Roosevelt a Liberal and Hoover a Conservative
Thesis: Because the Great Depression quickly changed America’s view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Written for the Advanced Placement U.S. History Document Based Question from the A.P. test.
The political shifts in American history during the last two centuries are often explained by Arthur Schlesinger’s cyclical explanation of eras of public purpose followed by private interest. What is considered liberal versus what is considered conservative shifts in a similar pattern. While laissez-faire policies are considered liberal in the Roaring 20’s, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 quickly changed America’s view of liberalism. Suddenly, the small government politics of Hoover were conservative and the progressive politics of Roosevelt were considered liberal. Thus, because the Great Depression quickly changed America’s view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Because the Great Depression occurred during Hoover’s term as president, in the public’s mind, Hoover started his presidency as a liberal and ended it as a conservative. With the end of the Progressive Age in 1910, big business flourished because Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover kept government from intervening in the economy. Compared to the public purpose policies of Teddy Roosevelt, the laissez-faire policies of these presidents seemed extremely liberal. The invention of the production line which spurred on the Second Industrial Revolution, allowed businessmen such as Henry Ford to prosper, while automobiles and electrical appliances became available to the masses. America’s success and optimism caused people to support the liberal policies of the 1920’s.
However, even before the Depression, there were signs that Hoover was becoming more conservative. As Document A suggests, Hoover did not want to be considered completely laissez-faire. He seemed less determined to preserve the extremely capitalistic society of the 1920’s which was run, often corruptly, by political machines, such as Tweed. However, the success of the American economy under the private interest beliefs of Harding and Coolidge required him to ensure that the lack of intervention in the economy would be maintained, but he also sensed the transformation of the views of the working masses who looked favorably on restriction of unfair business practices. This lack of complete dedication to private interest or public purpose is further displayed in Documents B and C where Hoover stresses the importance of the individual in ending the Depression while also assuring government support for job production if the situation required it. Hoover’s speeches are remarkably similar to Roosevelt’s speech in Document E. Here, even during the Depression, Roosevelt stressed the importance of balancing the budget unless unemployment required the government to spend money stimulating the economy. Instead of Hoover’s desire to continue restricting government, Roosevelt wanted to balance the budget. The Depression created the need for government intervention and an unbalanced budget as shown in Document F. However, despite a few efforts by Hoover to create jobs, he still seemed much different than Roosevelt who insisted in 1936 that America must not go back to supporting Conservatives who protected private interest unjustly. (Document G)
Hoover started creating jobs when the Depression caused Americans to demand public purpose reform, but the public still quickly characterized him as a conservative despite passing some, now considered, liberal legislation. At first Hoover stubbornly held to his belief that government could not and should not try to end the Depression as shown in Document B. In 1930, Hoover remained conservative. He rarely intervened in the economy and thus was considered a conservative despite being a liberal while supporting the same policies a few years before. Even by 1931, Roosevelt’s liberal New Deal sharply contrasted Hoover’s belief that the private individual can do more than the government to end the Depression as shown in Document C. Document C demonstrated Hoover’s faith that prosperity would return to America. Roosevelt shared similar optimism, but the public supported Roosevelt more because he adapted to the demand for government intervention in the economy, and worked hard to create reform, even though many of Roosevelt’s new policies failed.
However, as the Depression wore on, Hoover too tried to pass legislation similar to Roosevelt’s New Deal. Under the Federal Farm Board, the government bought surplus crops in an effort to increase farm prices. He also adopted a few public works programs, such as the building of the Boulder Dam. Hoover also proposed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to loan federal money to prevent bankruptcy. These efforts were remarkably similar to Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. However, Hoover was still considered a conservative by the public’s during the Depression for two reasons. First, he passed only a few reform bills designed to end the Depression compared to the enormous amounts of legislation passed under Roosevelt’s New Deal. Because Hoover’s legislation was limited, his programs failed to cause a noticeable effect on the economy. Secondly, the politicians of the 1920’s, Hoover especially, were blamed for the Depression, as displayed in Document G, and consequently Hoover was labeled a conservative like the presidents before him., especially when compared to the almost radical public welfare legislation pushed by Roosevelt. Hoover stubbornly held on to his political beliefs while trying to pass legislation that would appease voters by just barely keeping America afloat as shown in Document D.
Roosevelt immediately gained the public’s favor with his liberal ideas. In the first 100 days, Roosevelt stabilized banks with the Federal Bank Holiday. In the New Deal he fought poverty with the TVA, NRA, AAA, CCC, PWA, and CWA. These policies were definitely liberal in the 1930’s and because of the new programs, Roosevelt received false credit for ending the Depression. Ironically Roosevelt succeeded only a little more than Hoover in ending the Depression. Despite tripling expenditures during Roosevelt’s administration, (Document F) the American economy did not recover from the Depression until World War II.
Thus, while Roosevelt can definitely be characterized as a liberal by today’s standards and the standards of the 1930’s, Hoover’s characterization changed as the public’s view of a liberal quickly became a conservative during the depression. Furthermore, Hoover’s ideas changed from opposing government intervention in the economy to supporting government incentives for employment. Unlike most presidents (under Schlesinger’s theory) Hoover experienced private interest, transition, and public purpose within the one term of his presidency.