1932 Speech of Herbert Hoover: Notes on Great Depression and Lost Presidency
The presidential campaign of 1932, which defeated Herbert Hoover was one of the most fiercely fought in the American political history. Vicious anti-Hoover books compounded of falsehood and forgery (as the chief of the authors himself contritely confessed) were in circulation. Every real and fancied popular grievance was exploited to the limit.
Herbert Clark Hoover was the thirty-first president of the USA (1929-1933). He was also a gifted mining engineer, notable for his humanitarian efforts. Hoover, nevertheless, failed to properly address his voters in the 1932 presidential campaign and failed to establish a proper contact with the politicians and bureaucrats surrounding him in the office. The speech delivered by Hoover in 1932 after his defeat for presidency is worth particular attention due to several reasons. First, Hoover spoke about his vision of the Great Depression, accentuating the real facts and figures that led the nation into the turbulence. Second, he addressed Roosevelt's claims regarding his [Hoover's] lack of character and professionalism dealing with the economic crisis. Third, Hoover admitted his defeat, regardless of the difficulty of such acknowledgement on his part. Hoover 1932 speech is a vital proof of the President's real efforts directed towards fighting depression and offering relief to the economically and socially strained population of the United States; the speech is also a representation of the Hoover's true character, not the one created by media and his opponents.
II. Historical / Rhetorical Context
Hoover's friends and fellow politicians predicted that Hoover had cut Roosevelt's lead in half, but they quickly changed their minds right before the results of the election were announced, writing that "things certainly look bad for the president" (qtd in Klein 1). The networks carried the results to the nation that evening and the newspapers the next morning. Hoover's worst fears were realized. Roosevelt swept all but six states. The Hoover electoral votes came mostly in the conservative Northeast: Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Pennsylvania was the only large state in the Hoover column. The president collected 59 electoral votes to FDR's 472. Roosevelt polled 22.8 million votes, 59 percent, to Hoover's 15.8 million, 41 percent. Democrats gained huge majorities in both Houses, 60 to 35 in the Senate and 310 to 117 in the House (Burner 317-318).
Walter Lippmann, an influential American writer and a journalist who became particularly active in the FDR's days, spoke over NBC radio the night of the election and said the results meant that the nation could now unify in its fight against the depression. Hoover told reporters the next day that he had no plans except to return to the White House and continue his work (The President's News Conference of Nov. 9, 1932 805-807). Reporters in the White House now would have only four months left to argue with Hoover and, though they did not know it then, a much longer time to spend with Roosevelt.
Yet, the real change would be in the nation's political and philosophical agenda. Not only had Roosevelt swept into office, but the Democrats had carried decisive majorities in both Houses for the first time in the century. The election was a complete repudiation of the Republicans and a total personal rejection of Hoover. Not only had the president only carried six states, but his impressive victory in 1928 meant that the 1932 election was the biggest turnaround in U.S. history. It would be a watershed election, because in the coming years Roosevelt would form a dominant Democratic coalition that would hold for 30 years more. Hoover's image as a Great Humanitarian and as a popular public figure had disintegrated. Future Americans would not even remember how he had come to be so popular, only that he had directed the rout of miserable bonus veterans from Washington and had been in charge when Americans felt the wrath of the Great Depression. Hoover left office a beaten and discouraged man, but the final months of his term brought no relief and his drooping image would have to withstand one more barrage.
Born in the tiny village of West Branch, Iowa, in 1874 to Quaker parents, the young Hoover worked hard at an early age. His paternal ancestors had migrated to the United States in 1738 from Switzerland and westward to Iowa in the nineteenth century, and his maternal ancestors had immigrated to the United States as early as 1630. His father, Jesse, who was a blacksmith, died from rheumatism of the heart and his mother, Hulda, died of pneumonia three years later when she was 35. Despite all of the troubles, Hoover managed to become a prominent engineer and, later, a President of the United States.
Cluster criticism was chosen as the method of Hoover's speech analysis. In this type of analysis, it is critical to look for key terms and notes in association with other major themes related to them.
Hoover's final speech was a subject to criticism and analysis by many political scientists, journalists, and political writers long after the President left his office. The relevance and importance of the cluster method of speech's analysis is justified by a number of themes embedded in the words pronounced by Hoover. He spoke to the people of the United Stated, addressing his defeat, economic depression, and rumors about his inability to present himself as a real leader and president of the great country. Hoover spoke about it all.
In the nasal monotone that had become familiar to millions of Americans, Hoover spoke slowly into the microphone while delivering his speech after the outcome of the election was known: "My fellow citizens". The sound of Hoover adjusting his chair could be heard and the voice became much louder and clearer. "We have been through an arduous campaign. It has been a campaign almost unique in the education of the great domestic and international problems which have arisen out of the events of the last fifteen years" (Qtd in Burner 262). Hoover reviewed his three-and-a-half years in office. One million men had returned to work since the adjournment of Congress, he told his listeners. He listed other successes, told his audience he had done his best, and reminded listeners that the Republican Party had always been the party of progress for the future. Toward the end of the address, all the president's papers and notes tumbled past the microphone to the floor in a series of swishing thuds that sounded to listeners like the collapse of a dam. Hoover's voice was temporarily muffled, but he continued with only a brief hesitation: "should not be led astray by the false colors of promises." (Qrd in Burner 262-263) He continued uneasily for several minutes before concluding: "The president must represent the nation's ideals, and he must also represent them to the nations of the world. After four years of experience I still regard this as a supreme obligation." (Qtd in Burner 262-263).
"Upon coming into office the New Deal Administration," Hoover said, "claimed that millions of people were starving and that nothing had been done in the way of real relief. Had that been true, they would not have failed, to say so during the presidential campaign. It would have been the best possible vote getter. But since it was manifestly not true, this charge would have antagonized that great body of devoted people who were carrying on the work efficiently in the spirit of neighborliness and kindness and patriotism." (Qtd in Burner 263).
To support his point, Hoover said that there were as many Democrats as Republicans in the great humanitarian army. They were not there under party labels but simply as Americans and as human beings. In the literature of that campaign of 1932, there is scarcely a trace of the fairy tale of mass starvation. It made a timid debut here and there in the invective of extreme left-wing propaganda, but it did not figure in the basic Democratic thesis.
The economic disaster of 1929 found at the helm in Washington the man who was the expert on large-scale relief of human suffering. Hoover had raised benevolence to a science. He had organized, administered, and financed the succor of hundreds of millions under the most unfavorable conditions. Because of his unique ability to mobilize good will, he had fed nations and a continent with unprecedented economy. The premise that this man refused to use his rare talents to the fullest when his own flesh and blood faced destitution simply makes no sense.
There is ample room for debate as to the relative efficacy of the theory and methods of relief applied by President Hoover and his successor. The two systems were universes apart in spirit and substance, Hoover rallied primarily (though not exclusively) local, volunteer, non-political forces; the New Deal relied on a vast and costly federal bureaucracy. The first rested on the alerted neighborhood, the second on the welfare state. The first was frankly an emergency setup; it did not accept the notion that relief would be a permanent function of the Federal Government with its own civil service. The second was geared more and more to the assumption of eternal, systematized destitution (Winfield 34, 43-45).
Under both Presidents there were hardships, failures, injustices, and for the victims anguish of spirit. No effort of these dimensions is without its faults. But there is no room for debate on the scope, the earnestness, the sincerity, and the essential success of the relief enterprise under Hoover. Throughout his experience Hoover had learned that the most reliable measure of a relief effort was the health of the population involved. There is, indeed, no other way to gauge the progress of starvation (Winfield 34, 43-45). The reports of social workers may be subjective, colored by irritation or the hope of larger subsidies. Death and health statistics are matters of record. Periodically, therefore, he had Surgeon-General Hugh So Cummings provide him with surveys. They showed a declining death rate, especially--the most sensitive and revealing area--among infants under one year (Baughman 56-59).
V. Rationale for the Text and Rhetoric
Hoover's 1932 speech after his presidential defeat is vitally important as it sheds light on the real Hoover, as opposed to the image of 'failing president' that was created by the media and his opponents. The importance of this speech is also in the fact that Hoover did address the criticism poured on him and did care for the nation he ruled for four years.
Facts speak for themselves: on January 2, 1932, Dr. Cummings reported that "infant mortality during the past year was definitely lower than in any preceding year on record." (Baughman 56-59) The president of the American Public Health Association in October 1932 declared in a formal statement that by and large the health of the people as measured in sickness and death has never been better despite the depression (Smith 90-94).
Advocates of the relief theory subsequently adopted under Roosevelt were sufficiently vocal from the start, in particular the ambitious political leaders. They wanted centralized distribution of billions of dollars in federal grants. There were Republicans among them as well as Democrats. No doubt their system would have simplified matters. There would have been no recourse to private charitable instincts, no appeals to local communities to pitch in--and a vote dividend for the politicians commanding the largest slice of those billions.
President Hoover was profoundly convinced that such dependence on the Federal Treasury would bring an inevitable train of corruption and waste and an exploitation of a people's mishaps (Smith 90-94). The alternative, his own conception, was not improvised. It was a strategy carefully developed through long years of experience. Its essence can be summed up in four points:
A. Local resources--the neighbor, the existing social agency, the municipality, the state--represent the first lines of defense against distress. Being in lifelong contact with the victims of the depression, local volunteers would bring their hearts, not merely red tape and badges, to their undertaking. They would not easily be imposed upon by chiselers and malingerers, thus leaving more for the families in real distress.
B. The Federal Government is the last line of defense, in constant readiness to provide effective help if and when the first lines weaken. Meanwhile, however, it is not inert. It seeks to reduce the size of the problem by means of public works, the stimulation of capital investment, the spread of work, and other methods. Most important, it bolsters the whole economic structure, its financial institutions, its currency, its system of credit.
C. When it becomes necessary for the United States Treasury to make grants, the funds are not divided indiscriminately on a population basis but strictly in relation to actual needs, and their administration is left with the states through their local committees. This has at least three vital purposes: It makes unnecessary immense federal personnel; it keeps down the incidence of patronage and pork-barrel diversions; and it continues to utilize human good will and voluntary services to the maximum.
D. The effort as a whole is treated as an emergency program for meeting specific needs. It is not an excuse to implant a new social philosophy in American life in conflict with the primary concepts of American liberty (Fausold 101, 105).
As evident from the facts presented in this paper, Hoover's 1932 speech is an important proof of the President's real efforts of helping American people and fighting economic depression. While giving its guidance and when necessary its financial support, Hoover stated that the Federal Government must insist that all of the governmental bodies exert their responsibilities in full.
Hoover in his 1932 speech argued that it is vital that the programs of the Government shall not compete with or replace any of them but shall add to their initiative and their strength. It is vital that by the use of public revenues and public credit in emergency the nation shall be strengthened and not weakened.
Hoover saw grief and moral debility from a cold and distant charity which put out its sympathy only through the tax collector and yielded a very meager dole of unloving and perfunctory relief (Fausold 101, 105).
Periodically, until the end of his term, the President resurveyed the situation, enlarging the organization to meet new demands, and raising funds from many sources as needed. At his request the Friends' Service, the Quaker organization, assumed the task of feeding children in coal regions. Other such private agencies were given special assignments to solve problems within their special capacities.
Early in 1932 he determined to apply surplus commodities in the hands of the Farm Board for direct relief. The grain earmarked for this purpose provided enough flour to supply six million families for nine months. The cotton sufficed to clothe four million families. This relief was administered by the Red Cross. Relief on a regimented federal basis, Hoover believed, would be especially tempting to politicians. Surveying the New Deal landscape after a few years, he felt justified in speaking of politicians as miners digging votes.
Hoover was a great President and a great leader. His noble deeds will, for sure, be remembered, even though he failed to vindicate his ideas and actions in 1932, coming into the era of oblivion for years.
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