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The Crusade Years, 1933-1955
Herbert Hoover's Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath
By George H. Nash
Hoover Institution PressCopyright © 2013 George H. Nash
All rights reserved.
Having lived for nineteen years, from 1914 to 1933, under the limelight of the curiosity of the public — mostly through the press — into the private life of my family, I had a faint hope that after leaving the White House these lights might be dimmed. But public interest in the innermost sanctuaries of private life of public men never ceases — until sometime after death. Those who enter public life have little right to complain for it is one of the minor safeguards of a free people. This "insatiable curiosity" can be a useful prop of morals and rectitude in wellknown individuals.
In any event, "insatiable curiosity" with its good or evil fables — and even smears — as to our family life continued after leaving the White House. I have decided to devote a few chapters to what I know about myself. And I may well reproduce a part of a chapter in Volume III of my Memoirs as bearing on the subject.
Mrs. Hoover and I left the White House for Palo Alto without regrets except that the job of recovery from the depression and some needed national reforms were incomplete. We had no illusions that America would come to an end because we were going back home again. I had now been in almost fulltime public service since 1914 — nineteen years. And during that time we had not lived at home for a total of more than a few scattered months. The mental taste of one's own gadgets and gardens was good.
Democracy is not a polite employer. The only way out of elective office is to get sick or die or get kicked out. Otherwise one is subject to the charge of being a coward, afraid to face the electorate. When a President is out he carries no pension, privilege, nor pomp. He does not even carry an honorary title, not even Governor, Judge, or Colonel. He is about the only retiring public official who is just Mister. He stands in line for a seat and for tickets just like other citizens.
When the British Prime Minister is defeated he may if he wishes receive a great title, he automatically draws a great pension, and everybody makes way for his Lordship.
But the American method is better. It emphasizes the equalities of its democracy. And an ex-President is not devoid of honor or advantages. He is naturally recognized everywhere because his picture has appeared in every print every day for years. To his misfortune the pictures are mostly the flashlight sort with their mechanistic absence of flattery and implications of a prison personality. But recognition brings honor. The proof is that an ex-President is high in the seeking of autograph hunters. And their appraisals of his relative importance are definite. One day a youngster demanded three autographs, which seemed to imply a generous compliment. I asked: "Why three?" "It takes two of yours to get one of Babe Ruth's."
The American treatment of an ex-President has other real advantages. He can just be himself. He can go and come without the restraint of representing a class or a symbol. Up to the time of this writing, I have traveled tens of thousands of miles alone or with Mrs. Hoover, have wandered in the slums of a score of cities, bought things in a thousand stores, visited hundreds of industrial works, been entertained in every sort of home from the roadside cottage to the greatest of establishments. And everywhere I received pleasant, often affectionate, greetings, never an offensive word — to my face.
It might be difficult for some families to adjust themselves to the abrupt drop from palace to cottage. And the White House is a palace more comfortable than that of most kings. Our family had long alternated between the luxury of great cities and the primitive living of world frontiers, so that this change was no bump. Indeed Mrs. Hoover and I found abundant compensations from being kicked out of a job after this nearly forty years of administrative responsibility and those nineteen years of strenuous public service. There came a great sense of release. It was emancipation from a sort of peonage — a revolution back to personal freedom. It was a release not alone from political pressures but from the routines of twelve to fourteen hours of work seven days a week. Even mealtime had to be given over to the discussion of the problems of the day; the nights were haunted by the things that went wrong; the so-called vacations were tied to the telephone and telegraph or to the visitor who knew that now was the time to discuss his problem.
Therefore, for the first time in long memory, neither Mrs. Hoover nor I had to get up in the morning at the summons of a human or mechanical alarm clock with its shock into reality. Breakfast was to be had when we wanted it. We read the papers and listened to the radio after breakfast instead of between bites. We did it with complete detachment, for no longer did events so directly affect us as before. We looked over the hundreds of letters with the feeling that we did not have to answer them at all, or anyway not today. We could walk about and admire the neighbors' flower gardens and lay out our own. There were no scores of visitors to see at fifteen-minute intervals, most of whom wanted something for themselves that they ought not to have. Now we could choose our visitors without fear of injury to the public or party interest. The many whom we met carried good cheer or useful conversation. There were no piles of documents to be signed before noon. There was no compulsion to make disagreeable decisions. We were not chained to the telephone bell nor were we the slaves of a host of secretaries. I was able to walk out the front door, get in an automobile without a chauffeur and just drive away anywhere — to see the country, to fish or to visit. If it were not from a sense of service or ambition, there would be no recruits for public jobs at all. Men can make a living with far more satisfaction and many less wounds to the soul at other callings.
What to do with former Presidents has always been a problem. At least it is a perpetual trouble in the subscribers' columns. It is a problem to their party officials. It is a problem to administrations of the same party. It is of course trouble to opponents.
It is also a financial problem to many former Presidents. The President, unlike the Military, Judicial, Legislative officers and all civil servants of the Federal Government, receives no pension.
To those who have no former savings, the support of their families is difficult to solve as savings from Presidential salaries are scanty at best. The alternatives are to accept corporation connections with consequent public discredit of advice in matters of state; or to become a columnist and crowd some worthy workman out of the press; or take soap or insurance or pill money for broadcasting news comments and opinions; or to solicit payment for public speaking. Any of these alternatives means more or less exploitation of the office of President. Many former Presidents have been compelled to adopt one or more of these alternatives despite the adverse effect on the dignity of the office.
In later years, I several times proposed that former Presidents should receive pensions but always with the stipulation it would not begin with me. I also urged that former Presidents, except myself, be made ex- officio members of the Senate without a vote. That would bring their experience into use. It would provide staff and a living.
I was more fortunate than most former Presidents. My professional life had been during the period when the income tax was only 1%. However, my savings in this period were greatly depleted by expenditures beyond my income during nearly 40 years of service in and out of government. There were losses from conversion of all investments into "Trustee" securities when I took office as secretary of commerce, together with a foolish resolution to spend no public salaries on myself or family. Yet we had enough left to live on in modest circumstance.
Our financial life did present some embarrassments. The very considerable contributions to charity and public organizations which we had been able to make from official salaries could not be continued. These charitable agencies seemed to think that such sums as had been previously made should be repeated. Further, a popular belief had been established by the opposition that I was very rich. As a matter of fact, my net assets at their top were never one-half the inherited fortune of Mr. Roosevelt.
An incident of private means arose as soon as I was able to review our remaining assets. In 1893 while earning college expenses I worked on certain government surveys in California concerning silting up the rivers by debris from the mines. In that work I had been sent into the great tule swamps in the delta at the junction of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. It appeared to me that some day these marshes would be reclaimed and would form the richest agricultural land outside of the Nile Valley. I returned to California from an engineering journey to Australia in 1899 with my first $10,000 and a firm intention of buying 1,000 acres of these swamps, then selling at $10 per acre. I engaged a former classmate, then in the real estate business, to buy the land and gave him the $10,000. Two years later, returning from an engineering journey to China, I found my real estate classmate had concluded that my judgment was bad; and with my $10,000 he had opened a bank in Nevada which had already failed. A lawyer classmate finally recovered from the wreck of his affairs a reversionary deed to an eighty-acre farm in Northern Missouri subject to the life interest of his mother. I gave the matter no further thought, except when I recalled that these unreclaimed swamp lands had advanced to $100 an acre, and I had lost a modest fortune.
However, twenty-eight years later, in the midst of the 1928 Presidential campaign, I received a telegram from a county chairman in Missouri saying that upon the death of an old lady in that neighborhood I had been recorded as the owner of an eighty-acre farm. He added that it was the most disreputable looking place in Missouri; that hundreds of people were driving out to see the "Hoover Farm" and that I should at once spend $2,000 to render it respectable. I did so. I tried for years to sell it for the $2,000. Also, I found that absentee ownership of eighty acres was a continuing unprofitable business. Finally, forty years after the original transaction I gave it to a public institution with the thought that in loss of possible profit in the Delta and compounded interest, that gift had cost me about $150,000.
In the years after leaving Washington, my various crusades kept me constantly traveling. In 1934, Mrs. Hoover and I found that we must spend much of the time in the east and therefore we took an apartment at the Waldorf Astoria Towers where we lived during all but the summer months over the succeeding years.
The boys had established their own homes and the Stanford Campus house was no longer their refuge. In fact, their various businesses brought them more often to New York than Palo Alto. Gradually the intervals of our living in California became shorter and shorter. The great importance of these western visits was to give me an opportunity to wash off of my soul the superficialities, the inanities, and the un-American atmosphere too frequent in New York. On looking back, I find that next to living in Washington, our real family headquarters in the aggregate were longer in New York than in any other place in the world.
New York is the place from which a large part of America's intellectual life in transmitted. Here centers the control of much of the magazine, the book and the radio world. Some of its daily papers spread into every other newspaper office in the country. The control of much national charitable and educational institutions center here because of the closeness to "big money." A multitude of political, social and economic, and propaganda organizations infiltrate into the whole of American life from the great city. When one is interested also in the promulgation of ideas, it is more effective to be at the distributing point than at the receiving end.
New York is probably 75 percent first and second generation European. Its ideas are strongly tempered from recent European origins. It steadily recruits its men and women of leadership from the hinterland. Being the financial and business center of the United States it is astonishing to find how few New York — born men occupy its positions of leadership. Out of the living in its slums come the rebellious spirits which dominate left-wing thought in the country. Nor is this any denial of the multitude of good and devoted citizens in its precincts.
New York, outside the slums, is a place of good food, of human comforts. Its museums, its art galleries and its business buildings overtower the whole world. Its fine shopping streets exceed all others — but a step away is the sodden life of congested areas. It was these depressing borders that led me to establish the first Federal aid to slum clearance in 1932. And it was in hopes of helping its millions of pavement boys that led me to undertake the Chairmanship of the Boys Clubs of America. The former work has grown apace; the latter at this writing provides character building for some 400,000 pavement boys in our cities.
In these settings and travelings about, I was able to observe the New Deal methods of "making America over" and their method of solving the depression with much detachment. In the next section I give a summary of the "aftermath" which amply confirmed all my warnings in the campaign.
In time, as a matter of convenience, I removed my voting residence to New York. In 1949, Governor Dewey did me the courtesy of offering me the appointment of United States Senator to succeed to the unexpired term from the passing of Senator Robert F. Wagner. I felt it necessary to refuse for several reasons. The period in the United States Senate would be under 60 days and I could not undertake to run for that office. It was in my view desirable to confer the honor on a younger man to whom the office would be an aid in such a campaign. Moreover, I felt my greatest remaining service would be to maintain my independence from political harness.
A Family Grows Up
The real sanctuaries and joys of life are within the family. We had always wanted some daughters. It had not happened. But Herbert and Allan brought to us two daughters whom we would have been proud to have as our own. They established their own homes, as Americans do. In time we were to have grandchildren and great grandchildren, whose association with their grandparents was free of responsibilities for their upbringing and thus unalloyed joy.
After finishing his engineer training, Herbert, entirely on his own initiative, had advanced rapidly in his profession. Over the years his engineering reputation and his field expanded until his professional income had far exceeded that to which I had attained in that profession. He, however, lived in an age when the government took most of it in taxes. One time or another, he was consulting engineer to ten governments in addition to his large private practice. He had the satisfaction of having his laboratories selected for development of vital instruments for detection of submarines and the development of aeroplane instruments for the Army and Navy in World War II. The success of these instruments and their contribution to the services were noted by the Army and the Navy by the conferring of their "E."
Finally, after Mr. Roosevelt's time, he was called upon by the United States Government for advice and negotiation of great projects. Among them was the settlement of the oil problem [in Iran — ed.] created by the seizure of the British oil property in that country. From his success in this tangled negotiation upon which hinged the salvation of Iran from Communism, he was in 1954 called to be Under Secretary of State.
Allan, after college, had entered the management field first in farming and mining and later into other industrial enterprises. At one time he managed some 12,000 acres of irrigated farms in the San Joaquin Valley. He was one of the first of the large farmers to recognize the social situation in industrial agriculture and evidenced his concern by the provision of decent wages and housing for workers. And he was to prove that industrial farming could be at least economically better for its workers than the so-called family-sized farm.
At one time Mrs. Roosevelt visited the San Joaquin Valley under a specially conducted tour by her Communist fellow travellers. The local Chamber of Commerce was anxious to demonstrate that their agricultural development had exceptions to John Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath." To do so they suggested she visit representative farms. The Chairman of the Chamber informed me that on arriving at Allan's ranch she noticed the sign "Allan Hoover" on the gate. She asked if that was the former President's son Allan. Upon receiving an affirmative answer, she refused to go in.
Excerpted from The Crusade Years, 1933-1955 by George H. Nash. Copyright © 2013 George H. Nash. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
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Table of Contents
Editor's Acknowledgments ix
Editor's Introduction xi
Editor's Note on Sources and Editing Methods xliii
Part I Some Notes on Family Life 5
Chapter 1 Family Life 7
Chapter 2 Recreation 18
Chapter 3 The Bohemian Club Encampment 26
Chapter 4 The Passing of Mrs. Hoover 31
Part II Crusades for Benevolent Institutions 35
Chapter 5 Crusading for Benevolent Institutions 37
Part III The Crusade against Collectivism in American Life 51
Chapter 6 The Crusade against Collectivism to the Presidential Campaign of 1936 57
Chapter 7 The Crusade against Collectivism-Continued: The Party Conventions and Campaign of 1936 94
Chapter 8 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Landon Defeat until the Congressional Election of 1938 112
Chapter 9 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Landon Defeat in 1936 to the Congressional Election in 1938 (Continued) 160
Chapter 10 The Crusade against Collectivism from the 1938 Congressional Election to the Presidential Election of 1940 198
Chapter 11 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Election of 1940 to the Presidential Campaign of 1944 232
Chapter 12 The Presidential Conventions and Campaigns of 1944 245
Chapter 13 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Presidential Election of 1944 to the Congressional Election of 1946 253
Chapter 14 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Congressional Election of 1946 to the Presidential Election of 1948 262
Chapter 15 The Crusade against Collectivism from the Presidential Election of 1948 to the Presidential Election in 1952 279
Chapter 16 The Continental Crusade after 1952 328
Editor's Postscript to Part III 341
Appendix I Other Crusades 343
Appendix II Selected Documents Pertaining to Hoover's Crusade Book Project 441
About the Author and the Editor 497