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Hebert Hoover: Failures & Criticisms

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson we will examine popular criticisms against President Herbert Hoover. We will learn why he has commonly been regarded as an unpopular president, and we will understand the failures cited against his administration.

President Herbert Hoover: Not a Popular President

Do you know that there are systems for ranking the success and popularity of U.S. presidents? Rasmussen and Gallup, among others, conduct periodic polls with the intent to identify where each president falls from successful to not successful, or popular to not popular. Not surprisingly, presidents like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln are consistently at the top of the list. But who are the presidents at the bottom of the list? One president who is consistently ranked toward the bottom is Herbert Hoover. Hoover was America's 31st president when the Great Depression broke out in 1929, and consequently (whether fairly or unfairly) he has tended to receive the blame for America's worst economic downturn.

President Calvin Coolidge, who had been president before Hoover once commented: ''That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad!'' Others have said worse things about Hoover. In this lesson we will explore some of the failures attributed to President Hoover and some of the criticisms levied against him. Let's dig in!

Common Criticism and Failures

The single most significant criticism levied against Herbert Hoover is that he did not do enough to combat the Great Depression. Herbert Hoover was a Republican and he held to a conservative economic approach. After the Stock Market Crash on October 29, 1929, President Hoover believed government intervention would make things worse. He believed that if banks and business demonstrated confidence and refused to panic, the market would naturally rebound. Economists and historians continue to debate what might have happened had the business world not panicked, but we know what did happen: the financial world panicked and consumer confidence plunged, ushering the worldwide Great Depression.

Many Americans during the Great Depression believed President Hoover did not do enough to relieve the suffering.
poor family

Many historians believe Hoover underestimated the severity of the Great Depression. Hoover believed it would get better, but instead it just kept getting worse. Early on, Hoover attempted to deal with the Depression by encouraging what he called ''volunteerism''. Volunteerism was basically collaboration between private sectors and public sectors of the economy. For example, a business might partner with local government or agency to provide relief. Hoover believed Americans should basically volunteer to help one another.

For many Americans, this was not good enough. Americans were struggling just to survive and they wanted immediate help in big ways. As the months and years went by, Hoover increasingly came to be reviled. Shantytown communities made up of shacks came to be known as ''Hoovervilles''. Some communities even had signs reading ''Welcome to Hooverville''. Naming these shantyowns after the president was a way of ascribing blame and a way to express anger and frustration. Similarly, other ''Hooverisms'' became popular. ''Hoover Blankets'' were newspapers used to protect the homeless from the cold. ''Hoover Hogs'' were rabbits hunted for food. ''Hoover Cars'' were wagons pulled by mules. Americans, on the whole, were very clear in criticism of the president: he was not doing enough to help them, and the Great Depression was his fault.

Hoovervilles were shantytown communities throughout the U.S. named after President Hoover.
hville

Toward the end of his term (he served between 1929-1933), Hoover did become more open to government intervention. He signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which taxed imported items. This act proved to be a massive failure. It was intended to grow American manufacturing, but most economists agree it worsened the Depression. Hoover also signed the Revenue Act of 1932, which raised income tax. Some economists have also regarded this as detrimental. Despite Hoover's willingness to involve the federal government, for many Americans, these actions were perceived as ''too little, too late.'' To them, Hoover was the man who stood by idly when their world was falling apart.

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