Herbert Hoover - Election of 1932 and postpresidential years

By 1932 it seemed that Hoover had gone as far as he would in tampering with the economy. His dreary speeches were an unrelieved defense of his record, and he blamed Congress for holding up certain legislation, such as a national system of home loan banks to avoid foreclosures. On 31 October in Madison Square Garden in New York City he launched into a tirade: with no tariff, he warned, "the grass will grow in streets of a hundred cities, a thousand towns; the weeds will overrun the fields of millions of farms . . . their churches and schoolhouses will decay." Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Hyde unleashed a still more blatant appeal to fear: "If Roosevelt is elected the homes and lives of one hundred million American people might be in jeopardy."

The economy was in fact showing some improvement in the summer and early fall of 1932. Stock prices advanced sharply, bank failures declined, and Hoover would always claim that Roosevelt's election aborted a recovery that was under way. Roosevelt's victory was by 22,810,000 to 15,759,000. By refusing to cooperate with Hoover during the interregnum, the New Yorker, according to Republicans, was threatening to end recovery.

After the election the banking system slumped toward collapse. Nevada's banks closed for six weeks, beginning on 31 October. Unemployment increased to more than 20 percent of the labor force. Many farmers lost their land. In the long interregnum Hoover tried to persuade Roosevelt to join him in advocating a balanced budget, changing the laws on banking, and staying on the gold standard. The president-elect refrained from committing himself. When the two men met at the White House on 22 November, they were superficially friendly. But Hoover thought Roosevelt intellectually incapable of understanding the complexities of international finance.

Late in January a rash of major bank closings filled the country with alarm. In Michigan, banks closed for eight days in mid-February. Panic came at the end of the month when banks lost $73 million in deposits. Hoover unsuccessfully tried to get Roosevelt to promise to guarantee certain bank deposits, but the incoming president refused to participate in any joint solution. The emergency bank holiday and banking legislation of Roosevelt's Hundred Days had been drafted in general terms by Hoover and his staff. On inauguration day, Saturday, 4 March, the wind blew gusts of rain yet a ray of sunlight broke into the weather. The nation could not help but identify the gray bleakness with Hoover and the sunlight with Franklin Roosevelt.

Hoover lived for three decades after leaving office. From his suite in New York's Waldorf Towers he preached isolationism, Republicanism, conservatism, and philanthropy. He saw a threat of Fascism and Communism in the New Deal but approved of many of its specific laws. In 1945 he spoke in revulsion against the use of the atomic bomb: "The only difference between this and the use of poison gas is the fear of retaliation." He returned to public life in the late 1940s, serving for President Truman on a fact-finding international relief trip and then as chairman of the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government (the Hoover Commission). Many of his recommendations on saving money were adopted. He chaired a similar commission under President Eisenhower, but with fewer positive results. Hoover died, at the age of ninety, on 20 October 1964.

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