Herbert Hoover? John A. Ryan? Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.? Apocryphal
Quote Investigator: The great depression which began in 1929 was one of the most serious economic calamities of the twentieth century. In the U.S. a high unemployment rate persisted for more than a decade. Herbert Hoover was the U.S. President when the crisis began, and he has been criticized for responding ineffectively. In 1930 a group appealed to Hoover to initiate a large-scale intervention, and he reportedly made the following obtuse reply:
Gentlemen, you have come sixty days too late. The Depression is over.
Is this quotation accurate? Who was speaking with Hoover?
Quote Investigator: The earliest pertinent evidence located by QI appeared in a 1931 article in “The Nation” titled “We Met Mr. Hoover” by a lawyer and political activist named Amos Pinchot which described a meeting held in June 1930 between President Hoover and a group that favored a large public works program to mitigate the effects of the great depression. Hoover spoke against the proposal because he believed that unemployment was decreasing and the economy was already improving: 1
Unemployment, he said, was being shamefully exaggerated. Its peak had been reached and passed. The tide had turned. The Census and Labor Department reports, and other information to which, as he reminded us, he had better access than we, would presently show that things were quite different from what we feared. Yes, we were now to drift peacefully, if slowly, back to good times.
According to Pinchot, Hoover made a statement that was similar to part of the quotation. Boldface has been added to excerpts:
He showed us, in authoritative style, that every agency of both the federal and State governments was working at top capacity to relieve the situation. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you have come six weeks too late.”
The next piece of evidence was contained in testimony given in 1933 by John A. Ryan during a subcommittee meeting of the U.S. Senate. Ryan was a scholar, priest, and political activist based at Catholic University. He was a member of the group with Pinchot. In the following excerpt Ryan was answering questions posed by Senator Smith W. Brookhart of Iowa: 2
Doctor Ryan. Absolutely. It is nearly three years since I was a member of the committee headed by Mr. Metzerott, which went to the President of the United States asking him to recommend to Congress the appropriation of $3,000,000,000 for public works. This was in June, 1930; $3,000,000,000 would have been more than enough at that time.
Senator Brookhart. It will take more than $6,000,000,000 now.
Doctor Ryan. Much more. What did he say to that? “Gentlemen, you have come 60 days too late. The depression is over.”
Ryan was a critic of Hoover and an advocate of the New Deal policies of the incoming President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Ryan’s version of the quotation matched the one under investigation, but if differed somewhat from Pinchot’s version. The time period was “sixty days” instead of “six weeks”. The phrase “The depression is over” was mentioned by Ryan but not by Pinchot. Nevertheless, it was an accurate summary of Hoover’s commentary.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1931 January 14, The Nation, Volume 132, We Met Mr. Hoover by Amos Pinchot, Start Page 43, Quote Page 44, Column 1, Nation Associates, New York. (Verified on microfilm) ↩
- 1933, United States Senate, Seventy-Second Congress, Second Session, Hearings Before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Banking and Currency, Held February 2 and 3, 1933, Further Unemployment Relief through the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, S. 5336: A Bill to Amend the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932, (Statement of John A. Ryan, Catholic University, Washington D.C.), Start Page 142, Quote Page 144, Published by U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link link ↩