The rocky transition from Hoover to FDR
President Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to cooperate in any matter during the four-month transition that occurred in the midst of the Great Depression. Eric Rauchway, an expert on the New Deal and the Progressive Era, shared his expertise on how Roosevelt utilized his time between the election and the inauguration to set in motion one of the most successful presidencies in American history despite Hoover’s unwillingness to ease the way.
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David Marchick asked historian Eric Rauchway why he chose to write about the Hoover-Roosevelt transition.
Rauchway: “I became persuaded that this hundred or so days before Roosevelt took the oath of office were actually as important as the much more famous hundred days that came after. In fact, the previous hundred days really paved the way for that burst of legislative activity that happened upon his coming into office.”
Marchick: At the Partnership for Public Service, we focus on effectiveness in government, and we would advise the outgoing administration to work cooperatively with the incoming administration, much like George W. Bush did with Barack Obama during the financial crisis of 2008. So what happened with Hoover and Roosevelt? Did they cooperate with each other?
Rauchway: “No, they really didn’t. Of course, your advice, which is excellent advice for outgoing and incoming chief executives, assumes that both parties regard the transfer of power as legitimate. In this case in 1932 and 1933, Herbert Hoover fundamentally regarded the proposed New Deal FDR had campaigned on as an illegitimate use of presidential and federal power, and something that he wanted to stop as much as he possibly could.
“It’s fair to say certainly that Hoover probably never really liked Franklin Roosevelt. He said, ‘I had no use for that man after 15 years of acquaintance.’ Which kind of tips you off.
“Although they weren’t that far off in age…Roosevelt’s youthful demeanor made him seem a lot younger than he was. Hoover thought of him as callow and immature. And frankly, Herbert Hoover wasn’t the only one. Roosevelt had a definite sense of humor that I think today we would identify as being kind of trollish.”
Reflecting on similarities between the Great Depression and the today’s economic crisis, Rauchway noted:
“I think that one of the things that the pandemic and the shutdown (of economic activity) have revealed is that there are big structural inequalities in the United States that have been unaddressed for a long period of time. That is a point where we do have important parallels with the United States in 1932, 1933. The Depression also revealed the thinness of the boom years of the 1920s and how many sectors of American life really hadn’t benefited from that sort of superficial prosperity.”
Rauchway explained how FDR used the transition period between his election in 1932 and his inauguration ion 1933 to prepare to govern.
“He (Roosevelt) goes to his vacation house in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he meets a whole bunch of various Democrats and liberal Republicans and starts to marshal ways of putting through the legislation that he had promised during the campaign: legislation to relieve farmers, legislation to build dams at public expense and operate them to produce hydroelectric power…, legislation that’s friendly to unions, legislation that’s going to push forward what we would now call a sort of “pro-welfare state” like unemployment insurance and Social Security.
“He begins to take advice from experts, politicians and industry leaders over how best to do those things. He sends up trial balloons. He tries to get… people in his party and sympathetic members of the Republican Party on his side. He begins to put together a Cabinet that is shaped with those policies in mind and in deference to the kinds of constituencies that he thinks will support him.”