Many history textbooks condemn Herbert Hoover for twiddling his thumbs while the United States suffered from a Great Depression. Then, a hero emerges: suddenly, behind the strong leadership, active approach, and brilliance of Franklin Roosevelt, the United States began to slowly but surely bring itself out of the depression. Some books will admit that the depression did not end until World War II, but almost always he is given credit for alleviating it with his new approach.
History textbooks will not tell you the truth. Both Hoover and FDR took an active approach to ending the depression, and both of them failed.
It’s a well known story. On October 24, 1929, people began to sell their stocks in large numbers. On October 29, 1929, the bottom fell out: people were only interested in selling stock, not buying, and prices tumbled. The Great Depression was under way.
Most people realize that Hoover did not start the depression. It’s a misconception, however, that he did nothing to try and help it. Rather, he signed a lot of legislation in an attempt to alleviate the situation. He signed the first Federal unemployment assistance in history into law with the Emergency Relief and Construction Act. According to Wikipedia, he “[established] the Federal Home Loan Bank system to assist citizens in obtaining financing to purchase a home.” Wikipedia also states that he “increased public works spending.” He signed the Agricultural Marketing Act and the Reconstruction Finance Act. This all occurred over the course of four years. Unfortunately for Hoover, the depression continued to worsen. By 1933, about one out of four Americans were without a job. This can probably be attributed to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, a bill signed (“reluctantly” says Wikipedia) by Hoover in 1930. This was Hoover’s huge mistake, one not made by Roosevelt. Clearly, however, it is absurd to suggest that Hoover sat by idly during his presidency while the nation suffered.
In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was elected to replace Hoover. During the campaign he had promised a very vague “new deal.” It became clear soon after the election what he meant. It is pointless to go through every act FDR created: everyone knows he was active in trying out his plan to help the economy. What is important is the details. (For Hoover, it was important to state the multitude of legislation he passed; for FDR, it’s well known he signed a multitude of legislation.)
Between 1933 and 1940, Franklin Roosevelt tripled taxes – all types of taxes – when people needed money. He also demanded that crops and farm animals destroyed and killed – when people needed products to sell. The Cato Institute, a libertarian organization, asks ten “Tough Questions for Defenders of the New Deal” in this article. And in this article, the New Deal is revealed to have harmed the poorest Americans. A few things here are quite amusing. FDR raised taxes on almost everything, among them tires (“including tires on wheelchairs”), electricity, and radios. FDR had polio, which confined him to a wheelchair, yet he taxed tires on wheelchairs. And those famed Fireside Chats? As the article points out, “Yes, to hear FDR’s ‘Fireside Chats,’ one had to pay FDR excise taxes for a radio and electricity!”
Read the two articles above carefully. FDR’s economic policies did far more harm than good.
Why then, you might ask, is FDR renowned for his responses to the Depression, while Hoover is condemned? The answer is simple: political skill. Herbert Hoover was best known as a Stanford engineer. He was not a politician. The only political office that he ever held prior to being president was Secretary of Commerce, a position to which one gets appointed. Franklin Roosevelt, however, served as Governor of New York prior to becoming president. His political skill was recognized as early as 1920, when he was the Democratic vice president nominee. He never won a presidential election by less than 333 electoral votes. Roosevelt was also a far better speaker. Fireside Chats, inaugural speeches, “the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” “a day that will live in infamy.” Hoover has, well, nothing. FDR skillfully used his abilities to make people think that his programs were working. Hoover was not able to do so. But if you read the work and numbers provided by Cato, it’s clear that FDR harmed more people than he helped. But they thought they were doing better thanks to FDR.
Many people admire FDR today for the same reasons. They learn from their parents and grandparents. Students learn from history textbooks, written by professors who, for the most part, are liberal and admire another legacy FDR left: that of a government that tries to use its power to help its citizens. Of course, this legacy would not have been possible without his political skill. They use FDR and his high status to support their liberal views of today.
Hoover and FDR both took an active approach to government in order to get the U.S. out of the depression, and both failed.