Herbert Hoover photo

Address to the Gridiron Club.

December 10, 1932

Gentlemen of the Gridiron Club and your guests:

I know that I represent every guest in expressing to the Gridiron Club our deep appreciation for its generous hospitality, its entertainment, and its high educational effort this evening.

As your president has said, just 20 years ago I was first a guest of the Gridiron Club. I have been accorded all the grades of honor from the end of the table in the far corner to this close approach to the throne. The seat at the end of the corner table is the most comfortable one.

But from all these points of vantage I have been enabled to make a long-time analysis of both the ostensible and secret objectives of the Gridiron Club. The club seems to me to have three high purposes. The first purpose is purely the joy of hospitality, enriched by the stimulation of spirit from the wit and satire which is designed to test the apparent sense of humor of public officials.

The second purpose is the passing record of Washington through the eyes of the fourth estate. In the painting of pictures of passing political incidents the colors are often badly mixed. The drawing is cubist and mostly futuristic in its motif. But these pictures are like sand pictures, and other forms of primitive medicine making. They are of immense comfort to the makers and impressiveness to the believers. But you may be happily assured that they are erased with the passing of the night, and aside from the performers no man can tell you tomorrow what the jokes were.

A third and more subtle purpose of the club appears to be that of careful and pointed instruction to Government officials and political leaders as to their errors and shortcomings. This instruction is enforced by the threatening gridiron which, like the traditional schoolroom switch, hangs here behind the teacher's desk. These educational facilities of the Gridiron Club thus include a regular and rigid enforcement by way of roasting. I am reminded of the annals of the early Christian Church, which contains the record of the singular case of one of the pioneer Christians. The man was zealous in the practice of the true faith, and for that reason became unpopular in his community. The citizens finally decided he was a nuisance and should be gotten rid of. Their methods were in accord with the custom of the times. Having no modern gridiron, they trussed him up at full length on a spit ordinarily used for roasting whole beeves and put him over a great bed of red-hot coals. They were careless, however, about turning the spit, with the result that the true Christian was roasted only on one side. He bore his sufferings with remarkable composure and good nature. But at last he felt moved to remark to his neighbors that he believed he was now thoroughly done on one side and would they mind turning him over.

And although during these past centuries the gridiron process has perhaps improved its subtlety, there have been occasions in the past few years that seem to me to bear some analogy to the days of old. But speaking seriously I am deeply indebted as is every guest for the many happy memories of these events and their manifold proof that life is not all serious.

You will expect me to discuss the late election. Well, as nearly as I can learn, we did not have enough votes on our side. During the campaign I remarked that this administration had been fighting on a thousand fronts; I learned since the campaign that we were fighting on 21 million fronts. We had a good fight, and when our opponents recover from the glow of victory and undertake to perform the sad rites of burying their dead promises, that will be another story. And the Republicans will, no doubt, take care of that.

I notice in the press a generous suggestion that my countrymen owe to me some debt. On the contrary, the obligation is mine. My country gave me, as it gives every boy and every girl, a chance. It gave me schooling, the precious freedom of equal opportunity for advancement in life, for service and honor. In no other land could a boy from a country village without inheritance or influential friends look forward with unbounded hope. It gave to me a certain measure of success in my profession. It conferred upon me the honor of administering the world's response to the appeal of hundreds of millions of afflicted people during and after the war. It gave me high place in the war councils of the Nation. My country called upon me to represent it in the reconstruction of human and economic relations between former enemies on the Continent of Europe after the armistice. It gave me an opportunity for service in the Cabinets of two Presidents. It gave me the highest honor that comes to man--the Presidency of the United States. For this fullness of life, for the chance to serve in many emergencies, I am indebted to my country beyond any human power to repay.

Only a few rare souls in a century, to whose class I make no pretention, count much in the great flow of this Republic. The life stream of this Nation is the generations of millions of human particles acting under impulses of advancing ideas and national ideals gathered from a thousand springs. These springs and rills have gathered into great streams which have nurtured and fertilized this great land over these centuries. Its dikes against dangerous floods are cemented with the blood of our fathers. Our children will strengthen these dikes, will create new channels, and the land will grow greater and richer with their lives.

We are but transistory officials in Government whose duty is to keep these channels clear and to strengthen and extend their dikes. What counts toward the honor of public officials is that they sustain the national ideals upon which are patterned the design of these channels of progress and the construction of these dikes of safety. What is said in this or in that political campaign counts no more than the sound of the cheerful ripples or the angry whirls of the stream. What matters is that God help the man or the group who breaks down these dikes, who diverts these channels to selfish ends. These waters will drown him or them in a tragedy that will spread over a thousand years.

If we lift our eyes beyond the scene of our recent battle, if we inspect the fate of other democracies under the pressures of the past 3 years, the outstanding demonstration is the complete necessity in modern democracies of maintaining two strong political parties. Block government among several parties leads not only to negative policies but to destruction of all responsibility which carries government always on the brink of chaos. Coalition government leads inevitably to danger and often to revolution for it offers the people no alternative through which to explode their emotions. To carry on competent government there must be a strong and constructive opposition. The Republican Party now has that duty to the American people. But opposition cannot function without political organization, constancy to principles, and loyalty of men to their party. Likewise, no party in power can serve the country unless the members show loyalty, courage, and a willingness to accept the responsibility of government.

Nor does this preclude that cooperation which far transcends partisanship in the face of common danger. That great common danger is still in the economic field both at home and abroad. During the past 2 years we have been fighting to maintain the very foundations of our own stability. That front can be held if no mistakes are made. Today one of the visible evidences of our economic problem is the impassable bridge between the debtor and the creditor. Either prices must rise or debts be reduced. Not one but many economic forces have brought this about. To increase prices we must give consideration to the continuing effect of the foreign situation. The vicious spiral of economic and social instability has been continuing in the great majority of foreign countries. If we would make a full and secure recovery, if we would prevent future relapse, we must consider major action in cooperation with other nations. But that cooperation does not imply that it shall be accomplished at the expense of the American people. Others must bear their just burdens, and open hope to the people of the United States.

To fulfill these tasks we must maintain a solidarity in our Nation. We must maintain that cooperation at home which while it maintains party responsibility yet rises above partisanship. The new administration has my good wishes; it has the good wishes of every American for in their success lies the welfare of our country.

I would not close without again expressing my appreciation for the generous hospitality that I have received from your hand on so many occasions.

Note: The President spoke at a dinner meeting held in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Gridiron Club, an organization of Washington newsmen, met semiannually for a dinner and satirical review of current political events. Remarks at the dinners were off-the-record, but President Hoover's were later published.

Herbert Hoover, Address to the Gridiron Club. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/207805

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