Herbert Hoover Speaks Against the New Deal Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In one of his last campaign speeches during the 1932 presidential election, incumbent Herbert Hoover offered an analysis of the New Deal proposed by his opponent, Democratic New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hoover cautioned his audience to see the benefits of the proposed New Deal as little more than rhetorical. He also warned that the New Deal would represent a dramatic shift away from the traditional social and governmental mechanisms that had been in place for generations. Hoover said that the government's current infrastructure was already proving effective in addressing the Depression's impact; Roosevelt's proposals were, therefore, not only ineffective, but obsolete when compared to the activity of the federal government to date. The government, Hoover determined, must remain ready to intervene when needed, but keep its distance from fostering a new “family.”

Summary Overview

In one of his last campaign speeches during the 1932 presidential election, incumbent Herbert Hoover offered an analysis of the New Deal proposed by his opponent, Democratic New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Hoover cautioned his audience to see the benefits of the proposed New Deal as little more than rhetorical. He also warned that the New Deal would represent a dramatic shift away from the traditional social and governmental mechanisms that had been in place for generations. Hoover said that the government's current infrastructure was already proving effective in addressing the Depression's impact; Roosevelt's proposals were, therefore, not only ineffective, but obsolete when compared to the activity of the federal government to date. The government, Hoover determined, must remain ready to intervene when needed, but keep its distance from fostering a new “family.”

Defining Moment

In 1929, the “Roaring Twenties”–distinctive because of the tremendous economic boom that occurred in the United States during this period–came to a dramatic halt. Stock markets crashed, banks folded, industries faltered, and countless jobs disappeared in what would come to be called the Great Depression.

Economists, social scientists, and other scholars have not come to a firm agreement on the specific causes of the Depression. Generally, however, experts point to citizens' inability to repay loans and credit debt, a lack of government regulation of businesses and markets, and a lack of sustainability in the country's leading industries as some of the leading causes of this event. Many scholars point to the sharp divide between the nation's wealthy and poor (including the large percentage of immigrants, who came to the country during the early twentieth century to work in the energy and manufacturing industries) as a contributing factor as well, as the latter group represented a majority of the population that would be adversely affected by any fluctuations in the economy.

Herbert Hoover, the incumbent president in 1929, had only been in office for nine months when the stock market crashed in October of that year. Hoover believed that government's role in private, economic affairs should be minimal, and he argued repeatedly that the nation's economic infrastructure was still solid and healthy despite the tumult of the Black Thursday stock market crash and other events leading to the Depression's onset. After Black Thursday, Hoover did not look to implement any major reforms or pass emergency legislation. Rather, he convened a meeting of leaders in finance, construction, labor, the Federal Reserve, and other relevant economic interest groups. As the Depression continued, he eventually acceded to ongoing pressure for federal relief and signed the Emergency Relief Construction Act, providing $2 billion for public works and $300 million for state-level direct relief programs.

Despite these actions, Hoover largely clung to his philosophy that the economy would right itself through the actions of private business and the altruism of the citizens (upon whom Hoover called to help the people most affected by the Depression). Congress, which largely disagreed with Hoover on this point, was more proactive in its efforts to pass reforms and aid packages, although few of these initiatives passed and fewer still proved effective; indeed, some (such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised import and export taxes) may have aggravated the situation.

Hoover, whom many historians suggest would have enjoyed a second term if not for the Depression, found his presidency in jeopardy during the 1932 campaign. The Democratic Party, held down by Republicans throughout the 1920s, found new life because of the Depression and Hoover's perceived inaction. They nominated New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt as their candidate. Roosevelt called for a New Deal for Americans, a campaign promise that included major regulatory reforms, direct aid packages, and new initiatives designed to help bring the country out of the economic doldrums for good. Hoover spoke against the program in Madison Square Garden, New York City, on October 31, 1932.

Author Biography

Herbert Clark Hoover was born on August 10, 1874, in West Branch, Iowa. Orphaned at the age of nine, he worked for a while on an uncle's farm in Oregon and, in 1891, attended the newly opened Stanford University, from which he graduated four years later with a degree in geology. During World War I, Hoover established the Committee for Relief of Belgium, an organization dedicated to providing food and other forms of aid for civilians trapped in Belgian war zones. Based on his work in this arena, President Woodrow Wilson tapped Hoover to be his food administrator. Hoover later declared his affiliation with the Republican Party and became Warren Harding's secretary of commerce. He would continue to hold this post during Calvin Coolidge's administration. In 1928, Hoover successfully sought the Republican nomination for president and easily won the election. Victimized politically by the onset of the Great Depression, Hoover lost the 1932 election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He remained active in public service after his presidency, including helping President Harry Truman with the post–World War II reconstruction effort. He died on October 20, 1964, while living in Iowa.

Document Analysis

President Hoover's speech makes the statement that the country, while certainly under major duress from the Depression, is not at a point at which it needs fundamental changes to its government and financial systems. He cautions citizens that then-candidate Roosevelt's “New Deal” amounts to little more than rhetoric, a series of proposals stemming from panic rather than reason. The country, he says, is not in need of revolutionary changes that would transform traditional American ideals; rather, it needs Americans and the myriad agencies and organizations to cooperate with one another. Reviewing the evidence of the previous three decades, Hoover says that this approach has delivered proven results on many fronts. The principles of the New Deal, he warns, represent a dramatic (and unnecessary) shift away from this proven approach.

Roosevelt's New Deal, Hoover says, is born of panic and reactive rhetoric, when in fact, for decades, the American political and economic system has experienced periods of flux, all of which have been rectified through patience and deliberation. Certainly, the country is understandably anxious at the Depression's impact and length. The Democrats, however, are seizing upon this anxiety and calling for a major overhaul of the American system. Hoover advises his audience–and indeed all Americans–to refrain from embracing such rhetoric.

The alternative, according to Hoover, is to allow traditional American institutions and principles to remedy the economy. Business, finance and political leaders should work together in a spirit of cooperation to rejuvenate the national economy. Meanwhile, private citizens should work together to help those Americans most adversely affected by the Depression. Hoover cites the tumultuous period following the Great War as an example–in this situation, he says, all aspects of American society came together to reinvigorate the economy and withstand the hardships associated with this period.

Hoover continues by giving his analysis of what would occur if the New Deal provisions became law: government would see an added layer of bureaucracy the likes of which Americans have never before seen. Additionally, the federal government would, in the spirit of a tyranny and not a democratic republic, be free to intrude in business, without any safeguards from state and local government. He argues that the New Deal would impinge on Americans' pursuit of individual liberty, threatening to destroy citizens' “initiative and courage.”

To be sure, Hoover says, there are steps to be taken to improve the existing system so that those forces accountable for the Depression cannot continue to operate unchecked; his philosophy is not that the country should be a “free-for-all.” Still, he believes the best method for America to successfully reemerge from the Depression is to look to the fundamental systems that have proven effective repeatedly throughout modern American history instead of embracing the un-American proposals offered by Roosevelt and the Democrats.

Essential Themes

This speech illustrated Hoover's political philosophy regarding the handling of the Great Depression. He insisted that the very political, social, and economic institutions that helped the United States survive World War I, an economic downturn in the early 1920s, and other crises would again prove effective in reversing the Great Depression. Throughout this speech, Hoover cited his belief that, with the cooperation of business and industry as well as private citizens, the Depression would not last long.

Hoover also took the opportunity to criticize the New Deal proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt. On one level, Hoover simply dismissed the New Deal concept as mere rhetoric and argued that the Democrats were simply using the fear and anxiety prevalent throughout the country to attempt to give new life to their previously unsuccessful agenda. On another level, however, Hoover viewed the New Deal as a major threat to the liberal, democratic principles on which the United States was founded. In this light, the New Deal was not simply the product of reactionary policy, Hoover said–if made law, the New Deal would move the American political and economic system closer to a tyranny than a democratic republic.

Hoover made an effort, however, to project to his audience an understanding that the nation did indeed face a crisis that warranted action. His approach to the myriad issues arising from the Depression's onset, he argued, was neither to allow business to operate without rules nor to simply allow the issue to resolve itself. He instead advocated a response that suited the American idiom, such as the meetings he had held when the Depression first began. This series of meetings, he said, inspired the participants to strike out and reverse the Depression's effects. He also acknowledged that there were almost certainly reforms to be made to the country's infrastructure in order to both reverse the Depression and prevent such events in the future. However, he saw no cause for changing the very nature of the federal government in such a way that it would potentially endanger the personal liberties of its citizens.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • “American President: Herbert Hoover (1874–1964).” Miller Center. U of Virginia, n.d. Web. 17 June 2014.
  • Carroll, Sarah. “Causes of the Great Depression”. OK Economics. Boston U, 2002. Web. 17 June 2014.
  • Edsforth, Ronald. The New Deal: America's Response to the Great Depression. Hoboken: Wiley, 2000. Print.
  • “The Great Depression (1929–1939).” Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project. George Washington U, n.d. Web. 17 June 2014.
  • “Herbert Clark Hoover: A Biographical Sketch.” Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. National Archives, n.d. Web. 17 June 2014.
  • McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America, 1929–1941. 25th anniv. ed. New York: Three Rivers, 2009. Print.
  • Whisenhunt, Donald W. President Herbert Hoover. Hauppauge, NY: Nova, 2007. Print.
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