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Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Great Depression

50 min
  • How did Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt differ in their understanding of the federal government’s power “to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty”?

Students will:

  • Understand the different approaches taken by Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt to solving the problems of the Great Depression.
  • Analyze how the public speeches of Hoover and Roosevelt reflected their different views of the primary purposes and powers of the federal government.
  • Evaluate to what extent the beliefs and actions of Hoover and Roosevelt were consistent with key constitutional principles.

  • Handout A: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Great Depression
  • Handout B: Excerpts from Hoover and Roosevelt Speeches
  • To create a context for this lesson,
    students complete Constitutional
    Connection: The President and
    Federal Power.Handout C: The Purposes of the Federal Government

To create a context for this lesson, have students complete Constitutional Connection: The President and Federal Power.

Ask students to brainstorm what images, ideas, or people come to mind when they hear the term “rugged individual” and the term “forgotten man”? Have students write down some words and phrases and/or draw a picture representing each term.

Have students read Handout A: Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Great Depression. As they read, they should be asking themselves which image of Americans—as rugged individuals or as forgotten men—was held by Hoover? By Roosevelt

Review the previous discussion about the “rugged individual” and the “forgotten man.” Ask students: According to Hoover, what role should the government play in the life of the “rugged individual”? Students may suggest: let him alone; support his efforts to benefit society; individuals are what make America great and the government should not interfere; provide equality of opportunity for individuals; promote his liberty; etc.

According to Roosevelt, what role should the federal government play in the life of the “forgotten man?” Students may suggest: find him; care for him; require society to pool its collective resources to help him; provide for his welfare; etc.

Distribute one to two quote slips from Handout B: Excerpts from Hoover and Roosevelt Speeches to each student, as well as Handout C: The Purposes of the Federal Government.

Point out to students that the phrases “promote the general welfare” and “secure the blessing of liberty” are taken from the Preamble to the Constitution and are considered to be two of the major purposes of the federal government.

For each quote, they should answer the following questions:

  1. Who do you think made this statement, Hoover or Roosevelt? How do you know?
  2. Does this quote support the purpose of government as stated in Column A, Column B, or both? Students should write the number of the quote in the appropriate column on the Handout, along with a brief paraphrase.

Students should circulate around the classroom, reading their quotes to each other and writing the number of the quote in the appropriate column. As students are circulating, post a large copy of Handout C at the front of the room.

Once students have at least five quote numbers on their charts, reconvene as a large group, asking each student to read his/her original quote. Students should then tape the quote in the appropriate column on the large T-chart. (Quotes likely supporting liberty: 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 22, 23, 27, 28, 30, 31, 32, 34, 35, 37, 42; quotes likely supporting well-being: 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 21, 24, 25, 26, 29, 33, 36, 38, 41; quotes likely supporting both/ either: 17, 19, 39, 40.) Encourage discussion, especially if there is disagreement.

Students should work with a partner to categorize the quotes in each column into five to seven key themes. Summary themes for Column A (liberty) might include: protect individual rights, limit government, encourage self-reliance, support private enterprise, provide equality of opportunity, ensure ordered liberty, secure the conditions for the pursuit of happiness, etc. Summary themes for Column B (well-being) might include: foster group security, promote social justice, increase government regulation, find the “forgotten man”, achieve the common good, ensure economic security, secure happiness, etc.

Ask students to consider the following questions, accepting all reasoned responses:

  • If the main purpose of the federal government is to secure and preserve liberty, how can the President and the citizens ensure that people’s welfare (well-being) is protected?
  • If the main purpose of the federal government is to promote the general welfare (well-being), how can the President and the citizens ensure that individual liberty is preserved?
  • If both of these purposes are equally important, how do we strike a balance between them when the nation is faced with economic, social, or political challenges?

Have students make a digital or paper collage of images and phrases which reflect Hoover’s ideal of the “rugged individual” or Roosevelt’s image of the “forgotten man.”

Write a two to three page mini-play in which Hoover and Roosevelt debate how to solve the problems of the Depression. The dialogue should reflect Hoover’s commitment to government’s role in securing liberty and Roosevelt’s commitment to government’s role in promoting the general welfare.

Answer one (or all) of the questions posed in the Wrap-Up in a well-constructed three to five paragraph essay per question.

Imagine that it is December, 1932—the period between Hoover’s defeat and Roosevelt’s inauguration. Have students assume the persona of either Hoover or Roosevelt, and write a letter to the other with advice about/plans for dealing with the problems of the Depression. (Note: Such a correspondence actually took place. See pgs. 154-160 of Gordon Lloyd’s The Two Faces of Liberalism: How the Hoover-Roosevelt Debate Shapes the 21st Century (M & M Scrivener Press, 2007.)

Students should research/review a significant contemporary social or political issue, e.g. health care, education, the War on Terror. Students should write a multi-paragraph essay analyzing how Hoover might deal with the issue; how Roosevelt might deal with the issue; and then assess whose approach is more consistent with constitutional principles.