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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.
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.
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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Herbert Hoover, Conservatism in the United States, DudleyWinthrop family, American Quakers, The Hoover Company, Warren G. Harding, Hoover Commission, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, Lou Henry Hoover
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