Franklin D. Roosevelt

Exchange of Letters between President Hoover and President-Elect Roosevelt

December 17, 1932

December 17, 1932, to December 21, 1932

Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt, Hyde Park, N. Y.

December 17, 1932

My Dear Governor:

As you have seen from the press, the position of the debtor Governments in respect to the December 15th payments is now largely determined. In accord with both your expressions and my own statements, it is the duty of the United States to survey and exchange views on these questions individually with some of the debtor Governments. It is necessary to consider the character of machinery to be erected for this purpose.

These problems cannot be disassociated from the problems which will come before the World Economic Conference and to some degree those before the Conference on World Disarmament. As the economic situation in foreign countries is one of the dominant depressants of prices and employment in the United States, it is urgent that the World Economic Conference should assemble at as early a date as possible. The United States should be represented by a strong and effective delegation. This delegation should be chosen at an early moment in order that it may give necessary consideration and familiarize itself with the problems, and secure that such investigation and study is made as will be necessary for its use at the conference.

Beyond this such problems as the exchange of views in respect to debts cannot be accomplished in satisfactory manner through the ordinary routine of diplomatic contacts. Satisfactory conclusions can only be reached by free and direct round-table discussion with each Government separately where agreement may be had upon fact and where conclusions can be reached. It has been an almost universal practice in our Government where unusual and vital questions are involved to appoint special delegations to undertake such discussions. The routine machinery of diplomacy neither affords the type of men required nor can they give the time from other duties which such discussions require.

While we must not change our established policy of dealing with each debtor separately — and, indeed, no other course could be entertained in view of the widely divergent conditions which exist in the different countries and the very different situations in which they find themselves — and while the decision heretofore reached not to consider the debt question at the coming World Economic Conference is a wise one, it seems clear that the successful outcome of the World Economic Conference will be greatly furthered if the debt problems can be satisfactorily advanced before that conference, although final agreement in some cases may be contingent upon the satisfactory solution of certain economic questions in which our country has a direct interest and the final determination of which may well form a part of the matters coming before the Economic Conference.

It is desirable that such delegation should include members of the Congress in order that such intricate facts and circumstances can be effectively presented to the Congress. It is no derogation of Executive authority to choose members from that quarter. It might be well to consider whether this delegation should also embrace in its membership some of the old or new members of the delegation to the arms conference in order that these three important questions should be given coordinate consideration. If it were not for the urgency of the situation both at home and abroad and the possible great helpfulness to employment and agricultural prices and general restoration of confidence which could be brought about by successful issue of all these questions and the corresponding great dangers of inaction, it would be normal to allow the whole matter to rest until after the change of administration, but in the emergency such as exists at the moment I would be neglectful of my duty if I did not facilitate in every way the earliest possible dealing with these questions.

It is obvious that no conclusions would be reached from such discussion prior to March 4th, but a great deal of time could be saved if the machinery could be created at once by the appointment of the delegates as I have mentioned.

I shall be informing the Congress of the economic situation and of the desirability of the above proposed machinery for dealing with these conferences. I should be glad to know if you could join with me in the selection of such delegation at the present time or if you feel that the whole matter should be deferred until after March 4th. I believe there would be no difficulty in agreeing upon an adequate representation for the purpose. In such selection the first concern would be the selection of a chairman for the delegation.


The President,

The White House.

December 19, 1932

Dear Mr. President:

I have given earnest consideration to your courteous telegram of December 17th and I want to assure you that I seek in every proper way to be of help. It is my view that the questions of disarmament, intergovernmental debts and permanent economic arrangements will be found to require selective treatment even though this be with full recognition of the possibility that in the ultimate outcome a relationship of any two or of all three may become clear.

1.    As to disarmament: Your policy is clear and satisfactory. Some time, however, is required to bring it to fruition. Success in a practical program limiting armaments, abolishing certain instruments of warfare and decreasing the offensive or attack power of all Nations will, in my judgment, have a very positive and salutary influence on debt and economic discussions.

2.    As to the debts: If any debtor Nation desires to approach us, such Nation should be given the earliest opportunity so to do. Certainly in the preliminary conversations the Chief Executive has full authority either through the existing machinery of the diplomatic service or by supplementing it with specially appointed agents of the President himself, to conduct such preliminary investigations or inquiries without in any way seeking formal Congressional action. I am impelled to suggest, however, that these surveys should be limited to determining facts and exploring possibilities rather than fixing policies binding on the incoming Administration. I wholly approve and would in no way hinder such surveys.

3.    As to the economic conference: I am clear that a permanent economic program for the world should not be submerged in conversations relating to disarmament or debts. I recognize, of course, a relationship, but not an identity . Therefore, I cannot go along with the thought that the personnel conducting the conversations should be identical.

By reason of the fact that under the Constitution I am unable to assume authority in the matter of the agenda of the economic conference until after March 4th next, and by reason of the fact that there appears to be a divergence of opinion between us in respect to the scope of the conference, and further by reason of the fact that time is required to conduct conversations relating to debts and disarmament, I must respectfully suggest that the appointment of the permanent delegates and the final determination of the program of the economic conference be held in abeyance until after March 4th. In the meantime I can see no objection to further informal conferences with the agenda committee, or to the carrying on of preliminary economic studies which would serve an undoubtedly useful purpose.

I feel that it would be both improper for me and inadvisable for you, however much I appreciate the courtesy of your suggestion, for me to take part in naming representatives. From the necessity of the case, they could be responsible only and properly to you as President for the effective performance of their assignments, particularly in matters calling for almost daily touch with and directions of the Executive. I would be in no position prior to March 4th to have this constant contact.

I think you will recognize that it would be unwise for me to accept an apparent joint responsibility with you when, as a matter of constitutional fact, I would be wholly lacking in any attendant authority.


Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt,

Albany, N. Y.

December 20, 1932

My Dear Governor:

I have your telegram expressing the difficulties which you find in cooperation at the present time. In the face of foreign conditions which are continually degenerating agriculture prices, increasing unemployment and creating economic difficulties for our people, I am unwilling to admit that cooperation cannot be established between the outgoing and incoming Administrations which will give earlier solution and recovery from these difficulties.

If you will review my previous communications and conversations I think you will agree that while outlining the nature of the problems my proposals to you have been directed to the setting up not of solutions but of the machinery through which by preparedness the ultimate solution of these questions can be expedited and coordinated, to the end that many months of delay and increasing losses to our people may be avoided.

I fully recognize that your solution of these questions of debt, the world economic problems and disarmament might vary from my own. These conclusions obviously cannot be attained in my Administration and will lie entirely within your Administration. I wish especially to avoid any embarrassment to your work and thus have no intention of committing the incoming Administration to any particular policy prior to March 4th. Even the exploratory work you suggest should be participated in by men in whom you have confidence, and I wish to facilitate it. What I deem of the utmost importance is that when you assume responsibility on March 4th machinery of your approval will be here, fully informed and ready to function according to the policies you may determine.

My frequent statements indicate agreement with you that debts, world economic problems and disarmament require selective treatment, but you will agree with me that they also require coordination and preparation, either in the individual hands of the then President or in the hands of men selected to deal with them and advise him. There is thus no thought of submerging the World Economic Conference with other questions, but rather to remove the barriers from successful issue of that conference.

With view to again making an effort to secure cooperation and that solidarity of national action which the situation needs, I would be glad if you could designate Mr. Owen D. Young, Colonel House, or any other men of your party possessed of your views and your confidence and at the same time familiar with these problems, to sit with the principal officers of this Administration in an endeavor to see what steps can be taken to avoid delays of precious time and inevitable losses that will ensue from such delays.


The President, The White House.

December 21, 1932

Dear Mr. President:

I think perhaps the difficulties to which you refer are not in finding the means or the willingness for cooperation, but rather in defining clearly those things concerning which cooperation between us is possible.

We are agreed that commitments to any particular policy prior to March 4th are for many reasons inadvisable and indeed impossible. There remains, therefore, before that date only the possibility of exploratory work and preliminary surveys.

Please let me reiterate not only that I am glad to avoid the loss of precious time through delay in starting these preliminaries but also that I shall gladly receive such information and expression of opinion concerning all of those international questions which because of existing economic and other conditions must and will be among the first concerns of my Administration.

However, for me to accept any joint responsibility in the work of exploration might well be construed by the debtor or other Nations, collectively or individually, as a commitment, moral even though not legal, as to policies and courses of action.

The designation of a man or men of such eminence as your telegram suggests would not imply mere fact-findings; it would suggest the presumption that such representatives were empowered to exchange views on matters of large and binding policy.

Current press dispatches from abroad already indicate that the joint action which you propose would most certainly be interpreted there as much more of a policy commitment than either you or I actually contemplate.

May I respectfully suggest that you proceed with the selection of your representatives to conduct the preliminary exploration necessary with individual debtor Nations and representatives to discuss the agenda of the World Economic Conference, making it clear that none of these representatives is authorized to bind this Government as to any ultimate policy.

If this be done, let me repeat that I shall be happy to receive their information and their expressions of opinion.

To that I add the thought that between now and March 4th I shall be very glad if you will keep me advised as to the progress of the preliminary discussions, and I also shall be happy to consult with you freely during this period.


Franklin D. Roosevelt, Exchange of Letters between President Hoover and President-Elect Roosevelt Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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