Sources of Hoover’s Conservative Thought

by Thomas Schwartz

President Hoover at the rededication of Lincoln's tomb, June 17, 1931.

President Hoover at the rededication of Lincoln’s tomb, June 17, 1931.

George N. Nash, the foremost biographer of Herbert Hoover and historian of American conservative thought, wrote: “Often is seems that Herbert Hoover is the Rodney Dangerfield of American politics: He gets no respect.” This is especially true of Hoover contribution to the development of modern conservative thought. A recent study contrasting the political views of Herbert Hoover to Franklin Roosevelt indicated Hoover’s indebtedness to the political philosophy of Abraham Lincoln without clearly identifying its inspiration. A careful examination of Hoover’s American Individualism to Lincoln’s writings clearly establishes the direct link. Hoover’s main argument in the seminal 1922 publication is that a unique American individualism separates the United States from the rest of the world. “Individualism cannot be maintained as the foundation of a society if it looks to only legalistic justice based upon contracts, property, and political equality. Such legalistic safeguard are themselves not enough. In our individualism we have long since abandoned the laissez faire of the 18th Century – the notion that it is ‘everyman for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’ We abandoned that when we adopted the ideal of equality of opportunity – the fair chance of Abraham Lincoln.”

What is Lincoln’s idea of the fair chance? Lincoln clearly delineates it in his special message to Congress on July 4, 1861: “This is essentially a People’s contest. On the side of Union it is a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders – to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all – to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.” Lincoln expands upon the idea in an address to the 166th Ohio Regiment on August 22, 1864: “It is not merely for today, but for all time to come that we should perpetuate for our children’s children this great and free government, which we have enjoyed all our lives. I beg you to remember this, not merely for my sake, but for yours. I happen temporarily to occupy this big White House. I am a living witness that any one of your children may look to come here as my father’s child has. It is in order that each of you may have through this free government which we have enjoyed, an open field and a fair chance for your industry, enterprise and intelligence; that you may all have equal privileges in the race of life, with all its desirable human aspirations. It is for this the struggle should be maintained, that we may not lose our birthright – not only for one, but for two or three years. The nation is worth fighting for, to secure such an inestimable jewel.”

If Hoover’s idea of American individualism was rooted in Lincoln’s notion of the “fair chance,” it embodied both the distinctive self-governance of the American republic along with the implied responsibilities of the individual in maintaining that form of government and preserving individual liberty. Such beliefs would not abide the slavery of blacks in Lincoln’s day or constraints to individual freedom that Hoover saw in governments espousing communism, socialism, fascism, and collectivism. Russell Kirk, the influential conservative writer and theorist of the late 20th Century, critical of the power of centralized government and how it erodes individual thought and reflection of political leaders, still found Hoover unique. “The last American president to do his own thinking, “ wrote Kirk in his classic study, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, “was Herbert Hoover; the last British prime minister of intellectual distinction was Arthur Balfour.” Kirk’s comment hints at Hoover’s greater influence on conservative thought than is usually recognized.

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Traditional Links: Father’s Day & Golf

by Hunter Staskevich, Intern

Father’s Day is coming up and thoughts turn to grilling out and a round of golf. Here at the Hoover, work continues as normal but these reflections came to mind while answering a reference question on Hugh R. Wilson.

Former president Hoover at the Reich Chancellery with Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Hugh Wilson. 31-1938-29

Former president Hoover at the Reich Chancellery with Chancellor Adolf Hitler and Hugh Wilson. 31-1938-29

Wilson was a U.S. diplomat during the 1920’s and 1930’s who served in Japan and Germany. A patron posed a question regarding the changing atmosphere in Germany for the Jewish citizens and increasing militarization in the country as war was about to erupt in Europe. To answer this question, I did a thorough search of Wilson’s 1938 diary when he was stationed in Berlin looking for any information relevant to the patron’s request.

Although I did eventually find what I was looking for, I was surprised to find the incredible amount of information on both Wilson’s golf game and dinner parties he attended. Wilson, in his diary, had avoided talking about current events in Germany and instead described every round of golf he played and every dinner party he took part in while in Berlin. I guess being a diplomat back then had its perks although too bad grilling wasn’t a thing in 1930’s Germany.

Happy Father’s Day to everyone,

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

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Rites of Spring: June Edition

By Matthew Schaefer

Just as spring follows winter and Mother’s day follows Easter, every June brings graduation ceremonies.  This particular rite of passage is familiar to all.  Those about to graduate don the requisite cap and gown. Friends and family convene to mark the occasion. Speakers gather up their most sonorous pearls of wisdom to dispense to an inattentive audience.  Everyone hopes that the ceremony will finish quickly, so that folks can get on with their life.

ca August 1928, Herbert, Lou and Allan Hoover in West Branch, Iowa.

ca August 1928, Herbert, Lou and Allan Hoover in West Branch, Iowa. 31-1928-a28

Even sons of the President and First Lady are not immune to this particular life passage. In mid-June 1929, Allan Hoover, second son of Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover, stood ready to graduate from Stanford.  For Allan Hoover, Stanford was familiar terrain.  Not only had both of his parents and his older brother graduated from Stanford, Allan had spent most of his life in the shadow of the campus.  Even the scheduled commencement speaker, Ray Lyman Wilbur was a close family friend [as well as President of Stanford and Secretary of the Interior].

Perhaps all these factors played a part in Herbert and Lou Hoover’s decisions not to attend Allan’s graduation ceremony.  Perhaps the elder Hoovers were compelled by the press of business to stay in Washington DC.  In any event, they communicated their congratulations from a distance.  Lou’s June 11th telegram read: ‘The very best good luck in the world to you on your last working day in the old diggings STOP I am distressed beyond words that I have demanding duties here which prevent my actually seeing you walk the plank…’  President Hoover’s letter of June 13th read: ‘Congratulations and best wishes.  I wish we were all going to be there to give three cheers, because you certainly deserve them.  However we will do what we can for you when you come to see us.  In the meantime, enclosed is a check for $500 for your household accounts.’

Allan Hoover’s replies to his parents’ missives are not extant.  On June 13th, Lou sent another telegram: ‘Been trying to get you two nights hope you were off celebrating STOP Will try again tonight…  Would like to give you my half of the mutual car fully paid up for graduating present.’  Once again, Allan Hoover’s reply is not part of the collections here.  One can readily surmise that Allan may have spent two days celebrating and very likely looked forward to full ownership of an automobile.

On June 17th 1929, Allan Hoover graduated from Stanford.  Each of his parents wrote a touching note: ‘May you commence today a life as satisfying as your past has been to your parents-Dad.’ ‘Buy yourself a bouquet and lots of candy from us. The days’ trip won’t be long nor very trying; phone me as soon as its over-most love ever-Mum’

It is good to be reminded that POTUS and FLOTUS have lives outside the public sphere. It is important to remember that parents, whatever their station, are fiercely proud of their children.

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Mary Roberts Rinehart, Queen of the Mystery Novels

by Thomas Schwartz

Writer Mary Roberts Rinehart

Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover shared an interest in mystery novels. Popular mystery writers appear with frequency among the titles in their personal library, especially at Camp Rapidan. One of the first women to excel in the genre was Mary Roberts Rinehart, who was also a personal friend of the Hoovers. Among her many celebrity fans were President Woodrow Wilson and Gertrude Stein.

Long before Agatha Christie, P.D. James, and Patricia Cornwell, Rinehart was America’s premier female writer of the “who done it.” She rose to national fame in 1907 with her novel The Circular Staircase. Her 1920 play The Bat inspired the 1930 movie,The Bat Whispers,which became a source of inspiration for comic book artist Bob Kane in the creation of Batman. In her 1930 mystery novel, The Door, the butler is the killer, establishing the genre cliche, “the butler did it.”

Rinehart, a nurse by profession, took up writing to supplement her family’s income. The mystery novels were the most lucrative source of her writing endeavors but she also served as a regular contributor to popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. When war broke out in Europe in August 1914, Rinehart served as a war correspondent, covering the conflict. This war correspondent work first introduced her to the Hoovers forming a life-long friendship.

A warm Hoover partisan, Rinehart wrote two favorable articles on the Hoover Administration: “A New First Lady Becomes Hostess For The Nation,” and “What five of our Presidents have told Mary Roberts Rinehart about ‘The Worst Job in the World.’” She reluctantly accepted Hoover’s offer to place her on the Commission on Conservation and Administration of the Public Domain. The reluctance had less to do with the subject matter, issues she felt deeply about, but rather the time commitment that would detract from her writing. After Hoover’s reelection defeat in 1932, Rinehart wrote a letter of consolation claiming “there can be no doubt that this one term of yours will go down in history as a great and outstanding one, and that your policies have set a precedent which will last.” Her comments about FDR were less complimentary, asserting: “Of course putting Roosevelt in just now is like handing the government to a child. He has never thought in national or international terms in his life. And real economy in the face of a hungry horde of Democrats and a clamoring south is probably out of the question.” Hoover’s reply was more magnanimous: “That was a beautiful note you sent me! However, I don’t suppose the national stream of America will be stopped because of anything either one of us does or does not do.”

Among Hoover’s papers is an undated memorandum “Notes on Proposed Mary Robert Rinehart Foundation.” It outlines establishing a monetary award to “develop storytellers.” In fact, the Mary Roberts Rinehart Foundation underwrites an annual “Mary Roberts Rinehart Award” that is presented to a woman writer of a major nonfiction work.

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A Letter from a King

by Spencer Howard

One of the most interesting documents at the Hoover Library is a handwritten, five-page personal letter from King Albert of Belgium to Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. A transcript of the entire letter can be found at

King Albert wrote to ask Hoover to intervene with the U.S. Shipping Board on behalf of a private Belgian shipping company, Lloyd Royal Belge. At the end of World War I, Lloyd Royal Belge had purchased 22 merchant ships from the U.S. Shipping Board in a risky gamble to rebuild Belgium’s merchant fleet. Due to the economic downturn in 1920 and 1921, Lloyd Royal Belge struggled to stay in business; the company, and the king, were hoping that the U.S. Shipping Board would restructure the payments or even forgive part of the debt.

As Secretary of Commerce, Hoover had no authority over the U.S. Shipping Board. Hoover’s response to the king indicates that he did take the matter up with the Board, but that they were busy with bigger problems. Apparently, the Board made no concessions to the Belgians, and Lloyd Royal Belge suffered considerable financial losses in 1921. The Belgian government and a consortium of banks propped up the company, enabling them to make the final payments on 20 of the 22 ships, however, Lloyd Royal Belge refused to pay for two of the ships that had been received in very poor condition – in fact, one sank before it ever arrived in Belgium! The outcome of the dispute is unknown, but Lloyd Royal Belge continued to struggle, and was taken over in 1930 by its competitor, Compagnie Maritime Belge.

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Lincoln Portrait Fraud

by, Spencer Howard

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum presented a program by art conservator Barry Bauman entitled “The Demise of Mary Lincoln: An Artistic Conspiracy.” In short, Mr. Bauman discovered that a painting that had hung for years in the Illinois governor’s mansion, which was believed to be an original portrait of Mrs. Lincoln painted by Francis Carpenter, was actually a forgery perpetuated during the 1920s by a swindler named Lew Bloom.

President Hoover deeply admired Abraham Lincoln. He looked to Lincoln as a model for his Presidency and often referred to him in his speeches, and as a result received large volumes of mail concerning anything Lincoln-related. This included offers from individuals or businesses who hoped that President Hoover – either personally or on behalf of the United States – would be interested in purchasing Lincoln artifacts or memorabilia.

Cabinet card image of American vaudeville actor and art forger Lew Bloom (born Ludwig Pflum, 1859-1929). TCS 1.2687, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

Cabinet card image of American vaudeville actor and art forger Lew Bloom (born Ludwig Pflum, 1859-1929). TCS 1.2687, Harvard Theatre Collection, Harvard University

In May, 1929, just weeks after Lew Bloom had revealed the “rediscovered” portrait of Mary Lincoln, President Hoover received a letter from Walter Ehrich of the respected Ehrich Galleries in New York. Mr. Ehrich offered to sell Mr. Hoover another painting from Bloom’s collection, a portrait of Abraham Lincoln also supposedly painted by Francis Carpenter. Ehrich included a copy of Bloom’s affidavit concerning the Abraham Lincoln portrait, which was virtually identical to the statements he had made concerning the Mary Lincoln portrait.

The asking price of the painting – $35,000. Far more than the estimated $2,000 to $3,000 that Bloom had gotten for the Mary Lincoln portrait. There is no record that Mr. Hoover responded to the offer, undoubtedly because he was unwilling to pay that much out of his own pocket, or to ask Congress for an appropriation. Was the Abraham Lincoln portrait a forgery? In light of the information discovered by Bauman and his colleagues, any painting sold by Bloom was most likely fraudulent. But its subsequent fate and present whereabouts are unknown.


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Spring Diversions

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Henry Hoover, 1928

Lou Henry Hoover, 1928

Every spring, certain recursive features appear on the American landscape—crocuses, April showers, Easter bonnets, and elders addressing students on college campuses.  On May 16th 1920, Lou Henry Hoover made her contribution to this annual tradition, giving a short address to the women of Bryn Mawr College.

As was her wont, Lou Hoover chose her words carefully.  Her aim was to inspire these young women, not to hector them.  She began by asking them to recognize the gift they’d been given with a Bryn Mawr College education; then challenging them to not just finish and drop by the wayside.  With great knowledge came great responsibility.  Lou exhorted the young Mawr-tyrs to take advantage of what they’d acquired at college and to use their ‘increased ability to get the most and best joy out of life.’

Not wishing to spawn a generation of hedonists, Lou Hoover advised the students to keep in mind their consequent obligations to the larger community,, ‘to this great picture-puzzle that is America,’ and to ‘become a center for radiating the Bryn Mawr spirit’ into government affairs.  Hoover cautioned the students not to view politics as partisan intrigue, but as a matter of highest principles.

Lou Henry Hoover closed her remarks by weighing in on the ‘current event’ of women’s suffrage: “That we have the vote means nothing.  That we use it in the right way means everything.  Our political work has only begun when we use the ballot.  We sincerely trust you are not taking your precious little light away to burn under a bushel basket, but [that] you will put it behind a great magnifying lens instead, so that it may shine for all.”

This clarion call to action rings as true today as it did in 1920.

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Lou Henry Hoover’s Eulogy for Lindon Bates, Jr.

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Henry Hoover read her eulogy for Lindon Bates, Jr. at a memorial service held in early June 1915 at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church.  Bates went down with the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7, 1915.  Hundreds attended his memorial service.  Many prominent figures spoke: the President of the borough of Manhattan, Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, Senator Ogden Mills, and professors from Yale and Columbia.  The most moving speaker was Lou Henry Hoover.

Lou Hoover spoke in the name of womanhood and childhood, since it was ‘for women and children that he laid down his life.’  Lou Henry Hoover knew Lindon Bates, Jr. for decades, watching him grow from a school boy to the fine young man who volunteered with the Commission for Relief in Belgium.  She neatly summarized his difficult job there: ‘striving to keep one loaf of bread ahead, always in sight of the seven million otherwise breadless people.’

Lou’s eulogy reached a crescendo in its last paragraphs.  She said: “One hears that ours is a sordid, material epoch and chivalry is no more.  Champions of the defenseless live only, it is said, in the world’s more knightly days.”  But on May 7th, on the decks of the Lusitania after it was torpedoed, Lindon Bates, Jr. guided women and children to the lifeboats, explained how to handle the boats in the roiling seas, and did it all with the calm nonchalance, deep seriousness, and cool efficiency that bespeaks true heroism.  In the end, Bates handed the last life vest to an unprovided, unknown woman, then plunged with the ship to his death in the depths.

Lou Henry Hoover closed her remarks: ‘Such a death is not death, it is resurrection, for greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for others.’  After more than one hundred years, Lou Henry Hoover’s words still have the power to move hearts and minds.

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Hoover and His Camel

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Portrait of Herbert Hoover, 1898, Perth Australia.

Portrait of Herbert Hoover, 1898, Perth Australia.

One of Hoover’s fondest memories of being a student at Stanford University were the two summers he spent working with the United States Geological Survey in the Nevada High Sierra.  Most of the work required riding on horseback to navigate the rugged trails.  Hoover recalled: “In these long mountain rides over trails and through the brush, I arrived finally at the conclusion that a horse was one of the original mistakes of creation.”  Horses were too high off the ground, lacked protection against flies, needed frequent water stops, and not as sure-footed as mules.  Hoover’s dislike of horses was replaced with his use of another animal adapted to navigate desolate terrain: camels.  “He [camel] is even less successful than a horse,” Hoover stated.

George J. Bancroft, a fellow mining engineer, wrote a detailed account of Hoover’s use of camels in the Australian outback for his daughter that explains some of the reasons for Hoover’s opinion:

“In 1898 camels were much in use on the western Australia desert.

Of all the mean, ornery brutes used by man the ordinary ‘heathen camel’ is peculiar, which the same I am free to maintain, with apologies to Bret Hart.  The camels you see in zoos are of a refined and gentle breed.  They are known as ‘riding camels’ in western Australia, but even riding camels are worse than a mean Missouri mule.

Their one redeeming feature is that they can carry 300 lbs. per camel across 50 miles of hot desert without water.  A good mule can carry 200 lbs. 20 miles.  The camel travels 5 miles per hour and the mule 2 ½  miles.

So the Government imported work camels.  Mine managers and engineers bought riding camels.  The work camels were so unmanageable that the miners couldn’t use them, so then the Government imported Afghan camel drivers.  These men grew up with camels and knew how to handle them.  Even so, the Afghans’ bodies were more or less covered with scars from camel bites.

Herbert Hoover had a good riding camel and he often loaned it to me.  The first time he did so he told me the following story by way of educating me.

Hoover had ridden this camel north from Coolgardi to the Sons of Gwalia mine, where there was a good big camp with plenty of good water and feed for camels.

On his next trip he had to go to a mine east of the Sons of Gwalia.  He left Coolgardi on the Sons of Gwalia trail.  When he came to the forks in the trail the camel refused to take the eastern trail.  Hoover could pull his head around till his head faced his tail but he kept on going the Western trail.  Herbert tried the camel whip, which is a severe whip, but it did no good.  Then he got off and tried leading the camel but even with a ring in its nose the camel could soon wear a man out by hanging back.  He tries other expedients but none of them worked.

Time was getting on and water was 25 miles away.

As one last effort Hoover pulled off his black shirt and made a perfect blindfold for the camel, then he rode slowly along the Western trail for a way but gradually swung across the desert to the Eastern trail.  He kept the blindfold on the camel till he had gone about 12 miles.  By this time it was getting dark and it was hard to guide the blindfolded camel.  Herbert took off the blindfold and had no more trouble with his camel.  Maybe the camel smelled water on the night air or maybe he just surrendered to the superior stubbornness of man.

When Herbert got back to Coolgardi he had a very good leather blindfold made, which he loaned me with the camel.

I always put the blindfold on before we reached a fork in the trail and so I had no trouble with the camel.”

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Bleeding Heart and Lily

by Matthew Schaefer

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge - the summer camp of President Coolidge.

Lou Hoover with First Lady Grace Coolidge at the Cedar Lodge – the summer camp of President Coolidge.

The relationship between successive Presidents can sometimes be contentious regardless of political affiliation.  These relationships have been given due attention by historians.  The relationship between successive First Ladies has garnered far less attention, as historians have focused attention on First Ladies individually.

The relationship between Grace Coolidge and Lou Henry Hoover merits some attention.  Four folders of touching correspondence between the two First Ladies is extant in box 12 of the Lou Henry Hoover papers.  The correspondence began in 1923 as a cordial ‘arms-length’ friendship letters between two prominent Washington women.  Over time, the friendship between Grace and Lou deepened, and the letters grew more intimate.

By the time Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady, she and Grace were so close that they addressed each other with nicknames.  To Grace Coolidge Lou was Bleeding Heart. To Lou, Grace was Lily.  In the spring of 1930, the two exchanged hand-written Easter greetings.

Lou initiated the poetic exchange:

‘Oh my fairest Lily, I miss you so
Oh my fairest Lily, when the south winds flow.
When the towering needle points the blue,
When robins and starlings are calling for you.
When thro’ the magnolia the red birds dart,
Oh my fairest Lily, your Bleeding Heart.

The Easter Lily looks out at the rain [umbrellas and galoshes in the East window.]
Oh, my Easter Lily, I wish you were here! [What a pity it is, President’s wives aren’t twins].

[Truth was happier than rhymes in the last line.]’

Grace replied in poetic kind on Easter Sunday, 1930:

‘The Bleeding Heart and the Easter Lily
May not be twins by birth
But they’re closely akin
In love and devotion
And all other ties of Earth.’

Grace commented: “Thus as I attempt to reply in kind, dear Lady, adding my deep appreciation of your loving thoughts of me.”  She closed: ‘To you, my love—I have the honor to be, sincerely your friend, Grace Coolidge.’

This is just one of many civil, erudite exchanges between two uncommon First Ladies.


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