The Hoover/Kennedy Letters.

“May you have the happiest new year imaginable.” 

By Thomas F. Schwartz

President John F. Kennedy calls on former President Hoover at Hoover's Waldorf Astoria apartment.

President John F. Kennedy calls on former President Hoover at Hoover’s Waldorf Astoria apartment.

The recent film Jackie (2016) by Pablo Larrain offers an artistic interpretation of a life based on a 1963 Life magazine interview by Theodore H. White with the recently widowed Jacqueline Kennedy.  One typically would not connect Herbert Hoover with this fashionable First Lady.  But Hoover was quite fond of the Kennedy family having had a long friendship with Joseph P. Kennedy, the patriarch of the Kennedy clan.  Hoover and Kennedy served together on the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of the Government, more commonly known as the Hoover Commission.  The purpose was to reduce the size and cost of government through consolidation of duplicative services, elimination of obsolete services, and other cost saving measures.  The first Hoover Commission under Harry Truman was the most effective and caused numerous states to create their own “little Hoover Commissions.”   In fact, California still has their Hoover Commission in operation

In the course of their relationship, Kennedy introduced Hoover to his three sons.  Robert would actually serve as a staff member for the second Hoover Commission.  John Kennedy represented Massachusetts as United States Senator in the 1950s and maintained a cordial relationship with the ex-president.  When the young Senator had crippling back ailments in 1954 that led to extensive hospitalization and spinal surgery, Hoover sent encouragement: “It doesn’t matter much what the politics of good men are.  What does matter is that they get out and keep out of hospitals.”  Much to his surprise, Hoover received the following letter from Jackie:

“Dear Mr. Hoover, You cannot image how much it meant to Jack having such a wonderful letter from you.  That you should take the trouble of writing touched him so much more than I could ever describe to you. When you are sick, or going through the long business of getting well, it is so heartening to know that people think of you enough to write you a letter, but when it is someone as busy as you, whom he admires so terribly much, why that is better medicine than any doctor could give.  So I must thank you too.  May you have the happiest new year imaginable. Every good wish from us both.”

Several years later, Jackie penned another thank you letter, this time for lunch:

“Dear Mr. President

This is terribly late to be writing you so please forgive me, but I did want to tell you how terribly grateful I am at your hav[ing] let me come to lunch with you last Sunday [January 15, 1956] in Washington.

That was so kind of you, all I did was sit there and eat, but I will never forget that day and all your graciousness and hospitality.

I had heard Mr. Kennedy speak of you so much last winter and developed a slight case of hero worship.  How lucky I was to have it all come to life and find you wiser and kinder than I could have ever imagined.

You were absolutely unbelievable at the hearing.  I thought Senator Mundt said the nicest thing of all—that you were an American Churchill.  It is an understatement, at least that is what Jack and I think and we will remember our lunch with you for as long as we live.

I do hope that when you come back to Washington we will have the privilege of seeing you again, and in the meantime, thank you so very very much.”

While the comparison to Churchill was meant as a compliment, Hoover’s own encounters with Churchill were anything but cordial.  It was Churchill who tried to stop Hoover’s food relief efforts in Belgium in World War I, even accusing Hoover of being a German spy.  Churchill was more successful in blocking Hoover’s efforts to feed Poland and Finland at the outset of World War II.   Hoover and Churchill were in agreement about the Soviet threat following the war, so on this point he could accept the compliment.

On November 22, Hoover sent the following letter:

“Dear Mrs. Kennedy,

I extend my deepest sympathy to you and your children for this, the greatest loss that can come to you.

May the knowledge that he gave his life for his country be a consolation to you.”

Several months later, Mrs. Kennedy visited Hoover prompting this note:

“Dear Mr. President, It was most kind of you to receive me in New York.  I have never forgotten the first time that I met you so long ago—nor will I forget this time.  You were always wonderful to my husband and he admired you so much.”

As Hoover struggled with failing health in early 1964, Jackie sent flowers along with a note “I do hope you’re feeling better and send very warm wishes.”  Hoover sent a reply on March 5, 1964 through one of his secretaries, Elizabeth Dempsey who wrote: “Mr. Hoover wants you to know how deeply he appreciates your gracious thought in sending him the beautiful gardenias.  He says, they bring spring to his apartment.”  Seven months later, Hoover would succumb to cancer at the age of 90.

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From Illegal Liquor Stills to Legal Christmas Cheer

By Thomas F. Schwartz


President Hoover and wife Lou greet veterans on the White House lawn during the Veterans’ Garden Party, June 1931.. 31-al57-09

Prohibition kept law enforcement officials busy busting wooden barrels of illegal spirits and confiscating copper vats and tubing from illegal stills.  The District of Columbia decided to put the confiscated property to good use and sent the copper to occupational therapy instructors at Walter Reed Hospital.  Here the materials were given to veterans who transformed the copper sheets and tubing into fanciful Christmas items.  The material cost the veterans nothing, having been provided by the police department through their successful raids on bootlegged stills.  A guest at the annual Christmas sale of occupational therapy products was First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  A candlestick patterned from a traditional design of a wide, flat base and curved handle caught Lou’s attention.  Made from the copper of confiscated stills, the materials were transformed into a handsome hand wrought candlestick with a patina created from the application of acid.  A pair of candlesticks cost two dollars.  Lou purchased the pair and inquired if they could make 40 pairs more as gifts for friends.  The copper-working shop of the occupational therapy unit went into full battle mode to meet the request.  Normally, it took an average of three days to make one pair of candlesticks.  The request was a challenge but one that seems to have been successfully met.

Other items available at the sale were baskets, rugs, pottery, leather goods, sterling silver jewelry, lamp shades, and hand-made dolls.  Many of the crafts were designed to accommodate certain disabilities.  Sight impaired and blind veterans excelled in basket weaving while many orthopedic cases found pottery and rug-weaving a helpful exercise of muscles.

Mrs. Hoover provided the largest single purchase sale of items.  By noon on the first day of the sale, more than three hundred dollars of items had been sold with hopes of surpassing the previous year total of $1,500.

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It’s the End of the Year as we Know it…

by Matthew Schaefer

For some the end of the year is a time of reflection—a time to assess what has happened, what may yet come, and where they fit in the grand scheme of things.  Herbert Hoover gave voice to such reflections in the late Decembers between 1913 and 1918.  Hoover later titled these notes ‘Information for biographers’ which open:

‘There is little importance to man’s lives except the accomplishments they leave to posterity…. These notes have been kept and entered anew each New Year’s for many years.  The record for the years up to 1913 was written up at one time, afterwards in annual installments.’

Hoover then proceeds to tell his life story from his birth in West Branch, through his years in Oregon, time at Stanford, and he provides a detailed resume of his mining career from 1895 onward.  This resume describes his work in Australia, China, South Africa, Burma, and Russia—offering details on number of men employed, ore refined, and moneys invested.

Herbert Hoover's birthplace cottage, Hoover National Historic Site.

Herbert Hoover’s birthplace cottage, Hoover National Historic Site.

The closing paragraphs give a final recap of Hoover’s mining career and insight into his new ambition.  ‘By January 1st 1914, I was in position apparently to amass a fortune of some $30,000,000…. [but] the War crushed this fortune down by 95%…. 1914—While in California home at Christmas resolved to stop further money-making for good.  It led nowhere but to responsibilities and I felt I had 40 years left that I might give to public service.’

This was the pivotal point for Hoover, turning away from the game of making money and toward the calling of public service.  For Hoover this service included food relief during and after both World Wars, serving as Secretary of Commerce and President, and working with Boys’ Clubs of America.  In doing these diverse public endeavors, Hoover heeded his own counsel, first written in his 1913 memoir: ‘When all is said and done accomplishment is all that counts.’

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Herbert Hoover’s Many Facets of Christmas

By Matthew Schaefer

ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree.

ca. Dec. 1952, Herbert Hoover in front of Christmas tree. #31-1952-79

Christmas is a holiday laden with memories–family, fun, food, and faith form the warp and woof of these memories.  This held true for Herbert Hoover.  Late in his life, Hoover began to collect his Christmas reminiscences to share with family and friends.  One set of such memories is found in Hoover’s Post-Presidential Subject Files under ‘Christmas.’

In these memoirs, Hoover recalls Christmas across the years [shades of Dickens’ spirits visiting Scrooge].  His first memories were at age six, as a young boy for whom Christmas brought no store-bought gifts as times were tough and money was needed for the mortgage. Still Christmas brought the joy of sharing time with family, chopping down the tree, and Aunt Millie’s popcorn balls.  Later years saw the youthful Hoover experiencing the magic of Christmas stockings, store-bought peppermint sticks, and roast chicken with Uncle Laban Miles.

As a young adult, Hoover shared Christmas pasties with Cornish miners in

The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.

The Hoover family, Christmas 1903.California. #31-1903-14

Grass Valley, California. He commented that eucalyptus was no substitute for pine trees while celebrating Christmas in Australia—further challenged by the holiday falling in the middle of summer.  Hoover shared these memories with the guests who attended his black tie dinners on Christmas Eve, with his friends and fellow fishermen at the Key Largo Anglers’ Club, and with the families of his sons.

Of special note is Hoover’s talk on a Quaker Christmas shared with his friend Lewis Strauss.  Hoover offers a far-ranging reminiscence which includes a history of Quakers in America, family lore, and even assurances to Virginia that there is a Santa Claus.  Along the way, Hoover notes that in his youth children were ‘encouraged all lands of make believe from Mother Goose to Santa Claus.’

Quakers also devoted great attention to Christmas: ‘Christmas Day morning was given the joys of opening stockings, but the day was given mostly to the deep religious honors for the coming of Christ.  Departing from the usual silent worship of Quaker meetings, the second chapter of Luke and the Sermon on the Mount were read aloud and with feeling.’

After a brief recap of holiday meals and treats, Hoover returns to the magical hold Christmas has on the young.  He invokes Virginia, with her doubts about Santa Claus, and reminds her that the most real things in the world are those that are unseen—faith, love, poetry, and Santa.

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Santa Claus Lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

By Thomas F. Schwartz


Camp Rapidan school, #31-al73-06

December 1931 was like any other except that more Americans were feeling the effects of what would later be known as the Great Depression.   Herbert and Lou Hoover had a long history of assisting those in need.  The First Lady decided that the annual Christmas party would have a different emphasis.  The invitations sent to guests read: “This is not like the Christmas parties you usually go to, where you get lots of toys and presents to take home, and very good things to eat.  But it is a party where you bring toys and warm, gay sweaters or candy, or things other children would like who otherwise would not have much Christmas.” Throughout the month of December, Lou attended numerous events where she distributed gifts to children in need, often accompanied by her grandchildren, Peggy Ann and Herbert 3rd who went by the name of “Pete.”

One collection of toys went to a group of children near and dear to the Hoover family.  When Herbert and Lou established the first presidential retreat along the Rapidan River in Virginia, they realized that the local children had no school to attend.  Lou designed a school house, she and her husband purchased the building materials, and Lou interviewed several people and selected the teacher for the school.  The Hoovers continued to pay the teacher’s salary until 1938 when the county was able to provide a public school for the children.   Realizing that most of this rugged mountain population area did not have much disposable income to spend on Christmas, the Hoovers decided to send a Christmas tree and toys to the children who lived near Camp Rapidan.

Another group of children who lived in the mountains of West Virginia also received a Christmas surprise.  A boxcar filled with toys made its way to Morgantown, West Virginia where children of unemployed coal miners got a gift from the many Santas who attended the White House party.


First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  #31-1928-f03

Perhaps the most treasured Christmas gift was received by Philip Ratto, Jr. a six year old patient in Eagleville Sanitarium in Philadelphia.  His Christmas wish was to receive a card from First Lady Lou Henry Hoover.  Christmas came and went without getting his wish.  Finally on January 8 he received the following card:  “My Dear Philip: Santa Claus told me you specially wanted a Christmas card from me—so I sent you one that I thought you would like best of all.  Alas—there was a mistake in addressing it, and it has come back to me.  I am sending it again—and I am so sorry that you have had this long delay.  I hope you are getting well just as rapidly as possible, and that you had a merry Christmas.  Lou Henry Hoover.”

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Writing Christmas Cards Under Fire

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Jean Henry Lodge

Jean Henry Large 31-1901-24

December 7, 1941 was, as President Franklin Roosevelt aptly stated: “a date which will live in infamy.”  The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese plunged America into World War II.  At the time of the attack, Lou Henry Hoover’s sister, Jean Henry Large and niece, Janet Large, resided on the island of Oahu.  They were writing Christmas cards and wrote the following to her daughter Jean on December 7, 1941, although it did not arrive until February 4, 1942 in a military censored envelope:

                “Janet and I wish you a very Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

We are having a very noisy Sabbath right now.  Guns are roaring in the offing, clouds of black smoke rising down below, and airplanes sailing round in a ‘hit and miss’ manner.  Janet says not to be surprised if a sack of flour hits the roof. Apparently we are showing that we can protect ourselves if necessary.  Just a thought, you don’t suppose it is the real thing do you?!

I miss you all very much, although enjoying of course the unusual life I am living.

Jean Henry Large”

The next day, Jean Henry Large wrote a letter to Jean describing what she realized was an actual attack on the naval facility at Pearl Harbor.  The following excerpts describe the grim realization of a nation now at war.

Sunday morning 9 A.M. [December 7, 1941]

“Just reported on radio—‘Rising sun sighted on wing tips of airplanes. Sporadic air attack.  Planes have been shot down.’
First radio official report.  Janet got her office.  Mr. Benson told Janet ‘700 men killed at Wheeler Field—Barracks blown up. (Wheeler Field is down the hill about 4 miles)’ and Honolulu Harbor pretty well shot up.  ‘Major Harrington (retired living 2 doors from us and President of Janet’s company) donned his uniform and with first bomb and has gone to Barracks.”

Monday morning 9.30 A.M.

“…A complete blackout of the Island was made.  First we pulled down venetian blinds, and turned on one lamp, light showed from the window.  Then we fastened up blankets at all the windows—still showed. So we got on the floor with 2 candles flanked by blankets and played ‘Pinochle’ until 10 o’clock…Wish I had your gun or my gun.  Fancy being in the midst of a war with no fire arms!”

The letter goes on to describe updates of information about casualties and attempts to gather provisions and create makeshift outdoor trenches should another attack occur.

“First I was told to get as much water in both tubs, pots, etc. for fear the water supply should be broken.  Then on radio we were told to boil all drinking water as there was a report the water had been ‘doctored.’  That is probably just hysteria.”

In closing, Jean Large reassures her daughter that she and others “are reasonably safe, so don’t worry. I would not like to be situated near any of the strategic places.  Will you drop just a postal card to Aunty Lou [Lou Henry Hoover] if this letter comes through saying we are hale and hearty….”  She concludes, “A very disjointed letter I find.  Probably no more Christmas cards get off!”

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Lou Henry Hoover and the Translation of De Re Metallica


Lou Henry Hoover, 31-1928-f03

A recent Hoover blog described Herbert Hoover’s speech upon accepting the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America’s Gold Medal for his contribution in translating and republishing Agricola’s De Re Metallica.  Herbert Hoover traced the history of the mining profession, beginning with Vulcan, continuing through Thucydides and Jeremiah, before closing with the observation that German mining communities were protean democracies.  Taken all together, the speech was ambitious, erudite, and a reflection of the mettle of the man that wrote it.

If you recall, Herbert Hoover did not act alone in translating Agricola.  Half the work was borne by his wife, Lou Henry Hoover.  She was justly awarded the same Gold Medal from the Mining and Metallurgical Society of America.  Lou Henry Hoover was the first woman to be awarded this medal, and the last woman to be so honored for more than eighty years.  Like her husband, Lou was called upon to give a speech upon receiving the gold medal.

Where Herbert’s speech was broad in scope, Lou’s was more informal.  It is a touching speech, downplaying the superlatives about the quality of their joint efforts.  Lou does acknowledge that the translation of De Re Metallica was a big thing.  Most importantly, she discovered that she could persevere in the ‘unraveling of this great tangle of knotted string.’  She graciously thanks the Society for this medal, explaining that she was touched, grateful and surprised in equal measure.

She closes her remarks by noting this medal will rehabilitate her in the eyes of her family:  ‘I have a small boy who a few years ago began to measure the world in terms of cups and medals.  And when at the age of six he won his gymnasium class’ silver medal for the running high jump –a 2’7”-he came home with pleasant curiosity the medals possessed by other members of the family.  And Father’s and Mother’s  position has not been as assured as it should have been since.  This will help most materially in adjusting the desire balance in the family.’

If you look closely at the photograph of the March 9, 1914 award ceremony at the Biltmore, you’ll see that Lou is at the head table, carefully reading something as the photograph is taken.  It may be a menu or a program for the evening’s festivities, but I like to think it is a copy of the speech that she was about to present.  Always a careful wordsmith, I surmise that Lou’s penciled note at the top of her typed draft was added just before speaking: ‘An impromptu reply to be made if called on at the Gold Medal dinner.’

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Thanksgiving in the White House

Thanksgiving as a national holiday dates back to George Washington’s proclamation in 1789, which named the last Thursday in November as a national day of Thanksgiving.  The tradition wavered in the 19th century until Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863 declaring the last Thursday in November be regularly commemorated as Thanksgiving.  It has been an American tradition since then.

Part of this tradition has been the donation of turkeys for the holiday dinner.  Horace Vose [of the Rhode Island Poultry Association] saw an opportunity and seized it, providing the White House Thanksgiving turkey for forty years from 1873 to 1913.  When Vose died, many stepped in to have the honor of having their bird plucked, stuffed, and reduced to bones by the First Family.

31-AL-56 Lawrence Richey with the turkeys he shot for the Hoover Thanksgiving dinner. 1930

31-AL-56 Larry Richey with the turkeys he shot for the Hoover Thanksgiving dinner. 1930

By the Hoover administration, the White House routinely received five or six turkeys for Thanksgiving.  True to form, 1929 saw six turkeys donated.  Two were from Minnesota—the Arrowhead Region Turkey Growers Association and the Duluth 4-H sent birds to Mr. and Mrs. Hoover.  For the first time, these turkeys were flown [in a plane] to D.C., giving lie to the belief that turkeys cannot fly.  Stockton, California donated a 35-pound behemoth.  Hoover’s secretary Larry Richey brought in two wild turkeys bagged in Virginia. Not to be outdone, Maplewood Farms of Wellman, Iowa donated a 25-pounder.

Before sitting down to what must have been a groaning table, the Hoovers went to a Thanksgiving service at the Metropolitan Methodist Episcopal Church in D.C., joined by their son Allan, home from graduate school at Harvard.  To work up an appetite, the Hoover family spent the day motoring around the District and northern Virginia.  According to newspaper reports, Richey’s wild turkey graced the Hoover table that evening as the Hoovers dined with Allan, and five friends of the family.  The other turkeys fed White House staff.

Astute readers will note that none of the donated Thanksgiving turkeys were pardoned.  While some contend the tradition of pardoning turkeys dates back to the Lincoln administration, when a holiday bird was spared at the behest of young ‘Tad’ Lincoln, this does not become an annual tradition until the Truman administration.

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“I’ve never accepted compensation…for federal service…”

by Thomas Schwartz

In a recent CBS 60 Minutes interview, president-elect Donald Trump told Lesley Stahl, “I’m not going to take the salary.  I’m not taking it.”  The annual salary of the President of the United States is currently $400,000 plus other provisions for expenses such as entertaining and travel.  President-elect Trump will not be the first person as president to forego a salary.  The first was Herbert Hoover and the second was John F. Kennedy.  Both of these individuals began the practice of not accepting a salary in public office well before the presidency.

31-1930-a17, Herbert Hoover in the White House.

Hoover rarely discussed his income or philanthropic giving, believing it a private matter.  Throughout his career as a public servant, as head of the Food Administration under Woodrow Wilson, as Secretary of Commerce, under Harding and Coolidge, as President, and in all of his private humanitarian leadership capacities, Hoover refused compensation for himself.  The most extensive explanations were in two interviews.  The first was with Charles Scott, editor of the Iola Kansas Daily Register in January, 1937.  Hoover stated: “I made up my mind when I entered public life that I would not make it possible for anyone ever to say that I had sought public office for the money there was in it.  I therefore kept the money that came to me as salary in a separate account and distributed it where I thought it would do the most good.  Part of it went to supplement the salaries of men who worked under me and whom the government paid less than I thought they were worth.  Part of it went to charities.”  In 1928, the annual salary of the President of the United States was $75,000.  Years later in an NBC interview on November 6, 1955, Hoover offered a more extensive reasoning for not taking any compensation for his public service: “I’ve never accepted compensation either for relief or for federal service, except in this sense: that I have at times taken federal salaries and expended them on matters that are outside of my own needs and use.  I was led to that by an overall question of conviction of my own, and I don’t say this in disparagement of men accepting salaries from the Government, because most of our official must have them to live.  But it happened that I had prospered in my profession, at a time when the income tax was only one percent.  I was able to save a competence, and I felt that I owed my country a debt that was unpayable and I had no right to ask her to pay me, so that was the practice right up until this year.”

John F. Kennedy gave his entire $100,000 salary to charity.  The records at the Kennedy Library-Museum are still closed regarding which charities but it is clear that his practice of not accepting compensation for public service began well before 1961.  According to Stacy Chandler, reference archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, “Fletcher Knebel reported on this [Kennedy’s giving his salary to charity] in 1962, and ‘White House sources’ eventually did confirm to the press that he had been donating his federal civil service salary since 1947 when he became a Congressional Representative.  I found a few letters from White House Press Secretary Pierre Salinger to constituents confirming the President’s donation (and one mentions RFK did the same), so the White House clearly wasn’t trying to hide the fact—but I couldn’t find any instances of the President publicly discussing this in news conferences or speeches.”

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Once upon a time in America


Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt on their way to the inauguration ceremonies. 31-1933-30

Once upon a time in America, elections, even the most bitterly contested elections, included high flying rhetoric and deeply held principles to counter balance the general mud-slinging.  One such election was held in the fall of 1932.  Incumbent President Herbert Hoover engaged in a heated campaign against challenger Franklin Roosevelt, Governor of New York.  There was no love lost between these two men, yet they were able to maintain a measure of civility during the campaign.

The challenger Roosevelt did all that he could to tie Hoover to the woes of the Great Depression: lost jobs, falling incomes, foreclosures, and a faltering foreign policy.  Roosevelt’s campaign promised a ‘New Deal’ for Americans tired of their current tribulations.  Admittedly, some of the details of this ‘New Deal’ were murky and sometimes self-contradictory, but the clarion call for change was clear.

Hoover, looking at Roosevelt’s speeches and proposed policies, described FDR as a ‘chameleon on plaid,’ evidently ready to pander to any audience.  For his part, Hoover ran on his record.  He promised to stay the course, confident that his policies would eventually turn the tide against the Great Depression.  The campaign trail suited Roosevelt’s temperament; he began his campaign in August.  Hoover, a reluctant campaigner in the best of times, did not begin his 1932 campaign until October.

Most of Hoover’s campaign speeches were either long summations of policy actions, or point-by-point refutations of misstatements and misrepresentations posited by his challenger.  The exception is Hoover’s address at Madison Square Garden in New York on October 31st.  After deriding Roosevelt’s calls for change and a new deal, Hoover states: ‘This campaign is more than a contest between two men. It is more than a contest between two parties.  It is a contest between two philosophies of government.’

Hoover then goes on to describe his vision for America: a limited Federal government, no direct relief to citizens, relief to come from voluntary cooperative communities, preservation of ordered liberty, freedom for the individual, and equality of opportunity.  This contrasted sharply with Roosevelt’s view of an activist Federal government, with far-reaching powers to provide relief for citizens in need.  For Roosevelt, the state was ‘created by the citizens for their mutual protection and well-being… Our government is not the master but the creature of the people.’

These fundamentally divergent philosophies of government have been manifest in virtually every Presidential election since 1932.  In this sense, we are still resolving this ‘contest between two philosophies of government.’

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