Thesis: Because the Great Depression quickly changed America's view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Written for the Advanced Placement U.S. History Document Based Question from the A.P. test.
The political shifts in American history during the last two centuries are often explained by Arthur Schlesinger's cyclical explanation of eras of public purpose followed by private interest. What is considered liberal versus what is considered conservative shifts in a similar pattern. While laissez-faire policies are considered liberal in the Roaring 20's, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 quickly changed America's view of liberalism. Suddenly, the small government politics of Hoover were conservative and the progressive politics of Roosevelt were considered liberal. Thus, because the Great Depression quickly changed America's view of liberalism, Roosevelt can be considered a liberal and Hoover a conservative, despite occasionally supporting similar policies.
Because the Great Depression occurred during Hoover's term as president, in the public's mind, Hoover started his presidency as a liberal and ended it as a conservative. With the end of the Progressive Age in 1910, big business flourished because Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover kept government from intervening in the economy. Compared to the public purpose policies of Teddy Roosevelt, the laissez-faire policies of these presidents seemed extremely liberal. The invention of the production line which spurred on the Second Industrial Revolution, allowed businessmen such as Henry Ford to prosper, while automobiles and electrical appliances became available to the masses. America's success and optimism caused people to support the liberal policies of the 1920's.
However, even before the Depression, there were signs that Hoover was becoming more conservative. As Document A suggests, Hoover did not want to be considered completely laissez-faire. He seemed less determined to preserve the extremely capitalistic society of the 1920's which was run, often corruptly, by political machines, such as Tweed. However, the success of the American economy under the private interest beliefs of Harding and Coolidge required him to ensure that the lack of intervention ...
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...ca afloat as shown in Document D.
Roosevelt immediately gained the public's favor with his liberal ideas. In the first 100 days, Roosevelt stabilized banks with the Federal Bank Holiday. In the New Deal he fought poverty with the TVA, NRA, AAA, CCC, PWA, and CWA. These policies were definitely liberal in the 1930's and because of the new programs, Roosevelt received false credit for ending the Depression. Ironically Roosevelt succeeded only a little more than Hoover in ending the Depression. Despite tripling expenditures during Roosevelt's administration, (Document F) the American economy did not recover from the Depression until World War II.
Thus, while Roosevelt can definitely be characterized as a liberal by today's standards and the standards of the 1930's, Hoover's characterization changed as the public's view of a liberal quickly became a conservative during the depression. Furthermore, Hoover's ideas changed from opposing government intervention in the economy to supporting government incentives for employment. Unlike most presidents (under Schlesinger's theory) Hoover experienced private interest, transition, and public purpose within the one term of his presidency.
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