THE 1932 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The two candidates in the 1932 presidential election could not have been more different in both content and style. In a joyless convention, the Republicans renominated Herbert Hoover. In newsreels seen by Americans across the country, Hoover came across as unsmiling and utterly lacking in warmth. He insisted that his policies would eventually lead America out of the Depression, stating that history demonstrated that lulls in the American economy are always followed by upturns. Hoover warned against “mindless experimentation” in the creation of government policies. It should be noted that Hoover was echoing standard economic and political theory of the era.
Hoover’s opponent in the election was the Governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a man of wealth. After serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson, Roosevelt unsuccessfully tried to get the vice presidential nomination in 1920. During the summer of 1921, he came down with polio, which left him unable to walk for the rest of his life. Several of Roosevelt’s biographers maintain that the mental and physical anguish caused by his polio made Roosevelt much more sensitive to the sufferings of others.
Franklin Roosevelt married a distant cousin, Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1905. While Franklin spent much of the 1920s attempting to recover from polio in Warm Springs, Georgia, Eleanor became a tireless worker in New York state politics, pushing for governmental reform and better conditions for working women. The role that Eleanor Roosevelt played during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt cannot be overestimated. FDR (this shortening of his name was done by a reporter in 1932) oftentimes stated that Eleanor served as his “legs,” visiting miners, schools, and countless other groups. Eleanor also discussed policy with Roosevelt and continually urged him to do more to offset the effects of the Depression.
As Governor of New York during the first years of the Great Depression, Roosevelt instituted relief programs that became models for others across the country. During his campaign Roosevelt promised “The New Deal” for the American people; unlike Hoover, he also promised to experiment to find solutions to America’s problems. Roosevelt’s broad smile and personal demeanor contrasted drastically with the public image of Herbert Hoover; Americans were convinced that Roosevelt cared (this would be demonstrated during his presidency by the hundreds of letters that Roosevelt and his wife both received during their presidency, asking for things such as small loans, money to pay doctors, and old clothes; it should also be noted that many Americans had a picture of Franklin Roosevelt on display somewhere in their living quarters during the Depression).
The 1932 presidential election was easily won by Roosevelt, who won by over 7 million votes. Hoover’s only strength was in the Northeastern states. In addition, the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress. Some had feared (or hoped) that the Depression would radicalize the American working class, yet the socialist candidate for president, Norman Thomas, received considerably less than 1 million votes.