Hoover, Herbert


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Herbert Clark Hoover was the 31st president of the United States.


During his first year in office the Wall Street crash of 1929 occurred. He


was blamed for the resulting collapse of the economy, and his unpopular


policies brought an end to a brilliant career in public office. After the


inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1933, however, Hoover remained


a leading critic of the New Deal and a spokesman for the Republican party.


Early Life


Born on Aug. 10, 1874, the son of a blacksmith in the Iowa village of


West Branch, Hoover was orphaned at the age of eight and sent to live with


an uncle in Oregon. The uncle became wealthy, enabling Hoover to study


mining engineering at Stanford University; he graduated in 1895. The


influences of his engineering training and his Quaker upbringing were to


shape his subsequent careers.


Hoover began working in California mines as an ordinary laborer, but he


soon obtained a position in Australia directing a new gold-mining venture.


During the next two decades he traveled through much of Asia, Africa, and


Europe as a mining entrepreneur, earning a considerable fortune. At the


outbreak of World War I in August 1914 he was in London.


Hoover, who as a Quaker passionately believed in peace, was appalled by


the human costs of the war, and he determined to devote his life to public


service. He volunteered to direct the exodus of American tourists from


war-torn Europe and then to head (1915-19) the Commission for Relief in


Belgium. This position brought him public attention as the "great


humanitarian," a well-earned reputation that he lost only after the 1929


Wall Street debacle. The commission fed 10,000,000 people during the war


and left funds for Belgian postwar reconstruction.


When the United States entered the war in April 1917, Hoover was called


to Washington to serve as food administrator. This was a special wartime


office, created to encourage American agricultural production and food


conservation and to coordinate a rational distribution of food. When the


war ended in November 1918, President Woodrow Wilson sent Hoover back to


Europe to direct the American Relief Administration, an agency intended to


relieve the suffering in Europe caused by the war\'s destruction.


Hoover\'s public reputation was enormous as a result of his activities


in these offices, and some persons looked upon him as a presidential


candidate in 1920. He had never participated in partisan politics, but he


did declare himself a Republican while refusing to seek the presidency that


year. In 1921, Warren G. Harding appointed Hoover secretary of commerce, a


post he held until he began his own presidential campaign in 1928.


Secretary of Commerce


As secretary of commerce, Hoover made his most important contributions


to public policy. He was so able and active in the administrations of


Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge that observers often referred to him


as "secretary for domestic affairs." Hoover directly confronted a dilemma


central to American values: the conflict between the tradition of


individualism and the impersonalism of large corporations and big cities.


Hoover deeply believed in the traditional worth of the individual, the


value of personal initiative, the rights of self-expression, and the legacy


of freedom of opportunity. These beliefs were deeply rooted in American


society and in Hoover\'s personal Quaker faith.


But Hoover, as an engineer, was also profoundly impressed by the


virtues of science. Rational principles could point the way to


disinterested fairness in public policy, bring about greater efficiency in


the economy and in society, and, if applied dispassionately, cause an end


to the bitter conflicts in an America populated by persons of different


creeds, races, and social classes. In his belief that greater rationality


in public life could be combined with respect for the tradition of


individual rights, Hoover conformed to the mainstream of progressive social


thought in the early 20th century.


As secretary of commerce Hoover was concerned with applying rational


principles in order to end conflict between labor and business. But he was


mostly preoccupied with trying to bring the benefits of cooperative action


to business owners and farmers without destroying individual initiative. To


this end his department encouraged firms to join together in trade


associations and thereby develop and share vital information about costs of


production and distribution and about available markets.


Presidency


Hoover\'s views and policies were popular in the 1920s. In 1928, after


Coolidge announced that he would not seek reelection, Hoover launched a


successful presidential campaign, easily defeating the Democratic


contender, Al Smith. Hoover expressed the belief that ways had been found


to eliminate the scourges of poverty and that America was entering a future


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