As Secretary of Commerce (1921–29) under Presidents Harding and Coolidge, Hoover reorganized and expanded the department, sponsored conferences on unemployment, fostered trade associations, and gave his support to such engineering projects as the St. Lawrence Waterway and the Hoover Dam. Hoover gained great popular approval, and he easily won the Republican nomination for President in 1928 and defeated Democratic candidate Alfred E. Smith.
In the first year of his administration Hoover established the Federal Farm Board, pressed for tariff revision (which resulted in the Hawley-Smoot Tariff Act), and appointed the National Commission on Law Observance and Law Enforcement, with George W. Wickersham as chairman, to study the problem of enforcing prohibition. The rest of his administration was dominated by the major economic depression ushered in by the stock market crash of Oct., 1929.
Hoover, believing in the basic soundness of the economy, felt that it would regenerate spontaneously and was reluctant to extend federal activities. Nonetheless he did recommend, and Congress gave the funds for, a large public works program, and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation was created (1932) to stimulate industry by giving loans unobtainable elsewhere. Congress, which had a Democratic majority after the 1930 elections, passed the Emergency Relief Act and created the federal home loan banks. As the Great Depression deepened, veterans demanded immediate payment of bonus certificates (issued to them in 1924 for redemption in 1945). In 1932 some 15,000 ex-servicemen, known as the Bonus Marchers, marched on Washington; Hoover ordered federal troops to oust them from federal property.
In foreign affairs Hoover was confronted with the problems of disarmament, reparations and war debts, and Japanese aggression in East Asia. The United States participated in the London Conference of 1930 (see naval conferences) and signed the resulting treaty; it also took part in the abortive Disarmament Conference. In 1931, Hoover proposed a one-year moratorium on reparations and war debts to ease the financial situation in Europe. The administration's reaction to the Japanese invasion (1931) of Manchuria was expressed by Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson, who declared that the United States would not recognize territorial changes achieved by force or by infringement of American treaty rights. Hoover ran for reelection in 1932 but was overwhelmingly defeated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.