Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa, of a very poor Quaker family. When he was a boy his mother died and there is a scene of the family gathered around the bedside in prayer. His father could not take care of the children, so they were "farmed out" to other members of the family. Hoover went to live with an uncle in Oregon. When he grew up he went to Stanford University. There he worked his way through school. He carried newspapers, mowed lawns, waited on tables. He would do anything that was honorable. He graduated as a mining engineer and, as the speakers at commencement exercises always say, went out into the world. In his case it was literally so. He went to Australia, New Zealand, China, and Europe. He was looking for minerals. I don't mean gold and silver or even oil. Industry depends on some seventy minerals for alloys and other metals. They are such minerals as magnesium, zinc, nickel, copper, tin, bauxite. Hoover found them and signed contracts with grateful governments for the "development" of these resources.
Such was the man who was now president. The nation had every reason to feel confident. Dr. Bonnell says that he was a very devout Quaker. I do not know. When he was nominated for president, the question was raised - "Can a Quaker be commander-in-chief of the armed forces?" The answer was - Yes, he is not that kind of Quaker. There is one thing that impresses me. Hoover married a very lovely lady - Miss Lou Henry. The Henrys were a far cry from the Hoovers. They were extremely well-to-do and they were Episcopalians. Mrs. Hoover was a geologist. It is not possible to make more of a religious change than to go from Episcopalian to Society of Friends, but this Mrs. Hoover did. Therefore I assume that she did so to be with her husband. But everything has to be assumption, for Hoover gives us no help at all.
Hoover's administration was a complete disaster. To students of Hoover this is incredible, but that is the case. Coolidge's legacy to Hoover was the Crash of 1929. A chart of the economic picture during Hoover's four years is a line all the way down. We reached the point of 56% of the labor force out of work and all of the farmers in complete ruin. He had an answer to all of this. He had a bible. But it was not the Bible. It was Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Hoover was the last President of the United States to read this to the American people. From Adam Smith we get such notions as free enterprise, the sacred law of supply and demand, that government is best which governs least. This is the ideal state - Capitalism.
Adam Smith saw two major functions for government - policemen and firemen. Stop now and try to think of some function the government performs other than these two.
Hoover was positive that private industry would save this situation. "Prosperity is just around the corner" and private industry will take us there. Private industry reminds me of a line from Uncle Remus. Uncle Remus said, "Bre'r Rabbit, he lay low." For those of you who do not speak Uncle Remus I shall translate: "Brother Rabbit maintained a low profile." Private industry was watching and waiting to see what would happen. Meanwhile, Hoover ordered General Douglas MacArthur to throw the veterans out of Washington, vetoed all bills including one to build a dam across the Colorado River, but was persuaded by private industry to sign the Reconstruction Finance Corporation Act. Hoover’s religion never helped him to understand the hunger and misery of millions.
By the end of Hoover’s term the situation in the country was so bad that it was said that if the Democrats nominated a yellow dog, he would be elected. It must be emphasized that Hoover was not a crook. And it must be said again that this is too low a standard for our presidents. What were they? In Hoover’s case it is clear. That is, it is clear to us now. He never understood and left the office with greater bitterness than any president since John Adams.
Related albums • See other albumsReligion In The Lives Of The American Presidents
Related peopleHerbert Clark Hoover