able to do the impossible in Presidential history: come back after having been discarded by the politicians.
The people elected him President by the greatest majority in a national election. They installed him in the White House, cast in a lofty rôle. They were ready to follow him in a courageous, independent, enlightened administration. He had but to lead the way.
The scene, the rôle, the play, even the audience was his own making. All that was needed was the courage and intellectual integrity to live up to the personality he had the genius to imprint on the public mind. Nothing could have stopped him.
In less than two years after he had taken office he had fully revealed the true quality of his character. He wrote the record fast and for all time. It is to be found in every phase of his administration.
He began his term with a Congress overwhelmingly Republican in both branches. Twenty months later a disillusioned and bitter electorate swept these majorities away and placed the control of the national legislature in the hands of his opponents.
He took over the reins of a party flushed with victory and high in morale. Today, it is furtive, besmirched, and disorganized, filling the Nation with the stench of its Claudius Hustons and Robert V. Lucases, whom he himself installed as the managers of its affairs.
He came in on the high tide of a prosperity which he claimed was wholly the act of the Republican Party. It was a golden era that under his ministrations would be broadened and deepened in its fruitfulness. He was the apostle of the New Economic Order, promising a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage.
A year later millions were walking the streets out of work. Thousands of factories have been shut down. Thousands of concerns and businesses have gone into bankruptcy, and hundreds of banks have crashed and failed. Agricultural prices have sunk to the lowest levels in thirty years. Exports have fallen off hundreds of millions of dollars and throughout the length and breadth of the land there is want, hunger, despair, and tragedy.
When he entered the White House he was the hero of great humanitarian exploits. In Europe and Russia he had fed millions. He had never hesitated to come before Congress and ask for vast sums for this purpose.
When disaster overwhelmed millions of his own countrymen
in the city and on the farm, he suddenly developed
To feed the hungry by funds from the Federal Treasury
charity and a
To do so by pitiful breadlines, by private and inadequate
local charity, was not.
Violently and frantically he set his face against a Federal grant.
While millions starved
he talked of
And when finally he was compelled to give way
and permit some relief at least to drought-stricken farmers,
he adamantly refused to allow the use of the word
and insisted upon
security for the pittances
reluctantly loaned them by the richest country in the world.
The three measures sponsored by Senator Wagner, of New York, projecting a sound program for dealing with depressions in the future, he secretly fought in the House of Representatives and when that chamber finally repudiated his leadership and enacted them, he vetoed the most vital, establishing a national employment exchange system.
His administration was to be one of great organizing and executive skill. He was the Great Engineer, the Great Executive. Confronted through depression with one of the greatest opportunities in the history of the country for far-reaching social and economic reorganization, he completely blew up; and when a circus stunt, the so-called business conference he staged in the early days of the collapse, fell flat, he resorted to evasion, distorted statements and misrepresentations in a futile and hysterical effort to stem and belie the inexorable march of deflation.
His whole record throughout the great national disaster is unbelievable for its abysmal incompetence, do-nothingness and reactionary stultification.
Why has Hoover failed?There were few, not even among the staunchest members of his own party, who would not admit that he had failed to live up to expectations.
Such irreconcilable Hoovercrats as Senator Simeon D. Fess, fawning chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Will Irwin, his old classmate at Leland Stanford University, attributed his collapse to bad breaks, the drought, the stock crash, politics. But to the country at large the mystery of why a man apparently so preëminently qualified and so successfully advertised as the executive of executives should have so completely missed fire remained unsolved.
The answer is fourfold. The Hoover myth, the picture of the great engineer, qualified beyond all others to lead the Nation, was built up by one of the most skilful propaganda machines in the history of American politics.
Again, Hoover spent most of his life among the coolies of China and the wage-slaves of the Far East, where he reaped a great fortune and reputation through the exercise of the autocratic right of hire and fire. When he came to be the head of a great Democracy he found he could not fire a Senator who opposed him, unless he appointed him to an Ambassadorship, and there were only five of these to go around.
Third, when the fact dawned on him that the United States was a Democracy and he tried to play politics, he surrounded himself with politicians of the lowest order and who have made his Administration famous for its political ineptitude.
Lastly, and perhaps the most important answer to Herbert Hoover's failure is the fact that deeply ingrained in his make-up are two unfortunate characteristics, fear and vacillation, which, coupled with a petty personal temper, sorely try even his most loyal friends.
That Herbert Hoover was beset by this petty temper was not disclosed to any except those who knew him intimately until after he received the Republican nomination for President. Then with the spotlight of public curiosity focused upon him as never before, his fatal weaknesses of character began to come to light publicly.
As Secretary of Commerce he had, of course, been
news, in fact was the member of the Harding and Coolidge Cabinets
who kept his name more consistently on the front pages than any other.
But it was always in a secondary and impersonal rôle.
When he stepped into the Presidential spotlight everything he did, said,
or thought became public property.
The spotlight of publicity dodged back and forth over every move he
made, sought out every crevice of his private life, illuminated even his
This was nothing new. It was the same with Coolidge. It was the same with Harding. It was the same with Wilson. It will be the same as long as the United States has a President and as long as the people of the United States insist upon treating their President as one of themselves rather than as Europe treats its monarchs.
Under these circumstances it is inevitable that sooner or later every fault and blemish, every whim and eccentricity of a man's life will be uncovered, particularly if he has such vital inadequacies as Herbert Hoover had to hide.
The first revelation of the Presidential temper came some weeks
after Hoover had been nominated at Kansas City.
He was living at Palo Alto, preparing for his acceptance speech.
At the urgent requests of the newspaper photographers a morning was set
aside for them to snap various
of the Hoovers at home.
Mrs. Hoover was self-appointed master of ceremonies. After all, it was her home and if it was going to be photographed, she wanted it done right. She ordered photographers over here, there and everywhere. She wanted chairs placed this way and benches that. Nothing seemed to please her. The photographers perspired and struggled. The newspapermen stood by amused. It was not their show. Mr. Hoover grew irritated. True he was sorely tried. Every one's sympathies were with him. And half a hundred people were watching him.
Finally, despite his audience, Mr. Hoover turned to his wife.
You'd better run in the house now, he grumbled.
That will be all.
Mrs. Hoover looked a little startled. Then remembering how many people there were present, she smiled.
All right, she replied cheerfully, and obeyed.
Another example of the Hoover temper was displayed on election night. Again he was in his home in Palo Alto. Election returns were being received and as the night went on and it became apparent that he was the victor, neighbors and friends dropped in to congratulate him. In the course of the chatter, some one laughingly remarked that the university vote showed a number of ballots for his opponent. Mr. Hoover immediately grew cold.
I don't see how any intelligent person, especially a member of the
Stanford faculty, could so misunderstand the issues of the
campaign, he exclaimed indignantly, a dark scowl passing over his
A somewhat similar incident occurred when Mr. Hoover returned to his S Street home in Washington. One of his neighbors on S Street is Frederick A. Delano, prominent architect and once head of the opium commission to Persia. Mr. and Mrs. Delano are old friends of the Hoovers, and, after the latter's return to Washington, they called to pay their respects.
Tea was served. The conversation was vivacious. All went well until Fred Delano remarked:
I must be quite frank with you, Mr. President.
I voted for Al Smith. But now that you're elected,
I'm extremely glad and I want to congratulate you.
Mr. Hoover did not reply. His conversation lagged. The coolness became so perceptible that the Delanos left within a few minutes.
Since entering the White House, Mr. Hoover has repeatedly revealed streaks of temper and pettiness.
One of his favorite pets was a massive police dog named
The dog had the freedom of the White House grounds
and frequently ran and walked with the President
when the latter went back and forth between the residence
and the executive offices.
One day the President on his way to lunch observed King Tut playing with one of the White House Guards. The President whistled. The dog looked up but did not come. Mr. Hoover whistled again. Still the dog remained with the guard. Mr. Hoover turned on his heel and went on.
That afternoon an order was issued that none of the White House staff should play with the White House pets.
Some time after this, the Baltimore Sun published an article reporting the fact that the bids for air mail contracts over certain western routes had been drawn up but were phrased in such a way that only one company could bid on them.
The article also called attention to the fact that Herbert Hoover, Jr. was employed with this firm.
At his next press conference, the President completely lost control of himself and denounced the article with a passion which few who know him have ever seen him display.
All these and many similar incidents, showing a streak of pettiness seldom before witnessed in the White House, contributed to the dissolution of the Hoover myth.
Even without them, however, the myth would have been dissolved. It rested on too artificial a foundation to stand the strain of the pitiless realities of the Presidency.
Every possible trick, every new device, known or capable of being invented by skilled publicity agents, had been invoked to make Hoover the Superman, the Great Executive, and a reputation thus made was all the more easily washed away.
How meticulous were not only Hoover's publicity experts but even he himself in building up this myth can be gauged from an incident which occurred in his office at the Department of Commerce. Mr. Hoover had been notified a few hours before that the Kansas City convention had nominated him for the Presidency and the photographers flocked in for a picture.
Mr. Hoover sat at his mahogany desk. No papers cluttered its shining surface. No mail remained to be answered. There was a silver inkwell, a row of push buttons. That was all. The stage was set for the filming of a picture of the Great Executive.
The cameramen took their first snap from a moderate distance, then picked up their tripods and swooped down for a close-up. The new nominee threw his hands in front of his face and fled from the room.
No close-ups for him! He knew his publicity game. He knew that in close-ups his face looked weak and flabby. It was not the face of the Great Executive, the Strong Man.
George Akerson, his secretary, inadvertently let this out while persuading the cameramen to retreat from the desk. Later he persuaded Mr. Hoover to return, and the cameramen took their pictures from a reasonable distance. What Mr. Hoover did not know, however, was that the cameramen during the confusion had put on their long distance lenses. They got their close-ups anyway.
Before he became President, Mr. Hoover got so in the habit of getting across his publicity in a big way, so accustomed to having the public believe, without challenging it, whatever he had to say, that it was the most natural thing in the world for him to believe he could continue to do this after he entered the White House.
He started out with his memorable announcement that the Presidential yacht, the Mayflower, would be scrapped. He explained that he took this step because the ship was too expensive and also because the men who manned her were needed in the service. Immediately after, he took not only the eighty marines who served on the Mayflower—and who were needed in the service—but twice that number to build his Rapidan fishing camp, and later had a company of army engineers from Fort Humphreys sent in to build roads for the place.
Again there was his memorable statement of 1929 that he was going to pare army costs. It brought him loud cheers from almost the entire press and the general public. But when some months later the budget was submitted to Congress, it was found that army costs had not been reduced. Few people knew this, however, and all in all, the statement got just what it was calculated to get—a generous amount of good Presidential publicity.
Most of Mr. Hoover's statements during the London naval negotiations were on the same order. He started out with the glamorous announcement that the United States would hold up the building of three cruisers. He followed it with a statement trying to prove that the results of the London Conference had been real reduction, when, as a matter of fact, the London Treaty fixed the total construction program at a figure higher than ever before.
By this time, however, the press in general and Congress in particular had become suspicious of his high-sounding words and had begun to inquire for themselves just what the facts were. In the case of the alleged suspended cruisers, reporters for the New York Evening Post and the New York Sun discovered that no orders had gone out to the Navy Department to stop work on them, but on the contrary, all preparation for the construction of the vessels was going forward as per schedule.
His statements summing up the work of the London Naval Conference, in which he undertook to make the upward limitation agreement appear as a momentous reduction achievement, aroused widespread protest. He undertook to set up the wholly false comparison of the extreme big-navy figures of the unsuccessful Geneva Naval Conference, held three years previous, with the lesser tonnage of the London Treaty.
So completely untenable was this claim that it was never once adverted to by Administration spokesmen throughout the long committee hearings and the Senate debate on the pact.
At the beginning of the last session of the Seventy-first Congress, the President announced that the Treasury deficit would be about $185,000,000. A week later, when the Budget was published, it disclosed that actually the deficit was estimated as likely to be more than $500,000,000.
The time between the President's announcement and publication of the official estimate was so short that one of two conclusions was unavoidable: either Mr. Hoover was woefully ignorant of the fiscal affairs of the Government or was playing politics with figures.
As a result of these and many other such misrepresentations, every statement the President now makes is minutely scrutinized. As Secretary of Commerce he was accustomed to having his word accepted as gospel. The oracle spoke; every one listened. As President, his statements have attained such an unsavory reputation for being purely inspired, purely unfounded publicity blasts, that whenever he proclaims business to be picking up, the stock market goes down.
So regularly has this occurred that in September, 1930, when construction activities in the United States showed an upturn for the first time in many months, the Treasury Department advised the White House not to announce it for fear of an unfavorable repercussion on the stock market.
Despite the sweeping and unfounded statements he is in the habit of making in his own defense, the President is not only super-sensitive but literally quails and becomes hysterical when he himself is attacked.
Members of President Wilson's White House staff relate that during the War any unfriendly remark made in Congress about Mr. Hoover was sure to mean a visit from him. He would complain bitterly to Mr. Wilson and frequently threatened to resign unless protected from such congressional outbursts.
During the Coolidge Administration,
when Henry C. Wallace was Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Hoover once
complained to Coolidge that Wallace's farm journal was attacking him.
Coolidge, however, looked bored. He told his Secretary of Commerce about
his own discovery—that it was much more comfortable not to read
things that are agin' you.
How Mr. Hoover came to build his political reputation on the shifting and uncertain sands of a propaganda machine is easy to understand. He had been doing this all his life.
of his success as an engineer was promotion.
Actually his work was not engineering.
At the height of his business career he was receiving $5,000 a year as
mining expert, and $95,000 a year as a
His job was to promote, to organize and then pass on. In all that vast area which he ranged, from Siberia to Australia and from China to Africa, there is to be found to-day not a single engineering project which bears his name and the stamp of his handiwork. Of concessions with which he was connected, however, there are many.
When he retired from
engineering he did so to become
the organizer of his own concession-holding ventures in foreign lands.
From an office in London he promoted a long list of mining enterprises,
listed by the British Mining Manual of 1912 as the Burma Mines, Ltd.,
Inter-Argentina Syndicate, Ltd.,
Inter-Russian Syndicate, Ltd.,
Russo-Asiatic Corporation, Ltd.,
Yuanmi Gold Mines, Ltd., Babilonia Gold Mines, Ltd.
It was as a thirteen-year-old youngster in Oregon that Herbert Hoover
first learned to become a promoter. He was associated with his uncle in
jobbing off now relatively worthless real estate in Salem, Oregon,
during one of those
California-Florida land booms which are
always promising an Eldorado to the American people. His uncle's company
was out to sell land. It found it was losing sales to rival companies.
Young Herbert conceived the idea of meeting newcomers at the station,
settling them in private boarding houses, thus giving his uncle's
salesmen an opportunity to talk to them without competition.
With the commission young Herbert got from renting the rooms, he helped finance himself through college. From that time on, he never ceased promoting.
All of that period of his life during which a man's character and mental process are molded was spent far from the field of politics in isolated parts of the world. Months and years spent on the edge of the Australian desert or in the interior of China rob any man of that contact with his fellowmen so essential if he is to inspire leadership. Especially true is this when the people with whom he is surrounded on the edge of that desert or in the interior of China remain there subject to his whim and pleasure.
It was in these circumstances that Herbert Hoover developed the habits of autocracy which have so handicapped him in the White House. Because he had the power to command, he never developed the power to lead. His word was law. Once, expounding his views on labor troubles to a friend, he told how he had always found that chaining a Chinese coolie to a stake for a day in the hot sun was conducive to good discipline and a minimum of strikes.
How ruthless was Herbert Hoover's business conduct in China has been told in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, London, in the suit brought against his firm in 1905 by Chang Yen Mao, Director-General of mines for the Chinese Government. Chang accused Hoover and his associates of euchring him out of some valuable mining property, and Mr. Justice Joyce in rendering the decision against Hoover and his company said:
Incidentally it appears by a letter of Mr. Hoover that he actually took possession of some title deeds of the property by main force. Under the circumstances, I am of opinion that to allow the defendant company, while they insist on retaining the benefits of the transfer, to escape from the obligations of the memorandum upon any such pretext as that Hoover or De Wouters were not authorized to agree to its terms, or that it was impossible for the defendant company to perform some of these terms without altering its constitution, would be contrary to one of the plainest principles of equity. It would be to sanction such a flagrant breach of faith as, in my opinion, could not be tolerated by the law of any country.
And in conclusion, the Judge added these significant words:
I think,he said,that I ought to make one more observation, which is that, in the investigation taken before me of the transaction in question, it has not been shown to me that His Excellency Chang has been guilty of any breach of faith or of any impropriety at all, which is more than I can say for some of the other parties concerned.
A man cannot spend some twenty years of his life experiencing this
unnatural relation toward his fellow-men
without becoming permanently influenced by it, without becoming
dictatorial, autocratic, and a perpetual dependent upon the right of
hire and fire.
The result is that Mr. Hoover, both as Secretary of Commerce and as President, constantly has surrounded himself with inferiors, men who accept his word without challenge and carry it out.
When thrown in contact with equals, with men whom he could not discharge, he has failed abysmally. This factor is perhaps the greatest reason for the political turmoil which has attended every month of his administration.
Finding that he could not
fire a Senator or a
Representative, the President has alternated between abject surrender
and weak, stupid bluffing, in which he has never yet been successful.
Early in his administration, Representative Bertram Snell, hard-boiled Chairman of the House Rules Committee, returned from a conference with the President regarding the latter's attempt to take control of New York State patronage and ribaldly reassured his colleagues.
I have met the President and he is ours, Snell announced.
There is not a really significant Republican leader in Congress or the country at large who trusts or respects Mr. Hoover. Some of his bitterest critics are to be found among Republican Senate and House leaders who have confidential relations with him.
During the Arkansas food-relief controversy in the closing days of the
Seventy-first Congress, Republican leaders refused to assume the
responsibility of assuring the Democrats that the proceeds of the
compromise $20,000,000 appropriation would be used for
relief as well as
animal relief. Senator McNary, who had
been double-crossed by the White House on the same issue at the
beginning of the session, bluntly sent word to the President that he was
through pledging his word for him and that if the President had any
promises to make he would have to make them himself.
It was also during the course of the two months' struggle over the food-relief issue that there occurred the astounding spectacle of the President issuing a statement defending his policy and attacking the opposition, and when they turned on him and lashed him mercilessly, for a week straight, not one responsible Republican leader in the entire country rose to say a word in his behalf.
Most of Mr. Hoover's administration has been a series of surrenders to one political faction after another.
He has been cowed by petty state and local politicians into making appointments he was against. In Pennsylvania they bullied him into naming Albert L. Watson and, in Kansas, Richard J. Hopkins to Federal judgeships, despite the fact that his Attorney General pronounced both unfit for the Federal bench.
The Old Guard high-tariff gang cowed him into signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act which in a thousand ways violated every view he had ever held on the tariff and which, up to a few hours before he furtively announced his approval, he had described to his friends as vicious, extortionate and obnoxious.
Even the Insurgents, whom he hates, on more than one occasion have forced the President to bow to their demands. Threatening a fight on confirmation, they forced him to withdraw the name of Lieutenant General Edgar Jadwin as Chairman of the Federal Power Commission, and, by defeating a fifth-rate appointment he attempted to foist upon the Supreme Court, compelled him to name Justice Owen J. Roberts, a man of outstanding ability.
So abject and tortuous has been the President's course, that even such slavish Republican newspapers as the Chicago Tribune, the New York Evening Post and the New York Herald Tribune have denounced and berated him with bitter indignation.
Elected on a platform of taking important appointments out of politics, Mr. Hoover has played politics with almost every appointment he has made.
Instead of merit, ability and character, political expediency alone has
counted with him. His record in judicial appointments is unsurpassed for
mediocrity and partisanship. As Minister to Canada, he sent a blatant
super-patriot known among his fellow-service men as
As Ambassador to Berlin, he sent Senator Frederic M. Sackett, a machine
politician who dared not face a reëlection contest in Kentucky. As
Ambassador to France, he sent Senator Walter E. Edge, whose ownership of
the Dorland Advertising Agency, vigorous competitor of the French
official agency, somewhat embarrassed Franco-American relations.
A vacancy on the Supreme Court of the United States he attempted to use to strengthen a collapsing political machine in the South, and the International Joint Commission, which he had declared he would reorganize to carry out important American-Canadian negotiations, he has completely debased by packing it with decrepit lame-duck Senators and an unwanted Post Office official.
Afforded an exceptional opportunity to strengthen the government's regulation of the great water-power industry through the creation by Congress of the new Federal Power Commission, he ransacked the land for unknown and amenable mediocrities and appointed them to the Commission. Of all the outstanding experts and authorities that he could have obtained he picked these five wholly inexperienced and uninformed nonentities and turned this vital responsibility over to them.
Not only did he surround himself with one of the most mediocre, and most servile Cabinets in history, but during the first two years of his incumbency, he appointed three National Republican Committee Chairmen: Hubert M. Work, a blunderer; Claudius Huston, a lobbyist; and Simeon D. Fess, an Anti-Saloon League-ridden and reactionary Senator.
While Mr. Hoover has some precedent for playing politics with this type of appointment, there has been no President in recent history who has reached into the departments of his Cabinet officers and dictated the appointment of their assistants.
Mr. Hoover has done this repeatedly, the two most glaring instances being the appointment of William R. Castle, Jr., as Under Secretary of State, and of General Douglas MacArthur as Chief of Staff. Secretary Stimson, in the case of Castle, and Secretary Hurley, in the case of MacArthur, both vigorously opposed the appointments, and yet despite the fact that the success of their departments depends upon harmony with their chief assistants, Mr. Hoover insisted that these men be named.
No instance of the petty political prejudice of the President has been more revealing, however, than that of his veto of the Wagner Bill, proposing the establishment of a national employment exchange system.
The veto affords a profoundly illuminating insight into the character of Herbert Hoover. It was inspired purely by personal and political dislike of the sponsor of the bill, Senator Wagner, a Tammany Democrat and an intimate friend of Alfred E. Smith.
In 1920-'21-'23-'24 Mr. Hoover specifically and categorically associated himself with recommendations for the establishment of exactly such an employment bureau system as Senator Wagner proposed.
In 1920, as Chairman of President Wilson's Industrial Conference, Mr.
enactment of appropriate legislation by
Congress making provision for an employment clearing house under Federal
control. In 1921, as Chairman of President Harding's Conference on
Unemployment, he recommended an
adequate permanent system
of employment offices.
In 1923 as Secretary of Commerce, he appointed a committee
on business cycles
a national system of employment bureaus.
In 1924 he appointed a Committee on Seasonal Operations which endorsed
the previous recommendations.
He rejected the Wagner Bill, despite the repeated pleas of Colonel Arthur Woods, Chairman of his Unemployment Committee, that it be approved. He did so on the ground that the bill would abolish an already existing system that the year before had found jobs for 1,300,000 workers. That both statements were false was proven by the fact that exactly six weeks after he had killed the bill, he became alarmed at the growing volume of denunciation of his action, and undertook to set up, by Executive order, very much the same system.
The Wagner Bill specifically provided that the existing United States Employment Service should not be displaced until the new and more desirable system was in operation. Furthermore, the old Federal service had not found work for 1,300,000 applicants in 1930.
It had placed 700,000 seasonal workers, of the harvest hand type. In this field the problem is not finding jobs but workers who will take them. In the fields were the difficulty is finding employment, such as in industry, business, and offices, the Federal agency accomplished practically nothing.
The 1,300,000 that the President claimed for it was a deliberate misrepresentation. Six hundred thousand of these jobs were actually found by State Employment Bureaus whose only connection with the Federal system was through the designation of one of their staff as a Federal Employment Supervisor, for which he received $1 a year.
Of the same character was the President's refusal to permit Senator Wagner to be chairman of a special committee the Senate authorized on his motion to inquire into unemployment insurance measures. It is an unwritten Senate rule that the sponsor of a special committee is always named its chairman. In recognition of this precedent Vice President Curtis appointed Wagner as the first man on the committee, thus confirming his right to the chairmanship. But when Wagner, and the two Old Guard Senators named as his associates, met to organize the committee, they shamefacedly informed him that the President was opposed to his being chairman and they would have to unseat him. Being docile party hacks they proceeded to carry out their instructions, thus robbing Wagner of the opportunity of doing the constructive work he had planned.
One day young Bertie, standing beside the steaming caldron of tar and wondering whether it would burn, tossed a flaming stick into it. The conflagration which resulted destroyed his father's plant and nearly wiped out the little town and his father's store.
“That night,” according to Rose Wilder Lane, one of Hoover's most adulatory biographers, “he heard his father tell how the store, and perhaps the town had been saved. The fire, it was thought, had been caused by the unwatched kettle of tar, which must have boiled over. Bertie said nothing. If he had been asked, he would have told what he had done, but no one asked him.
“He sat unnoticed, eating silently. He was sorry and terrified, yet he was glad. It was such a strange feeling that when he had gone to bed he lay awake for a long time, hearing the katydid in the wild crab-apple tree outside his window. He had done a frightening thing; the shock of it was still in his nerves and the crime of it on his conscience, but he had not meant to do wrong. He had been innocently experimenting, and the result was not entirely disheartening.
“ ‘Anyway, I found out what it would do,’ he thought. ‘I found it out all by myself.’ He wondered if he would be punished if he told. He thought not. But he decided that it was best to keep his own counsel in the matter.
“And for forty years he did so.”
The story is one of the most revealing incidents in Herbert Hoover's life. It gives the key to many qualities in his character which both his friends and his enemies have been trying to explain.
It explains his vacillation, his indecision, the worry through which he passes before making up his mind. It explains his hesitancy in facing issues, a hesitancy which sometimes borders on outright cowardice. It explains why he privately denounced the oil scandals of the Harding Administration and yet sat unmoved throughout that régime, never denouncing it publicly. It explains why he hesitated three days before accepting the rôle of Belgian Food Administrator which the Allies had offered him. It explains his basic intellectual timidity, his inability to grapple in a straightforward and forthright manner with vital issues, why he is always resorting to such indirect devices as commissions to relieve him of the responsibility of acting on controversial questions.
It explains also why on such a moot question as prohibition, he has never once said one word that positively and definitely stated whether he is wet or dry. Senator Carter Glass of Virginia once offered to pay $1,000 to any one who could produce a single categorical dry declaration by the President. Several years have passed since then but no one has ever claimed the reward.
noble experiment reply to Senator Borah, in the
pre-nomination campaign in 1928, to this day the President has never
made a positive statement of his stand, either for or against prohibition.
Throughout his campaign he lurked behind the screen of enforcement,
while his managers and spokesmen gave assurance to both sides,
representing him dry to the drys and wet to the wets.
From this policy he has never deviated.
Every dry-by-implication statement he has made has been followed
immediately by an under-cover wet
occurred when he gave out his pronouncement on the Wickersham Commission
Prohibition Report and after his acceptance speech, at Palo Alto,
California, in the summer of 1928.
In that address his remarks regarding prohibition were widely accepted
as meaning he was dry.
The next day, a close friend, who had worked with him in the drafting of
the address, called in reporters representing wet newspapers, and solely
local consumption gave them a wet
the President's remarks.
These papers used this interpretation in his behalf throughout his
The day following his expression on the Wickersham Report select correspondents were called to the White House and there given a distinct wet interpretation of the declaration.
On the power issue the President's course has been even more tortuous and reactionary. He is wedded to private, monopolistic ownership and control of this great and vital industry. Yet, during the whole of his 1928 Presidential campaign he was grimly silent on this major problem—with one local exception.
When he spoke at Elizabethton, Tennessee, he made a veiled reference to government operation under certain conditions. Muscle Shoals is a matter of greatest moment to this section. The editor of a nearby Scripps-Howard newspapers, speaking to him privately, asked him if he had Muscle Shoals in mind as one these exceptions.
You may say that means Muscle Shoals, the President told
him. The Scripps-Howard papers, supporting him, published it widely.
Press associations and newspapermen, upon his return to his campaign
headquarters in Washington, inquired as to the accuracy of the story.
After several hours of conferences
with political and campaign advisors, the President issued a statement
in which he declared that
there is no question of government
ownership (of Muscle Shoals) as the government already owns both the
power and nitrate plants.
Not a word was to be found in the statement about government operation, which was the question raised, and not ownership. The tenor and implication of the statement, however, indicated approval of government operation of Muscle Shoals. The message was so accepted by the public and the press and not denied by Hoover.
Yet, from then on, he covertly fought and opposed every effort to enact a sound government-operation program for the great plant. Through his control of the House of the Seventy-first Congress he obstructed and sabotaged such legislation as long as he could, and when, finally, after months of laborious negotiation, powerfully assisted by the defeat for reëlection of his spokesman in the House on the question, an acceptable measure was enacted, he vetoed it in a message filled with misstatements and misrepresentations.
His course on governmental regulation of utilities has been equally devious.
Addressing the annual convention in 1925 of the National Electric Light
Association, the trade organization of the utility industry, he insisted
that there had been outrageous exaggeration concerning the need for
control of public utilities.
Such supervision in
purely local affairs, he contended,
would prove a menace to individual initiative.
This anti-Federal regulation pronouncement in 1925 was a reversal of views he expressed when he addressed the Association Conventions in 1922 and 1924. Then he saw a hopeful rôle for the national government in coördinating and strengthening the regulations of power developments that were outside the jurisdiction of the individual states.
Between his 1925 speech and 1929, he maintained a tight silence on the question of regulation. Not even his Presidential race could force him to speak out on so important a subject. Lacking any other information, it was generally taken for granted during these years that his views were unchanged and that he was against Federal regulation.
But in his message to Congress in 1929, he again turned a hand-spring, this time going back to his more liberal ideas of 1922 and 1924. He conceded that there were instances of inter-state character that were beyond the control of the states and recommended to Congress that it extend the authority of the Federal Power Commission.
Having reversed his reversal, the President promptly shifted his policy once again. This time he did it covertly and by indirection.
Through a member of his Cabinet he attacked the idea of Federal regulation while personally, by means of weak appointments, he stultified the effectiveness of the Federal Power Commission, whose creation he had recommended to Congress for the purpose of strengthening governmental control.
Secretary of Interior Wilbur, President-on-leave of Leland Stanford University, which has large water power investments, attacked Federal regulation in the last annual report of the old Federal Power Commission, of which he was the dominant member, and advocated state supervision as the sound and wise way to deal with this stupendous problem.
Attorney General Mitchell coöperated in this undercover drive by rendering an astounding legal opinion in which he undertook by interpretation to repeal practically every portion of the Federal Water Power Act set up by Congress over two decades ago for the protection of the public.
This amazing attack on a statute he was sworn to safeguard and defend by the highest legal representative of the government raised such a storm of protest that the old Power Commission did not dare proceed on it as Wilbur had intended.
Judge George W. Woodruff, Solicitor for the Department of Interior under President Roosevelt and one of the authors of the Water Power Act, declared that if the opinion was allowed to go unchallenged it would sweep away twenty-five years of effort to protect the interests of the present and future generations in vast water power rights.
The public stewards, he said,
become the friends of
the exploiters of public property. The crisis is very grave
President Hoover never repudiated or made any statement regarding either Wilbur's or Mitchell's action.
Facts, statistics, plan, organization—there have been none, and when proposed by others have been rejected and stifled, secretly when possible, openly when that was impossible.
One policy alone has dominated his course: not to do or say anything that would reveal the truth about the great catastrophe. Suppression and inaction have been his unshaken rule.
The detailed record of this effort tells the story eloquently:
On December 14, 1929, Mr. Hoover declared that the volume of shopping reported to him indicated that the business of the country wasback to normal.That was some six weeks after the stock market crash.
Early in January, 1930, Secretary of the Treasury Mellon, under pressure from Hoover, announced,I see nothing in the present situation that is either menacing or warrants pessimism. I have every confidence that there will be a revival of activity in the spring.These ebullient assurances were greeted with a drop in the stock market prices to new low levels.
A year and five months later Mr. Mellon, addressing a group of international bankers in Washington, and apparently free for the moment from White House restraint, frankly admitted:I have no means of knowing when or how we shall emerge from the valley in which we are now traveling.
On January 22, the President personally expressed the view that thetrendof employment had changed upward and then Secretary of Labor Davis, carrying out the refrain, gave it on his word thatevery major industry was showing increases and that we can expect a great deal of business in 1930.
In February and early March, Secretary of Commerce Lamont, acting on White House orders, took up the burden and on three occasions solemnly gave assurance thatthere is nothing in the situation to be disturbed about.
All this time, according to the most reliable labor statistics available in the United States at present, those of the New York State Labor Bureau, factories were closing down in increasing numbers and the unemployment line was steadily lengthening.
On March 8, 1930, the President himself again entered the lists with his now famous prediction that the crisis would be over insixty days.(See May 2 statement below.)
On March 16, Julius H. Barnes, close personal friend and under-cover agent for the President, as Chairman of the President's National Business Survey Conference, declaredthat the spring of 1930 marks the end of a period of grave concern.Barnes failed to add however that others would follow of even greater gravity.
On May 2, the President, with the expiration of hissixty days,trimmed his sails very sharply. In a lengthy pronouncement he conceded that things were rather disturbed, but was still irrepressibly optimistic.We have been passing through one of those great economic storms which periodically bring hardships and suffering to our people,he admitted.While the crisis took place only six months ago, I am convinced we have passed the worst and with continued unity of effort we shall rapidly recover.
Two months later, in the privacy of his office and under strict and repeated admonitions of secrecy, he petulantly told Amos Pinchot and a group of important business men who had called to urge him to do something drastic to relieve unemployment:Gentlemen, you are six weeks too late. The crisis is over.
Three months later, with bread lines longer than ever before and facing state and congressional elections, he set up, amid much fanfare, a national unemployment committee tocoördinateemployment activities.
In January, 1931, Colonel Arthur Woods, director of the committee, summoned before a Senate committee to tell about his work, informed the Senators that his organization was preparing to disseminate pamphlets on how to stimulate relief. A week later the President issued a proclamation asking the public to contribute $10,000,000 to the Red Cross for food relief.
Three months later the Census Bureau announced that a special unemployment survey it had made showed an estimated 6,050,000 out of work.
The President's actions leading up to his signing the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act probably were the most vacillating of his entire career. Three days before he announced he would approve it, one of his secretaries categorically informed reporters that the President had not made up his mind about the measure and would make no decision until it had come to him from Congress and he had sent it to the various departments and received their formal views on the matter.
This story was printed far and wide. Seventy-two hours later, while the Act was still unfinished legislation in Congress, the President let it be known that he would approve it. The reasons he gave for bowing before a tariff act every one knew he bitterly resented were thus characterized by Senator Pat Harrison on the floor of the Senate:
This statement is unworthy of the President. It is one of the most
intellectually dishonest statements ever to come from the White
The final story of Herbert Hoover is yet to be told. Only time will make available the mass of secret documents and the details of his business career, now so zealously guarded, by which the complete picture can be filled in. Only time also will tell the final story of how Herbert Hoover was pushed into a plan to postpone German reparations and Allied debt payments; a plan which Owen D. Young had worked out and which Henry L. Stimson, coöperating with the British government, had urged upon his chief in the White House; a plan which was finally put over on Herbert Hoover through the combined efforts of Charles G. Dawes, Dwight W. Morrow and Andrew W. Mellon plus a dozen New York bankers who clamored at him in person and by long distance telephone for nearly a month. Finally, his confidence restored by a trip to the hospitable Middle West, Mr. Hoover adopted the plan and was never more surprised in his life when it was heralded as his master stroke.
Whether it will carry him on to reëlection, only time can tell. But time long after that will tell the story of one of the super-promoters of the age.
It will be the story of a paradox. A man who, despite the handicap of a fundamental timorousness, was able by a consummate sense of publicity to create the illusion of heroism and greatness and to attain for a time world acclaim.
It will be the story of a man who had the genius to create a great rôle, but lacked the essential requisites of character to enact it. It will be the story of a success which failed because it succeeded too well.
Had Herbert Hoover never gained the Presidency, he might well have remained a shimmering hero. The illusion he so skilfully wove never would have been shattered. But before the ruthless realities and the merciless tests of that office his fundamental inadequacy of character undid him and he stands to-day stripped of all his carefully conjured glories.