Hoover’s Relief EffortsIn the early years of the Great Depression, before 1932, President Herbert Hoover was faced with a terrible problem. The entire country, and to a large degree the entire world, was in the midst of one of the worst economic recessions in current history. All around the country, people were out of work, down on their luck, and starving. One in every six American males was unemployed, and the future outlook was not much better.
In 1930, drought struck Arkansas, worsening the already terrible conditions under which the poor sharecroppers and landowners lived in. The Depression had already been had on these farmers, who had seen the market value of their produce dwindle significantly. As conditions worsened, it soon became common for entire families to go without food for several days. President Hoover, aware of the terrible conditions, decided to turn the relief effort over to the Red Cross because he believed in private charities, and in self-help, rather than giving public money directly to individuals. This particular policy proved to be ineffective, and had terrible results. The Red Cross asked the landowners to look over their sharecroppers and determine which ones were in need of subsistence. This would have worked fine, except that the landowners were afraid that free food would cause the sharecroppers to not work as hard, and reported false figures. The other problem was that the Red Cross quickly ran out of resources when faced with the sheer numbers of people in need of help. Things finally came to a head when 300 Arkansans marched into the town of England, Arkansas, and demanded that food be released to them. The local Red Cross leader met them outside, and told them that if they would wait a half hour he would get them what they needed. He called his bosses in Little Rock, explained the situation to them, and was granted permission to release the food to them. Thus, what could have been a major tragedy was avoided, and the farmers and their families were fed. The national media, however, portrayed it as a mob of starving angry farmers robbing and looting the town of England. The negative portrayal of the scene led an already worn and frightened public to worry about unrest and revolution.
The conditions were hardly better in the large cities. In Detroit, were the entire economy centered on the auto manufacturing facilities of the Ford Motor Company, conditions were especially bad. Mayor Murphy tried to give as many people welfare as he could, but soon the number of people needing help forced the program, and the city with it, into desperate financial straights, but because of Hoovers policies, there was no federal money to help them. The members of the communist party, never numbering more than 2000, led thousands of workers in protests on Detroit streets. One of these protest led the workers to the outskirts of Detroit, and the grounds of the Ford plant. They were met there by the Detroit police and the armed plant guards, who warned them that they were not going to be permitted to continue onto Ford property. The marchers held a quick meeting, and then decided to continue. As they did so, the police and guards opened fire on them, killing four of the marchers, and causing more disgruntlement in the already perturbed citizenry of the nation.
The worst of the tragedies to result from Hoovers policies was the march on Washington DC by the American Legion and the World War One veterans. The vets had been promised that if they enlisted, they would be awarded a bonus in 1945. Many of the vets though, felt that because of the terrible economic situation they deserved to be awarded their bonuses early. They marched in by the thousands to Washington DC and set up camp in old building and on the outskirts of town in tents and shanties. The city government was very accommodating to them, and did not harass them at all. The marchers milled around in front of the capitol, and held demonstrations on the streets. The bill that would have given them their bonuses was defeated in the senate, and congress adjourned. The vets, thought, refused to leave. They continued to hold their demonstrations until Hoover offered to buy all of them train tickets back to their homes. The police chief, whom most of the marchers considered to be their ally, supported the plan. They refused though, and soon Hoover ordered the police chief to remove the demonstrators from downtown. When he tried to do so, the vets resisted, and Hoover called in General Douglas Macarthur, who had positioned the army near the city in case help was needed in removing the vets. Douglas violated the orders of Hoover, and not only moved the vets out of downtown, but also undertook to clear the city of them. Using tear gas, sabers, and bayonets, the Army drove the protestors back to the outskirts of town, where they were separated from the Army by a bridge. Hoover twice ordered Macarthur not to cross the bridge, but again Macarthur ignored him and crossed the bridge. He then proceeded to burn the vet’s shantytown to the ground. The marchers, faced with no other options, retreat back to wherever they had come from.
Hoover’s policies, while well meaning, were not enough to stop the terrible Depression, and resulted in much chaos and suffering for the poor and homeless unemployed.