March 4, 1933 - Article - Herbert Hoover: The Last of the Old Presidents or the First of the New?, by William Allen White

Two pictures and an interlude dramatize the story of Herbert Hoover and his dream. The first picture shows him under a canopy in the pouring rain, overlooking a wilderness of umbrellas. He is standing on the high veranda of the Capitol at Washington, surrounded by the powerful of the earth, come there to do him homage. He is speaking into a microphone a message to which more people are listening over the earth than ever heard one human voice before in all time. He is reading his inaugural address, in which he has documented his high hopes for the progress of the American people - a noble vision for his country, the program of social order.

There he stood about six feet tall, in the vigor of maturity. His voice was clear and strong. It rang across the world the trumpet cry of a people calling humanity to work together for realization of the common hope of peace under justice, prosperity under liberty.

As his words circled the globe, they seemed to say to the great and humble alike: "Behold the fruit of democracy - this blacksmith's son, this product of our times, and orphan who found free education to equip him for the highest task of civilization and who walked into opportunity unchecked by hereditary barriers or class prejudice." There was the day of Herbert Hoover's triumph. His tide was at its flood.

America had never before seen so strange a story played upon the stage of her history. And, curiously, no one knows today exactly what it means. This story may be the prelude to a new era to be born in blood and turmoil. Possibly it is the triumphant struggle of the American spirit to survive and move forward to a rebirth of power. When, in the perspective of the decade before us, we shall really know how to read the meaning of the spectacle of these most recent four years, we shall know whether this battling figure of the President is an emblem of futility crushed by the onrush of new times and strange, new ways of men, or whether he is the hero who went down with the blazoned banner that shall rise victorious before the battle ends. The men will know whether, in the campaign of 1932, Herbert Hoover was the last routed defender of the old order or a leader born before his time. (pg. 6)

In reality the presidency first of all is a forum; indeed, an evangelist's pulpit. A President's first business ordinarily is to make public sentiment, and then, having generated power, to channel it through Congress into laws which he must administer. (pg. 7)

The President was never at heart a plutocrat. The big boys of Wall Street abandoned him and his Administration before 1931, and never came back. And in private he grumbled at their perfidy and complained of their greed bitterly. But also, because he had worked for 30 years with men of wealth, he could not publicly scold a million dollars, much less a hundred million, however he might disesteem the man who held it and still was rapacious. Those who was much of the President, and intimately, felt that, if anything, his distaste for the predatory rich was deeper than his contempt for those whom he dreaded as demagogues and trouble makers. But he could not, being what he was, publicize his scorn.

President Hoover, more than any other President who occupied the White House since Theodore Roosevelt left it, was a middle-class President, striving to perpetuate middle-class American ideals. As President he distrusted the mob and hated the idle rich. The background of his childhood and his youth made him middle class. He had no upper-class habits. Personally he was a hard worker, a driver in his office. He ate simple food, and not too much of it; drank nothing at all; was not a meticulous dresser; had no sense of the more subtle social amenities; scorned the perfunctories of purely social events and was bored by them.

He was romantic in his belief in America - American destiny, American ideals, the American way of life, our democracy, our institutions, the nobility of our aspirations and the Divinity that guides our leadership.

The political and economic horizon of America in March, 1929, seemed fair, the skies cheerful. Business was booming. Outwardly, commerce moves swiftly, steadily, in prosperous channels. (pg. 53)

In the summer of 1929 America went stark mad in the stock market. No one knew more definitely how mad America was than the President and his advisers. For the most part, he was impotent. Hindsight can, of course, demonstrate what foresight could not see. To have done things which hindsight considers wise now might have been mad folly if they had been done under the circumstances existing. It's hard to pull the lines and turn a runaway team into a tree, wise as it may seem after the wagon is overturned. Anyway, the crash came; the wagon turned over in the autumn of ‘29. Obviously, the President and his advisers and American economists generally, whether academicians or business seers, felt that this was just a bubble pin-pricked. Wise men said that in three or six or ten months business would stabilize itself. But in the meantime, the President's fear was for labor and the deflation of labor.

1931 came stalking in like a plague. The earlier months of 1931 seemed to be carrying hope in them. A slight upturn in commodity prices seemed visible. America, isolated, might have recovered. But America was not isolated. And no one knew it better than Herbert Hoover in the White House in those late spring days of 1931. Seeing Europe gathering on the brink for a plunge, he must have felt like a train dispatcher who knows that two trains are approaching on the line head on, and are beyond his control. He acted with all vigor of his nature, and from June, 1931, to November, 1932, he took command of the situation at home and abroad.

When England went off the gold standard in the autumn of 1931, a grave crisis arose in America. The President conjured, almost out of thin air, financial resources to fortify the situation.

The President was adamant against any measure which looked toward the Government supporting the people. (pg. 54)

It is middle class, this American civilization. It holds the pious hope that by curbing the cupidity of its plutocrats through taxation and regulation, society may bring more and more justice to its proletariat, holding the one down, boosting the other up to its own middle-class social and economic status. That is the America of the Fathers. It was the composite vision of Washington, Jefferson and Hamilton. It was the ideal of Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln. In modern times, Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson saw this same America from different angles. It was to save this America intact out of the depression that Herbert Hoover set his face against insidious change in governmental attitude, and so made his fight. It was not for the economic status quo he contended; only for the preservation of American institutions, social, commercial, political. Somewhere in his heart burns a white flame of passion for this ideal.

Perhaps another man, a rabble rouser, might have kept himself under the halo of sanctity, might have held the plaudits of his countrymen. But this man could not. And yet, so fine was his faith in America that he romanticized the people, believing that occultly they would see the truth about him in the bewilderment of the times!

In the campaign the odds were heavily against him. He carried backbreaking handicaps: The defection of the Northwest Republican liberals, who took the farmers with them; the scandal brand of the tariff, whether fair or not; the depression with its 12 million unemployed - and of course there was prohibition. He might have won carrying either of these burdens; possibly with two, but together they overwhelmed him.

Adding to these handicaps was a bitter unfaith in all leadership, and his was the only leadership upon which the populace could vent its spleen..... The depression emotionalized American politics. The country was not reasoning. It was feeling, and feeling low in its mind; ready - indeed eager - to say any dirty thing - in fact, the dirtiest possible thing it could say - against things as they were.

Thus, while he was maintaining the gold standard, saving the banks for their depositors, the railroads for their creditors, so that insurance companies and savings institutions should not collapse and bring debacle to the land, the people saw only that he was trafficking in Europe, that he was scooping money into the railroads and the banks while men were starving and farmers were going bankrupt. He had to lose his political life to save his country. There was no other way out - for him at least. If he had held less faith in his country and if he had cherished its ideals less zealously, even if he had developed a flair for the dramatics of politics, he might have won. Whatever may be said about the President in this crisis, his utter lack of conscious sense of political stagecraft would seem to prove his clumsy honesty.

Whatever flings and gibes the Progressives in Congress aimed at the President's face were confetti beside the javelins which the regulars hurled when his back was turned. So, in the campaign, literally, he walked alone. He was vilified shamelessly and with malice prepense. Impossible stories, vindictive attacks; indeed, a volley of scandalous books were published against him in an organized program of slander.

As a curious coincidence with the stock market crash, he had appointed a fact-finding commission of sociologists to study America. For three years, with his blessing, this commission had been gathering facts about recent social trends in the United States, to be ready for the economic resurrection. The work was in the hands of the printer when the campaign closed. The President had written a foreword, giving the two fat volumes collected by his commission his benediction.

"This study," he wrote, "is the latest and most comprehensive of a series...... beginning in 1921 with the report on Waste in Industry under my chairmanship. It should help to serve all of us to see where social stresses are occurring and where major efforts should be undertaken to deal with them constructively."

Among other things, the findings committee reports in favor of old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, control of industry in the interest of large public participation in the profits of industry and the nearer socialization of many industries instead of having them function for profit entirely. The President did not agree that old-age pensions, or unemployment insurance, or the management of industry must be done by the Federal Government. On the contrary, these things should be accomplished otherwise than through bureaucracy. It was the President's hope to advance the reorganization of our institutions so that an ordered society should emerge in this country, founded firmly upon the ideals which have guided us for a century and a half. (pg. 55)

He could not say "By thus and so we will establish old-age pensions," although he had in these years been cooperating with industrial and insurance companies in the evolution of an old-age insurance policy, the launching of which had already begun but had been stopped by the slump. He was not prepared to promise what specific methods should be given to every man to enjoy the blessings of liberty and happiness; he was prepared to say emphatically that liberty and happiness can only arise amongst free men. But he could talk about the abolition of poverty for all who wished to work, as the very basis of liberty. That has been his lifelong ideal, which is the ideal of all far-visioned Americans on this rich continent.

One night after the election, he and a friend were talking these things over in the White House. The friend had been in the Executive Offices, talking with members of his secretariat about this report on the recent social trends. Their enthusiasm for it was superb, reflecting his belief in its vast importance. The President's head leaned forward as he sat in his chair, with his elbow on a chair arm and his fingers supporting his brow. His eyes were on the floor. He said, with no emotion but with profound conviction:

"The ideal and guiding star in all this period of change must be preserving our social system. That far transcends the accidents in the economic system or the details of the political system. Change is inevitable. That is forced upon us by scientific discovery and invention if from no other cause. But the change must be in the form of organic growth, that we may preserve the links of this country to its traditions, holding all that we have gained of liberty, economic freedom and political democracy. The thing that must not be changed is the ideal of an organized society wherein men and women in normal times have, in the main, secured the right to enjoy the blessings of this commonwealth and a certain minimum of security. No lasting change could be made in the economic system that is not fundamentally in accord with human instincts, but society must be organized in such a fashion as to provide a minimum security of living to those who are willing to make an effort.

"We had almost reached it. Then came a rain of blows from a collapsing financial world that required all our energies to preserve our very foundations, let alone to perfect our superstructure.

"My conviction is that we have the productive capacity, we have the natural resources by which there is and can be a standard of living below which every American citizen who is willing to work should be asked to go. And with it should be security - security in his job for every man. By that we abolish fear, and fear is the greatest of all human torments and the greatest limitation on spiritual and intellectual liberty.

"Then from that minimum standard, which should include good food, good clothes, decent, self-respecting housing, education of children and leisure to develop personality, men should be allowed to grow according to their talents. That liberty is the most precious possession of society. We have fought for it through a century and a half - the liberty of every man to make of himself what he will and to go as far up as he can, provided he goes honestly and gives service to society for what he gets."

"It is that liberty," interrupted his friend, "which Communism denies and which Socialism would restrict.."

The President cut in with:

"Any proposal which regiments up the people as a bureaucracy to work for the government is not only an immediate limitation upon their liberty but upon the expansion of their individuality. Furthermore, proposals to regiment the people under bureaucracy contain in them the seeds of unquestioned limitations of liberty through domination of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of political action and all other freedom. Progress to our immediate ideals must be made in part through government in the regulation of the forces that would undermine equal opportunity to men. Progress must be achieved through better organization of economic forces outside of government. But our aims must be attained chiefly through guidance of the evolutionary growth of organized society outside of bureaucratic regimentation of men. Democracy will never survive if we take that course. But these ends can be obtained. It must be done. A matter of primary importance in the organic development of society is the maintenance of the spirit of ideals. That spirit can be awakened. It has been awakened.

"With democracy not as a political system but as a way of life?"

He would not be diverted, but went on: "To those ends we must learn, we must work, we must not loose sight of the objective. It is the biggest job on earth. Our production system is a fecund mother of plenty. Our distribution system was doing its job fairly well - at least, it affords a foundation. The functioning of these two systems has been torn to pieces through the failure of proper functioning of the financial and credit systems of the world today, and to some extent in our own country. These systems should be merely the lubricant of production and distribution, not the controlling force. We have been fighting for four years to preserve the system of production and distribution from destruction by failure of the financial and credit system. That is the point for immediate attack. It embraces not only ourselves but the entire world. We have to cooperate with other nations to find part of its solutions if we would not be destroyed by these storms from the outside. Otherwise we sink to the depths of Russia, and thereby through the degeneration of production machinery, which, despite all five year plans, keeps these people at the point of starvation. Ours is a great opportunity to make a new civilization, builded upon the accomplishments of the past - not upon their destruction - and it is the destroyers we have to fear."

The friends were silent for a moment. The President lifted his eyes from the floor and sighed and choked a little chuckle as he realized how empty his hands would be for the coming years. It was with a sad, quizzical little smile that he added:

"Well, that's that. It will work out some way."

As they parted, he sped the friend away with a humorous grin.

The irony of it all!

So history stands hesitant, waiting for time to tell whether Herbert Hoover is merely a failure as a politician or a success as a statesman; whether, by pointing the way to social recovery, this President is the first of the new Presidents come to power fifty years before his time, or whether, by battling so valiantly against assaults upon the American spirit of the fathers, he is the last of the old. So much remains for time to tell history that we must wait for the truth. (pg. 56)

Comments: William White is respected as one of the best journalists of all time. Information on him can be read at:

To read Herbert Hoover's Inaugural Address, go to:

The date of this article was the date that Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office and became President of the United States. He called an emergency session of Congress shortly after taking office. On November 19, 1973, a senate committee released a report on the EMERGENCY POWERS STATUTES. It opens by stating:

"Since March 9, 1933, the United States has been in a state of declared national emergency. In fact, there are now in effect four presidentially-proclaimed states of national emergency: In addition to the national emergency declared by President Roosevelt in 1933, there are also the national emergency proclaimed by President Truman on December 16, 1950, during the Korean conflict, and the states of national emergency declared by President Nixon on March 23, 1970, and August 15, 1971."

To read more on the EMERGENCY POWERS STATUTES, go to: or

Herbert Hoover turned out to be the last of the old Presidents that respected constitutional process. When I did this historical research, I had little knowledge of Herbert Hoover or Franklin Roosevelt. I found that Hoover was an honest man that respected his oath to support the Constitution. I found that Roosevelt was the opposite and had no respect for the oath. We shall see this as things progress with time. We shall see that upholding the oath to support the Constitution doesn't mean much to most people, they just want to feel safe and secure in the system.

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