Miller Center

Inaugural Address (March 4, 1929)

Herbert Hoover

My Countrymen: 

This occasion is not alone the administration of the most sacred oathwhich can be assumed by an American citizen. It is a dedication and consecrationunder God to the highest office in service of our people. I assume thistrust in the humility of knowledge that only through the guidance of AlmightyProvidence can I hope to discharge its ever-increasing burdens. 

It is in keeping with tradition throughout our history that I shouldexpress simply and directly the opinions which I hold concerning some ofthe matters of present importance. 


If we survey the situation of our Nation both at home and abroad, wefind many satisfactions; we find some causes for concern. We have emergedfrom the losses of the Great War and the reconstruction following it withincreased virility and strength. From this strength we have contributedto the recovery and progress of the world. What America has done has givenrenewed hope and courage to all who have faith in government by the people.In the large view, we have reached a higher degree of comfort and securitythan ever existed before in the history of the world. Through liberationfrom widespread poverty we have reached a higher degree of individual freedomthan ever before. The devotion to and concern for our institutions aredeep and sincere. We are steadily building a new race--a new civilizationgreat in its own attainments. The influence and high purposes of our Nationare respected among the peoples of the world. We aspire to distinctionin the world, but to a distinction based upon confidence in our sense ofjustice as well as our accomplishments within our own borders and in ourown lives. For wise guidance in this great period of recovery the Nationis deeply indebted to Calvin Coolidge. 

But all this majestic advance should not obscure the constant dangersfrom which self-government must be safeguarded. The strong man must atall times be alert to the attack of insidious disease. 


The most malign of all these dangers today is disregard and disobedienceof law. Crime is increasing. Confidence in rigid and speedy justice isdecreasing. I am not prepared to believe that this indicates any decayin the moral fiber of the American people. I am not prepared to believethat it indicates an impotence of the Federal Government to enforce itslaws. 

It is only in part due to the additional burdens imposed upon our judicialsystem by the eighteenth amendment. The problem is much wider than that.Many influences had increasingly complicated and weakened our law enforcementorganization long before the adoption of the eighteenth amendment. 

To reestablish the vigor and effectiveness of law enforcement we mustcritically consider the entire Federal machinery of justice, the redistributionof its functions, the simplification of its procedure, the provision ofadditional special tribunals, the better selection of juries, and the moreeffective organization of our agencies of investigation and prosecutionthat justice may be sure and that it may be swift. While the authorityof the Federal Government extends to but part of our vast system of national,State, and local justice, yet the standards which the Federal Governmentestablishes have the most profound influence upon the whole structure. 

We are fortunate in the ability and integrity of our Federal judgesand attorneys. But the system which these officers are called upon to administeris in many respects ill adapted to present-day conditions. Its intricateand involved rules of procedure have become the refuge of both big andlittle criminals. There is a belief abroad that by invoking technicalities,subterfuge, and delay, the ends of justice may be thwarted by those whocan pay the cost. 

Reform, reorganization and strengthening of our whole judicial and enforcementsystem, both in civil and criminal sides, have been advocated for yearsby statesmen, judges, and bar associations. First steps toward that endshould not longer be delayed. Rigid and expeditious justice is the firstsafeguard of freedom, the basis of all ordered liberty, the vital forceof progress. It must not come to be in our Republic that it can be defeatedby the indifference of the citizen, by exploitation of the delays and entanglementsof the law, or by combinations of criminals. Justice must not fail becausethe agencies of enforcement are either delinquent or inefficiently organized.To consider these evils, to find their remedy, is the most sore necessityof our times. 


Of the undoubted abuses which have grown up under the eighteenth amendment,part are due to the causes I have just mentioned; but part are due to thefailure of some States to accept their share of responsibility for concurrentenforcement and to the failure of many State and local officials to acceptthe obligation under their oath of office zealously to enforce the laws.With the failures from these many causes has come a dangerous expansionin the criminal elements who have found enlarged opportunities in dealingin illegal liquor. 

But a large responsibility rests directly upon our citizens. There wouldbe little traffic in illegal liquor if only criminals patronized it. Wemust awake to the fact that this patronage from large numbers of law-abidingcitizens is supplying the rewards and stimulating crime. 

I have been selected by you to execute and enforce the laws of the country.I propose to do so to the extent of my own abilities, but the measure ofsuccess that the Government shall attain will depend upon the moral supportwhich you, as citizens, extend. The duty of citizens to support the lawsof the land is coequal with the duty of their Government to enforce thelaws which exist. No greater national service can be given by men and womenof good will--who, I know, are not unmindful of the responsibilities ofcitizenship--than that they should, by their example, assist in stampingout crime and outlawry by refusing participation in and condemning alltransactions with illegal liquor. Our whole system of self-government willcrumble either if officials elect what laws they will enforce or citizenselect what laws they will support. The worst evil of disregard for somelaw is that it destroys respect for all law. For our citizens to patronizethe violation of a particular law on the ground that they are opposed toit is destructive of the very basis of all that protection of life, ofhomes and property which they rightly claim under other laws. If citizensdo not like a law, their duty as honest men and women is to discourageits violation; their right is openly to work for its repeal. 

To those of criminal mind there can be no appeal but vigorous enforcementof the law. Fortunately they are but a small percentage of our people.Their activities must be stopped. 


I propose to appoint a national commission for a searching investigationof the whole structure of our Federal system of jurisprudence, to includethe method of enforcement of the eighteenth amendment and the causes ofabuse under it. Its purpose will be to make such recommendations for reorganizationof the administration of Federal laws and court procedure as may be founddesirable. In the meantime it is essential that a large part of the enforcementactivities be transferred from the Treasury Department to the Departmentof Justice as a beginning of more effective organization. 


The election has again confirmed the determination of the American peoplethat regulation of private enterprise and not Government ownership or operationis the course rightly to be pursued in our relation to business. In recentyears we have established a differentiation in the whole method of businessregulation between the industries which produce and distribute commoditieson the one hand and public utilities on the other. In the former, our lawsinsist upon effective competition; in the latter, because we substantiallyconfer a monopoly by limiting competition, we must regulate their servicesand rates. The rigid enforcement of the laws applicable to both groupsis the very base of equal opportunity and freedom from domination for allour people, and it is just as essential for the stability and prosperityof business itself as for the protection of the public at large. Such regulationshould be extended by the Federal Government within the limitations ofthe Constitution and only when the individual States are without powerto protect their citizens through their own authority. On the other hand,we should be fearless when the authority rests only in the Federal Government. 


The larger purpose of our economic thought should be to establish morefirmly stability and security of business and employment and thereby removepoverty still further from our borders. Our people have in recent yearsdeveloped a new-found capacity for cooperation among themselves to effecthigh purposes in public welfare. It is an advance toward the highest conceptionof self- government. Self-government does not and should not imply theuse of political agencies alone. Progress is born of cooperation in thecommunity--not from governmental restraints. The Government should assistand encourage these movements of collective self- help by itself cooperatingwith them. Business has by cooperation made great progress in the advancementof service, in stability, in regularity of employment and in the correctionof its own abuses. Such progress, however, can continue only so long asbusiness manifests its respect for law. 

There is an equally important field of cooperation by the Federal Governmentwith the multitude of agencies, State, municipal and private, in the systematicdevelopment of those processes which directly affect public health, recreation,education, and the home. We have need further to perfect the means by whichGovernment can be adapted to human service. 


Although education is primarily a responsibility of the States and localcommunities, and rightly so, yet the Nation as a whole is vitally concernedin its development everywhere to the highest standards and to completeuniversality. Self-government can succeed only through an instructed electorate.Our objective is not simply to overcome illiteracy. The Nation has marchedfar beyond that. The more complex the problems of the Nation become, thegreater is the need for more and more advanced instruction. Moreover, asour numbers increase and as our life expands with science and invention,we must discover more and more leaders for every walk of life. We can nothope to succeed in directing this increasingly complex civilization unlesswe can draw all the talent of leadership from the whole people. One civilizationafter another has been wrecked upon the attempt to secure sufficient leadershipfrom a single group or class. If we would prevent the growth of class distinctionsand would constantly refresh our leadership with the ideals of our people,we must draw constantly from the general mass. The full opportunity forevery boy and girl to rise through the selective processes of educationcan alone secure to us this leadership. 


In public health the discoveries of science have opened a new era. Manysections of our country and many groups of our citizens suffer from diseasesthe eradication of which are mere matters of administration and moderateexpenditure. Public health service should be as fully organized and asuniversally incorporated into our governmental system as is public education.The returns are a thousand fold in economic benefits, and infinitely morein reduction of suffering and promotion of human happiness. 


The United States fully accepts the profound truth that our own progress,prosperity, and peace are interlocked with the progress, prosperity, andpeace of all humanity. The whole world is at peace. The dangers to a continuationof this peace to-day are largely the fear and suspicion which still hauntthe world. No suspicion or fear can be rightly directed toward our country. 

Those who have a true understanding of America know that we have nodesire for territorial expansion, for economic or other domination of otherpeoples. Such purposes are repugnant to our ideals of human freedom. Ourform of government is ill adapted to the responsibilities which inevitablyfollow permanent limitation of the independence of other peoples. Superficialobservers seem to find no destiny for our abounding increase in population,in wealth and power except that of imperialism. They fail to see that theAmerican people are engrossed in the building for themselves of a new economicsystem, a new social system, a new political system all of which are characterizedby aspirations of freedom of opportunity and thereby are the negation ofimperialism. They fail to realize that because of our abounding prosperityour youth are pressing more and more into our institutions of learning;that our people are seeking a larger vision through art, literature, science,and travel; that they are moving toward stronger moral and spiritual life--thatfrom these things our sympathies are broadening beyond the bounds of ourNation and race toward their true expression in a real brotherhood of man.They fail to see that the idealism of America will lead it to no narrowor selfish channel, but inspire it to do its full share as a nation towardthe advancement of civilization. It will do that not by mere declarationbut by taking a practical part in supporting all useful international undertakings.We not only desire peace with the world, but to see peace maintained throughoutthe world. We wish to advance the reign of justice and reason toward theextinction of force. 

The recent treaty for the renunciation of war as an instrument of nationalpolicy sets an advanced standard in our conception of the relations ofnations. Its acceptance should pave the way to greater limitation of armament,the offer of which we sincerely extend to the world. But its full realizationalso implies a greater and greater perfection in the instrumentalitiesfor pacific settlement of controversies between nations. In the creationand use of these instrumentalities we should support every sound methodof conciliation, arbitration, and judicial settlement. American statesmenwere among the first to propose and they have constantly urged upon theworld, the establishment of a tribunal for the settlement of controversiesof a justiciable character. The Permanent Court of International Justicein its major purpose is thus peculiarly identified with American idealsand with American statesmanship. No more potent instrumentality for thispurpose has ever been conceived and no other is practicable of establishment.The reservations placed upon our adherence should not be misinterpreted.The United States seeks by these reservations no special privilege or advantagebut only to clarify our relation to advisory opinions and other matterswhich are subsidiary to the major purpose of the court. The way should,and I believe will, be found by which we may take our proper place in amovement so fundamental to the progress of peace. 

Our people have determined that we should make no political engagementssuch as membership in the League of Nations, which may commit us in advanceas a nation to become involved in the settlements of controversies betweenother countries. They adhere to the belief that the independence of Americafrom such obligations increases its ability and availability for servicein all fields of human progress. 

I have lately returned from a journey among our sister Republics ofthe Western Hemisphere. I have received unbounded hospitality and courtesyas their expression of friendliness to our country. We are held by particularbonds of sympathy and common interest with them. They are each of thembuilding a racial character and a culture which is an impressive contributionto human progress. We wish only for the maintenance of their independence,the growth of their stability, and their prosperity. While we have hadwars in the Western Hemisphere, yet on the whole the record is in encouragingcontrast with that of other parts of the world. Fortunately the New Worldis largely free from the inheritances of fear and distrust which have sotroubled the Old World. We should keep it so. 

It is impossible, my countrymen, to speak of peace without profoundemotion. In thousands of homes in America, in millions of homes aroundthe world, there are vacant chairs. It would be a shameful confession ofour unworthiness if it should develop that we have abandoned the hope forwhich all these men died. Surely civilization is old enough, surely mankindis mature enough so that we ought in our own lifetime to find a way topermanent peace. Abroad, to west and east, are nations whose sons mingledtheir blood with the blood of our sons on the battlefields. Most of thesenations have contributed to our race, to our culture, our knowledge, andour progress. From one of them we derive our very language and from manyof them much of the genius of our institutions. Their desire for peaceis as deep and sincere as our own. 

Peace can be contributed to by respect for our ability in defense. Peacecan be promoted by the limitation of arms and by the creation of the instrumentalitiesfor peaceful settlement of controversies. But it will become a realityonly through self- restraint and active effort in friendliness and helpfulness.I covet for this administration a record of having further contributedto advance the cause of peace. 


In our form of democracy the expression of the popular will can be effectedonly through the instrumentality of political parties. We maintain partygovernment not to promote intolerant partisanship but because opportunitymust be given for expression of the popular will, and organization providedfor the execution of its mandates and for accountability of governmentto the people. It follows that the government both in the executive andthe legislative branches must carry out in good faith the platforms uponwhich the party was entrusted with power. But the government is that ofthe whole people; the party is the instrument through which policies aredetermined and men chosen to bring them into being. The animosities ofelections should have no place in our Government, for government must concernitself alone with the common weal. 


Action upon some of the proposals upon which the Republican Party wasreturned to power, particularly further agricultural relief and limitedchanges in the tariff, cannot in justice to our farmers, our labor, andour manufacturers be postponed. I shall therefore request a special sessionof Congress for the consideration of these two questions. I shall dealwith each of them upon the assembly of the Congress. 


It appears to me that the more important further mandates from the recentelection were the maintenance of the integrity of the Constitution; thevigorous enforcement of the laws; the continuance of economy in publicexpenditure; the continued regulation of business to prevent dominationin the community; the denial of ownership or operation of business by theGovernment in competition with its citizens; the avoidance of policieswhich would involve us in the controversies of foreign nations; the moreeffective reorganization of the departments of the Federal Government;the expansion of public works; and the promotion of welfare activitiesaffecting education and the home. 

These were the more tangible determinations of the election, but beyondthem was the confidence and belief of the people that we would not neglectthe support of the embedded ideals and aspirations of America. These idealsand aspirations are the touchstones upon which the day-to-day administrationand legislative acts of government must be tested. More than this, theGovernment must, so far as lies within its proper powers, give leadershipto the realization of these ideals and to the fruition of these aspirations.No one can adequately reduce these things of the spirit to phrases or toa catalogue of definitions. We do know what the attainments of these idealsshould be: The preservation of self-government and its full foundationsin local government; the perfection of justice whether in economic or insocial fields; the maintenance of ordered liberty; the denial of dominationby any group or class; the building up and preservation of equality ofopportunity; the stimulation of initiative and individuality; absoluteintegrity in public affairs; the choice of officials for fitness to office;the direction of economic progress toward prosperity for the further lesseningof poverty; the freedom of public opinion; the sustaining of educationand of the advancement of knowledge; the growth of religious spirit andthe tolerance of all faiths; the strengthening of the home; the advancementof peace. 

There is no short road to the realization of these aspirations. Oursis a progressive people, but with a determination that progress must bebased upon the foundation of experience. Ill- considered remedies for ourfaults bring only penalties after them. But if we hold the faith of themen in our mighty past who created these ideals, we shall leave them heightenedand strengthened for our children. 


This is not the time and place for extended discussion. The questionsbefore our country are problems of progress to higher standards; they arenot the problems of degeneration. They demand thought and they serve toquicken the conscience and enlist our sense of responsibility for theirsettlement. And that responsibility rests upon you, my countrymen, as muchas upon those of us who have been selected for office. 

Ours is a land rich in resources; stimulating in its glorious beauty;filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity.In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced. In no nationare the fruits of accomplishment more secure. In no nation is the governmentmore worthy of respect. No country is more loved by its people. I havean abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I haveno fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope. 

In the presence of my countrymen, mindful of the solemnity of this occasion,knowing what the task means and the responsibility which it involves, Ibeg your tolerance, your aid, and your cooperation. I ask the help of AlmightyGod in this service to my country to which you have called me.