The 1920’s and Early 30’s


One of the things I learned when I was a drama major is that one can tell the same story in many different ways, and get a completely different meaning from the same story with just a slight reinterpretation on that story.  While this is a great thing in literature, and while it's really delightful to see how many new and creative things authors can do to make an old story new, it's more than a bit uncomfortable in history.  We would like to know, not one of many possible interpretations of events, but we'd like to know *the* proper interpretation of that event, the one thing it *really* means.  But history is in some ways just a branch of literature, and, quite often we can't get that single, universal interpretation of individuals and events we would like. 

This is particularly true when it comes to America in the 1920-1932 period. While there is a general consensus on which figures and events of the 1920's and 1930's are particularly important, there are major differences in interpreting just about every one of these figures and events. 


One example of this is Prohibition.  Prohibition is the period from 1920-1933 when the manufacture, transportation, and sale of intoxicating beverages was illegal in this country.  It was made possible by 18th Amendment (proposed in December of 1917, ratified in 1919, and put into effect in 1920).

One view of Prohibition is that it was a great mistake, agreeing with the sentiment in this 1920's poem:

Prohibition is an awful flop. We like it.
It can't stop what it's meant to stop.  We like it.
It's left a trail of graft and slime,
It's filled our land with vice and crime,
It don't prohibit worth a dime.
Nevertheless, we're for it.
Those who think of Prohibition as a mistake not that, during Prohibition, licensed saloons were replaced by illegal, unregulated "speak-easies."  The point out also that organized crime took off, financed by liquor sales, and that the profits from boot legging financed the growth prostitution and illegal gambling rings as well.  Further, political corruption increased as police and civic officials were paid by now-wealthy crime-bosses to ignore what they were doing.

On the other side, there are those who argue that Prohibition was, in the end, a success: a measure that gave the nation a much-needed drying out.  Drinking declined by 2/3 and all of the problems associated with problem drinking lessened. 

And then there is a third view--that prohibition on the state and local level sometimes made sense, but that trying to institute prohibition on the national level was a grave mistake.  The fact that it took a constitutional amendment to make it possible should have been a clue that such a measure was not in keeping with the limited federal government envisioned by the founding fathers.

The Sacco and Vanzetti Trial

Its possible also to interpret very differently some of the the famous court cases of the 1920's including, in particular, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial.

In 1920, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were put on trial for the murder of a Massachusetts security guard and paymaster.  They were convicted, and sentenced to death.  Many intellectuals from American and Europe were convinced that the trial had been unfair: Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted, not on the evidence, but because they were anarchists, socialists, and foreigners.  How could a judge who had used terms "dago" be impartial?  For seven years, the execution was delayed, and there was push after push for a new trial.  To the intellectuals, Sacco and Vanzetti became heroes and martyrs.  Lots and lots of dramatic quotes from Vanzetti in particular:

"I would not wish to a dog or a snake, to the most low and misfortunate creature of the earth — I would not wish to any of them what I have had to suffer for things that I am not guilty of. But my conviction is that I have suffered for things that I am guilty of. I am suffering because I am a radical, and indeed I am a radical; I have suffered because I am an Italian, and indeed I am an Italian... If you could execute me two times, and if I could be reborn two other times, I would live again to do what I have done already".

If it had not been for these thing, I might have live out my life talking at street corners to scorning men. I might have die, unmarked, unknown, a failure. Now we are not a failure. This is our career and our triumph. Never in our full life could we hope to do such work for tolerance, for joostice, for man's onderstanding of man, as now we do by accident. Our words - our lives - our pains - nothing! The taking of our lives - lives of a good shoemaker and a poor fish peddler - all! That last moment belong to us - that agony is our triumph.

American writers like Dorothy Parker and John Dos Passos championed Sacco and Venzetti's cause, while George Bernard Shaw Shaw and H.G. Wells chimed in from across the Atlantic. When Sacco and Vanzetti finally were executed, there were riots in Germany and London--and the American embassy in Paris was bombed.  Those bigoted racists in America were murders.

And the intellectuals were going to rub our noses in it.  In 1928, Upton Sinclair, a prominent American writer who eventually won a Pulitzer prize published a two-volume book, Boston, using the Sacco and Vanzetti case to lambaste the American legal system--in the same way that, two decades earlier, he had lambasted the meat-packing industry in his famous The Jungle.  In the late 30's, James Thurber and Elliot Nugent teamed to write a play, The Male Animal, in which the hero, a college professor gets in trouble for his courageous stand for Sacco and Vanzetti.  It was a hit on Broadway, and, in 1942, a successful movie.

The result of all this: the lasting impression that the American justice system was anything but just because of the racism and bigotry that dominated America.

But there is a very different view--the view that the real threat to American democracy comes not from the bigotry of ordinary Americans but from the bigotry of the intellectuals--because, as it turns out, every review of the evidence the jury looked at shows that they came to exactly the right conclusion.  Sacco was certainly guilty of murder, and Vanzetti was at least an accomplice. Curiously, Upton Sinclair seems to have known this--or, at least--he could have known this had he been able to overcome his own prejudices and desire for fame.

While doing research for his book, Sinclair interviewed one of Sacco and Vanzetti's attorneys, Fred Moore.  Sinclair describes that meeting in a 1929 letter he wrote to his own attorney:

Alone in a hotel room with Fred, I begged him to tell me the full truth, ... He then told me that the men were guilty, and he told me in every detail how he had framed a set of alibis for them. ... I faced the most difficult ethical problem of my life at that point, I had come to Boston with the announcement that I was going to write the truth about the case".

Ok.  So apparently the truth was that Sacco and Vanzetti were guilty, and their lawyers were trying to help them cover up.  Is that what Sinclair wrote in Boston?  Hardly.  Why not?  Well, he convinced himself that Moore was a bitter man, and that Moore was lying.  Well, he wasn't lying--but, even if he was, shouldn't Sinclair have included some mention of the fact that Moore claimed to have helped provide fake alibis for Sacco and Vanzetti?

The Scopes Trial

Another very famous--and still controversial--1920's trial was the Scopes "Monkey" Trial.  The state of Tennessee had passed a law forbidding the teaching of Darwinism in the public schools.  The ACLU wanted a court case to challenge the law, and persuaded a high school science teacher, Charles Scopes, to deliberately break the law and teach Darwinism anyway.  Scopes was put on Trial in Dayton, TN in 1925.

The trial drew national attention.  Clarence Darrow, the most famous defense attorney in the country, came to help the defense. William Jennings Bryan came to Dayton to assist the prosecution.  H.L. Mencken showed up to cover the case.  Eventually, Scopes was convicted and asked to pay a fine.

Typically, the trial is interpreted as the last stand of bigoted, ignorant fundamentalists unwilling to accept the proven teachings of modern science.  For, although Scopes was convicted and sentenced to a minor fine, Darrow made a monkey out of Bryan and made his whole position look ridiculous.

This was the view of Mencken whose articles praised Darrow to the skies and mocked Bryan unmercifully.  I was also the view popularized by the play "Inherit the Wind" by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.  Lawrence and Lee follow the general course of the Scopes Trial fairly accurately, but they change all the names.  Dayton becomes Hillsborough, Bryan becomes Matthew Harrison Brady, Mencken becomes E.K. Hornbeck, Darrow becomes Henry Drummond.  Now it seems to me there is a good reason for this.  If they had ascribed the lines they write to the real people, they would certainly have been guilty of the most vile slander...and, actually, the play (though a fine play) slanders in particular William Jennings Bryan. 

At the end of the trial in Inherit the Wind, the Scopes character (Bertram Cates) is asked to pay a fine of $100.  The Bryan character (Brady) comes unglued, screaming that the court should meet out more drastic punishment.  Well, first of all the fine was $100-$500--the latter a *very* hefty sum in 1925.  But note what Bryan really said, not as an outburst at all, but when specifically asked by the judge for comment.

I don't know that there is any special reason why I should add to what has been said, and yet the subject has been presented from so many viewpoints that I hope the court will pardon me if I mention a viewpoint that has not been referred to. Dayton is the center and the seat of this trial largely by circumstance. We are told that more words have been sent across the ocean by cable to Europe and Australia about this trail than has ever been sent by cable in regard to anything else happening in the United States. That isn't because the trial is held in Dayton. It isn't because a schoolteacher has been subjected to the danger of a fine $100.00 to $500.00, but I think illustrate how people can be drawn into prominence by attaching themselves to a great cause. Causes stir the world. It is because it goes deep. It is because it extends wide, and because it reaches into a future beyond the power of man to see. Here has been fought out a little case of little consequence as a case, but the world is interested because it raises an issue, and that issue will some day be settled right, whether it is settled on our side or the other side. It is going to be settled right. There can be no settlement of a great cause without discussion, and people will not discuss a cause until their attention is drawn to it, and the value of this trial is not in any incident of the trial, it is not because of anybody who is attached to it, either in an official way or as counsel on either side. Human beings are mighty small, your honor. We are apt to magnify the personal element and we sometimes become inflated with our importance, but the world little cares for man as an individual. He is born, he works, he dies, but causes go on forever, and we who participated in this case may congratulate ourselves that we have attached ourselves to a mighty issue.

You can--and perhaps should--read the trial transcript for yourself, and perhaps Mencken's articles.  It is interesting to see the interchange when Darrow questions Bryan on his faith in an infallible Bible.  It's certainly possible to read this differently than I do, but while Darrow *seems* to have the upper hand with his clever mocking, Darrow is clearly does not understand--and does not attempt to understand--what Bryan is saying.  Now Darrow's job, of course, is to make the prosecution look bad.  But Mencken had no excuse for his his scoffing, sneering , and condescending articles.

Dr. Blanchard tells the story of Thales the philosopher who, while gazing up into the heavens, happened to trip.  A Thracian slave girl laughed at him for thinking about the heavens and tripping over his own two feat.  According to Dr. Blanchard, Martin Heidegger, the German philosopher used the story for a definition of philosophy.  "Philosophy is what Thracian slave girls laugh at."

I get this feeling with Mencken.  Committed Christianity is what sneering reporters laugh at.

Anyway, Bryan was right in thinking that Dayton was, temporarily, the focus of a debate for more important than any of the individuals involved. What's interesting also is how well Bryan's arguments from the 1920's still hold up compared to the arguments in favor of evolution that were in vogue in 1925.   I learned about evolution from a 1940's college text my mom had used as a student.  Much of it would be laughed at by anthropologists and biologists today: they make an entirely different case for evolution.  I can't imagine anyone reading it except, perhaps, as a curiosity.

Bryan's "In his Image," his critique of the Darwinist world view, written in 1922, stands up in almost every way, and his comments about the ethical and social consequences of the Darwinist view are near-prophetic. Particular impressive is Bryan's sense that the *way* Darwinism was being taught was as important--even more important--than *what* was being taught, his clear sense that the way Darwinism was being presented was potentially going to undercut all morality. Not so very much later, Hitler's follow through on Darwinist ideas would show how dead on Bryan was.

Now, obviously, I have tipped my hand here.  I like Bryan--a lot.  I think he was right on all sorts of issues throughout all of his long career--though he missed badly with Pancho Villa.  He deserves better than the Inherit the Wind caricature. 


Interpretations of the major political figures of this time also vary radically.  Warren G. Harding, for instance, is often presented in a very negative light, and it's not unusual for textbooks to suggest that he was the worst of all American presidents.  His administration is sometimes thought of as the most corrupt in American history. 

There is some evidence to support this view.  Certainly there were some great scandals during the Harding administration.  The Teapot Dome scandal, for instance, was an obvious case of high-level corruption.  Sinclair's Mammoth Oil Company obtained access to government oil reserves in Teapot Dome, Wyoming.  They got these leases without competitive bidding and at a very low price.  How had the company managed this?  Well, the gave Harding's Secretary of the Interior, Albert Fall some $400,000 in bribes!  Similarly, Charles Forbes, Harding's Veteran's Bureau director, got big kickbacks from people who through him were able to get bargain-basement prices for surplus medical supplies.

Those who would blacken Harding's reputation further say he turned the White House into a speak-easy, filling the place with liquor, poker games, and loose women--by one of who he had an illegitimate daughter. 

And on top of all this, he was a lousy speaker, a master of what Harding himself called bloviation: speaking as long as you want without saying anything in particular at all.

From this point of view, Harding's sudden death from a heart attack was a blessing in disguise.  He was still popular at the time, and didn't have to go through the pain of having the American people find out what he was *really* like.

But one can take a very different view of Harding.  Your Johnson book says that Harding was actually a shrewd and effective president--and with good reason!

First note that Harding was an immensely popular president, winning the presidency in 1920 over his Democrat opponent (Cox) by the largest margin hi U.S. election history.  This was in part because Harding (bloviator or not) could often put into words exactly what the rest of America was thinking. "America's present need," he said, "is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not surgery, but serenity."

Hey!  He even invented a new word!  "Normalcy."  How many presidents can claim that?

Harding in some ways delivered more than he promised.  When he took office, there had essentially been no president for more than a year.  Wilson had been incapacitated by a stroke and went for months without meeting with his cabinet.  What strength he had was taken up with the League of Nations push.  The country was in a major depression.  And Harding did something enormously clever.


Well, maybe not quite nothing.  He did adopt a (mostly) laissez faire business policy, a policy of allowing the economy to right itself.  "What we want in America is less government in business and more business in government," said Harding.

But there was one additional thing: Harding cut government spending.  He cut it 40%.  Furthermore, he did it the right way: he cut out the deadwood--something that is enormously difficult to do.  The right kind of pruning *does* make government more efficient and more effective--but very few people have the ability to do what Harding did here.

Harding, then, should probably be given at least some credit for what became a huge economic expansion in the 1920's.

What about the corruption?  Those who would defend Harding admit that he had bad apples in his administration, but they insist that, had only he lived, he would have weeded them out himself. 

When I first taught the class, I cited writers who claimed there was no evidence at all that Harding fathered an illegitimate daughter or spent his time with loose women.  Well, at the time that was so.  But in 2014, some of Harding's personal letters (which Harding's family had mangaged to keep private) were finally released.   Don't know if there's proof of an illegitmate daughter there, but plenty of evidence of marital infidelity, a long-term affair--and, perhaps, of something more troubling: German influence on Harding through his long-time mistress.  Here's a good article on the Harding letters.


Opinions about Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge, are also all over the map.  There is some agreement on basics.  All agree Coolidge was a cool, thoughtful, scholarly man with a sharp wit--not the kind of "people" person our presidents usually are.  All agree that it was his role in crushing a Boston police strike that helped lead him to national prominence ("There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anytime, anywhere."  All agree Coolidge was a quiet president who well-earned his nickname "Silent Cal."  All agree that Coolidge slept a lot.

Where historians disagree is on what this all means.  Coolidge's silence is sometimes viewed as a character defect: presidents should be great communicators, shouldn't they, and should great communicators be talkers?

Well, maybe.  But there  is more than a little to be said for Coolidge's style.  "The things I never say never get me into trouble," said Coolidge.  And then there's this from Coolidge: "Nine out of ten callers to the White House want something they ought not to have.  If you keep dead still, they will run out in three or four minutes."

The silent routine also seems to have reflected a keen sense of humor.  One woman came up to Coolidge and said she had bet her friend she could get more than two words our of him.  "You lose," said silent Cal.

Now Coolidge didn't propose much in the way of legislation, and some would fault him for laziness.  But Will Rogers had a great line here, "He didn't do anything, but that's what the people wanted done."

Thomas Edison, no dummy, noted the United States was lucky to have Coolidge as president--and the rest of America agreed.  When he ran for election at the top of the ticket in 1924, Coolidge won by an even larger margin than Harding had in 1920.  Americans in the 1920's spoke of "Coolidge prosperity," and there was much surprise and disappointment at Coolidge's 1928 announcement, "I do not choose to run for President."

American Economy of the 1920's

Evaluations of Harding and Coolidge depend in part on one's evaluation of the American economy of the 1920's--another subject on which there are two decidedly different views. 

According to some, the 1920's were an economic high point for America, the proof that laissez faire economics works.  Both presidents, Harding and Coolidge, believed in minimal government interference with business.  Harding said the country needed less government in business and more business in the government.  Coolidge said, "The business of this country is business."

Naturally enough, both me turned to the business community for advice and for members of their cabinets.  The most important: Andrew Mellon.  Andrew Mellon was one of the richest men in America.  Harding chose him to be Secretary of the Treasury, and he continued to hold that position under Coolidge and Hoover: the only man to serve as Treasury Secretary under three presidents or--as many have noted--the only Treasury Secretary to have three presidents serve under him!

Mellon's basic idea was that keeping income tax rates low was a good idea.  If tax rates were low, there would be more investment, more economic growth, a stronger economy--and more tax *revenue* even with lower tax *rates*.  Result?  It worked--or it seemed to.  Under Mellon, the national debt dropped from $24 billion to $17 billion in just 10 years.  Pretty impressive!

At the same time, America went throw an unprecedented economic growth spirit.  The electronics industry tripled in size, air travel increased ten fold. And even more impressive, the growing automobile industry.  By 1929, America was producing 5 million cars per year (5/6 of all produced in the world!) and we owned ourselves more cars than the rest of the world put together.

The movie industry took off, and, all of a sudden, there were radios everywhere.  With their husbands earning more, many women left the work force, getting out of those crummy factory jobs--and putting their time to much better use, getting involved with charitable activities, volunteer activities, and cultural activities.  Literary quantity and quality boomed, in large part because women (especially) had time for books and reading. 

Education took off as well.  Spending on education increased at ever level--not always a good thing: but, this time, Americans got something for their education dollars.  Illiteracy was cut in half: 95% of Americans could now read.

Paul Johnson says, "The truth is that the Twenties was the most fortunate decade in American history."

No one disputes the statistics and yet, as Johnson notes, views of the 1920's economy are often extraordinarily negative.  "A drunken fiesta," "The gaudiest spree in history."

Why so negative?

Well, there is some reason for this.  Not all Americans prospered during the 1920's.  Farm income actually dropped drastically as increased production led to a crash in the price of most commodities.  Also, while *income tax rates* dropped, guess what went back up?  Yes--the tariff: much to the delight of Northern industry, but a blow to farmers in general and to southerners in particular.

Still, in 1928, it was clear that most Americans were pleased with how things were going and were ready to reward the Republicans by electing another GOP president.  The 1928 election again was a Republican landslide: Herbert Hoover (despite his silly "Hoo but Hoover?" slogan) swept all but six states and won the popular vote 21,000,000 to 15,000,000.

Boom to bust

As Hoover took office, the American people were immensely confident.  Outgoing president Coolidge said, "No Congress of the United States ever assembled on surveying the state of the union has met with a more pleasing prospect.  The great wealth created by our enterprise and industry, and saved by our economy has gone out in the widest possible distribution among our own people...Enlarging production is consumed by an increasing demand at home and an expanded commerce abroad.  The country can regard the present with satisfaction and anticipate the future with optimism."

Hoover himself said, "We in America are nearer to the final triumph over poverty than ever before in the history of any land...We have not reached the goal, but, given a chance to go forward with the policies of the las eight years, we shall soon, with the help of God, be in sight of the day when poverty will be banished from this nation."

Late October, 1929.  Hoover had been in office only 7 months.  Everything looked rosy, but the stock market was jittery.  October 24, 1929, Black Thursday: stocks fell drastically.  There was somewhat of a recovery on Friday, then the prices plummeted...and plummeted some more.

Now how important was all this?  In the minds of many, the October 1929 stock market crash is directly responsible for the Great Depression that eventually followed. But did the crash really cause the depression? And, if so, how?

Perhaps the first question to ask is why stock prices were so high in the first place.  A company's stock, theoretically, should have a pretty well-defined value.  If you own 10% of a company's  stock (tycoon that you are), your stock should be equal in value to 10% of the company.  But people will actually pay far more than that for their shares of stock.  Why?  Because stock prices take into account, not only current value of a company, but also prospects for growth.  A start up company, for instance, may actually have no net worth--may even be in debt--but if its long term prospects are good, investors will buy its shares anyway.

But sometimes people will pay more for a company's stock than that share can ever conceivably be worth if you are thinking of a share as a portion of the true value of the company.  Why would they do this?  Would you pay $100 for something that will never be really worth, at most, $50?  Well, if you could count on someone else to pay you $150 for it, you might.  And they might pay that $150 if they thought they were going to be able to dump it on someone else for $200.  And as long as the direction of the market is only upward, this works just fine.  And you might be tempted to do something else. 

Suppose a small amount of money (say $100) could give you control shares of stock with a current value of $1000.  You'll pay the remaining $900 sometime in the future.  Meanwhile, you find that your $1000 (face value) stock is going for $1500.  You sell your shares, get your $1500, pay off the $900 remaining commitment from your purchase--and pocket the difference.  You've now got $500 in your pocket.  So you go out and use it to purchase control of  $5000 worth of stock, promising to pay of the remaining $4500 later.  The stock goes up and you find your shares worth $10,000.  So you sell, pay off the remaining $4500 you owed, and now you've got $5000 in your pocket. You use that $5000 to get control of stock worth  $50,000.  The stock price goes to  $75,000.  You sell at that price, pay off the remaining $45,000 you owe...and you've now got $30,000 in your pocket....and you are well on your way to being a millionaire.

But...suppose you get caught.  Suppose on that last transaction the stock price drops to $30,000.  You're in hock for $45,000--and there's $15,000 you can't cover.  There goes the car, the house--and there goes you to the poor farm.

Buying "on the margin" made many into millionaires in the 1920's, but the crash turned many overextended margin buyers into paupers in a matter of days.  Men who had been (on paper) worth millions, were now worth nothing.--well, in a certain sense. Some responded by committing suicide.

Personal tragedies, to be sure, but did the depression have to follow?

Hoover said no: he insisted the economy was fundamentally sound, that they only real problem was lack of confidence.

But was the economy of the 1920's sound?  Perhaps not entirely, and it seems to me that the policies of Andrew Mellon were partly to blame.

Mellon pushed for policies that cut income taxes on the rich, suggesting that when these people would have more money to invest, the economy would boom, and everyone would be better off.  Well, the rich men did invest and there was a boom...but one thing was missing.  Increased investment *should* have led to increased productivity and declining prices.  It did lead to increased productivity, but not to declining prices.  Why not?

Prices don't fall unless there is sufficient competition, and, during the 1920's, competition decreased.  Partly this was because the trusts (which had been attacked by Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson) began to grow again.  Neither Harding nor Coolidge had pushed hard to apply anti-trust legislation.  But another problem was the tariff.  A high tariff means no competition from foreign producers either.

Mellon also kept prices high by keeping demand high.  How?  By pushing for increased credit at artificially low rates.  The 1920's saw an enormous growth of debt on all levels, but the massive level of consumer credit debt was going to be a particular problem: eventually, consumers can't or won't borrow any more, demand will fall and profits will be in trouble.

What all this meant was that the country was mortgaged to the hilt and the bankruptcies created by the stock market crash touched off a chain reaction of other finance problems.  Businesses found revenue down, and they needed to cut expenses.  You *can't* lay off your expensive machines (though you might wish you could), so you lay off people.  but as more people lose there jobs, they reduce their spending further.  Businesses have to cut expenses more, and they lay off more workers.  By 1930, there were 4,000,000 unemployed workers, and the country was in the midst of a full-scale depression.

Herbert Hoover

Enter the man who Coolidge called "the Wonder Boy," Herbert Hoover--another of those controversial 1920-1932 figures.  To some, Hoover is an arch villain, the man chiefly responsible for the depression.  Contemporaries called the "Hoover depression."  Some say Hoover created this depression by continuing the laissez-faire economic policies of his Republican predecessors Harding and Coolidge.  Others argue that Hoover is unfairly blamed for the depression, that he was a capable man, and that the circumstances that led to the depression were beyond his control--or anyone else's control.  And there are others who say that Hoover *did* create (or aggravate) the depression, but *not* by laissez-faire policies.  Instead, Hoover made the bad mistake of trying to fix the economy through government intervention, a practice that invariably makes things worse rather than better.

Well, the fact that Hoover was a capable man is indisputable.  A poor Iowa farm boy orphaned at a young age, he managed to work his way through Stanford, picking up an engineering degree.  His engineering achievements helped him become a self-made millionaire.  After WWI, he directed relief efforts in Europe, efforts that saved millions of lives.  No wonder no less than FDR called Hoover a wonder and said, "You couldn't ask for a better president."

Back to 1930.  The country was heading into a recession.  What should Hoover do?  Well, ten years previously, Harding had decided to do nothing--and, soon, enough, the recession ran its course. But Hoover decided this was a situation that called engineer.  Plan one: cut taxes to stimulate investment and economic growth, inflate credit to create more spending, and, last but not least, jack up the tariff to protect American business from foreign competition. Hoover signed into law
the Smoot-Hawley tariff, a 60% tariff on imported goods.

Now this really wasn't Hoover's baby, but he did sign the bill, and he should have known better.  Foreign countries retaliated by slapping tariffs on American-made goods (think cars!), and world-wide trade plummeted--leading to world -wide depression.

Things are getting worse, not better.  So lets go to plan two, the RFC (Reconstruction Finance Corporation).  The RFC bails out the banks, insurance, companies, state and local government, railroads.  It bankrolls huge public works programs, e.g., what comes to be called Hoover Dam.

What was the result?  Hard to say.  Some argue Hoover should have left well enough alone and the country would have been back to normal far more quickly.  Others say Hoover hadn't done enough, that his "stimulus package" was too meager to do the job. Whichever view is right, it's clear that the Hoover presidency was a disaster.  Unemployment went from 3.2% to 24.9%.  Landlords couldn't collect rents, so they couldn't pay taxes, so there were no money for government services.  Schools closed--including 1,500 universities.  Book sales fell 50%.  Many children suffered from malnutrition.

And who got the blame? Well, "Hoo but Hoover?" and, with him the Republicans.  The 1932 election year promised great things for the Democrats if not necessarily for the country as a whole.