The Atlantic

The Bitter Origins of the Fight Over Big Government

What the battle between Herbert Hoover and FDR can teach us
Source: Christian Northeast

In January 1933, President Herbert Hoover found himself in a position familiar at that point to millions of Americans: He was about to lose his job. Unsure of what the future might hold, he considered whether to accept an offer of a regular appearance on a weekly radio program sponsored by the Old Gold tobacco company. Hoover found the idea distasteful—becoming a speaker on a show whose ultimate purpose was to advertise cigarettes seemed to him a debasement of the presidency—but it was a desperate time. As he wrote to his press secretary, Theodore Joslin, “It is probably something I cannot do, but, well, I hate to say it, but I need that $150,000, Ted.”

Meanwhile, the financial structure of the United States was approaching collapse. At the start of Hoover’s presidency, 24,000 banks had been open for business throughout the country. By 1933, 10,000 of these had shut their doors. One state after another—Nevada, Iowa, California—was suspending normal bank operations in order to keep frightened depositors from withdrawing their cash. Publicly, Hoover insisted that the solution to the panic was a recommitment to the gold standard by nations that had recently abandoned it, such as Great Britain; he blamed the impending Roosevelt administration for sowing fear and discord. But privately, only a day before Michigan declared a bank holiday

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