36. Boom and Bust

Historically, Americans had followed the "boom and bust" theory of economics: when the economy overheated and speculation ran rampant, a crash was sure to follow. Panics had occurred in the 1830s, 1850s, 1870s, and 1890s. None of the presidents in office (Presidents Van Buren, Buchanan, Grant, and Cleveland) did much to stem deflated prices or the loss of jobs and investments, fearful of causing a bad situation becoming worse. 

In the wake of Wall Street's collapse, Hoover was the first president to vigorously counterattack rather than wait out an economic depression. He spent more on public works in four years than his predecessors had in the previous thirty. Yet his efforts were undermined by many circumstances, not the least of which was the magnitude of the depression, itself.

As hard times engulfed the nation, accusations arose that President Hoover had personally caused the Great Depression, or at least done little to combat it. To many Americans, their Chief Executive seemed a remote, uncaring man. With his stiff-necked refusal to turn America into a welfare state, or to exploit the emotional and personal side of himself, Hoover was transformed from "hero" to "scapegoat." His failure to share his private anguish was his greatest strength as a humanitarian and his greatest flaw as a politician.

Wall Street, 1929