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President Herbert Hoover

     The magnificent C-Span programs on American Presidents have had a shortcoming: the little attention paid to foreign affairs and above all to the reaction of foreign countries. On Monday, October 4, the program (6-9 a.m. Pacific time) will be devoted to Herbert Hoover; it will be repeated Friday evening, October 8. It will certainly attempt to rehabilitate him. In the past, American historians have rated him at the bottom of their assessment of presidents. Recently they have recognized that this was unfair.
     I am one of the few surviving members of the Stanford family who knew Herbert Hoover. His home, now the official residence of Stanford Presidents, is very close to "The Hesperides," our home. I really conversed with him only once, because he was morose and embittered and seldom spoke. We saw him pass regularly on his strolls. He viewed the faculty generally, especially the young ones, as dangerous liberals, and I am sure I was included in that group. His suspicions must have been increased when our lovely daughter, then a small child, decided one day she was a dog and went barking after him. He did not pat her, although I am told he loved children. His son lived in Palo Alto, and I remember his grandson, now a member of the Hoover Board of Overseers, as a child playing on the lawn.
     He had reason to be embittered. He was the most disinterested president the United States ever had, and, when he was elected President, the nation rejoiced; there was a celebration on the lawn of his Stanford home. The United States led the world in prosperity. Britain sent a delegation to find out how such prosperity was achieved.
     Then the prosperity crashed, and with it Herbert Hoover's reputation. He was blamed for the crash, and indeed he had signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff bill and other measures which were said to have caused the crash. He was accused of ordering the burning of the shacks veterans demanding bonuses had set up in Washington. In fact, the order was given by General MacArthur.
     Many older people at Stanford continued to hold Hoover in high regard. The Alumni asssociations highest honor for many years was the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Service Award, a medal made of solid gold with Hoover's profile. It was discontinued when the price of gold made it impossible to produce. President Ray Lyman Wilbur, who had served under Hoover in Washington, and the older faculty continued to respect him, but the others showed little understanding. He was described as stupid (he certainly was not). His wife Lou Henry Hoover, not he, was said to be responsible for the translation of De re metallica. Historians were among the most critical. The tower was described as Hoover's last erection. No wonder that Hoover felt deeply grieved.
     The Hoover Institute, installed proudly in its tower, was to have been the focal point of the university´s intellectual studies. My own seminar on Latin America was co-sponsored by it. Then the History Department launched a campaign to emasculate it, reducing it to a library and archive at the service of the department. Hoover changed the name Institute to Institution to demonstrate its permanence, but in fact the teaching plans were abolished, and the Hoover Institution ceased to be a co-sponsor of my seminar. The director, historian Harold Fisher, a kind gentleman and a noteworthy scholar for whom I had a great affection, was caught between two fires.
     The campaign against the Hoover Institution continued. Displeased by the authoritarian nature of the Stanford administration, I proposed a reorganization, including the creation of a University Senate and of an ombudsman's office. The plan won support and was approved, but not as I intended. As far as this survey is concerned, an important defect was that the Hoover Fellows were not considered as members of the Faculty and were therefore not included in the Senate. That is still the case. They are not even listed in the Stanford Bulletin. Fellows may teach only if invited by a department.
     Hoover's response was to transform his Institution, originally devoted to War, Revolution and Peace, like the Stockholm Peace Institute, into one devoted primarily to promoting conservative economic policies. He personally did not lose his concern about internationally affairs. He supported the creation of the United Nations, and in a worthy inter-party gesture, President Truman entrusted him with the chairmanship of a national commission. As usual, he served without salary. In these days of grasping billionaires, this may seem strange, but it projected an image of an idealistic America.
     Embittered by Stanford criticism, Hoover moved his archives to his home town of West Branch, Iowa. but the Hoover Institution still has the papers of his international relief activities and the gold mask which President Leguía of Peru presented to him when he toured Latin America. These are testimonies to his interest in international affairs. The countries of continental Europe still remember the relief his commission provided to alleviate the hunger and misery caused by World War I.
     I would appreciate receiving by e-mail any comments on the C-Span program about Herbert Hoover.

Ronald Hilton - 09/27/99