Oh, for pity’s sake (again). The email brings to me, for the second time in a week, yet another repeat of Herbert Hoover’s version of the 1932-33 transition. And rja tells us public radio let David Frum give it too!

Hoover’s story is (I paraphrase) I tried to get that man Roosevelt to cooperate in saving the banks, but he just wouldn’t help out. He let the whole country suffer, just for straight-up political reasons, because he didn’t want to be seen to make nice with me.

I do not believe this version of events.

Now remember that this was the last time that a president was inaugurated on March 4—in 1937, it would be January 20—so the length of the lame-duckery was longer than now. In mid-February, with the banks in a state, Hoover wrote Roosevelt to enlist his cooperation. He was sluggish to reply, and when he did—almost two weeks later—it was, he said, because his first letter had got lost on the way to the stenographer’s pool. OK, there’s a bit of a dog-ate-my-homework quality to that one.

But beyond this, here’s what I see:

(a) There’s nothing Hoover wanted to do that he needed FDR to do—even if Hoover wanted good faith bipartisanship, as opposed to “adopt GOP policy and call it bipartisanship” bipartisanship, on which see below;

(b) There’s nothing FDR actually later did that made any difference—bank holiday, going off gold—that Hoover was willing to do;

(c) Hoover wasn’t actually acting in good faith.

Instead of listening to Hoover, let’s turn the narrative over to Raymond Moley, who was then Roosevelt’s aide, but writing much later—long after, keep in mind, he had become hostile to Roosevelt and all his works.

According to Moley, Hoover wanted FDR to commit himself “(a) that there be no tampering with or inflation of the currency, (b) that ‘the budget will be unquestionably balanced, even if further taxation is necessary,’ (c) that the government credit would be maintained by refusal to exhaust it by the issue of securities, and (d) that Roosevelt should advise the leaders of Congress to cease the publication of the RFC loans.”

Should Roosevelt have cooperated with Hoover on that agenda? He jolly well should not.

And Hoover knew exactly what he was doing. Here’s Hoover writing Senator David Reed, again quoted by Moley: “I realize that if these declarations be made by the President-elect, he will have ratified the whole major program of the Republican administration; that is, it means the abandonment of 90% of the so-called new deal.”

Now wait, who’s using the crisis for political gain here?

Moreover, FDR of course did then meet Hoover, and according to reputable testimony told him Hoover should do as he liked, while Roosevelt for his part would pursue his own course when in office. Which seems entirely reasonable. See Allan Meltzer’s recent history of the Federal Reserve on this point; p. 385n133.

Meanwhile, what did Hoover do? The Federal Reserve Board recommended a bank holiday. Ogden Mills too. Hoover said he didn’t want to do it. He said maybe if Roosevelt would back him, he would stop trading in gold and restrict withdrawals, but he wouldn’t close (and thus not audit, I should think) the banks.

Hoover met FDR, who said that in his opinion, Hoover had adequate scope to act. Hoover didn’t act.

The Federal Reserve Board drafted an executive order on March 3d for Hoover to sign to close the banks, and at 1AM an aide slid this draft under Hoover’s bedroom door. He didn’t do anything about it. (See Susan Estabrook Kennedy, The Banking Crisis of 1933, pp. 148-149.)

So careful, there, in believing Hoover—or his legatees.

As I read the record, Roosevelt avoided a political trap that would have stopped him doing two things that, pretty much everyone agrees, were among the best things he did.