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Herbert Hoover: Political Beliefs & Economic Philosophy

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 President Herbert Hoover's political and economic beliefs. We will explore his philosophy regarding the role of government and see how this impacted his policies while President of the United States.

President Hoover: Guided by Beliefs

We all understand that the beliefs we hold guide how we act. Someone who follows a particular religion will act in accord with his or her religion, while those who follow a different religion will act in different ways. Our actions as human beings often stem from our beliefs. Let's apply this to politics. The policies of U.S. Presidents stem from their deeply-held philosophies and beliefs. Democratic presidents enact policies in accord with their beliefs, and Republican presidents enact policies in accord with theirs. We all understand this.

In this lesson, we will be exploring the political and economic beliefs of President Herbert Hoover. Hoover who was a Republican president, and he held firmly to conservative political and economic principles. These principles profoundly impacted how he governed America, particularly during the Great Depression. Let's dig deeper and uncover the details surrounding Hoover's personal worldview.

Herbert Hoover was a Republican who was guided by conservative political and economic beliefs.
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The Self-Made Man

Herbert Hoover was very much a ''self-made man'', meaning he attained wealth and power solely through his own hard work and determination. Born into a Quaker family in 1874, Hoover was orphaned by the time he was 9 years-old. After living with his uncle, Hoover attended Stanford University, where he studied geology. After college, he worked in the gold mining industry. His hard work resulted in him becoming a consultant, not to mention a multimillionaire. From here, Hoover became involved in humanitarian work and politics, first serving as head of the U.S. Food Administration, then Secretary of Commerce, and finally President of the United States.

Herbert Hoover was a self-made man who achieved tremendous success due to his hard work and determination.
Young Hoover

We need to remember the time and context in which Hoover grew up. He became a man at the peak of the Second Industrial Revolution, which lasted from about the end of the Civil War in 1865 to the beginning of World War I in 1914. Tremendous industrial and commercial advances were made during this time, and many Americans (Hoover included) held to the belief that basically anyone could become wealthy if only they worked hard enough. This was the Gilded Age, and opportunity seemed like it was everywhere.

Hoover thus grew up with a belief in ''rugged individualism''. He affirmed that in America each individual was responsible for his or her own well-being: it was not the responsibility of the government. Hoover thus shunned government welfare programs and favored private business as the best means of creating prosperity. It is critical that we understand how Hoover's experience as a self-made man flavored his political and economic outlook.

Hoover and Laissez-Faire Economics

As a conservative Republican and a former businessman, Hoover had a deep-seeded belief in the benefits of what is called laissez-faire economics. The word ''laissez-faire'' is French and it means ''let do'' or ''hands off''. Laissez-faire economics then is basically the approach that the government should take a ''hands off'' approach and let economics function according to market principles. Sometimes the term ''laissez-faire'' is used interchangeably with ''capitalism'' or ''free market'' economics.

Hoover believed government regulation and involvement in business was harmful. He supported the natural process of supply and demand within a free market system. Like other capitalists, he believed competition was good, and that it would result in higher quality products at lower prices. Hoover supported a balanced budget and the gold standard, a monetary system in which currency is backed up by gold.

When the Great Depression broke out in October 1929 following the Stock Market Crash, Hoover maintained faith in his conservative economic beliefs. He initially tried to counter the Depression by encouraging businesses not to reduce wages and to put on an air of confidence. Hoover believed the Depression could be countered by pro-business policies. To combat the Depression he proposed what he called ''volunteerism''. Volunteerism consisted of a collaboration between the public and private sectors of the economy. For example, a private businesses might partner with a library or local government in order to provide economic relief.

As the Great Depression worsened, however, Hoover became more open to enrolling the help of the federal government. While he still held to a conservative economic ideology, he came to believe that the Depression was such an extraordinary situation that government intervention was warranted. To this end, he signed legislation such as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which raised taxes on imported items, and the Revenue Act of 1932, which raised income taxes across the board. The American people, however, generally felt Hoover had not done enough to combat the Great Depression. The unpopular Hoover was crushed by Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Presidential Election of 1932.

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