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The True-blue Democrat
August 1971 | Volume 22, Issue 5
It has been claimed that Hoover asked Roosevelt for help in the period when Hoover was a lame-duck President, but that Roosevelt refused, because he didn’t want to take any steps until he had full responsibility. Is that true, and did you so advise him?
I’ve forgotten. I doubt very much whether I advised him one way or another. That was a policy matter of his own, which of course he discussed with friends in and out of the incoming administration. I don’t think he wanted to participate and be helpful, as you indicate, until he had to assume responsibility, and I don’t think he wanted any prior act of his that would embarrass him in any way when he finally took over. You see he was—this has appeared in print and it isn’t private—he was very much annoyed with Mr. Hoover when he called on him to pay his respects, which is the usual thing, a day or two before the transition, and when Mr. Roosevelt got there Ogden Mills [Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury] was there, and I think [Undersecretary Arthur A.] Ballantine was, too. And I know Mr. Roosevelt resented it very much. Now he and Mr. Mills were close personal, social, society friends—they lived close to one another—but they were as far apart as the poles, politically speaking. Right or wrong, I think he resented that the President had Mr. Mills there and he was going to try to get him involved, get him interested, get him to participate in some of the programs that Mr. Hoover wanted to carry out. That caused the break. And frankly all it was supposed to be was a social call. They should have asked previously if he had any objection to the presence of Mr. Mills. Now, if they had done that it might have eradicated the problem that developed.
I think Herbert Hoover was one of the most dedicated Americans I ever knew. I Worked with him on the Hoover Commission. There isn’t any doubt of his regard and affection for his country. Now I might disagree about his policies, but you can’t take away from Mr. Hoover his dedication to his country. He ran at a bad time and inherited a bad situation, and he wouldn’t do anything to end Prohibition or use the RFC [Reconstruction Finance Corporation] the way Mr. Roosevelt later did.
I asked him one time after I got to know him fairly well, when he first thought that he would be defeated in ’32. He said that he had read my prediction [of Roosevelt’s victory] and thought I was crazy. He couldn’t believe that he was going to be defeated.
I used to see Mr. Hoover often at the Waldorf. He’d send for me to talk politics. My wife, Lord have mercy on her, she’s dead fifteen years now, but during her lifetime he’d invite the two of us to dinner. He said ten was too many for a dinner party; six or eight could all engage in one conversation.
I’ll never forget one time when I was being talked for governor of New York. Mr. Hoover said: “If you’d run, I’d come out and support you. I don’t know if it would do you any good, but I’d be glad to do it.” I thought this was one of the finest tributes ever paid me.
After he took office, Roosevelt quickly brought in a number of academic and intellectual leaders to advise him—the so-called brain trust. Could you say how you, as a working politician, got along with them?
I’ve always said that Professor Moley’s advice and wise counsel was most helpful to the President—the President-elect and after he was elected. And I was sorry when they broke because I felt that Mr. Roosevelt in losing Moley—he lost a very fine associate, who was very loyal of course, but above anything else, he was frank . He was not in any sense a yes man. I had a lot of respect for Professor Moley and for the services he rendered to the President. [Rexford G.] Tugwell and I never hit it off too well. Now I could talk to Moley and I was very friendly with [Adolf A.] Berle, very friendly with Berle. But with Tugwell I was more or less at cross purposes. It wasn’t personal. We just couldn’t reconcile our points of view, I guess that’s the way to put it. I was a political animal, you know, and everything I was doing was what I felt was in the best interests of Mr. Roosevelt and his administration and, incidentally, the Democratic Party. The rest of them I had no difficulty with at all.
Do you think that creating the brain trust was a good idea?
I think any President has the right to have around him, in the first place, men who are intelligent and in whom he has confidence. But I think it’s important that he have men on both sides of the question. I think he is entitled to have both sides rather than just one side. Mr. Roosevelt saw a lot of people, and he got their views whether they agreed with him or he agreed with them. He got the views on both sides.
How were you able to predict F.D.R.’s 1936 landslide so accurately?