William Leuchtenburg
Herbert Hoover

At his ten-room aerie in Manhattan's Waldorf Astoria, he played solitaire or groused to anyone who would listen about that demonic FDR and those unfair journalists. He could not pick up a paper without reading how Roosevelt's dynamic leadership contrasted with his own timidity or how FDR's ready grin and cheery rhetoric inspirited the nation as Hoover's despondency had not. Instead of doing his best to ignore aspersions, Hoover subscribed to a clipping service that permitted him to dwell on how much he was detested. Not one Republican congressman, he complained, would come to his defense when the New Dealers told outrageous lies about him. He nursed unbecoming grievances: why had the marine band played 'Hail to the Chief' on Inauguration Day before FDR had formally taken the oath of office? Hoover even fumed about a book by one of his former aides, though it was patently obsequious.

Hoover did have reason to grumble, though, for he was unfairly held responsible for both the 1929 stock market calamity and the onset of the Great Depression. In the 1932 campaign, Roosevelt had charged that as secretary of commerce Hoover had promoted foreign loans, financing the speculation that brought on the crash. It was a cheap shot. No officeholder of the era was as blameless as Hoover for what ensued. As commerce secretary, he had issued repeated warnings against 'the fever of speculation'; asked Coolidge to prevent practices such as inside trading; and urged the Federal Reserve to raise the discount rate in order to deter plungers in the Great Bull Market. Worried about the 'crazy and dangerous' frenzy, he had been in the White House only two days when he exhorted Federal Reserve officials to curb speculation. 'Please do not use me as a whipping boy for the "New Era,"' Hoover implored a columnist later. 'I was neither the inventor nor the promoter nor the supporter of the destructive currents of that period. I was the "receiver" of it when it went into collapse.'

Critics also misrepresented Hoover as a Wall Street lackey. 'The only trouble with capitalism is capitalists,' he had told the columnist Mark Sullivan. 'They're too damned greedy.' Bankers were worse than gangsters, he said. Al Capone 'apparently was kind to the poor.' In 1932 Hoover had asked the Senate to investigate 'sinister bear raids' on the stock exchange, and advocated legislation requiring full disclosure of stock offerings and subjecting fraudulent promoters to punishment. 'Men are not justified in deliberately making a profit from the losses of other people,' he declared.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.