Hoover’s Response to the Great Depression
Hoover’s Response to the Depression
President Hoover stated publicly that “the Government should not support the people.” Himself a self-made man, Hoover believed in rugged individualism— people rescuing themselves by their own efforts. For quite some time, he simply refused to accept that the economic crisis was so widespread and so grave that people could not help themselves, no matter how much they wanted to. Eventually, between the public, the newspaper reports, and his advisers, Hoover was reluctantly convinced to take steps to help the needy. His administration spent hundreds of millions of dollars on public works projects such as the construction of Boulder (later renamed Hoover) Dam in Nevada. The Federal Farm Board, established in 1929, loaned farmers money and bought up tons of their surplus crops that no one else could afford. However, these policies did not go far enough to help those who needed it most, and economic conditions did not improve.
Millions of Americans who had always worked hard and supported them- selves and their families were suddenly destitute. Some of those who lost for- tunes in the stock market committed suicide. Others found themselves begging for food or money, or standing in long lines outside missions and charities for free bowls of soup or sandwiches. Many young people, especially boys, stowed away aboard railway boxcars and rode the freight trains for free, going long distances across the country in search of whatever work they could find.
Landlords regularly evicted those who could not pay their rent. Often, land- lords would wait until a tenant who owed money had left his apartment, then change the locks and either throw the person’s belongings out into the street or keep them as partial payment for the unpaid rent. Homeowners were also evicted; many could not make their mortgage payments, and their houses were taken away from them. Newly homeless people formed communities called Hoovervilles, in ironic tribute to the president who had made it all possible. Shelters in these makeshift communities were made of oversize cardboard boxes, giant packing crates, scraps of tin, boards, and any other building material that came to hand. Hoovervilles were usually in vacant lots, under bridges, or on the outskirts of towns.
Hoover’s opponent in the 1932 presidential election was Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt of New York. At the Democratic Convention, Roosevelt stated that the Republican leaders had “failed in national vision, because in disaster they have held out no hope.” Roosevelt won the election in a popular and electoral landslide, carrying 42 states and winning seven million more votes than Hoover. Voters extended their blame for current conditions to the entire Republican Party; the Democrats won substantial majorities in both houses of Congress.
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