by Matthew Schaefer
During his fifty years of public service, Herbert Hoover wrote at least one million letters. Carbon copies of these letters constitute the bulk of the Herbert Hoover papers. Most of the letters from his later years are terse, honed by long practice to speak only to the point. Hoover’s prose in these letters is polished to such an extent that not a character was wasted, much less a word.
This was not always the case. Letters from Hoover’s early life, before his public service years, were often expansive in scope and colorful in description. This can be seen in his letters to his brother Theodore and to friends from Stanford.
When an archivist here found a Hoover letter from his public service years that made him smile, chuckle, then laugh aloud, it struck the archival staff that this letter merited wider attention. The February 12, 1920 letter was addressed to Casper W. Hodgson. It reads:
I have noted your feeling that I should answer some of the solemn discourses on my private life and crimes. I seem to get in the way of politically minded folks even when trying to keep out of politics.
Some things that have been said of me cause me a sense of financial oversight. For instance, I have made quite careful inquiries and I regret that so far I cannot find:
- The $10,000,000 I am said to have made in my early youth, or even middle age, or altogether, or any respectable part of it.
- The investments that I am supposed to have in Great Britain. Like the Negro porter who was asked to change $10, I am grateful for the compliment.
I have also given deep consideration to the other items mentioned:
Am I a British subject? Did I ever apply for such citizenship? No. Many generations of persecuted Quakers would rise in their graves at such a discovery. They should remain quieted, however, for no Californian could live three months in London climate and become a British citizen.
Did I ever rent a ‘residence’ abroad? I plead guilty of this crime, but in mitigation I do appeal to the feelings of fathers who object to hotel life for babies and children.
What about the political lunch where I was supposed to have entered upon a dreadful conspiracy against the weal of the American people? My real distress in this matter is not to prove an alibi, but it is that I was not even invited and therefore lost an excellent lunch.
I plead guilty to the criminal charge of pursuing my engineering profession in foreign parts.
I gather also that it is moral turpitude on my part to have managed such large enterprises. The hope to rise from the ranks of labor to the ranks of management will, however, probably not be crushed from the heart of the American boy even by this onslaught.’
In order to be able to track this letter in the future, staff wrestled with how best to label the folder. As it had long been identified as being in the Pre-Commerce Correspondence series, ‘Casper Hodgson, 1920’ folder, it was necessary to keep that as part of the new description. After some discussion, the staff decided to add the word ‘sarcastic’ in parentheses at the end of the folder title, thinking this would be sufficient prompt to remind us of the Herbert Hoover letter that made us laugh aloud.