Herbert Hoover’s first foray into politics came when President Harding named him Commerce Secretary in 1920. It was from here that the road to the White House was paved.
After spending several years working on humanitarian efforts in American and in war-ravaged Europe, Herbert Hoover’s popularity had grown dramatically in the United States, and he was a fairly easy choice for newly-elected President Harding to his cabinet.
Accepting the position of Commerce Secretary, however, Hoover – an always capable administrator – found himself in charge of one of the newest (having been formed as its own position in 1913, prior to which there was just one Secretary of Labor and Commerce) and least important cabinet positions in the government.
As his career prior to this shows, however, Hoover would have no trouble finding success even in this position. In fact, he sought continually to expand the importance of his department, taking upon himself increasing responsibilities (sometimes taking them from other departments which he did not feel were doing an adequate job) and building the Commerce Department into one of the most important sections of the Federal government.
Commerce Department Policies
As a genuine progressive conservative, one of Hoover’s chief principles in running the Commerce department was to increase regulation on certain industries, increase safety standards, and to encourage standardization among manufacturers, which would lower the cost of replacing parts and provide a boost to the economy.
Hoover’s intention in this position was to regulate the nation’s economy in such a way that smooth, steady growth would be possible, which would enable the nation to avoid, in the future, dangerous economic rises and falls which were prevalent prior to any of these policies. While he was confident that his goal could be achieved, he was certainly a bit too short sighted, as the onset of the Depression just a few years later would prove.
Nevertheless, under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, while Harding was Commerce Secretary (he was arguably the most important man in the federal government apart from the President), the nation’s economy boomed and consumer confidence rose. He encouraged the growth of business but opposed monopolies.
In many senses, Hoover was a nearly-perfect political compromiser. His beliefs in the government sat directly in between the indirect, laissez-faire style of the right (exemplified by then-President Coolidge in certain senses) and the socialist ideals of the left. He believed that regulation was necessary, but only from a bottom-up approach, rather than from the top down (which he believed was the mark of a dictatorship).
The Road to Presidential Nomination
Perhaps the highest point of Hoover’s political career came in 1927, ironically in the midst of one of America’s greatest national disasters. When the Mississippi river flooded its banks, causing devastation in the many states along its path, Hoover – one of the nation’s most trusted government officials – was the one who was called upon to organize relief efforts.
Hoover famously refused to call upon national assistance for this tragedy, instead organizing the local relief efforts, and encouraging privately held charitable organizations such as the Red Cross and the Rockefeller Foundation to head up the funding of the relief efforts.
In this instance, Hoover famously proved that Americans need not always rely on the federal government to come to their assistance, but that problems can also be solved by private individuals working together.
With the popularity he had achieved through his work in the Cabinet, Hoover became the obvious choice to follow up Calvin Coolidge (who had announced his refusal to run for reelection) as the Republican nominee for President in 1928.
With very little opposition, Hoover was thus given the nomination, and thanks to a booming economy and high personal popularity, he garnered an easy win over his opponent, Alfred E. Smith (who was hindered by his own Catholicism), gaining 58% of the vote and winning several southern states which Republicans had not won in almost a century.
Herbert Hoover had achieved the highest office in the land, but little did he know that the height of his popularity were behind him. He would try hard to be a good President, but national circumstances would work against him at every turn.