J Edgar Hoover & Herbert Hoover


Laurel King, Contributor

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j edgar hoover herbert hooverFor Herbert Hoover, J. Edgar Hoover was the perfect solution to a burgeoning problem of American gangsters. As the U.S. president from 1929-33, Herbert Hoover faced some formidable tasks. Beginning his presidency at the worst U.S. financial crisis of all time (The Great Depression), he was probably somewhat preoccupied with preventing the economic collapse of the entire country. However, the insidious problem of American gangsters – brought on by the Volstead Act (Prohibition) of 1919 – was in full swing, regardless of the financial disaster.

From the start, the explosion of street gangsters in America was destined to be troublesome. Brought on by the overzealous, unsuccessful attempt to rid the country of alcohol, the American gangster problem took nearly 15 years of tenacious, relentless determination to defeat. Easy money earned from little effort (through bootlegging) led to an explosion of recent 'implants' into the cities: gangsters, with direct links to the mob. As the ranks of these gangsters swelled, the cities were overrun with warring factions, who battled out their disagreements in a bloody rampage, dressed in suits and hats, using 'Tommy guns'. Several years went by, with failed attempts at staunching the influx of gangsters and new types of crime, such as gambling, drug trafficking, auto theft, bank robbery, and kidnapping. Law enforcement was outgunned, outmanned, under-trained, and under-funded, with a well-known inability to operate beyond the borders of their own jurisdiction.

Finally, President Hoover instructed the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate these notorious gangsters for tax evasion, one of the few crimes they could get to 'stick' to these criminals. Despite the valiant attempts of the likes of Eliot Ness (with the Bureau of Prohibition) no other charges had led to conviction or sentencing. Finally, with the investigation of Al Capone, Hoover was able to claim the first notable victory in the fight against American gangsters, which led to their eventual downfall in 1938.

As a Justice Department employee since 1917, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Investigation in 1921, and Director of the Bureau in 1924 (renamed the FBI in 1935), which he maintained through his death in 1972, J. Edgar Hoover was right in the thick of things. Although he had grand plans, up until then, J. Edgar Hoover had been unable to do anything about them. Yet, this would soon change, quite drastically. In fact, for J. Edgar Hoover, Herbert Hoover was the catalyst to his rise in power. With President Hoover's instructions to pursue Capone through tax evasion charges, the Bureau's scope of power was expanded and funding was significantly increased, which led to a great deal more power for J. Edgar Hoover. Always ambitious and driven to prove himself to leaders and co-workers alike, J. Edgar Hoover refused to sit in the background and wait. With President Hoover's support, and J. Edgar Hoover's bulldog tenacity, the once-formidable American gangster problem quickly dissipated. Beginning with the 1931 indictment of Al Capone on tax evasion charges (leading to his conviction and imprisonment until 1939), under the direction and watchful eye of J. Edgar Hoover, the American gangster problem finally dissolved, relegating itself to the annals of history around 1938.