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Hoover`s Early Relief Efforts

From the beginning, President Herbert Hoover viewed the Depression as a serious challenge to American capitalism, but wanted to attack the problems in a manner in keeping with his conservative philosophy. Hoover, supported by Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon, was adamant that the government take no direct action to aid people in distress. Instead, to do otherwise was un-American. The traditional way to handle misfortune was to seek assistance from relatives, churches or private community agencies. In accord with his principles, Hoover formed a federal agency to coordinate state and local volunteers. A measure of public dissatisfaction was provided by the congressional election results in November 1930. For the first time in 12 years, the House of Representatives had a Democratic majority, indicating that the Republican message was not sufficient to many voters. Hoover modified his approach and in December sought $100 million from Congress for a vast program of public works — construction of highways and public buildings, and improvements to rivers and harbors. The president was also willing to use moral suasion. He called a White House gathering of labor and management leaders, urging one side not to press for wage increases and the other to keep workers employed. Hoover argued that wages were a more pressing concern than profits and that stockholders should be willing, at least temporarily, to accept smaller dividends. This plea was heeded for some months, supported in part by a slight recovery in early 1931. However, the downward economic spiral resumed in mid-year, and labor and management reverted to form. In December 1931, Hoover urged the creation of a Public Works Administration, a central agency that would coordinate the myriad construction projects that the federal government had undertaken. This proposal was not immediately enacted, but would be taken up by the Roosevelt administration. By early 1932, it was apparent to most observers that that Hoover's response had been inadequate. More than 10 million Americans were unemployed, businesses throughout the country closed their doors and thousands of farmers had been forced off their lands. The president, however, was not tempted to attempt direct government relief efforts, fearing unbalanced budgets. His response was to cut federal spending and increase taxes.