tv The Presidency Herbert Hoover FDR Transition CSPAN August 12, 2020 9:51am-10:22am EDT
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cable television companies as a public service and brought to you today by your television provider. >> welcome to at home with the roosevelts. i'm joined today by the director of the herbert hoover presidential library museum. >> hi, i'm tom schwartz. i'm the director of the herbert hoover presidential museum in iowa. >> we're here today to talk about one of the most remarkable transitions in american history, the presidential election of 1932, hoover and roosevelt, their long relationship of prior to and after their presidencies. this was a period of incredible trauma for the united states with the great depression. of course the two of them had known each other for quite some time. during world war i roosevelt was
the assistant secretary of navy under woodrow wilson. >> herbert hoover was the head of the u.s. food administration. the food administration had to essentially provide food to the soldiers and hoover was able to provide the necessary food by getting americans to voluntarily reduce consumption by 15%. and he did this by appealing to the american house wives to sign cards where they would hooverize. that meant every day of the week you gave up a certain essential component, meat, wheat, sugar, fats. and so you had meatless mondays and wheatless wednesdays. hoover was able to use that a stop gap before the farmers
could increase their production in growing the necessary foodstuffs that the war required. >> of course fdr was a big fan of hoover during this period. he was very impressed with the work he'd done. because they were both in the same administration roosevelt was trying to convince herbert hoover to become a democrat, and there was some sense maybe we could get him as part of our party. but hoover had other ideas. >> he grew up in a cleric community which had supported lincoln because of their abolitionist sentiments. john brown actually visited west branch. and hoover actually had registered as a republican. but because he had lived abroads for most of his adult life with his mining career people didn't know the political affiliation
and so he had to write to roosevelt to indicate his tribe was the last republican tribe. and he considered theodore roosevelt progressively republican. >> 1920 presidential race he was the vice presidential candidate on the democratic side and the democrats lost and harding became president and hoover became an important part of both the harding and coolidge administrations while fdr ended up with polio and sort of disappearing for many years. during that period he was secretary of commerce and was actually quite big on government regulation. tell me about his role as commerce secretary. >> he transformed kind of a sleepy government agency into a real powerhouse. standardization was one of his
main achievements where he got industries to set industrial standards which he believed would lower the cost of goods to consumers. and many of the things we take for granted today, the thread count on nuts and bolts, the size brick used in construction. >> the size of tires. >> that's right. probably the greatest example 42 different size milk containers and he got it down to piept, quart, half-gallon, gallon. so hoover was a very aggressive secretary of commerce, and she took that agency and really made it one that was very meaningful to a majority of americans. >> 1928 is the year where roosevelt's political career and hoover's political career really come into parallel. in the 1928 presidential election hoover is a republican
candidate. smith is the democratic candidate who's of course a friend of roosevelt, and roosevelt runs for governor of new york. and of course we're still in the roaring 20s and the economy is doing great and everyone thinks the world is world so what was it like in 1929 eight months into the administration stock market collapsed. >> hoover was very much aware there were certain systemic problems with the economy even before the market crashed. agriculture increased too much which depressed prices. banking, 25% of the banks failed
before the crash. it was a condition of too many banks with too few capital assets. when the market crashed people need to realize only 10% of americans actually owned stock. however, banks were heavily invested in the market. over 90% of the banks had stock, and so the crash really impacted already one of the main institutions for liquidity that made the loans, that kept the economy alive. and so hoover immediately calls industrial heads and leaders together in november 19th and gets them to agree to voluntarily continue to maintain full staff levels to keep pay at the same level in order to keep liquidity and the economy.
the federal reserve helps out a little bit. it reduces the crime rate by, you know, half a point, but it's still incredibly high for the needs. and most economists claim that what took what should have been a normal kind of downturn in the economy, a depression into the great depression was that, again, the fed did not early enough and at the level required infuse the economy with enough liquidity and capital. however, by 1930 economic indicators started to point up, and then there were other things that happened abroad to take the depression into the great depression. the irony is that typically when we refer to economic downturns they refer to as panic, and hoover wanted to avoid that
language, and so he's the one who embraced the term depression. >> and some of the things hoover did really exacerbated it. his implementation of the tariffs really created chaos and made the situation much, much worse. and the division between the way roosevelt responded in new york state he believed that government should be directly involved in helping unemployed people and hoover was adamantly opposed to that, and roosevelt strongly believed you had to have this vast government investment in creating jobs and opportunities, and hoover was pretty insistent that the federal government not go down that path, so the divergence that happened later on becomes very evident fairly quickly certainly by 1930 and 1931 it's obvious they have radically different philosophies how to approach the economic crisis. even at that point they didn't realize this was going to go on
for a decade. when they started the campaign hoover and his advisers hoped that roosevelt would be the candidate they would run against because they thought he was a weak candidate and they thought he would beat him. >> hoover was not interested in campaigning, and it was only when he saw that there wasn't this ground swell of support for him he reluctantly got on the campaign trail and by the end it almost did him in. the demands of the crises every day wore him physically, mentally. he did give, though, an important speech in madison square garden in late october right before the voting and this
i think is what is significant. he indicated, you know, that the 1932 contest really wasn't about personalities but it was about two different philosophies of government. and hoover had always maintained he was a supporter of small government even though what we've been talking about he wasn't afraid to use government to advance what he thought was important programs to protect public interest. i think what hoover objected to he was a 19th century liberal and that he believed that protection of individual freedom and liberty was really the main function of government. and as he liked to quote that the purpose of government was to remove obstacles from the individual to provide an open field and fair chance to everyone to be able to achieve
whatever their talents and ambitions take them. so this idea of the right to rise. >> hoover wanted to use the power of government to help beat business. he just didn't want to use the power of the government to help the american people. that was the biggest difference. i think when roosevelt comes out with in the democratic convention in 1932 this concept of i want a new deal for the american people what he was really saying is he wants to shift that role the federal government has, and the federal government should have a role in helping individual people. and of course he towards the end of the campaign -- he had eight speeches laying out very specific economic policies of bank policies and home mortgages and the new deal itself was much more of a framework. it was how do you approach solving these problems. do you approach them that government can help in this balance between big business and labor or do you think government needs to stay out of the way.
of course hoover got very hostile, very nasty, and he called fdr fascist, a socialist. it became a very, very personal and nasty campaign. >> it did. i think it's a mischaracterization to say that hoover was only a friend of big business. i mean he practice associationism where the business labor government worked to create the voluntary codes, and hoover wanted things to be done in a voluntary and cooperative way rather than by government fiat. it's not so much he wasn't interested in labor, he wasn't interested in the common man. i mean, he was, i think clearly his humanitarian efforts are evidence of that.
hoover had to deal with kind of the logical extension of some of the ideas he began, the progressivism, and so he begins developing this conservative philosophy which is constantly warping against the dangers of big government. >> the election itself was pretty one-sided. fdr won with the large majority, and then you enter into one of the strangest periods in american history, so roosevelt's first terms starts on march 4th, so he was the last president inaugurated march 4th even though he was elected in november. you had this period are hoover is still president and he's trying to convince roosevelt to give up on his new deal plans and stick with hoover's plans and roosevelt is trying to negotiate with him during this period, and of course the number
of bank closures continues to increase. the country's crisis gets worse and worse, congress is sort of paralyzed and hoover has absolutely no respect for roosevelt during this period. in their meetings hoover just treats him like an idiot, and i think it built a lot of antipathy between the two of them. >> i think hoover had unrealistic expectations about there being a cooperative and joint position on dealing with the crises and, you know, roosevelt from strictly a political standpoint no reason even if he agreed with some of the things hoover wanted to get done, no reason to expose himself and tie himself to some
of the loss in a very big way, and hoover sends a 10 page memo talking about the crisis and for roosevelt 11 days before he responds. and he also misspelled roosevelt's name on the envelope. it gets down into kind of these petty slights that get blown up. and roosevelt of course when he becomes president it's an incredible period of legislative accomplishment first hundred days. but, again, he had this overwhelming majority in congress. he could get that legislation done. he never was given that same ability in any of his re-elections, and so the hundred days really is a very unique
historic moment, and i don't think that you'll see any presidents soon to be able to match it. >> i don't think you'll ever see it again partly because they had this long four month period to prepare for the first hundred days and you have these huge majorities in both houses of congress and the american public which is demanding action and action now as he says in the local address. but there's a very famous photograph of roosevelt and hoover in the back of the car on the way to the inauguration, and it really sort of sums up everything that could be said about their relationship and the story is that they get in the car and roosevelt is trying to have small talk with hoover and roosevelt was, you know, famous for his charming personality and his ability to engage with people, and of course hoover is equally famous for his taciturn nature and hoover doesn't respond at all.
and at a certain point he turns his attention to the crowd and hoover sits there with that mug on his face, and it's the last time they ever see each other. of course it's a great cover in new york that was never ran by peter arno, which kind of sums it up perfectly and hoover has got this scowl, and roosevelt has his usual smile. their personalities really were night and day. hoover felt he didn't need to communicate what he was doing to the american public that the results of what he was doing would speak volumes. he would either be successful or he would not be whereas roosevelt was really understood, you've got to communicate.
he was a wonderful communicator in the fireside chats, and he had a pulitzer prizewinning playwright robert sherwood and others to help him, but he also had a natural ability. and that's the difference. roosevelt grew up understanding the labors of politics and the needs of the voting public. hoover had always been outside of politics. >> when he became president that was the first time he'd ever held elective office and nothing like starting at the top. he also spent the rest of his life then trying to convince people he was right and roosevelt was wrong. >> hoover, you know, wrote a book in '34 called "the challenge to liberty." and it was really a screed against the new deal although until 1940 he thought he might get the nomination to run again, it never happened.
he wrote a major attack on fdr's foreign policy which was never published until maybe about 5 years ago headed by george gnash called freedom betrayed. you could see there's, you know, a theme here about freedom and liberty. and it's not that hoover hasn't made arguments that other historians have in criticizing roosevelt's foreign policy. it's that no one can gain say roosevelt's leadership during this second world war. i mean i think the war more than necessarily the new deal which was kind of rocky and never really got america out of the
depression shows his leadership at its finest in saving democracy not only in america but in europe. >> that's one of the things that i find most confusing about hoover when you read about him. his life is really very much that based on a set of principles both in terms of his extraordinary intellect and his success as a businessman and then these bedrock conservative principles he had for the rest of his life. and yet even though he saw the terrible suffering they imposed on the belgians in world war i during that period he supports hitler, goes to germany and he starts supporting the notty regime, and one of his criticisms of roosevelt of course is that roosevelt had such antipathy towards them. i've never been able to understand why hoover took that point of view particularly if he's proposing that freedom is the most important thing. this is the least free, the most
repressive society in the world. >> so hoover had been over in europe to visit poland. he was very important in feeding the polls after world war i through the relief administration. and he actually was asked by the american ambassador if he would come to germany to have that audience with hitler if hoover didn't seek it. in notes he made and memorandum afterwards he indicated that american media which made hitler out to be a clown couldn't be more wrong. that hitler meant what he said, and what he said was sheer evil. he thought that the germans and the russians would be involved in this very prolonged and kind of blood letting which would
protect western interests. similar to what a long time happened in iraq and iran. it's a rather cynical view but hoover thought that america should become fortress america and, you know, let the nazis and the soviets fight it out. >> it really isn't until pearl harbor that hoover finally comes onboard supporting the american military effort, and he is fairly supportive of roosevelt during the war. and i think at that point he didn't have much option. i do think it's interesting that america-first group it was l
linberg and taft and others who had this idea america could just stay out of this war and let them fight it out over there, really hoover was very much in that camp whereas roosevelt was much more in we needed to support western democracies, we needed to be partners and the neutrality -- roosevelt certainly would have gone much further if he could have. he didn't break the law, he came as close to breaking it as you can and all that sort of stuff, most of which hoover opposed. there is an interesting post-script to the wars after of course roosevelt died hoover had not visited the white house for whatever it is, 12 years at that point. but he had a different relationship with fdr's successor. you want to talk about that a little bit? >> throughout roosevelt's
administration a number of advisers specifically some of the conservative democrats like bernard baruke kept pushing roosevelt to bring hoover in on certain policy issues, and roosevelt exploded and said i'm not jesus christ, and i'm not going to raise hoover from the dead. when he dies harry truman reaches out to him and asks him for a meeting and sends this 71-year-old man on a fact finding mission, a global fact finding mission, post-war food and humanitarian needs. it's used by george marshal in formulating the marshal plan. and so hoover under truman i think gets rehabilitated.
he's brought back into service, and, you know, in fairness the only person who had really dealt with feeding millions of people and dealing with that kind of relief effort was hoover. plus he also still had a network within the leadership of europe that remembered him from world war i, and especially in germany really the only american that they trusted after world war ii was hoover because at a time when the allies didn't want food to go into post-world war i germany hoover fought to get it in. >> i feel one of roosevelt's great failings he did not brief truman on everything. not on the atomic bomb, on his strategy, not on the united nations, so truman really had to
take over with very little understanding what was going on. from 1933 to 1953 hoover was the only survivor expresident, the only person who really understood what the job was. i'm going to let you have the last note as we wrap this up because i think it's one of hoover's great quotes. he lived until the mid-60s. he saw a lot of different things. his philosophy essentially laid the ground work of gold water and reagan that went all the way through for decades, and near the time of his death he was asked why he had overcome his critics. you want to talk about that story and end with a famous quote? >> i think you're referring to his quote that he outlived the bastards, which allowed him --
there are two kinds of quotes that sum up hoover's understanding of what happened. the first where he said that a foolish individual only hurts themselves whereas a foolx government hurts both the wise and the foolish. and the other is blessed are the children for they shall inherit the national debt. >> well, tom, you do a fantastic job at the hoover presidential library at the west branch iowa and do a fantastic job protecting that legacy and the records. presidential libraries, we may have presidents who have different political philosophies but we all support each other in our efforts, so thank you for joining us today, tom. >> thank you, paul. >> you're watching american history tv, every weekend on c-span 3 explore our nation's
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