Herbert Hoover to Woodrow Wilson


Herbert Hoover to Woodrow Wilson


Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964




1917 December 1


Herbert Hoover returns Woodrow Wilson’s letter about legislation from the Food Administration for Congress to consider.


Hoover-Wilson Correspondence, Hoover Institution, Hoover Institution Archives, Stanford, California


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum


United States Food Administration
Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924--Correspondence
Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964--Correspondence





Dear Mr. President

With respect to your note of November 28 on the question of legislation to be considered at this session of Congress, I have the following views:

It appears to me that it has now become critical, in mobilization of our productive power, our transportation, the control of labor, and the stimulation of production, that we have a general price fixing power vested in yourself or in the Federal Trade Commission. At present, except for coal, there is no such power in the government; and by implementing exports, imports, embargoes, purchasing power for our own government and the Allies, and by making first one voluntary agreement after another, we are playing around the fringes of the problem and setting up great currents of injustice. For instance, the farmers justly complain that by these implements their income is restricted and no restraints are placed upon the goods they must purchase.

The law of supply and demand has been replaced by the law of selfishness; and while I am confident that we have eliminated profiteering in food trades it still runs rampant in other branches of commerce.

We cannot hope to restrain the constant demands of labor with its reactions on national efficiency, unless we can bring the advances in price to a stop -- and we can not do this in the food trades unless the materials of production are also controlled.

We could greatly increase the efficiency of the transportation system if we could zonalize distribution of great primary commodities, by controlling their distribution area, but as such a course would to some degree stifle competition it can not be done without prior fixation of price. We are today saving 25% of the transport of wheat and flour by such a system, and it could be applied to the other great staple commodities.

My own views upon the economics of this question are that they should be based upon a determination of the fair price for the limited list of primary raw materials with the added power to fix the profits or differentials to be added by the various subsequent links of manufacture and distribution. Further, that this power should be backed by authority of the government to buy and sell these primary commodities if it becomes necessary to maintain regular and seasonal flow. Such legislation would enable the retail trader to be dealt with, - not now possible in the food trades.

I feel strongly that the fixing of such prices should be in the nhands of somebody who can establish some sort of unity between the animal, mineral and vegetable kingdoms, and that it cannot therefore rest in the hands of such a department as mine. It would appear to me a logical function for the Federal Trade Commission; the administration of such judgments as they might enter upon these subjects being left in the hands of the various departments which are concerned with the commerce in these commodities.

I have also the feeling that the Federal Trade Commission, being a semi-judicial body, holds the skill and independence to fix these prices, free from the great pressure to which administrative departments are now constantly subjected, and that if legislation on this line were applied for to the Federal Trade Commission it would be free from a great deal of the congressional opposition and prejudice that must arise against any particular organ of the government. We can not disguise the fact that such administrations as mine must, if we are to act with independence and justice to all sections of the community, excite the most violent opposition from individuals and minorities and that these are reflected by the direct representatives of these trades and minorities in Congress and that such prejudice would greatly color legislative action.

The nest great problem confronting us is the stimulation of production. This rests primarily upon the fixation of prices of primary commodities at stimulative levels with consequent assurance of market at profitable levels, which would be covered by the foregoing proposals. In addition, however, I am convinced that some definite action must be taken as to agricultural labor. There will undoubtedly be a very considerable decrease in production if any further draft is made; and furthermore, the attraction of high wages in munitions plants is drawing labor from the farms. Beyond exemption from further draft, it appears to me more powers in the establishment of labor exchanges should be given to the Department of Labor, and other constructive mobilization of labor undertaken.

Another field of necessity for action has arisen if we are to promote production to its necessary level. Three subsequent failures in wheat crop in the Northwest and some other points and the great drought in the Southwest with consequent cattle famine all require constructive handling if production in those quarters is to be maintained. I would suggest a considerable appropriation, placed at the disposal of the Farm Loan Board, for advances against crops and animals. The Board at one time had worked out a constructive plan of local guarantee association.

The other point upon which I am convinced that emergency legislation is necessary is to give to you some general powers to control waste, to require substitution of one commodity for another in consumption, and to limit actual consumption of commodities. In other words, a broad conservation measure, capable of expression in few words, and enforcible by executive order. The necessity for forced food conservation in public places, in manufacture and distribution is evident enough; and the same necessity exists as to our other primary commodities, such as metals, and even to transport.

Such a course is the necessary complement to stimulation of production. No such powers exist today.

Yours faithfully,
[Herbert Hoover]

Original Format



Wilson, Woodrow, 1856-1924




Hoover, Herbert, 1874-1964, “Herbert Hoover to Woodrow Wilson,” 1917 December 1, WWP19286, Hoover Institute at Stanford University Collection, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.