BY VERNON KELLOGG
‘SHAKESPEARE says, we are creatures that look before and after, the more surprising that we do not look round a little and see what is passing under our very eyes.’ —THOMAS CARLYLE, Sartor Resartus
IN revising history, we assign too much importance to the outward expression of changing forms of government and records of political parties, and too little importance to those essentials of the collective character from which the moulding forces of an era are loosed. Similarly, in regarding an individual, we are apt to be too little concerned with those qualities of character and personality which hold the true measure of his worth and influence.
I should like to give you a picture of a man who has played a great part in the times in which I have lived — a man whom I have known for almost half a century, and with whose undertakings I have more than once been closely associated. For although much has been, and more will be, said and written about him, and although his activities have carried across every threshold in our country, our people seem still to have difficulty in visualizing him. However dramatically impressive his accomplishments have been, they seem not to have included any intimate picturing of himself. He may be the very centre of the crowd, yet people say they do not see him. Indeed, they claim that they know him less well than they know many others who have touched their lives less closely; that is, they have a fainter perception of what he is like, personally.
Now, what have been the difficulties in the way of a popular understanding of this great man’s personality?
I believe the chief one is his quietness. We do not understand quietness in public office. Western civilization rests upon the idea of force, and the operative technique of the fighting instinct persists in collective and individual expression. We expect it as a matter of course, and we find it in the manner of the typical orator of to-day who seeks to drive home his points by gesticulating, by attitudinizing, by shouting. When Mr. Hoover speaks, he uses none of the combative technique. His voice may not even carry to us. In his expression we find none of the explosive vehemence to which we have become accustomed. We are used to being impressed not so much by facts as by the manner in which they are brought to our attention. We want positiveness, but we do not distinguish between positiveness itself and that mere outward show of it which takes the form of vociferous language and table thumping. Mr. Hoover’s public speaking, and even his private conversation, leave many of us, therefore, with a sense of disconnection, of disappointment. This is true despite the fact that he has a great gift of lucid exposition, of clear and precise expression, of straight thinking, fertile in plan and constructive in method.
Copyright 1932, by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
He does his work with the same disconcerting quietness. No matter what pressure he may be laboring under, his offices, whether in private or in public life, have always been quiet offices. In his personal relationships, too, extreme quietness of manner is his most characteristic quality, and here again we may, unless we know him well, attribute to him a lack of warmth. Instead of disturbing us, this habitual restraint without ostentation ought to recommend itself to us, if only because it saves time and energy. If, indeed, we Americans could be led by his example to forsake our customary ballyhoo, such an influence should count as an important contribution to our social advance.
We grew a little weary during the last presidential campaign of the many attempts to trace the threads of a Quaker heredity in Mr. Hoover. This consideration, nevertheless, is essential to our understanding of the man. I believe that at the core of him is the Quaker quiet, and that this is the dominant trait of his mental and physical expression. It does not preclude intense activity; it has to do merely with the manner of expression.
Only an hour ago, as I write, an American who has been away from Washington for some time told me of an inspiring talk he had just had with the President; my visitor had known him, worked with him during war days. ‘I suppose another might have felt that there was something lacking in the greeting, ’ he said. ‘ There was no excitement or demonstration, but there was for me the warm glow of a quiet and sure welcome. That was enough. Why must we always expect a boisterous accolade? Why can’t we accept a different manner at its true value? Why can’t we learn to look a little below the surface for the big things that lie there?’ He had no patience with those of his countrymen who do not ‘understand’ the President.
Mr. Hoover’s directness and his utter simplicity, both closely allied to his quietness, present further obstacles which hinder a popular appreciation of him. We are accustomed to the subterfuge of professional politicians, and do not know what to make of a true directness which depends for its effect on the solid substance of the end achieved. Then, too, we find it paradoxical that simplicity should be linked with great subtlety of mind. Yet the simplicity of the President yields results in the manner of Poe’s purloined letter.
It is puzzling to some to discover that Mr. Hoover’s subtle mind is also a markedly intuitive mind. Its swift processes I, working beside him, have sometimes found bewildering. In war relief work we learned to expect a major crisis about once a month, and a minor one once a week. Although Mr. Hoover had a staff of pretty capable university men, every now and then a problem would arise which seemed to them unsolvable. After everybody else had wrestled with it to no purpose, it would be put up to Mr. Hoover and in a few moments he would say, ‘Have you thought of trying this? Or that?’ I once asked him, ‘How are you able to come to an understanding and a decision so quickly?’ His answer was, ‘From the facts and forces. Why? ’ A psychologist would explain that his mind had swiftly marshaled old experiences into a new combination; suddenly such experiences had come together and ‘clicked,’ and he got a new way of solving a problem.
Instead of attempting to explain further those personal qualities which have made difficult an understanding of this great American, let me tell you more directly how I, personally, understand him.
Twenty years ago — two years before the outbreak of the World War — he and a well-known economist and I sat down with our cigars to a leisurely discussion of certain fundamental questions. Mr. Hoover was then thirtyeight. At twenty he had graduated from Stanford University, where he had earned his way. During the intervening eighteen years he had worked up from a pick-and-shovel beginning in a California mine, through the stages of mine development and management, until he was recognized as one of the world’s ablest mining engineers.
On this evening he was putting to us questions which he had been asking himself. What career is the most satisfying? Surely, he said, money-making is the dullest game in the world. Once a man has proved that he can make a living for his family, there can be little zest left in the mere accumulation of wealth. Engineering, the release and marshaling of earth forces, is interesting. But would it not be more interesting to pour one’s energy, one’s thought and aspiration, more directly into the stream of social progress? The most fascinating effort, he concluded, is that which offers the largest possibility of advancing the common welfare.
We discussed various vocations from the point of view of their usefulness to American society. It became clear that Mr. Hoover had been directing his thoughts toward two of these in particular: a forward-looking institution of learning, such as the one he knew, and an independent newspaper.
We tackled the problems of university curriculum, especially in colleges of engineering, and the talk revealed a rather surprising conviction in a man of Mr. Hoover’s eminently practical turn of mind. He believed that college training should be less practical and more fundamental. Although one might have expected him to stress the importance of the compendium course in engineering, he held strongly, instead, for the course which dealt with basic principles, and which left to later experience the perfection of methods and skills. If he had to choose between two applicants for a job, one of whom had a training in fundamentals and the other in practice, other things being equal, he would pick the man with the broader training. Whenever he has influenced education, it has been in this direction.
Could we have foreseen the future, we might have recognized in these and other utterances a ripeness for that free gift of service which events were soon to demand of him. They prove that he had, for some time, felt the need of giving his energies a different orientation. The direction of this desire was clear; he wanted to be of greater usefulness in the forward movement of human society.
It is true that his engineering activities had already been employed toward this same end. I had followed his continuous close interest in the development of his own university, Stanford, of which he had become a trustee. I knew of a youthful effort he had undertaken in his early twenties to make summer on a desert more endurable to men and children by installing a new sewage system, by sterilizing milk, by devising cooling roofs of rushes and mud — an experiment which was followed by a big gain in health percentages. I knew of his work in rehabilitating the thousands of people he had found living in misery in a Russian mining and industrial settlement. I knew of other expressions of his social concern during these earlier years. I believe that rarely in history has a man been more ready for disinterested service to humanity than was Mr. Hoover as the World War loomed.
It is for these reasons that I find facile and fantastic the Tuck theory’ of his rise to leadership. Throughout my association with him I have observed that very little which has contributed to his success ‘just happened.’ With him, events turned out as they did because his ideals were harnessed to a practical method, to decision and driving power.
One of the characteristics which early drew me to Herbert Hoover was his fondness for children — his own and those of others. Many years before he became President he said, ‘I believe the attitude of a nation toward children will soon become a test of its civilization.’ ‘This will be the test of an individual,’ I added, ‘as well as of society.’ Children have always had a straight road to his heart. However great may be the pressure of work upon him, they can make him pause in the midst of it.
A few Sundays ago he and Mrs. Hoover took their granddaughter, Peggy Ann, with them to church in Alexandria, and Peggy Ann was promised that if she ‘behaved well’ she might have lunch with the family in the big dining room. That day, for all that it was Sunday, a situation arose which placed the President under a nervous strain. To add to his difficulties, one of his secretaries telephoned that a certain statement would have to be finished or miss the Monday morning papers which were to release it. The President was asked to come to the Lincoln study after church to complete the writing before lunch time. On this occasion he and his secretary were still seated before a litter of papers when the luncheon hour arrived. A few minutes later Peggy Ann appeared at the doorway, curtsied, and called, ‘Luncheon served!’
The President did not answer.
‘Granddaddy, come on! Lunch is ready.'
‘All right’ — but his pencil did not stop writing.
Peggy Ann knew her man. She stood and watched until her patience was exhausted. Then she marched scowling across the room to the desk. With both arms she swept back the papers, and, catching one of the President’s hands, she said, ‘Come on, you lazy man! Lunch is ready!’ And the President, with perfect resignation, got up and went along with her.
I happened to be a spectator at the beginnings of the Rapidan Camp. There, again, I saw the President’s fundamental interest express itself. He explored the region to learn if there were any children thereabout. He discovered that there were a few, but that they had no school within a reasonable distance. Immediately he had one built, a combination of teacher’s living quarters and schoolrooms, and to-day it is a progressive and happy centre for the whole mountain area.
I refer to these relationships with children because many persons who do not know the President think of him as a man who sorrows over the universe with never a thought for the troubles of darling Tom or beloved Louisa. This is just the reverse of the truth. His acute interest in Tom and Louisa has furnished the propelling power which has enabled him to carry through stupendous humanitarian undertakings for the benefit of great groups of people. The fact that he is a skillful organizer, employing large numbers of persons to accomplish large effects, does not preclude recognition of and attention to the units of the group. Mr. Hoover has had to be occupied with large groups, — our democracy demands that things be accomplished in large doses by mass action, — but this has not dulled his sensitiveness to the individual.
I am convinced that the reason Mr. Hoover was so successful in feeding and saving millions of children in Belgium and elsewhere — ‘masses of mites,’he called them — was principally that he saw them, not as masses, but as individual ‘mites.’ In that work our relief organizations seemed repeatedly to be going on the rocks, and they were repeatedly saved not so much by this man’s brain as by his heart, which was so deeply engaged that he could not fail. He simply would not give up the children.
I cannot but believe that once we work ourselves out of this post-war economic crisis in which we are caught, and regain our perspective, the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, with its flowering in the Children’s Charter, will appear as an accomplishment which is destined to have a more profound effect upon future generations in America than that four-point programme of financial rehabilitation which at present so engrosses our troubled thought. It was in 1929 that the President called to Washington a planning committee which was to lay the foundations for the conference next year. This it did by initiating a nation-wide investigation into the needs of child life in all its phases. The conference was to have a broader base than any before attempted. It was to consider the complete life of the child — of the normal child as well as the handicapped. It was to reveal the weak spots in education, in training, in health. Its purpose was to study the most progressive points of view, present the results of research, and disseminate those advanced opinions which existed only in the minds of a few forward-looking persons.
These things the conference accomplished, in one of the most significant meetings ever held — a meeting which has set the nation thinking and working upon a programme, not for one or two years only, but for the next twentyfive. Its nineteen major conclusions as to the minimum standards for child protection have become, in each of our states, the code for guidance in this field. Many state, county, and municipal conferences have already been organized to further the enactment of state legislation which will guarantee full coöperation with the national administration in its effort to reach the goal set by the Children’s Charter.
This was not an undertaking which Mr. Hoover merely sanctioned and then allowed to go its way. He followed its progress with constant interest and concern; he talked and planned with those engaged upon it. No one who heard the address he delivered at the conference could have failed to feel his own thought and emotion kindle to the flame which animated the President. ‘We approach all problems of childhood,’ he said, ‘with affection. Theirs is the province of joy and good humor, they are the most wholesome part of the race — the sweetest, for they are freshest from the hands of God. Whimsical, ingenious, mischievous — we live a life of apprehension as to what their opinion may be of us; a life of dissent against their terrifying energy. We put them to bed with a sense of relief and a lingering of devotion. We envy them the freshness of adventure and discovery of life; we mourn over the disappointments they must meet.’
These words may suggest why Mr. Hoover, who has completely pledged himself to the most advanced programme for child protection yet proposed, can at the same time poke fun at the scientific thoroughness of a psychological baby clinic, and commiserate its tiny inmates. In the same spirit I have heard him poke fun at the overworked methods of ‘efficiency’ by telling the story of an efficiency engineer who was sent to ‘revise’ a faraway industry.
The man arrived in a heavy snowstorm and was met by an Irishman driving a sled that was equipped with a buffalo robe. The efficiency expert climbed into the sled and the Irishman started to wrap the robe around him with the hair outside. ‘Oh, no,’ objected the engineer. ‘Don’t you know that it is more impervious to wind, and therefore warmer, with the hair inside?’
The Irishman turned the robe and tucked it in, but when he mounted to his seat began to chuckle. ‘What are you laughing at?’ asked the efficiency expert. ‘I was just thinking,’ replied the Irishman, ‘what a mistake that buffalo made.’
When I consider Mr. Hoover’s special relationship toward children, I think of him as going down in history as the children’s President.
Recently a friend of mine, whose conception of Mr. Hoover is a source of irritation to himself, suppressed for the moment his major grievances to complain to me of the lesser one that the President lacks ‘humanness,’ because he does not know how to take a vacation. ‘One is always hearing of the pressure under which he works and of his weariness,’ he said. ‘Perhaps people could understand him if he were not continually driving himself, if he could stop to play or laugh.’ Oddly enough, when I mentioned this criticism to another friend, he in turn promptly quoted the President as having remarked to him a few days earlier that what the country needs most at the moment is ‘not a good five-cent cigar, but a really good joke.’
The fact that Mr. Hoover’s recreations cannot be easily catalogued, as they might be if his hobbies were golf and yachting, does not mean, as some people seem to think, that he is a man who has never learned to play. After some thirty years of frequent participation in his outings, I know him as a man who never lets slip an opportunity for a vacation, and who enjoys such occasions to the fullest. He has an unusual capacity for finding relief in unexpected ways during the ordinary working day. He can do this just by escaping from the geography of house or office — escaping, for example, to a back porch where he can enjoy the view of favorite flowers and trees or a sweep of sky, where he can play with his dogs or take part in easy social intercourse with his family or his friends.
If the times have made impossible the formal excursions planned long in advance which have been popular with other Presidents, he has substituted for them a rich succession of more quickly improvised and shorter holidays. When he was Secretary of Commerce he derived particular enjoyment from frequent trips on the small department boat, Kilkenny, which he was apt to board with a few friends just as it started on one of its inspection trips down the Potomac or into Chesapeake Bay. This was an outing to his taste. It meant the fishing line at once in his hand; the exchange of humorous anecdotes and stories of adventure with his friend, the captain; leisurely lingering about the little dining table with all members of the party present — children, women, and men. It meant no frills; a maximum of simplicity and directness in his relationships with boat, water, and people. He embarked with zest, landed refreshed.
Water is an essential to Mr. Hoover’s full enjoyment of the out-of-doors. He made it a primary requirement in the search for that camp ground which he early envisaged as a necessary adjunct of the White House. There must be an escape, not only from city to mountains, but from house to camp — even from back porch to stream bank. The noise of waters is the chief element of refreshment in the Rapidan Valley.
But, say the critics, the President often holds conferences during his week-ends at the Rapidan camp; he continues to work there. So he does, but this is not a bar to recreation. Most of us do not have independence or initiative enough to seize the opportunity for relaxation even when it lies directly in front of us; we have never learned to escape easily and swiftly from the wearying routines of social and vocational activity. Mr. Hoover has the knack of doing this. For others, rest may demand a dramatic change of environment; for him it does not. He can find refreshment, for example, just in an early morning tussle with dogs, and his liking for this sport is a daily trial to the person who is responsible for white flannel trousers in camp. One morning after Mr. Hoover had agreed to be careful, we met for breakfast before the log fire in the mess hall. I noticed that I lacked a napkin. At the same time the guest who sat on the other side of the President noticed that she lacked one, too. The President chuckled; carefully spread over each of his knees was a purloined napkin, ready for muddy paws.
The Rapidan day — no matter what work it may include — begins in a spirit of play, and closes in the same vein. It furnishes that type of unforced, continuously relaxing, and pleasurable vacationing which the President happens to prefer. Walks under the trees, negotiations with streams and pools, luncheon on the ground, dogs, birds, no hat, no stiff shirt, other persons enjoying themselves on every hand, a story, a cigar — such is the background of these supposedly rest-defeating conferences, which are exercising a major influence all along the line of the administration’s efforts. With this picture in mind it is easy to understand the President’s extensive programme to save and hold our natural resources, and to develop recreation areas for the people’s use.
In 1929 we were given a striking illustration of the influence of these Rapidan conferences in the field of international relations. With the world situation what it then was, it seemed that a guarantee of improvement lay in a soundly grounded understanding between the United States and England. Mr. Hoover took an important step: he invited Mr. MacDonald to come to this country to talk things over. Appreciating the need of greater freedom than the White House could afford, he suggested that they go to the camp, where, beside a stream, they could escape inhibiting formalities. The visit between those two men, so temperamentally and intellectually sympathetic, was one of the happiest and most fruitful in our history. It established a precedent for the direct, informal exchange of views between nations. From those ‘ conversations on a log’ spread influences which were potent all along the difficult path of the London Naval Conference, and which have been, since then, continuously helpful in our relations with Europe.
The simplicity and directness of the Hoover-MacDonald meeting recalled to my mind another similar occasion some ten years earlier. A Hoover aide, in naval uniform, was hurrying out of the relief headquarters in Paris when he almost collided with a tall man in khaki who did not salute. Incredulous, he recognized King Albert, who had dropped into Paris by airplane.
‘I want to see Mr. Hoover,’ said the King. ‘Will you take me to him?’
Mr. Hoover, bent over his desk, looked up as the tall soldier stood before it. There was a flash of understanding, and a smile.
‘I came to see you, Hoover,’ said the King.
‘Sit down, friend,’ said Mr. Hoover; and the King and the Quaker talked. Between them there is a bond of unshakable friendship and esteem.
Very recently, plans for the moratorium were developed in the same environment which served for the HooverMacDonald talks. Picture the scene. People are spread out along a sunny stream bank in far mountains, enjoying a picnic luncheon. Suddenly a young man slips away (he has heard a bell), and returns to say a word to the President, who goes back with him to the cabin. Two or three other men follow, until a certain group has gathered as if by natural coalescence. They remain indoors perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. You realize that they are talking with Berlin — with London; that they are getting an immediate picture of a desperate moment in those capitals, a moment fraught with peril for ourselves as well. The men return to their sandwiches — the President is moving toward the moratorium. And you realize that he is doing so with less strain and with a better chance for clear thinking than he would have found in the executive offices. You realize, too, that the international telephone is one of the greatest agencies yet devised for improving the methods of diplomacy, and for peace.
Just as it is difficult for me to picture Mr. Hoover starting forth alone on a vacation, as I and other men often do, so it is difficult for me to picture him alone in his house. He feels an unusual need of having friends about him. To some folk the President’s quietness of manner and this necessity for companionship have seemed paradoxical; his undemonstrativeness, they believe, must mean that his intimate friendships are few. On the contrary, they are extraordinarily many. Friends of Stanford days, of engineering days, of war days, of later days — group by group they have accompanied him along his changing way. They are loyal to him, and he is loyal to them. Wherever his house, it has always been a place of the coming and going of these friends. Many a one has known him, if the family happened to be away, to take up the telephone and, in a voice eloquent with disapproval of his solitary state, say: ‘I’m alone! Can’t you all move over for a few days? Or a few weeks?’
He likes his friends to be close by. I have never happened to know another man who, when laboring at his desk, seemed to enjoy having one or more of them near at hand. He leans on his friends; he likes to try out with them his forming ideas. If he is silent, they know the silence represents, not personal aloofness, but mental occupation.
Of course, it is only the realities of friendly relationships that count — those direct exchanges that are so often frustrated by the amazing framework we set up to obscure them. Friendship postulates a simple sharing of experiences, of ideas, of emotions. This Mr. Hoover practises to an extraordinary degree. Those who know him know that he welcomes the slightest news — happy or sad — that concerns the welfare of a friend. The report may be listened to in silence, but the action upon it is swift. It may mean, as it frequently has meant, the setting in motion of a constructive plan for relieving financial distress or some other anxiety. A friend away from home, trapped by a fatal illness, may be brought from hotel or hospital to the Hoover home to be cared for till the end. Others separated from their own firesides may be invited there to be married, or to celebrate their birthdays. The President may quietly leave his desk, on which are concentrated the problems of financial reconstruction, to attend the funeral service of a friend’s child. Always his actions reflect an active sympathy and participation — whether in gladness or in pain.
It has interested me to see that Mr. Hoover’s pleasure in little personal gifts and messages has lost none of its keenness, despite the fact that events have led to an overwhelming increase in the numbers of them received. At the Christmas morning breakfast table others may welcome aid in the opening of packages, letters, and telegrams. Not so the President. He yields to no one the pleasure of unwrapping. Nor does he wish to be hurried. As he smokes his after-breakfast cigar, he arranges his possessions about him, stops to read a page or two of a book, passes a message along. Fortunately his book pile is always high and varied, for he enjoys keenly a best novel or play, or almost any type of ‘human interest’ book. Economics and politics, science and history, by no means satisfy his appetite for reading.
On the morning after the Christmas Eve fire in the executive offices, he called one of his secretaries to say: ‘There are those men working downstairs who have missed their Christmas with their families, and there are those cases of fruits and sweets from the West — have them opened up, and tell the men to dive in. Tell them there is plenty for them and for us, too.’ This thoughtfulness and the way it was expressed were both characteristic of him. The spring, the source, in Mr. Hoover’s way of living is the pleasure he finds, not in giving, but in sharing. One of the President’s friends once said to me, ‘Do you feel as I do, that we ought to defend the Hoovers against our sense of possessing their possessions?’
After the 1928 election even those of us who had shared Hoover homes and experiences through twenty or thirty years felt that it was inevitable that such relationships would have to be greatly modified in the future. In our congratulations there was a note of farewell. A quizzical, amused look appeared in the eye of the newly elected President, and it was not long before we understood what it meant. A few days after the Hoovers took possession of the White House, friends who had anticipated a difference were swapping tales and laughs around the Sunday supper table in the long-accustomed way.
Mr. Hoover’s quietness of manner has been particularly baffling to the multitude since he has become the central figure in the nation’s eye. Because people miss the pugnacity and physical activity of a Theodore Roosevelt, or the resounding rhetoric of a Woodrow Wilson, or the almost fictional tang of the New England type man who preceded him in the White House, many have complained that Herbert Hoover is not a leader. Well, it is really all in what one is used to. Most of us have a clearly associated group of ideas and reminiscent memories when we think of a Methodist revival, or a Presbyterian sermon, or a Puritan Sabbath — but not of a Quaker meeting. It is difficult for us to imagine the service of God shorn of all drama and music and exhortation. It is equally difficult for us to imagine the service of the State shorn of excitement and gesture and attitude.
Yet the State is so served, and ably, by Mr. Hoover. Again, the simplicity of his manner belies his complex mind. The mild man who sedulously declines to engage in controversy has been wondrously successful in his dealings with the most controversial aggregation of mortals in our pugnacious and argumentative body politic — the Congress of the United States. The truth is that he is not so mild as he looks. The energy that most men waste in noise he applies to developing new strategies of attack. He usually has ten ideas for every one of any given antagonist. His specialty is ideas. His mind is disciplined to the habit of continuous, concentrated, purposeful thought. He wastes no brain power trying to make himself appear before the public in attitudes of thoughtfulness. His wits are busy with the facts of the situation, so that he almost invariably knows the facts better than his opponents.
Here I would correct an absurd misapprehension of the President. Unimaginative observers have convinced themselves that the only facts he knows are those which are susceptible of tabulation on an adding machine. No error is more laughable to those who know the man. The first ‘fact’ which invariably engages Mr. Hoover’s thought is the human factor. ‘What manner of man am I dealing with?’ — this is his first inquiry. I know nobody who is a keener judge of human nature, nor one who plays more adeptly upon the infinitely various chords of human sensibility. To be sure, he never thunders, he never tears a passion to tatters, he never twangs a sentimental lyre. He does ‘pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone,’ and with marvelous effect. At quiet ‘intimations of immortality’ from him, captains of industry have put aside their millions and followed him into the public service. At his subtle invitation to share in the salvation of the State, boisterous demagogues have stilled their voices and delivered their votes to sound measures in Congress.
Mr. Hoover is a chess player in the public arena, where we expect a gladiator or a knight in shining armor. He is a master of premeditated moves. Not for him the resounding blow or the shouts of the crowd. His concern is for the distant king’s-pawn-to-queen’sbishop’s-fifth that confounds his surprised opponent with a quiet ‘checkmate.’ The hours that politicians spend deriding him upon the floor of the Senate are by him industriously improved in devising constructive plans which make their criticisms pointless. The organization of unemployment relief, support to agriculture, the bankers’ pool, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the anti-hoarding campaign, the new Federal Reserve laws, the support to the Farm Loan Banks, the numerous other constructive moves to meet the multifarious attacks of depression — all these flowed from his fertile and imaginative mind. None came from the gusty halls of Congress, or from any other of the more vocal elements of the people.
A witty New Englander once explained how the taciturn sons of the Puritans had managed to become possessed of so large a proportion of the desirable things on this continent, under competition from equally energetic but more voluble strains of our polyglot people. ‘We talk less: that leaves us more time to think.’ Herbert Hoover is forever thinking — and acting upon thought.
And here I must parenthetically press home another characteristic of the man — persistence. He is the most persistent person of my acquaintance. Not noisily persistent; not pushingly persistent; just persistent. He never gives up a purpose, once he sets his will to it. The Farm Board, as actually set up by Congress at his instance in 1929, was accurately described in a magazine article about Herbert Hoover published in 1920. The reorganization of the government departments at Washington, now in process of accomplishment, was taken up by Mr. Hoover as a major public purpose in 1921. Temporary setbacks never discourage him; the tediousness of delay never bores him; new interests do not crowd out the older ones; difficulties only strike sparks of fresh ingenuity from his mind. He watches each iron in the fire until it gets hot; then less persistent people, less patient people, are astonished to see it suddenly snatched out of the coals, neatly turned on the anvil, and hammered into shape.
Mr. Hoover’s solicitude for the stability of banks in our current crisis has raised again the cry that he is not concerned for individuals and their personal happiness. I happen to know his philosophy on this particular subject, and that knowledge almost makes me despair of my own class of people — people who profess to lead the intellectual life and yet so often fail to carry on their intellectual processes upon sound foundations of adequate facts. Mr. Hoover’s whole concern throughout this entire depression has been for the individual man and his personal happiness.
But how help him ? Here Mr. Hoover has pierced to root principles. Banks are the key mechanisms of our productive economic system, because they are the reservoirs of surplus wealth in their communities, the tanks into which men who have idle money place it, and from which bankers lend it out to other men who can use it to produce new wealth in their factories and on their farms. Wages are practically always paid with borrowed money — borrowed from banks. Farmers plant and harvest with borrowed money. Mr. Hoover is concerned for the wage earner, concerned that he shall get his wages, that the farmer shall get his crop. Hence his solicitude for the banks: they are the spigot through which those forces must be drawn. If he watches over the spigot, it is on account of its function. He has no undue regard for bankers. He has a positive dislike for some bankers. But he has a profound respect for the banking function. In other words, Mr. Hoover, in his unflagging concern for the individual and his happiness, is intensely practical, and therefore intensely interested in keeping the banking function alive. If it dies, the individual cannot have his happiness. Mr. Hoover knows this, but alas, how few ‘intellectuals’ know anything so practical as that!
Not long ago the welfare workers in one of our largest states reported, in alarm, that the receiving of financial aid was breeding a class of people who, though formerly self-respecting and independent, were rapidly falling into the frame of mind of the habitual pauper; they were becoming increasingly willing to accept money without work, and were expecting to be permanently supported in idleness. These welfare workers made their report with an air of naïve surprise and disappointment. Yet many of them had been accusing the President, and still do accuse him, of lacking interest in the common man, although he has steadfastly held out against cash bonus payments and billion-dollar schemes of direct aid, precisely because these devices would pauperize the beneficiaries and would short-circuit the economic mechanism that produces a living wage for honest work.
Work for men to do, and wages to pay them for it — these are the two things that have been uppermost in all the President’s thinking these last three years. But he knows the mechanism that produces these things, and few of his critics do. They do not see what the German moratorium had to do with the man with a pick on his shoulder in the streets of Dayton, Ohio. Fortunately Mr. Hoover saw the German financial emergency exactly in terms of that man’s next week’s wages, and protected him by a decisive action in a crisis.
All these subjects with which he deals daily, with their troubling, abstract names, — currency, a balanced budget, taxation, government reorganization, reconstruction corporation, economic stability, disarmament, — are cogs in this mechanism whose final product, if the mechanism can be made to run smoothly, will be three square meals a day for the citizen and his family. The difference between Mr. Hoover and most other Presidents is that he spends practically all of his time in his overalls down in the roundhouse, working desperately to repair the engines of civilization; a less conscientious man in his position would put on a high hat and take his post in front of the railroad station where he could be pleasant to the customers and assure them that he would like to give them all a free pass on the train, and that it is no fault of the railroad that the train is late. He knows that unless a highly competent job is done on the repairs there is n’t going to be any train — and he loves the individual passengers enough to get grease on his hands helping at the repair job. This fact may make his conversation less frequent and less interesting to the man on the station platform, but it certainly does not indicate that he lacks affection for him.
Just why Mr. Hoover should have abandoned a fortune and worked himself to the limits of endurance for six years to relieve human suffering in Europe is a riddle beyond my powders of comprehension unless I can assume what I know to be the truth and say that he did it because he had a profound interest in individual human beings. The efficiency of his practical genius has buried the man himself beneath the stupendous mountain of his accomplishment. Because the result is mechanically perfect, people think that the man himself must be only a mechanism. But machinery does not run without motive power; and the nature of Mr. Hoover’s undertakings makes it impossible that the motive power could be anything else than a burning sympathy for real flesh-andblood people.
All this is simple logic, and should have been obvious to everybody. For myself, I do not need the logic, for I know the man — his warmth of heart, his instant response to the simplest personal need, his simplicity of character, his gentleness.