Miller Center

“Philosophy of Rugged Individualism”

Herbert Hoover's "Philosophy of Rugged Individualism" Campaign Speech

On October 22, 1928, Herbert Hoover gave the penultimate speech of his successful presidential campaign entitled, "Principles and Ideals of the United States Government." In that speech, the self-made millionaire expressed his belief that the American system was based on "rugged individualism" and "self-reliance." Government, which had necessarily assumed unprecedented economic powers during World War I, should retreat, and cease to interfere with businesses.

During the early days of the Great Depression, Hoover launched the largest public works projects up until his time. But he continued to believe that problems of poverty and unemployment were best left to "voluntary organization and community service." He feared that federal relief programs would undermine individual character by making recipients dependent on the government. He continued to prioritize the concept of "rugged individualism" even in the face of monumental economic catastrophe.

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Audio Transcript Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States, 1929-1933.

Biographical sketch from American President.

Audio TranscriptAlfred Smith was the Democratic nominee for president in 1928. He was the first Roman Catholic to run for president but was defeated by Hoover.

His obituary from The New York Times.

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Herbert Hoover's Inaugural Address, March 4, 1929, from the Miller Center.
Senator Thomas J. Heflin's Warning Against the “Roman Catholic Party,” on January 18, 1928, from George Mason University. This speech from the Alabama senator illustrates the anti-Catholic feeling that Smith faced.

Scholarship

Bornet, Vaughn Davis. Labor Politics in a Democratic Republic: Moderation, Division, and Disruption in the Presidential Election of 1928. Washington, D.C.: Spartan Books, 1964.

Hoover, Herbert. American Individualism. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, 1929.
Rulli, Daniel F. "Campaigning in 1928: Chickens in Pots and Cars in Backyards." Teaching History: A Journal of Methods, Vol. 31, #1 (2006).
Slayton, Robert A. Empire statesman: the rise and redemption of Al Smith. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001.
Sweeney, James R. “Rum, Romanism, and Virginia Democrats: The Party Leaders and the Campaign of 1928.” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 90 (October 1982): 403–31.
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