by Matthew Schaefer
Box 12 of the Allan Hoover papers contains an intriguing folder titled ‘People Herbert Hoover Knew.’ The names on these twenty-seven pages obviously did not list every one that Hoover knew, just those with sufficient political prominence to catch Hoover’s attention. One page was especially noteworthy. On it Hoover listed eight Presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through Dwight Eisenhower as men with whom he’d had significant interaction. Hoover also listed the date spans of his contact with these man ending with Eisenhower, 1949 to present.
Given these date spans, it is likely that Hoover compiled this list as he was working on his memoirs in the early 1950s. Had he compiled a similar list at the end of his life, he would have included Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon as Presidents he knew. Hoover also had brief contacts with Presidents Ford and Reagan. Aside from the fictive Forrest Gump, Hoover has known more American Presidents in the 20th century than anyone.
Thinking this would make an interesting series of blog posts, I begin with Hoover’s relationship with Theodore Roosevelt. While Hoover and TR were both Republicans, they were a generation apart in age. Hoover was living abroad, primarily in London, while Roosevelt was President, so there is no contact between the two men. During World War I, Roosevelt adamantly opposed American neutrality as ‘supine inaction’ and held that we should beef up our army and navy for our inevitable entry into the war. During the war, Hoover is in Belgium organizing food relief for Belgium. Again, there was little chance that they would meet given their divergent interests and separation by the Atlantic Ocean. Roosevelt died in early January 1919, while Hoover was serving as Director General of European Relief and Recovery at the behest of Woodrow Wilson. Another dead end evidently.
Further research revealed that Theodore Roosevelt knew about Hoover and his food relief work. In a 1925 letter Hoover recounted that he first met TR in late 1916 when ‘Colonel Roosevelt asked me to come to Oyster Bay to discuss the situation of the War, particularly that of Belgian relief work.’ In an October 1919 address, Hoover noted that he met with Roosevelt in January 1917, seeking financial support for the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Hoover wrote: “I found I had to make no plea to Theodore Roosevelt. He cut short the statement I entered upon with these words, ‘Young man, the $150,000,000 that you ask for is no tax on the American people. It will save the lives of tens of millions of people.’”
When Hoover took office as President in March 1929, he sought to govern as an activist President in the mode of Theodore Roosevelt or Woodrow Wilson. Events interceded. The stock market crash of late October 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression threw Hoover’s plans into a cocked hat. Ironically, Hoover made a speech on October 26, 1929, offering a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, celebrating his stalwart character, vigorous ideals, virile personality and his enduring contributions to American history. Hoover’s legacy as President was quite distant from Roosevelt.