The New Deal | Pepperdine University | School of Public Policy

The New Deal

Herbert Hoover Speeches


THE REAL STATE OF THE UNION

Address delivered to Fifty-third Annual Lincoln Day Dinner of the National Republican Club

New York City

Every year at this time Americans express gratitude for the birth of Abraham Lincoln.  Recently both Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Browder have claimed him as a founder of their faiths.  I was under the impression he was a Republican.

But Abraham Lincoln towered far above political partisanship.  He rests in the hearts of the American people not as a politician but as a great American who died fighting for the most precious of American possessions—the liberty of men.

During the past month those temporarily in control of the government have expressed their views upon the state of the Union.  Tonight in many assemblies over the nation you will hear views on it from the Party of Lincoln.

Eighty years ago if an observer could have looked down on this Republic from the high stratosphere he would have seen a nation sadly divided and confused.  It was a nation professing liberty yet holding millions of slaves.  It was furiously debating property rights, states' rights, decisions of the Courts, and secession.

But high above all this din and confusion Lincoln heard the supreme chord of all human emotions—the liberty of men.  In the triumph of that deepest of all moral and spiritual issues the old discords sank away.  With that renewed inspiration from Abraham Lincoln this nation marched on to a glorious progress unparalleled in the history of mankind.

The Confused State of the Nation

Today if the observer in the high stratosphere were to look down on this Republic he would find a people more sadly divided and confused than at any time since Lincoln's time.  He would see the torch of human liberty dimming on every continent.

He would find the richest and most powerful nation in the world confused by its own inventions; disordered in its economic life; hurt by the weakening of private and public morals; arming from fear of foreign violence; discouraged by vast destitution in a land of plenty; frustrated by failure of age-old panaceas.  He would find strange doctrines of class struggle, of personal power, of extravagance, of debt, and of hate.  He would see our nation still professing liberty yet pursuing ideas which limit and endanger the liberty of men.

Yet nonetheless again today above all this din and discouragement rises that same supreme chord of all human emotions—the liberty of men.

The Start at Clarifying Confusion

Three months ago this observer might have despaired of us.  But today he would see flashes of light.  He would find that Americans have by the ballot again spoken their demand that the safeguards of liberty be maintained.  The people have restored much independence to the Congress.  They have returned to office men who fought staunchly for the independence of the Courts.  They have lifted to leadership many young, vigorous governors and backed them with high-minded legislatures.  The people have proved that elections cannot be controlled by government subsidies.

Today this observer would see another ray of light through all this confusion.  He would see the people steadily forcing a clarification of national thought.  Those who adhere to the traditional liberalism upon which the Republic was founded and which Lincoln sustained are crowding away from the pseudo-liberalism of the New Deal.

That philosophy of conscious or unconscious left-wingers is steadily and openly unfolding itself.  It becomes visible as a mixture of coercion, collectivism and lust for personal power poured into the American system of free men.  And it mortgages the next generation to pay for it.  Anyway their new system is satisfying enough to receive the illuminating support of the Communist Front and their fellow travelers.

Here indeed is a paradox.  The Republican Party has become the conservative party in the sense of preserving true liberalism. 

The spirit of true liberalism is to create free men; it is not the coercion of men.  True liberalism is found not in striving to spread bureaucracy and personal power but in striving to set bounds to it.  And it is equally certain that we can no more have private economic power without checks and balances than we can have political power without checks and balances.  Either one leads to coercion.  True liberalism seeks freedom from both bureaucracy and private privilege in the confident belief that without such freedom the pursuit of other blessings is in vain.

Whatever this New Deal system is, it is certain that it did not come from Abraham Lincoln.

The Road to Disunity in a People

The President in his last message on the state of the Union made a moving appeal for unity in the people.  But the acerbities of the times were not much allayed when a few days later at the Jackson Day Dinner he smote the to-be-purged Democrats with hints to get out of his party.  That was more of a mustard plaster than an ointment of unity.

Then Mr. Roosevelt took in still more ground of combat when he observed:  "Does anyone maintain that the Republican Party from 1868 to 1938 was the party of Abraham Lincoln?”  He accepts possibly his own fifth cousin.  He ought to read the views of Theodore Roosevelt on such policies as his.  He seems to wish to purge the Republican Party also.  But the President of all the people did not add to the happy chemistry of national unity with this smear on the political faith of half the people.  Certainly Mr. Roosevelt's formula of appeasement does not follow Mr. Lincoln's method of "with malice toward none; with charity for all.”

When the great spirit of Abraham Lincoln looks through the long corridor of time upon the party he founded he sees that from the day of his passing on the torch, until the last day of the Republican party in office, it held aloft the light of inalienable liberties of men.  And he knows that party never deviated from the Constitution, which he fought to preserve, either in letter or in spirit.  And he sees the Union he preserved under adherence to these principles grow to the greatest nation on the earth.

He would witness a people constantly confronted with new human problems, which were the very product of their own freedom and progress.

Mr. Lincoln would not be fooled by the notion that economic righteousness and social good burst upon the world with the New Deal.

He would see that a generation after his time, when big corporations and mass production entered national life, it was the Republican Party that first established the concept that business must be regulated by government if the freedom of men was to be preserved.  Indeed, it was the Republican Party that first initiated regulation against monopoly and business abuse in the states.  Over the last fifty years it created seven out of the ten great Federal regulating agencies of today.  It was Republicans who created the income and estate taxes that fortunes might not accumulate so as to oppress the nation and that there might be relief of tax burdens upon the poor.

Abraham Lincoln would have watched anxiously when the growth of humanitarianism began to press upon the government.  And he would have seen it was Republican state administrations that first created the limitation of hours for women that started the abolition of child labor that initiated workmen's compensation acts, state old-age pensions, mothers' pensions, public health, and a score of other social reforms.  It was Republican national administrations that first brought these problems into national scope.  It was they who first proposed the Federal amendment to abolish child labor, which first restricted immigration, which first declared the right of collective bargaining through the creation of the Mediation Board, who first established national public health service.  It was Republicans fighting for morals in government who established and in every administration strengthened Civil Service.

Mr. Lincoln would not be fooled that the New Deal first discovered conservation and public works to benefit the people.  It was Republicans who first built up every single one of the great Federal policies dealing with these problems.  All over this nation are parks, forests, mineral reservations, irrigation districts, navigable rivers, harbors, great bridges, and canals, all the initiative of Republican administrations.  The New Deal has added a few percent to the area or totals.  And they have charged them to the next generation.

It was Republicans, following Mr. Lincoln's own platform pledge, which held protection to workers from foreign standards of living by tariffs and sought to hold the home market for farmers against peasant labor abroad.

Lincoln would have seen it was a Republican administration, which first announced the responsibility of government aid in time of great depression.  When the Federal Reserve System, admirably added by Democrats, failed to meet the storm of 1929, it was a Republican administration, which again proposed drastic banking reform.  It was Republicans who, pending such reforms, created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, the Home Loan Banks, the Agricultural Credit Banks, and brought the strength of the government to protect savings and homes and insurance policies of all the people.

Mr. Lincoln would have witnessed a Republican administration in 1930 the first to announce the national obligation that no American through no fault of his own should go hungry or cold, and first to organize nation-wide relief for the unemployed.  And it organized relief in a fashion which excluded corruption, waste, and demoralization of community responsibility.  It high time to return to a system that does not play politics with human misery.

And Republicans discovered one thing eighty years ago which the New Deal has not rediscovered yet.  That is, the greatest gift of government to the ill fed, ill housed and ill clothed is fidelity to government obligation, less taxes, a balanced budget, and a convertible gold currency.

And Mr. Lincoln would observe that all these years it was Republicans who held to the system of free enterprise which, while it had weaknesses, yet produced the highest standard of living known in any nation in the history of the world.  And it is the New Deal destruction of that energy, enterprise, and productivity which today imperils all the humanitarian work of these eighty years.

We followers of Lincoln lay no claim that the Republican Party or any other party has always been perfect.  It has at times sorrowed many of us by its lag in prompt action and its faulty action.  And we likewise credit the Democratic Party with great service in years gone by.

One thing is sure.  With the millions of Americans with faith in this party and with the task now laid upon it to restore liberty in this land, it is certain that the spirit of Abraham Lincoln has not joined the New Deal.

Republican Unity and Purpose

But the high points of achievement of a political party have two values.  They are proof of its fidelity to principles of this Republic.  They are proof of its ability to find methods within these principles which meet the scene which changes with the progress of invention and new ideas.  After all a party is only an instrumentality for future service.  The first chore of a political party out of power is corrective opposition.  The oxygen of representative government is exposure of the witchery of half-truth and the curb of arrogant and extreme action.  Its other great duty is to present to the country a program of reform and forward action.

With our reinforced leadership in new governors and in Congress we are strengthened to these purposes.  New vigor and courage have come to us by the rise of youth in our party.

The points of opposition and programs for the future are rising daily from county and state organizations, from our youth and women's organizations, from our Republican leaders and Program Committee.  I have made it my business to study these expressions diligently.  And I can say at once there has never been a time in the history of the party when in major questions there is such unity as there is today.   We may differ among ourselves as to details.  We may differ in expression.  But we stick together in principle.  We are engaged in no purges of honest men.

These many statements of Republican purpose unswervingly demand that moral standards in public and private life be regenerated; that humanitarian action be sanely advanced; that economic productivity be restored; that thrift be re-enthroned as a national virtue; that private enterprise be sustained and regulated to prevent abuse; that personal liberty be safe-guarded; that representative government be purified; that peace be maintained.

And the methods they propose are based on sanity, common sense, and constructive action.

What the everyday people of America want is not labels or slogans, either imported or domestic.  They demand emancipation from coercion and taxes and a restoration of their jobs.

Now that you have for once heard a few words favorable to the Republican Party, let me add a few words about the New Deal.  The President has introduced us to the seventh New Deal since 1932.  It is also the most expensive one.  The new gamble with the fate of a people presents some startling features.  We have need of bold debate today as never before. 

I wish here to applaud the President's grasp of one hint from the election.  That is the demand that the Congress be independent.  The spirit of his acceptance, however, reminds me of the small boy who took the clock to pieces.  When reprimanded he suddenly turned on his Dad and said:  "If that is the way you feel, then you put the thing together.  I want to play with my soldiers.”

We also are grateful for the President's assurance that we have passed the period of experiments and should now be free to invigorate the processes of recovery.  This is comforting.  And it confirms our belief that millions of our people have had to stand aside for six years in unemployment and destitution to make way for ill-fated experiments.

The Financial State of the Union

The country may therefore now take up its greatest humanitarian task.  That is to restore 10,000,00 to jobs, revive a paralyzed agriculture and thereby really relieve 20,000,000 destitute.  And that task must not be obscured by proposals of entanglement abroad.

The President's solution of this problem is that the government spend on a still larger scale.  These 9 billion expenditures and a promise of 50 billion debt are the most startling budget proposals ever laid before the American people in peacetime. 

I have felt some anxiety for the punctuation points.  They are living a sad and hectic life wandering around among regimented ciphers trying to find some of the old places they used to know.  I fear that like the Administration they are moving steadily to the left.

An ancient statesman advised that the art of politics was to find new names for policies that had become unpopular.  Mr. Lincoln would probably have phrased this as the art of fooling part of the people a little longer.  So today I suppose we ought to be more cheerful when we know that national spending and deficits have become "investing in prosperity.”  Extravagance with other people's money is shifted from a sin to a virtue.  The President in this last message described some new schools of thought.  In fact several of them.  In them all, songs of economic hallucination substitute for the brutal clang of the cash register.

The first grade of this high school of economic romances teaches that we should get back to 80 billions of yearly national income which we once enjoyed under Republican administrations.  We are grateful that the New Deal adopts Republican attainments as the ideal.  But the President says that inasmuch as our present income is only 60 billions, we only have to spend as if we had 80 billions in order to lift ourselves up to the Republican level.  As the ancient prospector said:  "There ain't no gold in them rainbows.”  That 80 billion national income under Republican administration was due to the people spending their own money, not in taxes but on reproductive enterprises, creating new jobs for men.

The next higher grade of this new school of budgetary magic seeks to hide these gigantic expenditures by claiming government loans and public works are investments.  On the basis of this hallucination my administration would have shown a surplus of 2 billion.  In fact the budgets of all administrations for seventy years, except the war years, would have shown a surplus.  We should have had such an accumulated surplus today that we should have to build a vacuum to hold it.

The recoverable loans are a relief to the taxpayer but public works are not a monetary asset to the government.  They are the clothes the nation wears.  And they wear out.  They only in small degree increase the earning power of the people.  Public works and public buildings have social value.  But as assets with which to relieve taxpayers they are about as useful as liabilities on a balance sheet.  And I trust the time off for precinct work by the SPA is not included as an offset to the national debt.

The New Deal's third grade of economic make-believe teaches that the entire debt of our national economic system, public and private together, is not larger today than it was in 1929.  But that is not all the truth.  Public debt is paying for a dead horse.  Private debt is buying a live one.

They finally graduate from this school of high finance with the valedictory that expenses cannot be reduced.  And this in the face of the fact that yearly for ten years prior to the New Deal, on their basis of accounts and excepting loans since recovered, the expenditures were 3.5 billions instead of 9 billions.  But that was Republicans.

I should like to see a new school established with some home truths for its curriculum.  That school would say that to restore jobs and agriculture the fear of men of their government and the shackles and taxes upon their energies must be removed in order that free men may have hope and confidence in the future.

That school would say that most of the New Deal measurers can be lived down, improved, cured or reformed but that these monetary and financial policies may defeat the nation.

That school would say that some day all this will have to be paid for.  If it be through taxes, men and women will be handing their wages to the government instead of buying things for their own betterment.

Nor is that the most important consequence it should teach.  That school would say one of the deadly causes of destruction to twenty democracies in twenty years has been government spending and inflation.  Mr. Roosevelt says "this generation has a rendezvous with destiny.”  The most probable spot for this rendezvous today is inflation.  When this generation has gone up that alley it will find freedom has gone, and our rendezvous will be with a full-sized dictator.

In Conclusion

In conclusion let me again say that this Republic is founded on inalienable liberties.  It is dedicated to the dignity and personality of individual men and women.  It is consecrated to truth, justice, tolerance and mercy.  Thee liberties and obligations are inseparable.  If political freedom, intellectual freedom, or economic freedom are any one of them undermined all the others will fall.

These high purposes of this nation are being undermined by the policies now pursued at home and by alien theories from abroad.  The first great mission of the Republican Party is the preservation of these principles.

Today economic progress is being paralyzed.  That destruction is the destruction of social progress.  The imperious necessity of America is to restore economic productivity and thereby jobs for men.  That alone can support our humanitarian aspirations.  For social progress in care of the aged, the young, the ill fed, the ill clad, the ill housed there must be parallel economic strength.  Economic restoration is the second great mission of the Republican Party.

We do not want to become entangled in another World War abroad.  The third great mission of the Republican Party is peace for America.

We are the living custodians of the torch which fell from the hand of Abraham Lincoln.  We may again rekindle the heart and mind of America with the glow of hope and promise for the future.  Never since Lincoln has a political party faced such an opportunity for a service to a great people.