Editor’s Note: This introduction is adapted from The Crusade Years, 1933–1955: Herbert Hoover’s Lost Memoir of the New Deal Era and Its Aftermath, edited and with an introduction by George H. Nash (Hoover Institution Press, 2013).
On a cool October morning in 1964, Herbert Hoover died in New York City at the age of ninety. He had lived a phenomenally productive life, including more than half a century in one form or another of public service. It was a record that in sheer scope and duration may be without parallel in American history.
His life had begun in humble circumstances in 1874 in a little Iowa farming community as the son of the village blacksmith. Orphaned before he was ten, he managed to enter Stanford University when it opened its doors in 1891. Four years later he graduated with a degree in geology and a determination to become a mining engineer.
Photo credit: Hoover Press
From then on, Hoover’s rise in the world was meteoric. By 1914, at the age of forty, he was an internationally acclaimed and extraordinarily successful mining engineer who had traveled around the world five times and had business interests on every continent except Antarctica.
During World War I, Hoover, residing in London, rose to prominence as the founder and director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium, an institution that provided desperately needed food supplies to more than nine million Belgian and French citizens trapped between the German army of occupation and the British naval blockade. His emergency relief mission in 1914 quickly evolved into a gigantic humanitarian enterprise without precedent in world history. By 1917 he was an international hero, the embodiment of a new force in global politics: American benevolence.
When America declared war on Germany in 1917, Hoover returned home and became head of the United States Food Administration, a specially created wartime agency of the federal government. At the conflict’s victorious close in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson dispatched him to Europe to organize food distribution to a continent careening toward disaster. There, for ten grueling months, he directed American-led efforts to combat famine and disease, establish stable postwar economies, and in the process check the advance of Bolshevik revolution from the East.
A little later, between 1921 and 1923, Hoover’s American Relief Administration administered a massive emergency relief operation in the interior of Soviet Russia, where a catastrophic famine—Europe’s worst since the Middle Ages—had broken out. At its peak of operations, his organization fed upward of ten million Russian citizens a day.
All in all, between 1914 and 1923 the American-born engineer-turned-humanitarian directed, financed, or assisted a multitude of international relief endeavors without parallel in the history of mankind. It was later said of him that he was responsible for saving more lives than any other person in history.
During the Roaring Twenties Hoover ascended still higher on the ladder of public esteem. As secretary of commerce under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he became one of the three or four most influential men in the U.S. government. In 1928, the “master of emergencies” (as admirers called him) was elected president of the United States in a landslide—without ever having held an elective public office.
Then came the crash of 1929 and the most severe economic trauma this nation has ever experienced. During his tormented presidency, Hoover strained without stint to return his country to prosperity while safeguarding its political moorings. His labors—even now misunderstood—seemed unavailing, and in the election of 1932 his fellow citizens’ verdict was harsh.
Before his single term as chief executive, Hoover’s career trajectory had curved unbrokenly upward. Now it headed pitifully down. “Democracy is not a polite employer,” he later wrote of his defeat at the polls. On March 4, 1933, he left office a virtual pariah, maligned and hated like no other American in his lifetime.
And then, astonishingly, like a phoenix, he slowly rose from the ashes of his political immolation. Now came the final phase of Hoover’s career: his remarkable ex-presidency. For the next thirty-one and one-half years, in fair political weather and foul, the former chief executive became, in his self-image, a crusader—a tireless and very visible castigator of the dominant political trends of his day. He behaved as a committed ideological warrior more persistently and more fervently than any other former president in our history.
Why? Most of all, it was because Hoover perceived in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt not a moderate and pragmatic response to economic distress but something more sinister: a revolutionary transformation in America’s political economy and constitutional order. Having espied the unpalatable future, Hoover could not bring himself to acquiesce.
It is this eventful period in Hoover’s career—and, more specifically, his life as a political pugilist from 1933 to 1955—that is the main subject of the volume before you. The Crusade Years is a previously unknown memoir that Hoover composed and revised during the 1940s and 1950s—and then, surprisingly, set aside. Placed in storage by his heirs after his death, the manuscript (in its various versions) lay sequestered—its existence unsuspected by scholars—until 2009, when it was discovered among the files of another hitherto inaccessible Hoover manuscript being readied for posthumous publication.
This other tome, known informally as the Magnum Opus, addressed American foreign policy in the 1930s and 1940s. Part memoir, part diplomatic history, part polemic, it was a scathing indictment of what Hoover termed Franklin Roosevelt’s “lost statesmanship” during World War II. Hoover ultimately titled the book Freedom Betrayed. It was published in 2011 by the Hoover Institution Press.
The Crusade Years—a companion volume of sorts to the Magnum Opus—covers much the same time period on the American home front. More fully a memoir than Freedom Betrayed, it recounts Hoover’s family life after March 4, 1933, his myriad philanthropic interests, and, most of all, his unrelenting “crusade against collectivism” in American life. Rescued from obscurity, this nearly forgotten manuscript is published here—and its contents made available to scholars—for the first time.
Editor’s note: The paragraphs below are taken from the earliest extant fragment of Hoover’s memoirs relating to his post-presidential years. He probably composed it by hand in September 1944. In this brief essay he identified the poisonous “philosophical error” that had come to dominate American politics during the New Deal years, an error he deemed it his moral duty to combat.
The period from 1933 to 1938 in America was dominated by a clash in philosophical ideas to which I felt it was my duty to apply every bit of strength I possessed. I was convinced that a great error had come into liberal thinking, which threatened to destroy the magnificent civilization which intellectual and spiritual freedom had builded and which was its impulse to progress. . . .
The error in ideas came first in the form of Socialism but had made little progress prior to the first World War. The root of the error was that government operation of economic instrumentalities, or government direction of their operation other than establishment of rules of conduct, could short-cut all human ills and produce immediate Utopia. This gigantic poison of liberty received a great impulse from the government agencies created to mobilize the whole energies of peoples in total war. Here the impulses of patriotism to produce and labor and the fear of the enemy were substituted for free will. After the war the inevitable flood of misery, of impoverishment and frustration furnished the hotbed for the growth of this gigantic error. It developed over Europe in various forms—all from the same root. Communism, Fascism, and the milder forms of Statism, were heralded by well-meaning and generous-minded men as to the new road to life. They were joined by demagogs and seekers-for-power. The ultimate end was slavery, whether in Communistic or Fascist form. This philosophic error had spread mildly in American thinking, but attained no dangerous proportions until the world-wide depression struck us with all its violence, misery and exposure of wrong-doing.
It was certain in my mind that the New Deal was but one form of this same error in ideas and that it was my job to fight it. But fighting a philosophic idea among a people who had never thought in these channels was not only a difficult thing in itself, but one must contend with demagogic promises of Utopia to a suffering people and the obvious needs of reform in the system itself.
The American people at large had scarcely heard the word ideology. They had developed and they had lived and breathed a way of life without defining it as an “ideology.”
Editor’s note: One of the animating impulses driving Hoover after 1933 was a desire to vindicate his conduct as president during the early years of the Great Depression. He deeply resented what he called the “smears” perpetuated by Franklin Roosevelt and other New Dealers, as well as the failure of Republican leaders like Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, and Thomas Dewey to defend the Hoover administration’s record with what Hoover considered sufficient zeal.
In the presidential contest of 1944, Hoover’s indignation boiled over. Democratic Party leaders and pro--Roosevelt campaigners repeatedly sought to discredit the Republican presidential nominee, Thomas Dewey, by portraying him as an intellectual lightweight who would be a puppet and “mouthpiece” for Hoover and reactionary “Hooverism” if elected. Unwilling to countenance any longer the Democrats’ attacks upon his record, Hoover composed the scathing rejoinder printed here.
The greatest lie told in this whole campaign has been that the Depression of 1930–32 was caused by the Republican Party; that the Republicans did nothing about it; that the people were allowed to starve and were compelled to sell apples; that the country was in ruins; and that Roosevelt rescued it from complete wreck.
This lie has been promulgated in a thousand speeches, in millions of scurrilous pamphlets and circulars. Mr. Roosevelt has himself given currency to it. . . .
The broader facts are and history will record that the depression was world-wide; that its major origins were in Europe; that it swept in on the United States like a hurricane; that it originated from the aftermaths of World War I, including the Treaty of Versailles; that by action of the Republican Administration 18,000,000 people were under organized relief and that any consequential hunger and cold were prevented; that the Republican Administration took drastic measures to protect the peoples’ savings from the storm by creating the R.F.C., the Home Loan Banks and by expanding agricultural credit institutions. There were failures mostly in State Banks not under Federal control.
History will also record that the depression was turned world-wide in June and July of 1932; that we were on our way out with employment increasing but that recovery was halted when business confidence was shaken by the impending election of the New Deal; that with the election the whole country further hesitated awaiting the new policies; that rumors quickly spread that Mr. Roosevelt would devalue the currency; that in consequence, people tried to get their money from the banks and that speculators tried to ship it out of the country; that Mr. Roosevelt upon Mr. Hoover’s request refused to reaffirm the promises he had made the night before election not to tinker with the currency; that Mr. Roosevelt refused to cooperate in other directions with Mr. Hoover to stem the tide of fear—fear of what? It was of the New Deal, not of a retiring administration. It was a panic of bank depositors induced by the New Deal and Mr. Roosevelt. After the banks were reopened it was found that 98% of their deposits were good.
History will also record that the rest of the world, not having a “new deal,” went straight out of the depression and recovered its employment by 1934–35; that unemployment here in the United States continued on a vast scale for six years of the New Deal; and that it took a war to get us out of it.
The whole of the story put over by the New Deal orators is the most gigantic dishonesty ever known in American politics.
Editor’s note: By early 1950 Hoover had written a massive two--volume manuscript titled Collectivism Comes to America. It was the antecedent of the volume that eventually became The Crusade Years. In the preface to his 1950 tome, Hoover explained the guiding purposes of the parts of his memoirs dealing with his post-presidential years, as well as the costs and satisfactions of being a crusader.
From leaving the White House in 1933 to 1950, my purpose and my occupation was to aid the American people in their multitude of problems.
Transcending all recreation and other kinds of occupations was the compelling conscience that comes from a duty to a people by one who has been honored by their highest trust—especially when they are misguided.
I have prepared these memoirs for several purposes. First, to prove the follies of our departure from the American system we have steadily builded over 300 years. Second, to strip polluted history of its falsehoods. That is necessary if a people are to be guided by experience and truth. Third, to give the views I held on these questions at the time. . . .
Some of these crusades brought me considerable defamation and some of them were, perhaps, lost causes at the time. But with the faith of a crusader to himself, his cause is never lost.
The world has survived error in ideas and confusion before. And men have grown in soul and safety because some groups of them have stood solid. They stood fast not because they knew the solutions to all the confusions, not even because they had the power to find the solution. They stood firm and they held up the light until the furies passed because they held certain sacred principles of life, of morals, and of spiritual values. I could at least do that.