By Thomas F. Schwartz
Much ink has been spilled on the relationship between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. What began as friendly mutual cooperation ended in a bitter transition of power. It is well known that Roosevelt urged the Democratic National Committee in 1920 to consider Hoover as their presidential candidate. Roosevelt, as New York Governor, and Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce, were members of organizations such as Better Homes in America where both actively advanced the mission and goals of home building and ownership. The lame duck period from November 1932 to March of 1933 marked the rapid erosion of civility between President Hoover and President-elect Roosevelt.
This lame-duck period was marked by a rapidly accelerating banking crisis with more banks suffering from insufficient cash reserves to cover deposits, an international crisis with European nations unable to make reparation payments to the United States, and a run on American gold reserves as countries abandoned the gold standard. Eric Rauschway in Winter War paints a portrait of a paralyzed Hoover, unable to rise to the growing crisis while an energetic and visionary FDR was ready to act with a series of major legislative efforts. Anthony Badger’s FDR; The First Hundred Days, offers a less heroic portrait explaining that much of the legislation was not well conceived and many of the policies Hoover tried to pursue jointly in the lame duck period were taken and used by FDR. Many of Hoover’s staff in the Treasury Department remained in the early months of the Roosevelt administration to implement the fiscal policies. Other historians such as Bertrand Patenaude emphasize FDR’s unwillingness to cooperate with Hoover in a recent article “Dear Mr. President-elect…” [Hoover Digest, October 2020]. How one characterizes motivations of both men in this period, the result is the same. Neither man spoke to one another after the inauguration on March 4, 1933.
Given the ill will that existed between Hoover and FDR, it is widely believed that there was no further relationship. It is true that when Mrs. Hoover died of a stroke in 1944, it was Eleanor Roosevelt, not FDR, who sent the condolence letter. A surprising revelation is found in the oral history of General Albert Coady Wedemeyer. Stating, “I flew up [from Washington, DC to New York City, the Waldorf Astoria Hotel] every two weeks and explained the Allied war plans. I was authorized by President Roosevelt to give Mr. Hoover any information that he wanted.” Wedemeyer indicated that the idea of keeping Hoover apprised of war information was initiated by both President Roosevelt and his close advisor Harry Hopkins. The General does not disclose the content of his briefings with Hoover other than to indicate, “I never mentioned the atomic weapon.” While Hoover had criticized FDR’s foreign policy before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he threw his support behind the administration once war was declared. Whether this was a calculated strategy to ensure Hoover’s support and silence or simply a courtesy extended to an ex-president is hard to say. Clearly, it is at odds with current notion that there was no further cooperation between the FDR and Hoover after March 4, 1933.