From the early 1930’s until his death in 1964, Hoover, justifiably or not, was one of the most reviled figures associated with American public life. He had been, and continued to be, a profound believer in self-reliance, the abstention of government from interference in private business affairs—except as an assistance to enterprise—and other traditional values of the Republican Party’s constituencies. In other words, he believed in high protective tariffs, antiunionism, balanced budgets, low direct taxation, sound currency, and the inevitability of prosperity trickling down from corporate activity and from the rich to ordinary folk.
As president, Hoover was overwhelmed by attacks upon, and popular disbelief in, these assumptions and policies during the onslaught of the Great Depression. The Depression had begun in 1929, soon after Hoover entered the White House, and had steadily worsened throughout his tenure. Gone was his image as the great engineer, the self-made millionaire, the model administrator, and the efficient, caring, interna-tionally renowned director of massive—and hugely successful—overseas relief. Popularly, he became the wooden, uninspiring, inarticulate, uncaring, unadaptable politician defending an apparently unviable economic and political establishment. A more dramatic reversal of one person’s reputation is difficult to imagine, so much so that it remained for subsequent generations of biographers and historians to strike an objective balance.
For young readers, this...
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