FDR is commonly labeled a liberal, while Hoover is labeled a conservative.  After considering how they each dealt with the Great Depression, are these labels incorrect or correct?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For the most part, I think that the political labels of "conservative" and "liberal" can be applied to Hoover and FDR when examining their approaches to wrestling with the Great Depression.   In his initial reaction to the Great Depression, Hoover displayed his conservative tendencies in relying on businesses and charity organizations to provide assistance.  After two years of recognizing that this approach was not working, Hoover did initiate federal government action to the problem.  The Hawley- Smoot Tarriff and the Federal Farm Board are examples of a liberal approach in terms of seeing government as a source of action in times of intense crisis. Yet, Hoover still did not see governmental action as needed in terms of providing economic relief to the vast number of unemployed:

 I protest against such frivolous promises being held out to a suffering people. If it were possible to give this employment to 10,000,000 people by the Government, it would cost upwards of $9,000,000,000 a year. . . . It would pull down the employment of those who are still at work by the high taxes and the demoralization of credit upon which their employment is dependent. . . .

Terms like "the demoralization of credit" and seeing federal relief as "frivolous promises" represent a disdain towards a politically liberal approach and embrace of conservative principles to the problem of the Great Depression.

FDR could be seen as a liberal because of his exact opposite stance.  FDR believed that government was the source of solving the nation's challenges with the Great Depression.  The expansion of the federal government into different agencies designed to assist individuals, reform business practices, and provide relief to different parts of American society reflects a liberal approach to political design.  FDR could be seen as a liberal because he recognized that expanding government and federal spending were measures needed to combat the Great Depression.  These approaches are liberal because they do not rely on the machine of commerce and private endeavors as much as action taken in the public realm.

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