Rugged Individualism and Hoover: Definition and Speech

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Instructor: Ashley Kannan

Ashley has taught history, literature, and political science and has a Master's Degree in Education

Hoover's speech on 'rugged individualism' in the closing weeks of the 1928 Presidential election was one of the most important he delivered. Study this lesson to find out what rugged individualism encompasses and learn some points of emphasis from this speech.

Definition of Rugged Individualism

In the 1928 Presidential election, Herbert Hoover, the 31st president of the United States, was campaigning against Democrat Alfred Smith. As the election came to a close, Hoover sought to define his own philosophy, made famous in the speech entitled 'Rugged Individualism.' Herbert Hoover's definition of rugged individualism was freedom from government intervention and focus on individual entrepreneurship, enterprise, and volunteerism.

The Key Points of Hoover's Speech

We'll examine some of the essential quotes from Hoover's speech and how they reflect the rugged individualism principles of individual freedom, eliminating poverty, individual happiness, and individual success.

1. Individual Freedom

Hoover argued that one of the problems emerging from World War I was how European governments encroached on human freedom as well as individual and commercial endeavors. Hoover made the argument that this was not reflective of what it means to be American: 'We were challenged with a peace-time choice between the American system of rugged individualism and a European philosophy of diametrically opposed doctrines - doctrines of paternalism and state socialism. The acceptance of these ideas would have meant the destruction of self-government through centralization of government.' For Hoover, rugged individualism communicated the greatness of individual freedom. Hoover believed that freedom from government intervention was the path for individual and social happiness.

2. Eliminating Poverty

In his speech, Hoover argued that individual freedom was critical for eliminating poverty and suffering in American society: 'By adherence to the principles of decentralized self-government, ordered liberty, equal opportunity and freedom to the individual our American experiment in human welfare has yielded a degree of well-being unparalleled in all the world. It has come nearer to the abolition of poverty, to the abolition of fear of want, than humanity has ever reached before. Progress of the past seven years is the proof of it.' In embracing pure freedom, Hoover sought to clearly define himself against his Democratic challenger.

3. Individual Happiness and Success

Hoover's speech asserted that when freedom is guaranteed, individual happiness can be found. The speech defined rugged individualism in as many forms of American life as possible. Hoover suggested that a lack of restraints helped people 'born without inheritance' be successful because of 'freedom of initiative and enterprise.' Hoover made the argument that rugged individualism differentiated American identity from nations in Europe, such as Russia. He argued that even though both Russia and America possessed the same amount of natural resources, embracing individualism made one nation successful and another one not as profitable. In trying to connect his own political platform with American individualism, Hoover used the speech to make a definitive statement about his beliefs.

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