July 2014 Brief: Volume 21, Number 21
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Herbert Hoover's Crusade Against New Deal Liberalism
by John Hendrickson
During the 1932 presidential campaign President Herbert Hoover told the nation that “the proposals of our opponents represent a profound change in American life…” Hoover argued that the policies being advocated by his opponent, New York Democrat Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, “represent a radical departure from the foundations of 150 years which have made this the greatest nation in the world.” He understood, rather prophetically, that the campaign was “more than a contest between two parties. It is a contest between two philosophies of government.” In fact, Hoover warned that the result of the election meant “deciding the direction our nation will take over a century to come.”
President Hoover, because of the severity of the Great Depression, would lose the election, and the resulting victory by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Democrat Party would exile the Republican Party into the political wilderness. From a conservative standpoint Hoover’s warnings about President Roosevelt’s policies came to fruition as the New Deal transformed American politics and constitutional government. As the Republican Party tried to oppose Roosevelt’s policies, Herbert Hoover emerged as the leading guardian of constitutional conservatism during the New Deal era.
Hoover’s post-presidency was marked by his political crusade against both New Deal domestic policies and Roosevelt’s and later President Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy. The post-presidency of Herbert Hoover is an incredible record of public service, political involvement, and philanthropy. Recently historian George H. Nash, a leading historian of the American conservative movement and a Hoover scholar, edited two memoirs written by Hoover in his post-presidency. The first, of which scholars were previously aware, was Hoover’s long-term magnum opus Freedom Betrayed, which was a critique of Roosevelt’s and Truman’s foreign policy. While editing Freedom Betrayed, George Nash discovered a forgotten memoir written by Hoover, which focuses specifically on FDR’s New Deal. The Crusade Years, 1933-1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath is Hoover’s memoir on his crusade against New Deal liberalism. The Crusade Years is also personal because Hoover writes about family life, the passing of his wife Lou Henry Hoover, and some of his philanthropic activities.
The majority of The Crusade Years is Hoover’s political involvement within the Republican Party and his campaign to restore constitutional limited government in response to New Deal liberalism. In his memoir, Hoover writes “the period from 1933 to 1938 in America was dominated by a clash in philosophical ideas,” and that he was compelled to break his silence after the presidency to combat “a great error” which “threatened to destroy” the foundations of the American System.
For Hoover, Roosevelt’s New Deal represented collectivism through massive federal power, especially through government spending, taxation, and regulation. He believed the regimentation of the New Deal was a serious threat to American liberty. The New Deal represented a direct challenge to constitutional government, and Hoover became the leading conservative spokesman against liberalism during this era.
Herbert Hoover’s Crusade Years not only provides more insight into his campaign against New Deal liberalism, but also his involvement within the Republican Party. In The Crusade Years Hoover writes about elections, Republican presidential candidates, and the effort to bring the Republicans out of the political wilderness. Hoover’s role within the Republican Party was a stalwart of conservatism and working and supporting the conservative element of the GOP represented by leaders such as Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio.
George H. Nash writes that “in the 1930s and 1940s, both Hoover and his archrival Franklin Roosevelt knew they were engaged in a contest for the American mind and political soul.” Herbert Hoover’s crusade against New Deal liberalism was a voice of one calling in the wilderness to the American people to reverse course and reject collectivist policies. George H. Nash describes Hoover’s contributions to American conservatism as “among the most enduring of his legacies.”
The discovery of Herbert Hoover’s lost memoir, The Crusade Years, is timely not only in reminding the nation of his important legacy, but also his crusade against New Deal liberalism — a battle which continues today. Hoover wrote that with the election of Roosevelt in 1932 “the American people were carried away by the promise of utopia and the propaganda and glitter” — something which also occurred with the election of President Barack Obama — and in referencing one of his previous speeches he stated that the “Constitution is indeed under more vivid attack than at any time since the years before the Civil War…” Hoover understood that limited government and free enterprise were essential for the preservation of liberty and constitutional government. Hoover’s Crusade Years reminds us of the current battle before the nation today and what is at stake.
 Herbert C. Hoover, “President Hoover, New York City, Madison Square Garden, October 31, 1932,” in Campaign Speeches of 1932 by President Hoover and Ex-President Coolidge, Doubleday, Doran & Company, New York, 1933, p. 195.
John Hendrickson is a Research Analyst with Public Interest Institute, Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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