Hoover did not believe in direct relief for the unemployed. He continued to profess a doctrine of self-initiative and individualism and believed the federal government should not be involved in relief. This hurt him with the electorate as Democratic politicians and the media blamed the president for the suffering in the depression.
Bread lines and soup kitchens were common sights in urban areas. “Hoovervilles” or camps of homeless families, formed on the outskirts of cities. A “Hoover hamburger” was a piece of Spam (a canned meat) and “Hoover flags” were one’s pockets turned inside out. While Hoover did spend federal money on public works projects, including the start of the Boulder Dam outside Las Vegas, Nevada, states cut their spending on road building and public works projects in order to pay for relief.
After a tumultuous Democratic convention in Chicago, FDR won the nomination, defied precedence and flew from Albany to Chicago to accept the nomination in person, promising “a new deal for the American people.” To the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again,” the Democratic nominee exuded optimism and promised to try anything to get the country moving again.
He easily defeated Hoover in the general election. Hoover campaigned only in late October and was pessimistic and dour in his approach. He had not been helped by the Bonus Army incident in the summer, when a group of World War veterans encamped in Washington, D.C., hoping for an early payment of a bonus owed to them in 1945, demanded the help now.
Congress, under the control of Democrats who saw the bonus as a budget buster, refused to appropriate the money. With nowhere else to go, the homeless veterans encamped on the Anacostia River, sold apples in the streets, begged for money and were seen as a potential revolutionary army by the War Department, led by Patrick Hurley. Hoover ordered the army to escort the Bonus Army across the river, moving them into neighboring Virginia.
Major Douglas MacArthur violated Hoover’s orders to do this peacefully and used tanks, tear gas and drawn bayonets to break up the camp, destroying the property of the veterans and killing a baby in the process. Hoover took full blame for the incident. It sealed his fate in the election, which FDR won with 58 percent of the vote and a Democrat congress.
- One of the famous television shows from the 1970s was the Archie Bunker Show. In the opening song he sings, “We could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.” Why might someone have a positive image of Hoover?
- Franklin Roosevelt was a great communicator – perhaps the best among American presidents. Among his famous statements is that “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” During the Depression and World War II, he restored confidence to the country. Most countries have two leaders: a head of state (a monarch or a president), and a head of government (a prime minister or chancellor). In restoring confidence in the country, Roosevelt performed the “head of state” function extraordinarily. As head of government, his policies were more controversial. Can you think of some things started during Roosevelt’s time as president that continue to be controversial?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.
26, Feb. 2018, Soup Kitchens and Breadlines [Digital photograph]. Retrieved from <history.com>.