Power  /  Comparison

Herbert Hoover Did Something Donald Trump is Unwilling to Do

While Herbert Hoover was deeply critical of his successor, he put aside his differences to ensure the peaceful and democratic transition of power.

For most of the country's history, a peaceful transition of power has defined American democracy. That does not mean we have always been a nation united. What marks Joe Biden's inauguration as different is not the disagreement among parties and peoples, but rather how the opposition expresses those differences.

On March 4, 1933, President Herbert Hoover and President-elect Franklin Roosevelt sat next to each other in an open car in stony silence for the short ride from the White House to the Capitol for Roosevelt's inauguration. By this time, the two men despised each other. For the rest of his life, Hoover accused Roosevelt of driving the country deeper into the Great Depression and causing the banking panic that awaited the incoming executive. After the swearing-in, Hoover shook the new President's hand, boarded a train for New York -- and the two leaders never saw each other again.

In the months between the election and the inauguration, a lame duck period of four months before the passage of the 20th Amendment that shortened the interregnum, Hoover warned that Roosevelt would be the death of the democracy. On the campaign trail, he predicted that if the Democrats won, "the grass will grow in streets of a hundred cities, a thousand towns."

"When the American people realize some 10 years hence it was on November 8, 1932, that they surrendered the freedom of mind and spirit for which their ancestors had fought and agonized for over 300 years, they will, I hope, recollect, that at least I tried to save them," Hoover wrote privately to a friend after the election.

On March 3, the day before the inauguration, instead of inviting the Roosevelts for the customary dinner, Hoover had them to the White House for tea. It did not go well. Roosevelt recalled, "I hustled my family out of the room. I was sure Jimmy (his eldest son) wanted to punch him (Hoover) in the eye."

But unlike President Donald Trump, who is leaving town before his successor takes the oath of office, Hoover still showed up the next day. He rode alongside Roosevelt, albeit miserably, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the inaugural ceremony, a moment captured indelibly in photographs with a joyless Hoover next to an ebullient Roosevelt. Hoover had called a special session of Congress to allow for the rapid approval of Roosevelt's Cabinet appointments. And he allowed for the smooth transfer of power, even as he felt certain the country would ignite into flaming embers.