“Show your Heart”: A Reader’s Comment on Hoover’s First Inaugural Address

By Thomas F. Schwartz

President Hoover giving his Inaugural address, March 4, 1929.
President Hoover giving his Inaugural address, March 4, 1929.

As has been mentioned in previous blog posts, Herbert Hoover was the last president to write complete drafts of all his speeches.  He welcomed comments from individuals whose insights he trusted although he did not always incorporate their suggestions.  Following his election in 1928 and in advance of his March 4, 1929 swearing in ceremony, Hoover sent a draft of his inaugural address to Bruce Barton, famed advertising executive in the firm Batton, Barton, Durstine & Osborn, for comment.  Barton’s remarks focused less on what was written but more on what was left out—emotion.  Barton wrote on February 23, 1929:

“In accordance with your invitation, I have made my suggestions on the manuscript.  Most of them are minor and relate only to phraseology.

I wish that when you come to the end of your remarks on international affairs you might lay aside the matter-of-fact tone and allow yourself one moment of real emotion. The ears of the whole world will be listening to this address, and listening with almost pathetic eagerness.  No element in your personal experience was more stressed in the daily conversation of American homes than your wide acquaintance with foreign peoples.  Americans have said to themselves: ‘Coolidge was good and safe, but Hoover will lead.’

People are not moved by logic; they are moved only by emotion.  The rest of the speech is sound and logical, but this is the place, it seems to me, for you to stop for a moment and show your heart.

I thank you again for the privilege and pleasure of working with you.”

Hoover’s training in scientific method and engineering emphasized the importance of facts, logic, and reason leading to sound conclusions, not emotion and heart.  Critics claim Hoover was cold and lacked empathy for the problems facing average people because he did not verbalize emotion in the way Barton urged him to do.  Verbalizing emotion and feeling emotion are not the same.  One can do the later without verbalizing it and one can do the former without feeling it.  Hoover’s tendency was to contain his emotions even when it would have been politically advantageous to wear his heart on his sleeve.  Those closest to Hoover understood his deep compassion and empathy for people.  The emotion and heart Barton knew Hoover had and wanted the public to see never emerged during Hoover’s presidency.

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