by Spencer Howard
On August 11, 1928, Herbert Hoover formally launched his campaign for the Presidency. That’s not a typo — yes, the campaign kicked off less than three months before Election Day. At that time, Presidential candidates were expected to modestly pretend they weren’t running until after the party conventions, though of course their “friends” were working tirelessly to secure the nomination. Buoyed by his personal popularity and reputation as an economic genius and “Master of Emergencies,” Hoover was duly nominated on the first ballot at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City on June 14, 1928. Part of the political theater involved formal notification of the nomination, to be delivered by party functionaries at a later date. Hoover chose to receive the nomination in the football stadium at his beloved alma mater, Stanford University. With marching bands and fireworks providing a pep rally atmosphere, more than 70,000 cheering fans filled the stands joined by millions listening on the radio. Hoover’s acceptance speech that day was the first of just eight — yes eight! — formal campaign addresses he gave in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
As quaint as the 1928 campaign appears in our current political climate, the introduction of his speech (after the pleasantries were taken care of) described a world of dizzying technological change:
“Our problems of the past 7 years have been problems of reconstruction; our problems of the future are problems of construction. They are problems of progress. New and gigantic forces have come into our national life. The Great War released ideas of government in conflict with our principles. We have grown to financial and physical power which compels us into a new setting among nations. Science has given us new tools and a thousand inventions. Through them have come to each of us wider relationships, more neighbors, more leisure, broader vision, higher ambitions, greater problems. To insure that these tools shall not be used to limit liberty has brought a vast array of questions in government.”
In Hoover’s view, the two main problems vexing the nation were the struggles of agriculture and the increasingly nasty national fight over Prohibition. For agriculture, Hoover promised to create a system of farm cooperatives overseen and funded by the Federal government. For Prohibition, he pledged “an organized searching investigation of fact and causes.”
Hoover credited Republican policies for the economic prosperity of the 1920s, while blaming the effects of the Great War for lingering problems in various industries. The key to economic success, Hoover believed, was full employment. If every man had a job, every family would share in the nation’s prosperity. Going out on a metaphorical limb, Hoover explained:
“One of the oldest and perhaps the noblest of human aspirations has been the abolition of poverty. By poverty I mean the grinding by undernourishment, cold, and ignorance, and fear of old age of those who have the will to work. We in America today are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land. The poorhouse is vanishing from among us. We have not yet reached the goal, but, given a chance to go forward with the policies of the last 8 years, we shall soon with the help of God be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this Nation. There is no guarantee against poverty equal to a job for every man. That is the primary purpose of the economic policies we advocate.”
Four years later, with his Presidency demolished by the Great Depression, Hoover’s words would come back to haunt him.