America of the Great Depression

A. Plan of Investigation:

This investigation seeks to evaluate the differing philosophies of President Herbert C. Hoover with those of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in their approaches to end the Great Depression of America. The “Summary of Evidence” will list and compare these philosophies. In the “Evaluation of Sources,” the credibility of the two most important sources used for this investigation, (The Great Depression: Opposing Viewpoints and The American President), will be evaluated. The philosophies of the presidents from “Summary of Evidence” will then be further analyzed in “Analysis”

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including how their actions during their administration reflected their philosophies from relief of the Great Depression, and how these actions affected America, shared through varying viewpoints.

B. Summary of Evidence:

The “Roaring 20’s” was a celebration of the American dream of prosperity and life after WWI. President Hoover “seemed a perfect symbolic match for what Americans anticipated (Greenhaven Press 23)” for the new era, being a mining engineer and self-made millionaire. Technological process developed entirely new industries, worker’s income increased significantly, and consumption of consumer products continued to grow. However, the stock market crash of 1929, known as “Black Tuesday,” led to a downward spiral of devastating economic events that “revealed the limitations of both Hoover’s leadership and the American prosperity….(Greenhaven Press 23)”

“At its nadir, the depression paired individual rationality with collective insanity. Workers were idle because firms would not hire them to work their machines; firms would not hire workers to work machines because they saw no market for goods; and there was no market for goods because workers had no income to spend (Greenhaven Press 24).”

Hoover’s immediate response was to allow the economy to fix itself, with the belief that the government should not interfere with private enterprise. He believed as president, he should limit himself to be an “influential advisor and well-placed cheerleader (Greenhaven Press 23).” He simply continued insisting that recovery for America was on its way. President Hoover’s philosophies in addition with this belief includes:

1.) Maintaining High and Steady Wages for Workers (1929):

Hoover held many meetings and conferences with businesses and their leaders, advising them to not lay off workers.

2.) Requiring State and Local Governments to Provide Their Own Relief Towards Recovery (1929-1930):

Hoover absolutely refused to allow federal funds and grants to be given to the poor and unemployed (which had risen from 3 to 10 million). It was up to the community to create the programs to provide relief.

3.) (1931; After first 2 years of Presidency) Give Loans:

Hoover intervened to give loans to businesses, spending more money than the government really had.

(Kunhardt)

After Hoover’s administration, America was eager for a new president with new philosophies, having lost their faith in Hoover. Between the time Roosevelt was elected as president and his inaugural address in 1932, the depression had reached its lowest point. The economy again collapsed, unemployment reached 15 million, and the farmers faced impending foreclosures. America was breathing over Roosevelt’s shoulder waiting for him to make his move. He made the decision to call a special conference with Congress to discuss beginning vigorous federal intervention, opposing Hoover’s philosophies, including: (Greenhaven Press)

1.) The “New Deal” (1932):

Created a multitude of new federally funded programs.

2.) Use Federal Funds to Provide for the Poor and Local Government Programs (1932):

Roosevelt spent as much money as he was allowed to get away with, wanting to gain the trust of America

3.) Set Minimum Wages and Maximum Working Hours (1932):

Roosevelt set these conditions in order to ensure more job openings for the unemployed.

4.) Stop the Farmers from Farming (1932):

Roosevelt wanted to decrease surplus and therefore raise prices.

5.) Federal Deficit Spending (1932):

Spend more money than what is available. (Kunhardt)

C. Evaluation of Sources:

The American President (www.americanpresident.org) is an Internet site based on the documentary series of the profiles of American’s Presidents of the same title, shown on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) television network in the year 2000. This series was written, produced, and directed by Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, and Peter W. Kunhardt. These men have produced many other historical documentaries, and Philip B. Kunhardt, Jr. was the managing editor of LIFE magazine.

This website’s purpose and objectives is to provide accurate and historical biographical information of each American President before, during, and after his administration. It also provides the reader insight on the effects of their administrations on America. For the purpose of this investigation, the website provided important information on both President Hoover and Roosevelt including how they managed the Great Depression, and how America was affected after their administrations in various ways. The limitation is that it is written from one author’s viewpoint, and although attempts to be objective, there may be some unattended bias views.

The Great Depression: Opposing Viewpoints, was also a very credible and important source for the purposes of this investigation. It’s part of a printed series named “American History Series” published by the Greenhaven Press, and edited by William Dudley. It’s purpose is to provide numerous varying viewpoints on actions that either Hoover or Roosevelt performed during the Great Depression. This book provides both bias and objective viewpoints from numerous primary resources including newspaper articles, letters, and excerpts from speeches, from the viewpoints of historians, politicians, economists, businessmen, agriculturists, etc. This book includes what the American public thought of the presidents, how and why the actions of the presidents affected America, concluding how the presidents’ administrations led to the end of the depression.

As expressed previously, this resource offers bias and objective viewpoints from an incredible array of speakers. If any limitation exists, it may be it’s publishing date of 1994, since new evidence may have subsequently been revealed of the depression. However for the purposes of this investigation, this is insignificant as this source is used to express the views people had during the time of the depression.

D. Analysis:

The investigation of evaluating the philosophies of President Hoover and President Roosevelt’s, in their approach to end the Great Depression is important. The Great Depression from 1929 until WWII was the first major economic crisis of America. The ways in which both President Hoover and President Roosevelt handled this ‘crisis,’ had a powerful influence on the future of America and how the government and American society forever changed in order to prevent such an occurrence.

After the crash of 1929, President Hoover decided to withhold federal funds from interfering with private enterprises, because of his “strong philosophical convictions of the proper limits of the federal government. (Greenhaven Press 24).” However, Hoover took considerable action towards the relief of the depression. On November 21, he summoned industrialists, business, farm, and labor leaders to the White House for a conference encouraging them to maintain workers wages and hours, avoiding unemployment and declining of consumption levels (Kunhardt). Although this approach worked for a year, it was less than successful. “While businessmen maintained wage levels temporarily, they cut back on the number of their employees because of dropping consumption levels. Seeing other workers laid off and fearing for their own future, laborers cut back on purchases thus guaranteeing further layoffs (Hughes).”

Millions of Americans were pleading for support from their government, but Hoover insisted the basis of “successful relief…is to mobilize and organize the infinite number of agencies of self help in the community (Greenhaven Press 28).” Mayor Joseph L. Heffernan of Youngstown Ohio wrote, “at a time when the unemployment rate in many cities rose to more than 50%, local charities and governments were stretched to the breaking point.” He felt the President knew the cities were in debt, and organizing new programs would take months or perhaps years. Resources for the unemployed, the homeless, and the hungry, quickly drained to none, pushing most programs into bankruptcy. However, his view wasn’t shared by all of the American people. ” Many Americans firmly believed in the importance of self-reliance and were extremely reluctant to apply for [relief] (Greenhaven Press 44).”

After two years of the depression, Hoover saw the condition of America only worsening, with unemployment reaching 20% nationwide, and finally decided to allow the government to intervene. In 1931, he proposed assistance through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), an “agency that made long-term low interest loans to banks and big businesses… [for] prompting economic recovery. While RFC loans did forestall the…banking crisis until 1933, they failed to promote economic recovery. Given the paucity of purchasing power, businesses didn’t borrow to expand, workers weren’t rehired, and thus…no increase in consumption by rehired laborers (Hughes).”

By the time President Franklin D. Roosevelt became President, the depression had reached its lowest point. “One quarter of the work force was unemployed. Public schools were closing because of lack of funding. It was estimated that 200,000 young people were drifting around the country, riding the rails to look for work (Presidency).” Roosevelt strongly opposed the philosophies of Hoover, believing there needed to be a massive amount of federal programs, not local, to provide the needed funds and employment for America’s people, thus the “New Deal.”

Many Americans were eager for change, but President Hoover and other politicians believed that too much government intervention was a form of tyranny. Journalist Suzanne La Follette argued in 1932, that it “gives too much power to the government” and may “lead to corruption.” However, Suzanne advocated against liberals, and used Roosevelt as an attack upon all liberals. She writes, “[s]elf-deception is the primary requisite of the liberal mind. The liberal does not dare to see the reality of the economic injustice…” During this time, the majority of the American people strongly opposed this view, and not only believed that government intervention was necessary, but it was their last resort to recovery and freedom from poverty. (Greenhaven Press)

“Immediately after taking office on March 4, 1933, the [President Roosevelt] and his personal group of advisers (the “Brain Trust”) worked closely with congressional leaders. They quickly established several agencies to curb the economic downswing by pumping federal funds into the economy. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) provided funds outright to the needy, whereas the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Public Works Administration (PWA), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) put millions of unemployed to work on public projects. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protected depositors in the event of bank failures; the National Recovery Administration (NRA) regulated prices and wages and promoted fair business competition; and the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) tried to help farmers by reducing excess production and increasing farm prices (The American Presidency).”

Historian Allan Nevins wrote, “the resourcefulness of the New Deal marks a fundamental shift in which the government assumed a greater responsibility for ensuring economic prosperity for all Americans…” Some Americans feared the government was granted too much power, as stated by Suzanne La Follette. However, Roosevelt’s vigorous and massive numbers of programs proved to be what America needed to be relieved of the Great Depression, and created important programs Americans still depend on today.

E. Conclusion:

President Hoover’s philosophies of how to provide relief for America’s Great Depression, proved to be an overall failure. His attempt at the end of his administration to create federal programs and provide funds to local governments was simply “too little too late.” However, Hoover’s administration was still important for America. According to Barton J. Berstein, a history professor of Stanford University, President Hoover actually “did more than any previous American President to combat depression. ‘He abandoned the principles of laissez faire in relation to the business cycle, established the conviction that prosperity and depression can be publicly controlled by political action, and drove out of the public consciousness the old idea that depressions must be overcome by private adjustment’, wrote Walter Lippmann. Rather than the last of the old presidents, Herbert Hoover was the first of the new.”

President Roosevelt succeeded in relieving America of its depression. His philosophies did fail in a number of ways, with opportunities that fumbled, and groups who were neglected, but his “New Deal” “gave far greater amplitude to the national state, expanded the authority of the presidency, mandated minimal working standards, unemployment insurance and aid for dependent children, provided jobs for millions of unemployed, and transformed the economy of agriculture.” “The New Deal accomplished all of this at a critical time, when many were insisting that fascism was the wave of the future and denying the democracy could be effective.” (Greenhaven Press)

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