Roosevelt a Liberal and Hoover a Conservative
Thesis: Because the Great Depression quickly changed America's view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Written for the Advanced Placement U.S. History Document Based Question from the A.P. test.
The political shifts in American history during the last two centuries are often explained by Arthur Schlesinger's cyclical explanation of eras of public purpose followed by private interest. What is considered liberal versus what is considered conservative shifts in a similar pattern. While laissez-faire policies are considered liberal in the Roaring 20's, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 quickly changed America's view of liberalism. Suddenly, the small government politics of Hoover were conservative and the progressive politics of Roosevelt were considered liberal. Thus, because the Great Depression quickly changed America's view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Because the Great Depression occurred during Hoover's term as president, in the public's mind, Hoover started his presidency as a liberal and ended it as a conservative. With the end of the Progressive Age in 1910, big business flourished because Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover kept government from intervening in the economy. Compared to the public purpose policies of Teddy Roosevelt, the laissez-faire policies of these presidents seemed extremely liberal. The invention of the production line which spurred on the Second Industrial Revolution, allowed businessmen such as Henry Ford to prosper, while automobiles and electrical appliances became available to the masses. America's success and optimism caused people to support the liberal policies of the 1920's.
However, even before the Depression, there were signs that Hoover was becoming more conservative. As Document A suggests, Hoover did not want to be considered completely laissez-faire. He seemed less determined to preserve the extremely capitalistic society of the 1920's which was run, often corruptly, by political machines, such as Tweed. However, the success of the American economy under the private interest beliefs of Harding and Coolidge required him to ensure that the lack of intervention in the economy would be maintained, but he also sensed the transformation of the views of the working masses who looked favorably on restriction of unfair business practices. This lack of complete dedication to private interest or public purpose is further displayed in Documents B and C where Hoover stresses the importance of the individual in ending the Depression while also assuring government support for job production if the situation required it. Hoover's speeches are remarkably similar to Roosevelt's speech in Document E. Here, even during the Depression, Roosevelt stressed the importance of balancing the budget unless unemployment required the government to spend money stimulating the economy. Instead of Hoover's desire to continue restricting government, Roosevelt wanted to balance the budget. The Depression created the need for government intervention and an unbalanced budget as shown in Document F. However, despite a few efforts by Hoover to create jobs, he still seemed much different than Roosevelt who insisted in 1936 that America must not go back to supporting Conservatives who protected private interest unjustly. (Document G)
Hoover started creating jobs when the Depression caused Americans to demand public purpose reform, but the public still quickly characterized him as a conservative despite passing some, now considered, liberal legislation. At first Hoover stubbornly held to his belief that government could not and should not try to end the Depression as shown in Document B. In 1930, Hoover remained conservative. He rarely intervened in the economy and thus was considered a conservative despite being a liberal while supporting the same policies a few years before. Even by 1931, Roosevelt's liberal New Deal sharply contrasted Hoover's belief that the private individual can do more than the government to end the Depression as shown in Document.