THE HOOVER ADMINISTRATION AND THE DEPRESSION
To state that Herbert Hoover did nothing to stem the effects of the Great Depression is not entirely accurate. Nevertheless, he did believe that this crisis could be solved through voluntarism. Hoover urged Americans to donate all they could to charities, and held several conferences with business leaders where he urged them not to reduce wages or lay off workers. When it became obvious that these measures were not enough, public opinion quickly turned against Hoover.
The Hoover administration did take several specific measures to offset the effects of the Depression. Even before the stock market crash, the Agricultural Marketing Act created a Federal Farm Board that had the ability to give loans to the agricultural community and buy crops to keep farm prices up. By 1932 there was not enough money to keep this program afloat. In 1930 Congress enacted the Hawley-Smoot tariff, which to this day is the highest import tax in the history of the United States. In response, European countries drastically increased their own tariffs as well; some historians maintain that this legislation did little to improve the economy of the United States, but that its effects did much to ensure that the American Depression would be a worldwide one.
Hoover did authorize more money for public works programs, and in 1932, he authorized the creation of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. This agency gave money to banks, who were then authorized to loan this money to businesses and railroads. Another bill authorized loans to banks to prevent them from failing. To many in America, these bills were merely signs that Hoover was only interested in helping those at the top of society and that he cared little about the common person. Hoover vetoed legislation authorizing a federal relief program, although in 1932 he did sign legislation authorizing federal loans to the states; states could then administer relief programs with this money.
The views of those Americans who felt that Hoover was unconcerned about the plight of the common man had their views seemingly confirmed by federal actions against the Bonus Army that appeared in Washington in the summer of 1932. This group of nearly 22,000 unemployed World War I vets came to ask the federal government to give them the bonuses chat they were supposed to get in 1945 immediately. At Hoover’s urging, the Senate rejected legislation authorizing this. Most of the Bonus Army then went home, but a few thousand stayed, living in shacks along the Anacostia River. Hoover ordered them removed; military forces led by Douglas Mac Arthur used tear gas and cleared the remaining bonus marchers from their camp and burned down the shacks they had been living in.