A Most Critical Situation

February 18, 2009

Transitioning Between Presidents at a Time of Economic Crisis

This Presidential transition season has evoked comparisons with the transition following the election of 1932, as Franklin D. Roosevelt prepared to take office during the worst economic crisis of this nation’s history. This month we highlight documents that illuminate that history. Professor John Moser describes a telling letter President Hoover sent the incoming president.

“A most critical situation has arisen…”

In early 1933, as today, Americans waited anxiously in the midst of economic crisis for a new president to begin his term of office. In this light, Herbert Hoover’s letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt of February 18, 1933, makes for fascinating reading. During the fall of 1932 the economy had shown signs of recovery, but by February overall unemployment stood at 25 percent and the nation’s banking system stood on the brink of collapse. Hoover believed—not without reason—that uncertainty over Roosevelt’s intended policies was contributing to the general atmosphere of “fear and apprehension.” He called on the incoming president to issue a public statement giving “prompt assurance that there will be no tampering or inflation of the currency” and “that the budget will be unquestioningly balanced even if further taxation is necessary.”

Roosevelt chose to ignore Hoover’s request, privately calling it “cheeky.” No doubt he saw little reason to associate himself with the seemingly discredited economic policies of his predecessor. But Roosevelt’s key economic policy adviser, Rexford G. Tugwell, admitted that same month that he and the president-elect “were wholly aware of the bank situation and that it would undoubtedly collapse in a few days, which would place the responsibility in the lap of President Hoover.”

John Moser, Associate Professor of History, Ashland University

Read the Document:
President Herbert Hoover’s Letter to Incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt (February 19, 1933)

Professor Gordon Lloyd provides the background for this letter, pointing to campaign speeches made by Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt prior to taking office, in which each appealed for support for his distinctive vision of economic well-being.

Contrasting Views of Economic Policy: Campaign Speeches of Hoover and FDR

Hoover’s campaign speech in New York City on October 22, 1928 introduced to our vocabulary the term “rugged individualism.” Here Hoover emphasizes that what makes America unique and different is the ethos of personal self-reliance and local decision-making. He warns of the danger to liberty from a too aggressive federal government along the lines of “European paternalism” and suggests we focus on what the federal government should not do. Speaking in St. Louis a few days before the election, Hoover counterbalanced the warnings he gave in New York City, this time explaining that within the framework he outlined before, there is still a constructive role for the federal government to play in the area of public works and cooperative ventures involving both government and business. FDR, in a fireside radio address given early in his first campaign for the presidency (April 7, 1932), chastises the Hoover Administration for being hard hearted because it overlooked “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” In September of 1932 FDR elaborated, arguing that “the task of government in its relation to business” is not one of cooperation as usual. Rather it is to commit to “an economic declaration of rights, an economic constitutional order.”

Gordon Lloyd, Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University

Read the Documents:

Rugged Individualism — Campaign Speech by Herbert Hoover (October 22, 1928)

The Constructive Side of Government — Campaign Speech by Herbert Hoover in St. Louis, Missouri (November 2, 1928)

The Forgotten Man — Radio Address in Albany, New York for the Democratic National Committee by Franklin D. Roosevelt (April 7, 1932)

Commonwealth Club Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt (September 23, 1932)

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth, presents a collection of Abraham Lincoln resources. Included are a series of Mr. Lincoln’s most important speeches, correspondence from before and during his presidency, transcripts of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, lesson plans created by history professors and master teachers of American history, audio of lectures and commentary by leading historians, and links to additional Lincoln resources.

Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. You may also attend specific courses for continuing education graduate credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government, with no courses limited to teaching methodology. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

Presidential Academy for American History and Civics

The application for the 2009 Presidential Academy is now open. It is a program unlike any other that will lead secondary school teachers in a careful study of the pivotal turning points in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Participating teachers will spend six days in Philadelphia, six days in Gettysburg, and five days in Washington, DC, studying the American Revolution and Founding, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement, respectively. Participants may choose to receive four hours of Master’s degree credit from Ashland University. This credit can be used toward the Master of American History and Government offered by Ashland University or may be transferred to another institution.

One teacher will be accepted from each state. The deadline for applications is March 15 so please don’t hesitate to apply and spread the word. The application is available on-line at

Congressional Academy for American History and Civics

The Presidential Academy’s sister program, the Congressional Academy for American History and Civics, will lead current high school juniors in a careful study of the pivotal turning points in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Participating students will spend two weeks in Washington, DC, with day trips to Philadelphia and Gettysburg, studying the American Revolution and Founding, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement. All hotel, meal and tour expenses are paid by the Academy and each student will receive a $250 travel stipend. Students will receive 3 hours of college credit from Ashland University. This credit can be used toward a degree offered by Ashland University or may be transferred to another institution.

Two students will be accepted from each state. The deadline for applications is April 1 so please don’t hesitate to spread the word. The application is available on-line at

Interactive Websites on the Drafting and Ratification of the Constitution

Check out our websites exploring the process by which the U.S. Constitution was drafted, debated, and made the foundation of American law. These sites allow you to research the history of the Constitutional Convention and subsequent ratification from a range of angles–the themes of the debate over the Constitution, the drama that unfolded at the Convention as its terms were discussed and negotiated, as well as the dramatic debate that occurred as ratification by the states was awaited, the notes, essays, and letters written by participants, the biographies of key figures, even the specific sites where aspects of the document were hammered out.

Visit the Convention site.
Visit the Ratification site.

Understanding the Role of the Courts in the Tripartite System

In October 2008, the Ashbrook Center, in partnership with the Cincinnati Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, hosted a conference on “The Presidency and the Courts.” Eight scholars of American law discussed the Founders’ vision of the federal courts and the history of the relationship between the executive and judicial branches. Attorney General Edwin Meese spoke at the luncheon on the topic, “What Would the Founders Think of the Supreme Court Today?” Read the speech.

President Bush delivered the keynote address, detailing his judicial accomplishments and philosophy. Read the speech.

Listen to podcasts of the event.
Highlights of all the speeches.

Partner with the Ashbrook Center on a Teaching American History Grant

Each year, the Ashbrook Center works closely with a few school districts and local education agencies to develop customized Teaching American History Grant partnerships. Please contact Roger Beckett if you would like to discuss one of these partnerships. The Ashbrook Center can help you write your Teaching American History Grant and you can partner with the Ashbrook Center to send your teachers to intensive summer institutes offered for graduate credit.

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit our website.

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