Hoover, J. Edgar (1895–1972)

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HOOVER, J. EDGAR (1895–1972)

From his graduation from George Washington University Law School in 1917 until his death in 1972, John Edgar Hoover was continuously employed by the United States Department of Justice. He started as a file reviewer, but in 1919 Hoover became special assistant to Attorney General a. mitchell palmer, with oversight responsibility for the deportation cases arising out of the palmer raids. In 1921 Hoover was assigned to the department's Bureau of Investigations, and in 1924 he became its director.

Over the next decade, Hoover transformed his small bureau into a national police agency. As federal criminal law expanded, the bureau expanded with it, acquiring a reputation for professionalism, competence, and efficiency. By the time it was renamed the federal bureau of investigation (FBI) in 1935, the bureau had established a national fingerprint file, a crime laboratory, and a training academy. The FBI's dual mandate was to investigate violations of federal law and to serve as a domestic, civilian counterintelligence agency. The bureau's success in tracking down bootleggers, gangsters, kidnappers, and spies became legendary.

The FBI was largely Hoover's personal creation, and he ran it autocratically. Although formally supervised by the attorney general, Hoover operated with a great deal of independence, gained by tenure, public success, and, reputedly, maintenance of secret dossiers concerning his political superiors. Hoover used the FBI to conduct personal feuds, like that with martin luther king, jr. , and to publicize his own brand of anticommunism. In the end, his apparent indifference to civil liberties compromised the very professionalism he had worked to instill in the FBI.

Dennis J. Mahoney


De Toledano, Ralph 1973 J. Edgar Hoover: The Man in His Times. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House.