President Hoover and the Fourth of July

Earlier this month a researcher asked: ‘What did President Hoover do on the Fourth of July?’ This question had never been put to me, so my answer was: ‘I don’t know; I’ll get back to you.’  A quick review of Hoover’s calendar and his Public Papers was revealing.

President Hoover and First Lady Lou at Camp Rapidan, ca. 1930.
President Hoover and First Lady Lou at Camp Rapidan, ca. 1930.

July 4th, 1929 fell on a Thursday, so Hoover’s early morning routine followed his usual pattern. He played Hoover Ball for 30 minutes and repaired to the White House to have breakfast with houseguests.  Hoover returned to his office to read mail and meet with his secretaries.  After lunch, the President and First Lady took a walk on the Ellipse, where they spent some time watching a pick-up baseball game before returning to the White House for dinner.  All-in-all, a pretty relaxing day.

The second July 4th of Hoover’s Presidency was a Friday. Evidently most of his staff took the day off, forcing Hoover to miss his usual 30 minutes of Hoover Ball.  Hoover took his exercise by walking alone.  After a short stint in the office, Hoover left for the Presidential retreat Camp Rapidan at 11 AM.  He spent the weekend at Rapidan with Lou Henry Hoover, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Newton, Larry Richey and Joel T. Boone.

Hoover was at Camp Rapidan for the July Fourth weekends in 1931 and 1932.  Each weekend included a coterie of friends: Mr. and Mrs. Mark Sullivan, Evelyn Wight Allan, Senator and Mrs. David Reed, Joel T. Boone, Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Hurley, Dare Stark McMullen and Larry Richey among others.  Hoover, being Hoover, could not see his way clear to enjoy the pleasures of Camp Rapidan without doing some work first.  He worked until 3 PM on Saturday, July 2nd 1932, before driving to camp.  Hoover thus balanced work and relaxation on the Fourth of July holidays during his Presidency.

Hoover’s work issues varied from year to year in the early days of July.  In 1929, Hoover was focused on ensuring that the Federal Farm Board [FFB] was capably manned.  On July 2, 1929, Hoover announced that Alexander Legge had agreed to lead the FFB at the annual salary of $12,000— forgoing his private sector salaries of more than $100,000.  At the same news conference Hoover announced the possibility of a tax cut and the convening of a White House Conference on Child Health—to be paid for with $500,000 of private funds.

Early July 1930 found Hoover convening a special session of the Senate to ratify the London Naval Conference Treaty which he’d signed April 22, 1930.  Hoover risked the wrath of the Senators, who resented being called back into session, in pursuit of a treaty which limited naval tonnage—the arms race of its time—in the hopes of preserving world peace.  On July 2nd, Hoover also issued a proclamation praising polar explorer Richard Byrd for winning the Kane Gold Medal.  On July 3rd, Hoover published his letter to Senator James Watson, explaining his veto of the Senate version of a veterans’ pension bill.

July 2, 1931 saw Hoover issue a message to aviators Wiley Post and Harold Gatty, congratulating them on their round-the-world flight.  On July 6, 1931, Hoover issued a significant foreign policy statement.  He declared a moratorium on payment of all intergovernmental debts and reparations.  This done in an effort to allay the economic crisis of the Great Depression.  Between these two messages, Hoover issued the only proclamation he ever made on July 4th.  This was a message on the unveiling of a statue of Woodrow Wilson in Poznan, Poland.  Hoover was happy to broadcast this radio message because of his own close ties to Wilson, to Poland and to historical ties between the two nations.

Hoover’s last July in the White House saw him issue a July 1st message to Congress recommending legislation for relief of families of Emilio Cortez Rubio and Manuel Gomez, two Mexican citizens accidently shot by Oklahoma deputies.  On July 5th, Hoover sent a message to Congress seeking special appropriations of additional funds for the President’s Organization for Unemployment Relief—the main federal means to mitigate the impact of the Great Depression.

In reviewing Hoover’s actions, I was struck by the range of issues he was compelled to address—some so mundane that they are lost to public memory, others so momentous that they still resonate.  Amid these, the manner of Hoover’s marking the Fourth of July holiday shrinks to a political footnote.

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