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New Respect for President Herbert Hoover

The Great Depression is usually blamed on the president who had only been in office for six months.
The Great Depression is usually blamed on the president who had only been in office for six months.
Herbert Hoover Archive

The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, Volume 2

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When Americans are asked to name the greatest presidents, Herbert Hoover is not going to make the list. On the contrary, the thirty-first president is at (or near) the top of any list of failed presidents. History was unkind to Hoover during his lifetime, but today many students of presidential history are taking a different look at the man who held office during some of the my trying days in the early twentieth century.

Hoover wrote a three-volume autobiography published in 1951-1952. He explored his policies,, the friendly neighbor approach he took with Latin American countries and his hands-off economic policies that disintegrated soon after he took the oath of office. The onset of the Great Depression sealed for good any ambitions he held for non-economic accomplishments during his term.

Remarkably, Hoover tried every tactic to avoid direct government intervention in the economic calamities of the period, but ultimately he was forced to provide federal aid to useful public works projects, despite a long-held opposition to such federally-funded projects. That concession began the massive federal government social programs that continue to this day.

The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, Volume 2 was originally published in 1952 and covers Hoover's service as secretary of commerce in the Harding and Coolidge administrations, as well as the period of his own presidency. Autobiographies generally fail the test of objectivity, but Hoover's work is a fair, commendable assessment of his successes and failures. He self critiques when necessary, and explains where history failed to present what he believe to be a fair revelation.

The national economy began a downward spiral six months into his administration with the collapse of the stock market and a subsequent run on the banks. Hoover wrote that he believed the cause of the economic trouble was essentially international in scope and, consequently, he believed the remedy for it should equally be international. That proved, in his own words, to be ineffective" and forced Hoover into more government-sponsored relief programs to feed the millions of unemployed Americans that lined every major city across the country for a meal at a Hoover Kitchen.

There were many interesting revelations in Memoirs. After his election victory--and prior to assuming office--Hoover began a precedent-setting foreign tour while his aides conducted the immense task of transition. Hoover visited Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Argentina, Brazil and other countries in what became a "good neighbor" tour. while he continued friendly policies in office, Hoover's overtures laid a strong foundation for Franklin Delano Roosevelt's continuation under the stewardship of secretary of state Cordell Hull.

After leaving office, Hoover became a fixture at Republican conventions where he enjoyed elder statesman status. He later chaired numerous federal boards and commissions, chief among them was under Harry S. Truman and Dwight Eisenhower. During those two administrations, Hoover chaired the infamous Hoover Commission that focused on restructuring the federal government. Despite those achievements, only the careful student of history will understand that much of the blame assigned to Hoover was/is misplaced.

The Hoover autobiographies are out of print, but still widely available at local libraries and online. For a student of American history and the presidents, these are required reading simply for their impressive inside look at difficult times during presidential administration. Hoover knew his convictions and held to many of them despite enormous pressure to do differently. He did compromise in some areas that he regretted for the rest of his life.