Herbert Hoover photo

Address to the American Legion at Detroit, Michigan

September 21, 1931

My fellow countrymen of the American Legion:

I wish to thank you for the heartening cordiality of your reception. It is a pleasure to accept the invitation of your commander to attend your convention. I am led to do so at a time of most pressing public duties, because I wish to lay frankly and simply before you important facts which I am sure you will wish to have, and I wish to point to an opportunity of service which you can give not alone to your members but to the country at large.

I need not recount to you that the world is passing through a great depression fraught with gruelling daily emergencies alike to individual men and to governments. This depression today flows largely from Europe through the fundamental dislocations of economic and political forces which arose from the World War in which your service brought bloodshed to an end and gave hope of reconstruction to the world. Our economic strength is such that we would have recovered long since but for these forces from abroad. Recovery of the world now rests and awaits in no small degree upon our country, the United States of America. Some individuals amongst us may have lost their nerve and faith but the real American people are digging themselves out of this depression with industry and courage. We have the self-containment, the resources, the manhood, and the intelligence, and by united action we will lead the world in recovery.

The American Legion, born of world emergency, wields a great influence throughout our country because it speaks for a generation which has proven its citizenship by offering its all to its country. You of the Legion have a peculiarly sacred stake in the future of the country which you fought to preserve. You have proven your devotion in camp and in battle. You have built up your organization to serve in peace as in war.

You are aware that during the past year our national expenditures have exceeded our income. Today the national government is faced with another large deficit in its budget. There is a decrease in the annual yield of income taxes alone from $2,400 million that we received in the years of prosperity to only $1,200 million today. Simultaneously, we are carrying a high and necessary extra burden of public works in aid to the unemployed, of aids to agriculture, and of increased benefits and services to veterans. In these circumstances I am directing the most drastic economy in every non-vital branch of Government, yet the essential services must be maintained. These obviously, include the adequate and generous provision for our disabled veterans and the continuation of our present programs of work for the unemployed and our aids to agriculture. Whatever the arguments made, I do not wish you to be misled by those who say that we need only to tax the rich to secure the funds which we need. We must face the absolute fact that the rich can be taxed to the point of diminishing returns, and still the deficit in our ordinary and necessary expenditures would not be covered upon a basis even of the utmost economy. Make no mistake. In these circumstances it is those who work in the fields, at the bench and at the desk who will be forced to carry an added burden for every added cent to our expenditures.

Whatever the deficit may be and in whatever manner it may ultimately be met, every additional expenditure placed upon our Government in this emergency magnifies itself out of all proportion into intolerable pressures, whether it is by taxation or by loans. Either loans or taxes beyond the very minimum necessities of government will drain the resources of industry and commerce and in turn will increase unemployment. Such action can easily defeat our hopes, our plans, and our best efforts for the recovery of our country and so indefinitely delay the return of prosperity and employment. We can carry our present expenditures without jeopardy to national stability. We cannot carry more without grave national risks.

The imperative moment has come in our history when increase in Government expenditures must be avoided, whether it be ill-considered, hasty, or uninformed legislation of any kind, or whether it be for new services meritorious in themselves. Any alternative will strike down the earnest efforts of the citizenry of our Nation to start us back upon the economic paths to which we must return if we and our children are to have the destiny which everyone has the right to hope and the heart to give.

During the past week your national commander and the members of the Legion's unemployment committee came to me and offered to the Nation the combined strength of your million men and your 10,000 posts to help in relief over this forthcoming winter. I here accept that offer with the thanks of the Nation in the fine spirit in which it is submitted. But there is today an even greater service to our country. And that is the determined opposition by you, as a great body of influential men, to any additional demands upon the Nation until we have won this war against world depression. I am not speaking alone of veterans' legislation which may be but a minor part, and that may be urged before this convention, but I am speaking equally of demands for every other project proposed in the country which would require increased Federal expenditure. It is an attitude and an action in the whole field of Government expenditures that is before us today. The very first stone in the foundations of stability and of recovery, both at home and in the world, is the stability of the Government of the United States. It is my purpose to maintain that stability, and I invite you to enlist in that fight. The country's need of this service is second only to war. I invite you to study the relation of their governmental finance to the daily welfare and security of every man, woman, and child in the history of Europe during these past 6 months alone. It is for us to observe these lessons and to be helpful but our first duty is to the people of the United States. Nothing will give a greater glow of confidence to our country today than your enlistment and the vigorous support which you are capable of bringing to this effort to prevent additional burdens on the Government from whatever quarter they may come.

You would not have the President of the United States plead with any citizen or any group of citizens for any course of action. I make no plea to you. But you would have your President point out the path of service in this Nation. And I am doing that now. My mind goes back to the days of the war when you and I served in our appointed tasks. At the end of those years of heart sickness over the misery of it all, when the peace came, you and I knew that the wounds of the world were healed and that there would be further emergencies still before our country and the world when self-denial and courageous service must be given. Your organization was born at that time and dedicated to that service by the very preamble of your magnificent constitution. No man can doubt the character and idealism of men who have gone into the trenches in defense of their country. I have that faith. This is an emergency and these are the times for service to which we must put full heart and purpose to help and not retard the return of the happy days we know are ahead of your country and of mine.

With the guidance of the Almighty God, with the same faith, courage, and stir-sacrifice with which you, backed by the Nation, won victory 14 years ago, so shall we win victory today.

Note: The President spoke to the opening session of the 13th annual convention of the American Legion, assembled in Olympia Arena, Detroit, Mich.

The above text is a transcript taken from a sound recording of the address. An advance text of the address was issued on the same day.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the American Legion at Detroit, Michigan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207610

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