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The President's News Conference

August 21, 1931


THE PRESIDENT. I have some questions this time, so we have some inspiration. The first one is on the question of whether there is any limit on the amount of wheat which the Farm Board is willing to dispose of to China for relief purposes. 1 The amount of 15 million bushels was suggested from China, but the Farm Board is willing to accommodate the Chinese Government with any amount of wheat; 15 million is not the limit.

1 The Federal Farm Board announced on August 20, 1931, that it was ready to negotiate the sale of 15 million bushels of wheat for China. The wheat was to be used for relief of refugees from the Yangtze River flood.


I have another question as to the application of Major General Smedley Butler for retirement from the Marine Corps. 2 I assume that if General Butler wishes to retire the Government will approve. The general is a very gallant officer, and I have no doubt that if the country gets into trouble again we can get him back into service.

2 In January 1931, Maj. Gen. Smedley D. Butler had accused Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini of running down a child with his automobile. The resulting controversy led to demands for a court martial of General Butler, which were later dropped. General Butler was reprimanded and on August 20, requested permission to resign from the Marine Corps.


I have some questions on the relief organization. I have received a very splendid response to the invitations to become members of the Advisory Committee to the Unemployment Relief Organization, as it is called. Acceptances have been received from 52 out of the 60. Two in addition have declined because of illness, and six more are out on holidays, and we have not been able to reach them yet. So that apparently the response will be complete. Some typical telegrams from those gentlemen you can see through Mr. Joslin. 3

3 Theodore G. Joslin, Secretary to the President.

We are having a large number of communications from public officials and various organizations, especially those active over the last winter. There is a very large amount of reorganization and planning now in progress in preparation for the fall and winter. There is a very evident widespread resolution to meet the situation again. I cannot speak too highly of the actual results obtained by the multitude of committees and the organization of Federal authorities and others over last winter. They had a very large load to carry.

Whether this will be larger or less than the load of last winter cannot yet be determined, but there is a test--and a very positive test--by which the success of matters of relief can be fairly accurately determined, and that is the state of public health. I have had a great many years of experience in dealing with problems of distress and relief, as some of you know, and we have always tested efficaciously in every effort of that kind by the reflex in public health. I, therefore, made an inquiry of Surgeon General [Hugh S.] Cumming, Chief of the Public Health Service, as to what had been the state of public health over this last winter. I will give you that correspondence. In brief, it shows that the general mortality, the infant mortality, and, so far as statistics go, they are fairly accurate, the sickness in the country was less in the winter of 1931 than in the winters of full employment of 1928 and 1929. The public health has apparently never been better than it has been over the past 6 months. In arriving at those results you will see that General Cumming has taken compensation for the shift in contagious diseases and so forth, but generally, the point I wish to make is that it is a most remarkable showing for the effort which the country made last winter and one for which all those organizations are entitled to a very great deal of credit indeed.


I have one other question as to the progress of Federal employment in construction work. I have had the figures taken out anew and reduced it to a single sentence. The people directly and indirectly employed by the Federal Government in construction and maintenance work at the opening of this depression was 180,000. They touched 730,000 at the first day of August. That number will probably increase some with the increased employment in Federal road building, and it will probably decrease on the road building side with winter, but the construction contracts for public buildings will be in greater activity, and the Supervising Architect's office anticipates that by January they will be employing somewhere from 80,000 to 100,000 more than they are actually employing now.

And that is all that I have on my docket.

Note: President Hoover's two hundred and third news conference was held in the White House at 4 p.m. on Friday, August 21, 1931.

On August 20, 1931, the White House issued a list of persons invited to serve on the Advisory Committee to the President's Organization on Unemployment Relief. Excerpts from some of these acceptance telegrams were issued by the White House on August 21.

For the correspondence from Surgeon General Hugh S. Cumming on public health, see Item 298.

Herbert Hoover, The President's News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/211936

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